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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Munchausen-by-proxy

People with Munchausen's Syndrome feign illness in order to receive the sympathy of strangers, usually the doctors or nurses at a hospital where the malingerer checks himself in.

I've long felt that people with Munchausen's Syndrome are merely a subset of sociopaths: The only kind of person who would stoop to this to gain sympathy must have a bottomless need for others' affection (think affect-hungry sociopaths). And anyone who thinks nothing of conning others into wasting valuable medical resources in order to satisfy his own desire for sympathy must be extremely dishonest by nature.

The sociopathic underpinnings of Munchausen's Syndrome become even more apparent in Munchausen's-by-proxy, where someone will make his own child sick in order to get the opportunity to pose as a loving and concerned parent and bask in the sympathy of strangers.

What kind of parent would purposely make his own child sick? Obviously, a sociopath.

The NY Post today had an article about a woman, Lacey Spears, who struck this noble pose and received lots of sympathy because of her sick son -- whom she was making sick. She also received plaudits for being a wonderful mother because of all the "love" and "concern" she showed for her ailing son online.

In the end, she killed him, by injecting salt into his stomach.

It's hard to find words to describe such a woman. Let's just say, she's the type who gives cold-blooded murderers a bad name.

It would be a miscarriage if Spears got a reduced sentence because her lawyer is able to bamboozle the jury into thinking that she suffers from the mysterious, inexplicable malady known as Munchausen-by-proxy.

Think of it this way: a serial killer is someone for whom another's person's life is worth less than his own orgasm. He will remorselessly kill another human being in order to indulge his own sexual appetite for a few moments. Someone with Munchausen-by-proxy will remorselessly kill another human being -- usually, his own child -- in order to temporarily indulge his own appetite for sympathy and acclaim.

It's actually a level of depravity beyond serial killing since it's one's own child one is killing.

Here's Spears with her son:


(Look at her wholesome face -- what a wonderful mom!)

Spears is yet another piece of proof that sociopaths come in all shapes and sizes.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

I read this story yesterday. Very disturbing, hard to imagine anyone harming a child in such a way.

Munchausen-by-proxy seems to be a female malady, has there been any male cases of this mental illness ?

John Craig said...

Anon --
I honestly don't know, I can't recall any cases involving males, but I may have just forgotten them. I used "he" in a couple of paragraphs just as a matter of grammatical form.

Anonymous said...

People with Borderline Personality Disorder might also feign illness for sympathy. I read Simon Baron-Cohen's book 'Zero Degrees of Empathy' where he talks about this condition (including narcissism, sociopathy and the autistic spectrum). Although, I doubt someone borderline would go as far as to make anyone else ill for sympathy. Borderlines are attention-seeking, but they have their limits. Any malice they perpetuate is usually uncoordinated because they're such impulsive people (also, unlike sociopathy, BPD is cureable so patients tend only to have it for 5 years or less). Munschausen-by-proxy does seem like something only a sociopath would do because I guess it would require planning (I could be wrong though; I'm not an expert).

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
I've never had a really good handle on BPD, so can't really express a strong opinion. and yes, Munchausen-by-proxy requires the kind of absolute lack of humanity combined with false emotionality that I can't imagine anyone but a sociopath exhibiting.

Are borderlines known to be particularly dishonest? Even for plain old Munchausen's, you'd have to be extremely dishonest by nature, basically a con man, to pull it off. Also, you'd have to be completely shameless and guilt-free to string along doctors and nurses for any length of time.

Anonymous said...

Borderlines can be dishonest, but it's usually done at whim. So, for example, faking medical conditions or making false accusations is something they might do. I doubt they would take part in any elaborate conspiracy like sociopaths would. AUIU, sociopaths gloat about hurting other people, whereas borderlines simply have trouble with empathy. Their upsetting other people or getting revenge doesn't please them like for sociopaths. In other words, they're not inherently evil, just mentally ill. Borderlines who recover often look back at the way they upset people and feel guilty.

I have an interest in the condition because I've known a couple of borderlines and they're not nice to be around. Very unreliable. They might arrange to meet you in town for lunch, you might rush to get there thinking you'll be late, then they don't bother turning up at all. You try to call them several times, but they don't answer, so you spend the rest of the day wondering if something awful has happened. Then you find out they were still in bed at mid-afternoon because they impulsively decided to get blind drunk at 3AM. The condition is very frequently comorbid with eating disorders (though, apparently, there's also a link between narcissism and EDs). If there's someone who makes a lot of suicidal gestures (i.e. takes overdoses, then phones for an ambluance) or engages in self-injury, it's likely that they have BPD.

- Gethin

John Craig said...

Gethin --
Thank you. That helps me understand them better. It sounds like almost a cross between autism and sociopathy, or maybe, just sociopathy-lite. It also sounds very childlike. (In a way, sociopaths are sophisticated adults with the emotional maturity of one-year-olds.)

