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Dealing With Your Hypochondriac Loved Ones
Do you know someone with hypochondria?
Issue Upon Issue
At some point in our lives, we’ve all known someone who made every itch, pain and sniffle sound like it was the end of the world. They believed they were experiencing something unique. Everyone around them had to stop what they were doing and note the latest health issue. Never would they believe that people had dealt with, and survived, the same problem. People like this are found in every family and social group.
Why do certain people always think they’re dying while others wouldn’t admit they were in pain even if they were on fire? Coming from a family consisting of many people who live to die, I understand how frustrated people get with their hypochondriac loved ones. Try as you might to stay calm, we all get to a point where it’s hard to care for someone. After recovering from a cold, they believe the dry skin on their nose to be an early sign of cancer. It couldn’t be that their nose is just raw from being wiped and blown for the past week. They stubbed their toe and are positive it’s broken even though they can move it. The list is endless and, every day, another is added. Who has time (or energy) to care for their own health when they are kept hopping by their loved one?
So why do people act like this? Is it because they came from a family of hypochondriacs and see health complaints as a proper conversation piece? On that note, do they complain because it’s the only way they know how to get attention? Or could it be something a tad more grounded? After surviving a major health problem at an early age, they are traumatized and truly do see every health problem as serious and potentially life threatening. As every situation is different, it’s hard to say.
Yet, regardless of the reason, it still is frustrating. A serious conversation with your loved one where you express how you’re feeling is in order. The next time they say that such and such is aching and it’s aching because of an unknown, but deadly, illness, ask them how they know this is true. Tell them that you’re concerned about them and think that they should go see a doctor if they believe their situation to be so dire. (For my family, going to the doctor is like going to an amusement park. Another trip to the doctor means attention, validation and, possibly, confirmation.) Tell them that, with all of their symptoms in mind, the list is just getting longer and needs to be attended to. Politely, but firmly, tell them that, if they were as ill as they believe they are, they would be dead. Tell them that you are so happy they are alive and that they should be happy too. As so much of their self-identity seems to rely on their health problems, expect them to become defensive. They will accuse you of being insensitive and ask you how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot. As they’ve used their health problems as a crutch for so much, they will, undoubtedly, use their crutch to get through this conversation too. You’re not expecting a dramatic shift in behavior from this conversation. Still, it may cause them to re-evaluate those problems and realize what they’ve been doing to you. At the least, it will have gotten things out into the open and relieved you of some of your burden.
From experience, every voiced health concern seems to stem from something else. You need to consider one thing. Do you give your loved one attention even without them complaining or do you wait until they complain to acknowledge that they are in the room? If their behavior is a cry for attention, get to them before they get to you. Do something kind for them when they least expect it. Tell them how good they look even if they could use some sprucing up. I understand that, being so frustrated, you don’t feel up to being nice. Yet, if this is all about attention, isn’t it easier to pay a compliment than run to the drugstore in the middle of the night? If you can gradually shift their attention from their health problems to being grateful for what they have in and with you, your stress level should diminish and your relationship should improve.
When it comes down to it, its you versus them. If your health is slipping because you’ve spent so much time making sure they’re okay, something needs to change. While it’s not easy to turn your hearing off, if you’re ready to blow, it might be the wisest choice. Who knows. Maybe in the time it takes for you to re-cooperate, they’ll have lightened up a bit.