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What is it when someone is a hypochondriac for other people?

My mother-in-law is a very devoted and loving wife, mother, grandmother. But it is like she believes everyone she loves is far more vulnerable to illness and injury than others. It is not Munchausen by proxy. She is not injuring anyone or causing illness to anyone.

But she took her kids to many psychiatrists as children. They all were diagnosed with at least one diagnosis. DH was diagnosed with ADD, schizoaffective disorder, and bipolar disorder. She sought the ability to have him made her permanent dependent because she was worried he wouldn't "launch" into adulthood, but that she wouldn't be able to get him therapy easily like when he was a kid. She didn't get it, he instead went to college, got his Bachelor's, and makes six figures at a high stress job, managing other people. He was fine living independently. But she was always very worried about him.

My brother-in-law, she got diagnosed with bipolar disorder and anxiety. He is also a college graduate. He's a homeowner. Well respected in his community. He does not make a lot of money, but went a social welfare route.

My Father-in-law, she worries so much about him. She is always worried he is going to die soon. He is in his early 50s. He has been diagnosed with cognitive degeneration. He saw specialists at Stanford. For sure he has had at least one seizure. It is possible that he has epilepsy and has had silent seizures in addition to the one known seizure. But, she cries and worries every moment is her last with him, she thinks he's terminally ill.

She worries constantly about my kids. She's worried I was bipolar or had schizoaffective disorder. She's worried my eight year old had schizoaffective disorder. She's worried my kids had allergies. She started giving Benedryl to my two year old to treat allergies he did not have until we found out and said not to. She will worry they are lactose intolerant and buy them special milk even though they drink regular milk at home and are fine. She also worries they are picky eaters, like saying she has to buy small curd cottage cheese or else the kids won't eat it, but they don't notice curd size no matter what. Lots of little things like that, assigning food needs and pickiness to my children that they don't have.

I always make sure to cut the kids' nails before we see her because she cuts their nails otherwise, and has bandaged them, saying their nails were bleeding because they ripped or were ingrown, but they were not ingrown. I let her keep one of my kids because she was worrying about my father-in-law only having so much time left, even though he's fine. I am careful not to stick q-tips in the kids' ears since their doctor says nothing smaller than an elbow, but she cleans their ears with qtips all the time and always worries they need their ears cleaned. She was sure she'd punctured my daughter's ear drum. My daughter was fine, so I wanted to just take her home. My mother in law owns a lot of medical equipment, so she has an otoscope and she saw blood in my daughter's ear. No one else saw it. She was beside herself and apologetic and certain she had hurt her, that it was her fault. I went to the E.R. to calm my mother-in-law's fears. Sure enough, no blood. Her ear was fine.

She also exaggerates. Like if a baby spit ups and that baby is her grandchild, she'll worry the baby vomited. With poop, she worries it's diarrhea. When the diaper isn't dirty, she worries the baby's constipated.

We once let her watch all the kids. She worried they had strep, took them to urgent care and got them prescriptions for antibiotics. She told us they had strep. We called the urgent care. It turns out she'd said she was their legal guardian, and they really got diagnosed with pharangytis... sore throats. The doctor gave her antibiotics because she was so worried it was more than that and she'd have to take even sicker kids back in to get the medicine they needed. We took the kids to the pediatrician. They didn't have strep, both the rapid test and longer lab test were negative. We never gave the kids the antibiotics.

She never seems to be doing this for attention. She actually backs off a lot and let's my husband and me take over, seems relieved about us taking over. I do not think she wants to worry, that it makes her very uncomfortable. And when we take over, she doesn't have to worry. But that's only with the kids.

Her parents are alive and she worries a lot that they are going to die. They are in their 70s and fine.

Just a lot of worry. Worry, worry, worry.
1 Responses
Avatar universal
Well, she is right on the dairy issue -- only two tribes of people on Earth have the enzymes necessary to digest dairy, so unless you live in southern India or Scandanavia, dairy probably is a problem but that doesn't mean you can see it -- you can't see inflammation.  Sometimes it takes years to notice.  You can get past this somewhat by using fermented or cultured dairy and avoiding cow dairy, which is the worst, but again, this isn't really your question.  People are different and have different personalities, but your mother-in-law if how you describe her is true -- we don't have her here to give her side of things -- she has a mental problem.  Could be anxiety, could be something that happened to her when she was young that has left her scarred and frightened.  Only way to find out would be to send her to a psychologist, but you can't really do that for her, and as she's an in-law, well, that's always a complication.  But again, if what you're describing is accurate, she's a danger to anyone she has power over, and doctors seem to be doing whatever she wants either to get rid of her or because they make their money giving people treatments even if they don't need them -- this is a well publicized problem especially with antibiotics and ADD and drugs that treat mental illness -- way way overprescribed.  Don't know how to help you, but somehow, for your own and your family's survival, I mean, she sounds like a menace and you need to find a way to exile her from your family if she doesn't recognize she has a problem and endeavor to fix it.  That's cruel sounding, but you have kids and she's endangering them.  As a mom, your main job is to protect them, not protect your mother-in-law, but how to do it?  
I just mean she buys one of the kids Lactaid. And my baby's less than a year old and she keeps forgetting and giving him cow's milk, so I don't think she is doing this based on anything she's read.

