Too much of sympathy leads to self-pity | Sunday Observer

Too much of sympathy leads to self-pity

14 February, 2021

At a time the deadly Corona virus is spreading throughout the world, most people have a fear of diseases and a preoccupation about their health However, some people tend to believe that their everyday aches and pains are symptoms of a serious medical condition which needs treatment. Even young adults may interpret the sensations as evidence of a serious illness. This condition is known as hypochondriasis.

To some degree, we all are hypochondriacs. We fret when hearts skip a beat; we show concern about sneezing and coughing as Covid 19 is around. And we view mild fevers with undue concern. However, most of us do not worry about such symptoms. On the contrary, hypochondriacs consider every little sign as a danger signal. In a way, they are obsessed with diseases.

There was a young man, let’s call him Ravi, who used to listen to any conversation about diseases. Not that he wanted to be a doctor or become more knowledgeable than others as far as diseases were concerned. One day, he heard two people talking about the terrifying details of cancer. As there is no known cure for cancer, Ravi was mortally scared of it. After listening to the conversation he thought he had some symptoms of the disease. He lost no time in consulting a specialist who subjected him to a number of tests. The doctor told him that he could go home as he had no symptoms of cancer. Whatever the doctor said, he was convinced that he had some symptoms of the deadly disease.

Hidden recesses

Dr Helen Flanders Dunbar said, “In the hidden recesses of their minds they have made a blueprint of the disease they want. They select the disease they want. They also select the symptoms in much the same way that healthy people select clothes, choosing carefully for style, fit and the effect upon others.” According to medical specialists, hypochondriasis is a puzzling disease difficult to treat. They claim that at least 10 percent of the population suffers from it. Modern research reveals that television is largely to blame for the upsurge of the malady. When certain drugs are advertised on television, viewers get the feeling that there is a cure for every disease. Invariably, they try them out as the drugs are available over the counter. Some drugs are even delivered to your doorstep. As no doctor has prescribed such drugs, the users will have serious repercussions.

Although most diseases have an ebb and flow, hypochondria has a different cycle. According to a leading physician, the malady is prevalent when people are in a happy mood. Hypochondriacs swallow all types of pills and capsules. I had a boss who used to carry a box full of pills. In it you find pills for any disease. He swallows them happily at regular intervals, but he never tells us who prescribed them. Even at home, he kept bottles full of bright-coloured pills sitting pretty on his table. He used to say that some of the pills were waiting to be discarded but we never saw him throwing away any pills.

In addition to pills, there are all kinds of bottles full of Ayurvedic oil meant for various diseases. They are also regularly advertised on television. Nobody knows the efficacy of such oil but people buy it. Medical studies show that placebos – bright-coloured milk-sugar tablets with no curative powers – are powerful in erasing symptoms. In an experiment placebos gave relief to 120 out of 199 headache sufferers. In another study 53percent got relief from severe post-surgical pain.

Doctor shoppers

Among the hypochondriacs there are doctor shoppers. They are never satisfied with the services of one doctor. They consult several different specialists for the same disease. A woman is reported to have consulted 12 doctors within a period of 14 days!

Another type of hypochondriac includes retired people who are not occupied in any productive activity. As a result, they keep on worrying about their health. Some of them are difficult to live with. Their old age seems to intensify the problems.

To whatever type they belong all of them are hypochondriacs who make themselves and others miserable. They always complain of pain in some part of the body. They apply all kinds of oil on the joints and consult specialists who prescribe pills and capsules.

What causes hypochondria? Some authorities point to psychic causes. Some hypochondriacs have a great desire to escape from life’s problems. Others have some kind of imaginary sickness for which there is no known remedy. Even some well-known people have been hypochondriacs. For instance, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a tyrannical father who made her life miserable. She escaped through a minor spinal injury when she was young. Elizabeth magnified its importance and eventually became an invalid. However, when she turned 40, her father broke her unhappy pattern. She was virtually swept onto her feet. Then she got married and gave birth to a child. She also became a mountain climber.

Insatiable desire

Some people have an insatiable desire to win sympathy from others. This is a frequent cause of hypochondria. When a child falls ill, parents become extra sympathetic towards him. Even a devoted wife may feel that her husband is neglecting her and giving priority to his official work. To win his sympathy she may feign illness. Similarly, a mother may feel lonely when her daughter gets married and moves away. In order to keep the daughter at home, she will get sick.

Even patients subject to surgery crave sympathy and attention when they are hospitalised. A survey has revealed that 73 percent of women who got their ovaries removed were found to be normal. Some patients become experts in feigning symptoms even experienced doctors cannot diagnose.

A major study involving 250 patients with gastrointestinal complaints underwent operations which failed to relieve them. However, the patients found satisfaction in staying at hospitals and receiving the attention of sympathetic nurses and doctors. Even when they returned home, they had something to discuss with their children, relatives and friends.

Even doctors are puzzled when victims of hypochondria complain of illnesses. When doctors subject them to a series of tests, the victims derive some form of satisfaction. If doctors ignore their pleas, they will not hesitate to consult quacks who love to deal with hypochondriacs. Knowing this ground reality, many physicians consider hypochondria as a serious malady. However, too much of sympathy shown to a patient will only encourage the feelings of self-pity.

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