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Sunday, September 17, 2017

I am the Adult Child of a Hypochondriac

We could talk about being that small child whose parent makes a mountain out of a molehill. But let's move forward a few years. You are now the parent yourself and your child is coughing, or febrile, or has a stomach ache. Do you know how to respond or does your stomach clench at the knowledge that you aren't equipped to determine appropriate parental response to such a normal, childhood thing?

I read on that "the Greek word hypochondria translates as 'below the ribcage'. It was first used to explain indigestion, then melancholia, then neurosis and finally, 'a misplaced fear of illness based on misinterpretation of bodily symptoms' and while almost no one will own up to it publicly up to one in 10 people suffer from anxiety problems and doctors are seeing more cases in which this shows up as health anxiety or hypochondria. The DSM-IV defines hypochondriasis according to the following criteria: Preoccupation with fears of having, or the idea that one has, a serious disease based on the person's misinterpretation of bodily symptoms.

Enter anxiety. If your own parent has a hypochondriasis-type disorder or pattern of behavior, then your parent presents with major anxiety much of the time and you, as the adult child, probably go through periods of crisis and periods of disconnection with that parent. Because that would be normal in this not-normal situation.

Growing up with a hypochondriacal parent makes it difficult, as a parent yourself, to know when illness truly exists, to determine levels of illness, and to figure out appropriate treatment options. You might consider ill people to be fakers or to be exaggerating. You might have a difficult time knowing when to intervene with medications with your children. You might not know when to take their somatic complaints seriously.  If your parent is a hypochondriac you might not even know when to take your own illnesses seriously.

  • Have you thought that your daughter was faking a headache?
    Have you assumed that your child was exaggerating their illness?
  • Have you doubted your own knowledge about basic medical care?
  • Have you ignored your son's complaints, thinking them nonsense?
  • Have you counted on your partner's medical knowledge to determine appropriate treatment options?
  • Does a simple illness in your child make you feel inadequate?

If you can relate to this, then know this.
You won't find information online because this is a genuinely understudied thing. But you can re-parent yourself. You can learn basic illness symptoms and how to treat these illnesses. You can remind yourself that your children are honest reporters of their own illness. You can share these struggles with your own medical professional and with your child's pediatrician. You can intervene with your own maladjusted thoughts and remind yourself that you can trust your own senses.

It's real and you have the ability to retrain yourself and to pass healthy patterns on to your own children. Clarity will happen.

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