I don't think she's dangerous. My husband and I researched Munchausen by proxy, and she definitely doesn't have that. Illness anxiety, maybe. But she really has little concern about her own health. She'd super glue a torn eyelid before getting it sutered.

We don't want to distance from her. My Father-in-law is separating from the Army in a year and they don't have a place to live or jobs, and she's too worried he's terminally ill for them to make plans that assume he'll be able to get a civilian job. So, they are moving in with us. I mean it when I say she is loving. My kids adore her. She does tick off my oldest sometimes with the worry, but just for things like worrying my daughter's a hoarder if she didn't want to clean her room. But she doesn't worry in a combative way. Just frets. If we take over (like my husband and I saying "Just clean your room" then my mother-in-law seems relieved, like she doesn't have to worry with us being in charge).
Look, I'm not trying to start a war here, but you've mentioned things she's done when you're not there to take charge that has endangered your kids.  Sticking a Q tip in an ear?  Giving serious meds to kids without a doctor's advice?  This is how it sounds to me, if this is accurate stuff, that you cannot leave her alone ever with your kids.  Again, the fact she's loving doesn't mean she's not a menace, and there's really no such thing as illness anxiety, there's just anxiety, and it can attach to anything.  But I don't know if it's anxiety or something in her own past that has left her super sensitive to such things, such as a death in the family early in her life.  Who knows?  Worrying is very normal; acting on that worry by doing things that aren't safe to do is far beyond worrying.  And when you say she'd as soon fix her own wounds rather than see a doc, that can be anxiety -- a fear of seeing a doc.  It can also be just an excessive belief in one's own conclusions.  Doesn't matter what it is, somehow this has to stop.  Maybe a sit-down with the whole family where you make it clear to her that everything's fine, everyone loves everyone, but decisions and actions regarding your kids are to be left to you and your husband, not your mother-in-law.  Now, it could be you just made it sound worse that it is, as your above post tamps down the concern.  I'm at a distance and you did post on an anxiety forum, but I've never heard of this kind of behavior before and I've been on this forum a long time as I'm an anxiety sufferer myself.  Taking actions goes beyond common anxiety, where you usually just worry yourself to death, not take actions on others.  Just my take, you're a lot closer to the situation than any of us are, we only see what people post on here.  Good luck with it.
She's definitely not afraid of doctors, she just doesn't like being the center of attention and being fussed over.

Illness anxiety is a real thing. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/illness-anxiety-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20373782
I should add, everything I said was true. It's just not all the time. Like the Benedryl was four years ago. Her taking the kids to get antibiotics was two years ago. The q-tip thing was in February. We have talked to her. She does need more frequent reminders than my husband thinks. I have to remind him why we don't leave the kids with her. It was hard when she had us all, my father-in-law included, convinced he was dying. So I agreed to let them keep just the one at that time, and I do think that was a mistake because of the E.R. visit after. But I do not think she ever injured my daughter. I think she just worried herself into thinking she'd done it.
When I said illness anxiety isn't a thing, what I meant is, anxiety is anxiety.  The Diagnostic Manual used by psychiatrists mainly will list a ton of things in it, but mostly that's because a drug company got a patent to treat it, or some specific diagnosis is needed to get reimbursement from an insurance company.  But the treatment for anxiety is basically the same, unless it's something like OCD or PTSD, where the treatment can be somewhat different.  Anxiety sufferers tend to be phobic about different things and anxious about different things, but it's still "just" anxiety.  Sometimes getting stuck on labels can impede treatment, though I really don't know if your in-law has anxiety or needs treatment or wants treatment or is just a unique and eccentric personality.  That's something a psychologist would be able to know, not me.  Since you seem now to be downplaying the problem, perhaps you just needed a place to vent.  I hope you find a good resolution to your situation and peace of mind.  Peace.  
Got it. Thank you so much. So, my husband found out he can leave his concerns with his dad's doctor. He cannot get any information from them, but can give information to them. So, it sounds like he should just phrase it as anxiety he suspects she has. His dad and she never saved. They planned on his dad having a second career after getting out and just supplementing with his military pension. But now his mom is convinced his dad is dying, so she doesn't want him to work on anything except a foundation to look for the "cure." He thinks it would be helpful for the doctor to know, if he's not prepared to diagnose my father-in-law with something terminal, he may have to prepare his patient for the possibility he'll live.
Family business is best left to the family, but I just gotta say, everyone is your family is enabling your mother-in-law to control everyone's lives and if she's acting out of pathology that's not going to ever work out well.  All the best.
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