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Tough Love - How to Cope With a Munchausen Relative

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Nell is a trained Psychologist and lives in London England. She has been writing since she was a child.

Munchausen Syndrome - Believing you are ill when there is nothing wrong at all

Munchausen Syndrome - Believing you are ill when there is nothing wrong at all

Munchausen

How can we define the difference between bipolar and someone with Munchausen syndrome?

The answer is, we can't.

I know this because I studied psychology and mental disorders for five years, back in the '90s. I was training to be a counselor, but life got in the way.

Of course, if someone is bipolar, they will exhibit certain actions and symptoms that will be easy to diagnose.

The problem occurs when one overrides the other.

But the one thing I do remember is the professor telling us a huge whacking great secret.

No Doctor can ever tell the difference between mental health issues.

Well, not completely.

As you can imagine, we were shocked.

In a nutshell, all mental health issues tend to overlap. Unless of course, you are talking about Schizophrenia. That one is much easier to diagnose.

But being either a Munchausen, bipolar, and a hypochondriac can overlap.

Take, for example, one of my relatives.

I will call him Dave. I have been helping him for the last 12 years. Before that, he didn't really want to know me, but as he has no one else, it's down to me now. And that's fine. I like helping him.

But he has one major problem.

He is constantly complaining about being ill when he isn't or thinking something else is wrong, then completely forgetting the first illness that has had him trapped for at least two years.

Munchausen Explained

Symptoms

One of the subjects we covered was, however hard it is to talk to the subject you mustn't feel guilty if you lose your temper. You have to remember that sometimes Munchausen subjects ply for sympathy, constantly.

The second thing we were taught was to not hold anything back. If you do then you are not getting the whole issue out in the open.

So, on that basis, let's get to the heart of the thing.

Dave is driving me insane.

And he is driving himself deeper into madness.

For starters, he was diagnosed with bipolar many years ago. But that was rather a guesswork assessment. The Doctors couldn't quite make out why he was acting the way he does.

For those who are not familiar with the term Munchausen, it's literal meaning is:

A factitious mental disorder in which she or he acts as though they are constantly ill, when in fact, they are not sick at all. They complain about a pain and therefore it goes on from there. But the pain is probably just a pulled muscle.


I had a friend many years ago who suffered from Munchausen disease terribly.

She was always in and out of the hospital, yet they could never find anything wrong.

In Dave's case, it's much more insidious.

Dave has been in and out of the hospital for the last ten years. He has had three angiograms, four scans, at least four months in hospital spaced over those years, and have never found anything wrong with him.

Now they have.

He has a slight swelling behind the eye which is causing his sight to flicker slightly.

This is causing him complete distress, and .he has taken to his bed and refuses to get up.

Doctor or Psychologist?

Doctor or Psychologist?

I know what you are thinking.

Well, get him some help.

Yes, I tried.

Over and over and over again. The mental health team is useless. They phone him once a month to go through the ritual of, 'How are you? Can I take down your phone number, age, and address?'

And so on.

Trouble is, it takes an hour to start a conversation, then it lasts around ten minutes.

We have complained. Well at least I have, but you may as well ask paint to dry.

So, what to do and what not to do?

Factitious Disorder - Munchausen Syndrome

Factitious Disorder

Factitious Disorder

DO this:

  1. Keep on at their doctor to make sure they get proper mental help instead of them being pushed from one hospital to another looking for illness that is not there.
  2. Allow them to stay when it suits both of you. In my case, Dave has always insisted on living alone. And he still prefers it but expects me to drop everything in seconds. So make arrangements for both of your peace of mind.
  3. Tough Love - sounds harsh? It's the only thing that will get them off of their backside to do things for themselves! It has taken me twelve years to come to this conclusion.
  4. Tell them what to do. Yes, you heard. Things to say are:
  5. You CAN do it. I cannot always help you, try it and see.
  6. No, I will not go and do your shopping, you are quite capable.
  7. When he yells, 'Nobody cares! You answer, 'No I know they don't. So you have to allow me to help you, instead of yelling at me all the time!

Now, that sounds awful, doesn't it? But what you have to realize about Munchausen illness is the more you do it for them, the less and less they will do for themselves.

Dave told me that he couldn't go up the town without me.

I told him, 'Oh yes you can. I am absolutely exhausted (true) so you have no choice. He then tried the old, 'Nobody cares,' thing again. I said:

'Yes, I do care. I am always here for you. But you have to help yourself.'

Guess where he is?

He is now shopping in the town.

