Posted by: Anonymous | 2009/04/29


My 20 year old step-daughter lives with us and she' s a delight. She' s sincere, helpful and a lovely person. However, I am very concerned about how she reacts to illness. In my opinion she over-exaggerates her illnesses. Last year she fell and we ended up taking her to two doctors, drip, scan, etc ... both doctors politely asked if she was emtional as they could find nothing wrong with her. She continually sees a chiropractor for her sore neck but I chatted with the Chiro who thinks it' s actually a personality issue (she exaggerates how the chiro worked on her and how bad the diagnosis is) and recently she fell and obviously hurt her knee because it' s swollen, but she' s now loving the attention and letting all and sundry know the doctors ordered her off work for 3 days and she' s hobbling along (when she thought no-one was watching I saw her walking without the limp). If she grazes herself she goes on loudly about how she will be scarred for life, etc, etc.

I know that we need to deal with this with her, but I' m not sure how to broach it because she will defend herself and it could easily end with her in tears.

I love her and don' t want to hurt her, but I also don' t want her to grow up loving unnatural attention and blowing things out of proportion to get attention.

She was abandoned by her mom and my husband is an emotionally distant father.

Is it hypochondria? How do I deal with it.

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Our expert says:
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Some people find they genuinely LIKE being ill --- the way people sympathize and make a fuss of you, and the way they usually excuse you from your usual chores and duties. And the risk is that this can become a lifelong pattern of seeing rewards by inventing or exaggerating symptoms and illnesses.
You're very observant, and this is an excellent description of a hypochondriac. And being hypchondriacal is dangerous --- if you over-react to trivial illness or afflictions, it's like the old story of crying wolf, and people tend to ignore your complaints even when something serious happens. And if you continue to compel doctors to do tests and procedures, while the minor risks of these are aceptable when there is genuinely something wrong with you, they mount up when they are so frequent and NOT balanced by real illness.
Its understandable if she was abandoned by her mom, from whom she rasonably expected care and attention, she now tries to demand care and attention from others, not by asking for it honestly and directly, but by pressing others to provide it by "being ill" at every opportunity. And with an emotionally distant father, she again may fel the only sympathy she might get from him would be by being sick.
Maybe in the form of taking her problems very seriously, try to arrange for her to see a psychiatrist ( pre-primed with the sort of information you give in your message ) for full assessment and advice on treatment. She needs to be discouraged from seeking comfort by simulating or exaggerating illness, and to get it more honestly and openly, and perhaps with CBT counselling, learning to feel more confident and self-sufficient, less needy, and to explore the many other ways to feel valid, and wanted and valuable.

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