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What Am I Supposed To Do With A Hypochondriac Step Daughter?

Question:

My husband and I have been married for ten years. We are in our early sixties and my step-daughter is in her mid thirties. Every 3-4 months she comes up with another illness, always with elaborate consequences, such as she can’t lift more than ten pounds, can’t drive, sleeps all day, etc. She’s on methodone for chronic fatigue. The complaints never end, yet, I have seen her running, and driving. I think she is making it up all for her father’s attention. Her father believes her. Herein lies the problem, and in the end I’m the one with no sympathy for her or him. This has caused a few problems in our marriage and I’ve had enough. Is it okay for me to ask my husband not to talk to me about all her latest illnesses, or what do you suggest?

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Answer:

It’s very difficult to cope with someone who has hypochondriac symptoms. However, it’s a mistake to assume they are pretending although you are not the only person to have that thought. The problem is that it’s hard to believe that a person could have all the symptoms the hypochondriac complains about. It’s much safer to assume that these are real symptoms and that she has a mental illness or a real physical illness. In other words, she needs to see an MD, have tests done so that any diseases or illnesses can be ruled out. If indeed she is found to be in good health then she needs to see either a psychiatrist or a good psychotherapist.

By the way, hypochondriac disorders are known in psychiatry as conversion disorders or somatoform disorders. In addition, it must be clarified that a person may have real symptoms of an illness along with hypochondriasis. This is why symptoms must never be dismissed.

Assuming she is in good physical health, and that may not be safe to assume, there are a number of psychiatric problems she may suffer from. For example, she may have a personality disorder. That means that she has repeatedly unhealthy ways of dealing with the problems in her life. In such a case, the behaviors are learned in early childhood and, even though they are not successful behaviors, they are repeated over and again. Indeed, she may be trying to get her father’s attention but not deliberately if she has a personality disorder.

Another problem she may have is that she is delusional about what is wrong with her. A delusion is an unrealistic way to think and it falls under the category of a psychotic illness. Whether she has a psychotic disorder with delusions or a personality disorder, she would be unaware of her behavior.

We could go through a longer list of potential psychiatric diagnoses but the bottom line is that, if she is medically healthy, she needs to get psychiatric help. That is what you and your husband could discuss with your step daughter. I know it’s hard for you but patience is very important. Anyway this is looked at, something is wrong. She needs help.

Best of Luck

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