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?