Münchausen Syndrome and Factitious Disorders

During a class on crisis intervention nearly 25 years ago the question of how to response to someone threatening suicide when, it turns out, they don’t mean it, came up. The answer rings true to this day. If someone is threatening suicide and they don’t mean it, then the heartbreaking tragedy rests in the person’s belief that unless they come up with a lie that big, no one will care about or pay attention to the pain they are in.

I believe it is the same with Münchausen Syndrome or Factitious Disorders, where a person will feign some kind of illness or malady to draw attention to themselves and, in the sphere of Münchausen Syndrome, a person will exaggerate or create symptoms in their children, Münchausen’s by proxy. What reading I have done shows that those with Münchausen’s (or a Factitious Disorder) are often highly knowledgeable on the medical front, well versed in medical terminology, medications, treatments.

In some cases persons with Münchausen’s will intentionally bring about the symptoms of a disease or inflict medical harm to themselves so they actually need medical treatment, hospitalization.

Antecedents for this syndrome are often found in trauma, being raised in a home where affection was in short supply, if present at all, and more, suffering abuse.

While encountering someone who is faking a disease or medical condition can at first provoke anger, the anger, while understandable, is misplaced. Consider this, on some level this person believes that if they do not convince the world there is something terribly wrong with them, no one will care about them and no one will love them.

The task then is to guide the person to a professional counselor, and help them discover that all they have to do to be cared about and loved, is be themselves. They have several hurdles(he wrote, practicing the art of understatement), one of them is to openly admit they have been misleading people about their condition. This takes time, patience, love and support and, I would think, does not happen all at once.

While they may not have the conditions they claim to have, they have a very real disorder, and deserve love, support, and professional help. All of us deserve to discover that simply being who we are, one day a time, is more than enough reason for others to care about us.


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