People Who Fake Illnesses

People Who Fake Illnesses

Ever suspected someone you know is faking an illness?

After our immensely popular article ‘When A Narcissist Gets Sick‘, we we turn the blowtorch on people who try to garner all the sympathy a terminally ill person gets without having to endure the illness. Whereas some people in our society are content to wait until they become seriously ill before milking their moment of suffering, some people will fake an illness simply to garner attention and sympathy from others.

Our guest shrink is currently on sick leave from the Bear but took time out from the MRI machine to point out to me that the applicable psychological terms are malingering (where one outright makes up an illness) and factitious disorder (being where one acts as if they have an illness by deliberately producing or faking, symptoms).

So, what are some of the signs someone you know might be faking their illness?

They have a history of being self-absorbed.

If the candidate routinely posts self-congratulatory messages on social media fishing for as many likes as they can get, then they happen to ‘get sick’ once the well starts to run dry, they may be faking. If for example their latest Facebook self-flagellation over their personal best 10km run garners only 37 likes instead of the usual 151 likes, the next step for many will be adopting a designer illness. By setting the clock at T-minus six months until their funeral, they guarantee no fewer than 250 likes per post for the foreseeable future.

Their illness has no obvious symptoms.

If you’re going to pick a fake illness and get away with it, clearly picking something involving necrotised tissue and which requires surgery or amputation will either bring you undone or require an unnecessary level of commitment.

Typically, fakers will choose something that mostly involves nothing more than looking tired/sick/thin and removing hair. At the lower end, chronic fatigue syndrome fits the bill. At the higher end, cancer that is easily treatable with medication is a smart choice. Gangrene, organ trouble and skin cancer on the other hand are not so smart.

Failure to pick a suitable disease will bring a faker undone. This was a critical error made by ‘wellness blogger’ Belle Gibson, who claimed to have had heart surgery and died on the table, only to be unable to reveal the obvious scarring that should have resulted. Rookie mistake.

They attempt to cash in. 

Sometimes a self-esteem boost isn’t the only reward for a fake illness. If you’re going to risk social exclusion you may as well get rich at the same time and this was the case for Gibson, whose blog and subsequent app traded off her ill health, and Elisa Bianco who managed to get rent and tuition taken care of.

They appear to enjoy it. 

There’s nothing wrong with someone who is sick putting on a brave face and trying to turn it into a positive. It should be said, however, that suffering a serious illness is not enjoyable. If they appear to be enjoying the lovebombing, messages of support and non-stop favours from more able-bodied folk, it’s worth asking the question.

The symptoms don’t add up.

They get nauseous when they should be itchy, they say they can’t walk when they’re supposed to be buzzing or ‘six months to live’ becomes 12 months, which becomes 24 months and next thing you know they may as well be Methuselah. If their illness just ain’t going the way it should then it might be worth asking why not. It could be a misdiagnosis or they might be an exception, but if they are self-obsessed, have a vague illness, are cleaning up financially and appear to be having the time of their lives, it’s worth wondering if you’re being had!