Never Argue with A Munchausen

tough-love-how-to-cope-with-a-munchausen-relative

Do NOT:

  1. Constantly keep arguing with them. Whatever you say or do will be wrong.
  2. Let them make you feel guilty by saying: Nobody cares, even you don't care.
  3. .Let them stay over and over with you. They will refuse to go home. (sounds harsh, but if you don't have room or susceptible children/adults in the house, this can cause all sorts of problems, I know)
  4. On the subject of not wanting to go home, they will just call another ambulance and say they are ill. (Dave does this frequently)
  5. Keep going into hospital so that they can knock on your door at 3 am demanding to stay.
  6. Allow them to insult your husband/partner. They are doing it so that you break up and look after them instead. (Trust me, I know this one very well!)

In a Nutshell

They can do it. All they need is the encouragement and letting them know you are there for them.

But do not do everything for them. Help in the background, phone Doctors etc.

And also make them realize that by constantly telling you and the world that they are ill, they are crying wolf. And constantly causing fights between you just helps no one.

We all know the old saying.

Cry wolf once too often and nobody will believe you.

And then if you really are ill, it may take time for everyone to believe you.

The Facts of Munchausen.

This article is based on my own experiences. There are only a couple of us in our family. All our elders have gone. I am the only sister. My son lives miles away, and my husband has had enough.

Now that the Coronavirus is here, it is even more difficult to get help. For some strange reason, the Corvid 19 doesn't seem to be bothering Dave. He is so centred on his own problems that he isn't taking care when he goes out, as much as he should.

I have to nag him to wear a mask or gloves. But he seems to be revelling in the whole thing!

It seems that now the world is suffering in a similar way to him, he is taking the virus in his stride.

Munchausen is a very strange mental illness. You have to learn to duck and dive around it.

It's taken me years to learn not to yell back.

But when, like a couple of weeks ago, he decided to scream at me in the middle of the high street, it's very difficult not to turn around and tell him to go to hell.

Sorry, but you wanted the facts. That's the facts.

I hope to see him get better, but I am not counting on it just yet.

nell rose (c)

Are You or Someone You Know, a Munchausen?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 Nell Rose

Comments

Nell Rose (author) from England on July 19, 2020:

Thanks Peggy, no its a nighmare! But something we have to put up with. Thank you.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on July 19, 2020:

I am aware of this disorder but do not personally know anyone who suffers from it. Your experiences with "Dave" do not sound like much fun. Take care!

Nell Rose (author) from England on May 25, 2020:

Thanks Lawrence, yes I know what Hashimoto's is, I have Graves disease, the other one, lol! always good to see you.

Lawrence Hebb from Hamilton, New Zealand on May 24, 2020:

Nell

This is a great article on a much-maligned subject, it's so easy for us to write these people off for various reasons.

I know this because I've had a number of friends over the years who had real illnesses, but because the Docs couldn't find any physical symptoms they just assigned them to the 'scrap heap' (to not put too fine a term to it) when all they really needed was a bit of encouragement.

One friend went sixteen years being told he was just 'lazy' before he finally got a diagnosis.

My wife went ten years before she was finally diagnosed with Hashimoto's syndrome (it's where the Thyroid and the body's immune system are at war with each other!)

These conditions are real, and slowly the medical world is catching up with them, but it's a long hard fight.

By the way, my wife got so sick of the way she was being treated she went back to Uni to study Psychology and you couldn't have a prouder Hubby for what she's achieved! (Straight As so far)

Thanks for the hub.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Thanks Devika, always good to see you.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 21, 2020:

Hi Nell I have not heard of this mental illness. You have a great job explaining and now everything about it. A challenging lifestyle and you are coping well from your personal experiences.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Yes, of helping Dave, RoadMonkey. Yes it gets too much sometimes, but it's something I have to put up with. Thanks so much for reading.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Hi Zulma, lol! you hit the nail on the head there! I do feel like he is a child sometimes. And no, civil tends to disappear sometimes. I have yelled at him, but learned not to now.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Thanks Pamela, yes it's exhausting to have to deal with it. Every single time he rings me we go through the whole thing, over and over again.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Thanks Dora, yes you thought the same as me, so don't worry. I get so frustrated with it, but I know its not their fault now. Thanks for reading.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 21, 2020:

Thanks Ruby, yes that seems to be the way with people. They last a lot longer than the others who are trying to help them. It happened to a woman down our street. She was in a wheelchair for years. Her husband kept pushing her, then he died. She got out of the chair and started going out!

