Münchausen by Internet

Lately I’ve been reading about a phenomenon called Münchausen by Internet. Much like the more familiar Münchausen by Proxy, this psychological disorder manifests when a person manufactures imaginary illnesses or fictional characters with medical or personal struggles – cancer, eating disorders, disabilities, depression, even infant deaths, sexual abuse, suicides, or stalking – alternating with near miraculous recovery. All for the attention or sympathy these situations generate.

People join online forums or create blogs that chronicle these crises, sometimes for years. They create whole families and networks of friends to bolster the illusion, only confessing to the fakery when confronted with indisputable facts.

It’s fascinating to me. Even being an incorrigible cynic, I believe I’d easily fall victim to these scams. You don’t want to believe anyone would lie about being sick, or about the death of a child, but it’s happened… many, many times.

The term was first used in an article by Marc Feldman that was published in the Southern Medical Journal in 2000. It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the first actual occurrence was earlier than that, perhaps even shortly after the advent of the Internet.

At times of great depression over medical issues with my son, I can say that my online friends helped save my sanity. Reading back over some of those old posts, the angst pouring out in my words, while at the time genuine, I can now say was the epitome of melodrama. But, I would never manufacture or exaggerate illnesses or tragedies simply for attention.

I’ve seen first hand how supportive and caring online communities can be. It’s amazing how people you don’t know will come to your aid, offering words of encouragement and hope. I’ve even seen how a community comes together offering monetary help to those in need.

Wanting to feel that kind of love, albeit in a virtual world, is understandable. Especially when you don’t have a support system close by to offer the same comfort. It does make me wonder what is lacking in people’s lives to bring them to this point. That they would make up such horrific tragedies, duping their unsuspecting public, often with no sense of remorse or wrongdoing.

Would you, have you, ever exaggerated something difficult in your life, if for no other reason than to find out who your real friends are, who will stand by you in the dark times? Have you ever been fooled by someone who has lied like that?

Submitted as part of Shell’s “Pour Your Heart Out” writing prompt at Things I Can’t Say. Please stop by to read the other posts, and give a little comment love.

Author: Tara R.

I believe all good fiction includes an element of truth, and all good photography includes an element of fantasy. In this journal I hope to give voice to the stories swirling around in my head, and to capture the images I see through my camera’s lens.

8 thoughts

  1. Ever exaggerated? Nope. I’m an open book in real life and online. Been fooled by people? Twice now. I don’t stand for it once I learn it was more than truth and I walk away. It’s terrible and manipulative and as an adult I don’t have to put up with it. SUPER interesting to read more about the subject though. Thanks for bringing up the topic.

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  2. Even when I was going thru my dark period – divorce, loss of family members, etc – mid 2000s, I never got that lonely or that extreme. I’ve heard these internet war stories and I don’t get any of it. As I’ve written before, I wrote a myspace music blog for almost 2 years under a slight veiled pseudonym and after that was over – 2007, I’ve always written under my real name.

    I think this munchausen thing is how people cope with stress, loss, and that malaise that creates a loser mentality. that being said, the ones that are outed or can be caught need serious professional help. I hope they get it.

    very sightful, evocative post, Tar Rah

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  3. Wow I didn’t know this was an actual thing. I just remember the name from the movie “yes man” because Zooey Deschanel’s character is in a band by that name…looked it up and its an interesting topic.

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  4. I laughed at the title and was going to comment something silly about you winning the internet for best title ever and then read agog.

    This is a thing now?

    If anything I UNDERPLAY what is going on in my life but I suppose I could see how someone jaded could think differently… and I have seen people milk their own tragedies for all they can – financial and emotional gain.

    People are people and I guess if they are not looking for porn that doesn’t automatically make them legit.

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  5. I’ve actually never heard of the term “Munchausen’s by Internet”, but I’m all too familiar with dealing with Munchausen patients.
    I admit that I have often been jealous of the sympathy people get online, when I don’t feel comfortable enough to share my abstract stuff. So it makes sense.
    Thanks for making me think!

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  6. There is much that I refrain from writing about, but what I do write is real. Not that I have anything too dramatic to say, and I’m grateful for that. I’d never heard of this affliction before, but I fully believe it. In fact, there’s a blog I used to follow but have since stopped reading because I was almost certain the author was making up the dramatic stories she told. She was fully playing on her readers’ sympathies, but there were too many signs that the stories were not true.

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  7. I believe there is strong magick in the words we speak/write. My nature would be to write positive things, rather than feed off of some kind of pretend pity in order to gain attention. I appreciate my friends, both on and offline, but have no use for pretensions (unless it’s masqued in some really good fiction and labeled as such!)

    If someone did that to me, I am afraid I missed it. Though they might have, I would not expect a person to lie about such things either; however, if someone were to complain and never change a thing, I would tire of their ranting and move on any way. I will stick by my friends through all kinds of life changing trauma, BUT they are changing. When a person decides to continue to do the same thing over and over again, without changing anything and complains about it the whole way… (yawns) I just get bored.

    There’s the truth as I know it… for now. 😉

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