I'm surprised that eating disorders are co-morbid with narcissism. There are evidently a lot of girls in my hometown with eating issues, and the vast majority of them seem like "nice girls." (I don't know most of them that well, but I know them well enough to know they don't give off narcissistic vibes in other regards.)

Steven said...

what kind of vibes does a narcissist give off? Like if you knew one casually like those girls in town, what would be the signs?

John Craig said...

Steven --
I'd say the things that usually give them away are appearing inordinately pleased with themselves a lot of the time, talking about themselves a lot and not asking questions about other people, thinking they're better at things than they are, and not being able to admit when they're wrong. I don't necessarily see all these things directly, most girls are polite to me simply because I'm a parent, but sometimes I hear about local girls from other people. And most of the ones I've known (or known of) who have eating disorders don't give off those signs.

Anonymous said...

I'm close friends with a recovered anorexic (probably mild BPD) and she is very sweet, emotional , lost, annoying , nice, mean, fun, fragile. I'm male.

Her psychologist met her mum and can see why she is how she is. BPD's grow up not being validated.

Her mum is a narcissist.

I am self diagnosed as mild BPD and the reason we don't turn up is because our emotions are all over the place. We don't know when our emotions will change and feel severe anxiety/mental pain hourly and daily for years. Turning up to a lunch date when your going through hell can be tough and you will resort to knocking yourself out with alcohol...anything because it never ends.

John Craig said...

Anon --
Thank you for that, that was informative, but I have to ask, does "BPD" stand for borderline personality disorder or bipolar disorder? The reason I ask is because the above comments discuss borderline, but the way you're describing "BPD," it sounds like bipolar disorder ("we don't know when our emotions will change").

Either way, the BPD you describe does sound hellish.

Your description of your friend with BPD makes her sound very female somehow.

If you are referring to borderline personality disorder, I have to admit, I still don't have a good handle on it. So far the way it's been described to me it sounds as if it has elements of sociopathy, Aspergers, and now, bipolar disorder.

Pavonine99 said...

From what I understand, BPD is not like asbergers (sufferers are too socially aware), sociopathy (they do have empathy and deep feelings)or bipolar (the mood swings are rapid and relate to external events). There are nuerological differences between the three conditions as well.
Some people theorize that it's a form of PTSD, others say that a "BPD brain" overreacts to emotional stimuli.
But you're right about it being a kind of emotional immaturity, which must be why its so curable.
Basically imagine someone living in constant "fight/flight" mode, and you'd have the right idea. Sorry if that was an overload of information, I don't have the condition and I'm not an expert, but that's what I've gathered from reading far too much in my spare time.

John Craig said...

Pavonine --
Thank you. Now it's beginning to make more sense. I can relate all of those things to the one person I know/knew whom I was told had borderline personality disorder. Then again, I can't imagine this person ever begin cured. But the "constant fight or flight mode" rings true with a couple people I've known.

Steven said...

"I'd say the things that usually give them away are appearing inordinately pleased with themselves a lot of the time, talking about themselves a lot and not asking questions about other people, thinking they're better at things than they are, and not being able to admit when they're wrong."

Are you talking about somebody with diagnosable narcissistic personality disorder or just somebody who would be casually referred to as narcissistic?

Steven said...

and while we are on the topic of personality disorders...are sociopaths devoid and empathy and conscience and basically amoral or do they actively hate people and enjoy hurting them?

John Craig said...

Steven --
Something in between, I guess. The behaviors I list are actually those that a diagnosable person with NPD would exhibit. But I was surprised recently when I looked up NPD and Wikipedia said that roughly 1% of the population has it. I think that's ridiculous; almost everybody would agree that people who can never admit they're wrong etc. comprise much more than 1% of the population. So…..something in between.

John Craig said...

Steven --
They can be both, in my experience. I've heard sociopaths described as people who cheerfully carry hand grenades in both hands. (That is from Harvey Cleckley, the father of the field.) That description would indicate that sociopaths are merely completely amoral. But I have to say, of the ones I've known personally, practically every single one had more than his fair share of poison in his system.

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that because of the stigma surrounding NPD, doctors are reluctant to label all the self-absorbed people who are probably just spoiled jerks. The ones who get an NPD diagnosis seem to be "partial psychopaths"; people with no real feelings but lacking the antisocial impulsivity. That would explain the 1% figure.

John Craig said...

Anon (Steven?) --
The reason the 1% figure makes no sense to me is because all sociopaths are by definition narcissists (but not all narcissists are sociopaths). And sociopaths are, by expert consensus, roughly 3% of the population. So right there that means 3% of the population has to be narcissistic. And NPD is a much less extreme condition than sociopathy, so it stands to reason that there would be a much larger group of people who have NPD than are sociopaths. I would guess the real figure is closer to 20 -30%. (I've seen similar numbers elsewhere, though I can't produce them now.)