RoadMonkey on April 21, 2020:

My husband had a friend (dead now) who was diagnosed years ago with bipolar. It was hard helping him when was manic or when he was depressive but he didn't really have anyone else. I don't think he had Munchausen because he didn't need people to do things for him, except after he had had a manic episode where he spent all the money he didn't have and needed someone to pull his irons out of the fire!!! Exhausting. I hope when you say your husband has had enough, you mean of helping Dave!

Zulma Burgos-Dudgeon from United Kingdom on April 21, 2020:

Good Morning, Nell.

I'd hear of Munchausen by proxy before but didn't know about this. This is an informative hub.

Being bipolar myself I'm familiar with those symptoms but have never been one to complain about illness nor would I impose on anyone unless I had no choice. It must be frustrating having to deal with your question. It sounds like your dealing with a spoiled child rather than an adult. How do you manage to remain civil towards him.? You certainly have more patience than I could manage.

Wishing you luck in your dealings with him.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 20, 2020:

You have certainly gotten a first-hand view of this mental I do not have personal experience but I was aware of the disorder. This is a very good article.

It is a horrible disorder for sure. I wish you the best, Nell Rose.

Stay safe and healthy.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on April 20, 2020:

Nell, I'd like for him to get better too. This is one difficult situation to deal with. My first reaction when I heard about was disgust until I learned the right attitude. Thanks for this lesson.

Ruby Jean Richert from Southern Illinois on April 20, 2020:

First, I will say that I'm sorry you have this problem to deal with, but happy that he is now shopping for himself. I had a sister whom I'm pretty sure had this illness. She always had something wrong, and she would stay in bed in a darkened room for days, She was about 20 years older than me, but I can remember going there when I was a child and her husband would say that she's having another bad day. She lived to be 93 and in her mind was never well. I enjoyed reading your article, very informative.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

Hi Eric, yes its a horrible thing to have to listen to constantly. I do feel sorry for him, but nobody takes any notice. No doctors, mental health or otherwise. thanks for reading.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

Thanks Flourish, I have told him never to mention his 'illnesses' again otherwise I will turn off the phone. It sort of works, thanks

Eric Dierker from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A. on April 20, 2020:

Very informative. I had never paid attention to this before. I can see the relationship and closeness with Bipolar. Bummer. I had only heard of "by proxy" before. Thanks

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

Hi Kyler, I am so sorry. It is such a difficult thing to navigate, isn't it? Make them do it? Or give in? Thanks for reading.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

Thank you Umesh.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 20, 2020:

You have quite a challenge on your hands with Dave. Regardless of family, I would have had to draw my lines and back away from the situation. He’s glad to have you I’m sure.

Kyler J Falk from California on April 20, 2020:

My middle brother is like this. My mother enables him to be this way too, but never addresses it with doctors and allows him to constantly diagnose himself. Doesn't help she also verbally abuses him and has him in somewhat of a Stockholm Syndrome, creating serious mental issues that further these factitious qualities, but at the same time it is irritating.

His symptoms any time he has to do something mildly discomforting, such as dishes or going to the store: Everything is too loud and cripples me through sound, the sun burns my skin as soon as I leave the house, everyone is out to get me if they disagree with me, you're giving me anxiety by asking me to do chores, you're hurting me physically by making me leave my room all the time....

I want to save him, and my youngest brother, but alas, it is a hearsay case in which litigation is the only real option. Bureaucratic red tape with the state, as in so many states, makes saving my brothers nearly impossible.

Great article!

Umesh Chandra Bhatt from Kharghar, Navi Mumbai, India on April 20, 2020:

Interesting. Well presented.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

I believe it starts with bipolar, or those sort of symptoms, but many mental health issues can start it off. And of course there is Munchausen by proxy, which involves mothers giving their kids tablets as they think they are ill! and sometimes they kill them.

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

lol! thanks Bill, thank goodness for that!

Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on April 20, 2020:

What a challenging illness, Nell! I'd never heard Munchausen before reading this. I'm not sure I'd have the patience you're showing your cousin.

Do they know what causes this form of illness? Is there anything that can be done to ease the symptoms?

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 20, 2020:

Great information, Nell! As far as I know, I have no relatives with mental issues, other than the normal ones we all have. lol

Nell Rose (author) from England on April 20, 2020:

Thank you Chitrangada, yes its very difficult to keep calm when they don't listen to you. thanks for reading.

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 20, 2020:

A well explained article about mental illnesses, especially Munchausen.

I have not heard of this health issue. Mental illness is very difficult to diagnose, understand and treat.

I feel sorry for those, who develop such symptoms.

I believe, it requires a lot of patience on the part of the doctors, who treat such patients. It needs lot of patience and understanding for the relatives and friends also, of the person who is suffering from such mental illness.

Thanks for sharing this informative article.

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