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Münchausen Syndrome

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Münchausen Syndrome is a psychological disorder that causes people to feign illness for attention. They often do this by poisoning themselves or hurting themselves in order to actually appear to have symptoms.

In some cases, they'll even go so far as to involve other people, making them sick in order to capitalize on the attention of taking care of a sick person (usually a child). This is called Münchausen by Proxy. For all the details, see Wikipedia. Münchausen by Internet is for someone who exaggerates or fakes various conditions and illnesses online for money, sympathy, or just to be a troll.

In a case of Science Marches On, Münchausen Syndrome is now formally referred to as Factitious Disorder, while Münchausen Syndrome by Proxy is referred to as Factitious Disorder Imposed on Another.

Hollywood has taken this syndrome and exaggerated it to the point of absurdity at times. It's common to see it show up in medical detective shows and Lifetime movies.

Very closely related to Induced Hypochondria and Wounded Gazelle Gambit. Named after the same person as, but not often a character trait of The Münchausen.

See Playing Sick and Faking Another Person's Illness for the less pathological version. Contrast with Getting Sick Deliberately.

Compare Hypochondria, in which the person genuinely thinks they're ill.


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Münchausen Syndrome

    Anime And Manga 
  • Franken Fran has the five patients in "People of Unusual Tastes" that each kill themselves so that they can be treated and revived by Fran. They manage to even freak out Fran herself.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Played for Laughs in Arrested Development. In her spare time at school, Maeby disguises herself as Surely Wolfbeak, a young girl paralysed in a wheelchair. She poses as Surely to scam people for donations but also to receive popularity amongst her cohort.
  • An episode of Call the Midwife features a patient doing this, shedding blood into a urine sample to make herself seem as though she has cholera (the nurse is able to tell the difference between how blood could get into urine). A bit sadder than most examples, as the woman doesn't even expect to get attention from friends, family, or society at large; she's just so isolated that forcing a public healthcare worker to attend to her is the only form of contact she can receive.
  • An episode of House dealt with a woman with Munchausen Syndrome and the argument over if she was actually sick, or if all her symptoms were manufactured.
    • This gets out of hand when House erroneously suspects she has Aplastic Anemia, in addition to Munchausen's, going so far as to inject her with a drug to manufacture the symptoms of the former so that the hospital will readmit her. Turns out, she actually has Clostridium perfringens (a bacterial infection). The injection ends up backfiring after she is cured, as she uses the intended effect (a low white cell count) to be admitted to a different hospital without giving her medical history, meaning her mental illness is still going untreated.
    • In general, it comes up as an early diagnosis from time to time. Of course, since every single episode has the Lethal Diagnosis trope in play, we shouldn't need to tell you how many of his patients actually have Munchausen's.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: In the episode "Manipulated", Tessa is revealed to have this, faking her paralysis and injecting herself with viruses to make herself appear sicker. Her lawyer tries to use this to claim that she isn't fit to stand trial.
    Attorney Walsh: My client is sick, Your Honor, but she cannot stop. Whenever she's under stress, she will make herself ill.
    Casey Novak: Well, then, gee, why don't we let her off before she injects herself with HIV.
  • In Nip/Tuck, Christian discovers that his most recent patient, Rhea Reynolds, who claims to be a victim of an infamous serial rapist who cut up her face, actually mutilated herself and was never attacked, and suspects she is suffering Munchausen's. He takes the lie personally, as he was actually assaulted by her alleged attacker and has PTSD as a result.
  • The Practice: Amoral Attorney Hannah Rose helped a client to walk away with rape by pointing out the victim had been previously diagnosed with Munchausen, despite the dubious nature of why the doctor who made that diagnosis decided to do it.
  • The Australian Show Review with Myles Barlow has Myles reviewing sympathy in the second season. In search of sympathy, Myles lies and hurts himself.
  • The mother in "The Masks" episode of The Twilight Zone (1959) was either this or a hypochondriac. She complained about how she was braving a serious illness to visit her dying father, and many other instances in the past were implied.

  • Some Visual Kei rock musicians. Kisaki and Yoshiki are often mentioned in reference to it. Kisaki is the more clear-cut case, having actually faked illnesses to the point of getting surgeries for them, and had even stolen others' hospital photographs for his own. Yoshiki may or may not be a case since his conditions are real, but he has inflicted most of them on himself and doesn't take care of his health to prevent them from worsening and he gets a ton of sympathy even for drinking himself into the hospital—though he likely doesn't do any of it with the primary motive of being given sympathy, so whether he's a case of Munchausen or simply of not taking care of his health is debatable.
  • The Wings: Mama trailer for the BTS Universe reveals one of the characters' big secrets: the reason Hoseok is "sick" and being treated at the hospital is because he was diagnosed with Munchausen.

    Video Games 
  • One side mission in Blue Reflection is centered around helping out a student who, after breaking a bone and getting pampered by her classmates for it, is trying to injure herself again by jumping out a second-story window.
  • In The Caligula Effect, it's one of the Traumas the President of the Go-Home Club can heal from students in Mobius. They take the student to the library to read a book called "Modern Pathology" where they instead learn how to fake their sickness better.
  • Zigzagged with Kranke from The Caligula Effect 2. While she is indeed wheelchair bound in the real world, within the world of Redo she still maintains the appearance of being crippled despite having fully functional legs. The reasons for this is due to her doctor and caretaker being a Death Seeker who views his botched operation which lead to her inability to walk as his greatest failure, and her keeping up appearances is for the sake of giving him a purpose as she fears that if she didn't, he would probably kill himself thinking he cured her.

    Western Animation 
  • An episode of Ed, Edd n Eddy had Eddy, jealous of the attention Jimmy got, start faking injuries.

Münchausen by Proxy

    Fan Works 
  • In Forgiveness is the Attribute of the Strong, the reason Yoichi, first One for All user, was so sickly was because his mother poisoned him to keep him from leaving her. And because All for One kept poisoning him when they became adults to keep Yoichi dependent on his protection. Yoichi knew this and hated his brother for it.
  • This Pokémon kink meme fill theorizes that the reason Wally has been so sick and how he immediately got better when he left home was because his mother was poisoning him through her cooking and her gifts.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • One Missed Call has Munchausen's By Proxy as the Dark Secret of one character.
  • Alma in Phantom Thread realises she enjoys Reynold's (her lover) company when he is felled with illness. During his sickness, he is softer, kinder, and less irritated by Alma. When healthy, he is short-tempered and annoyed by disturbances. With her knowledge of edible and non-edible mushrooms, she begins feeding him poisonous fungi. Though the mushrooms are not poisonous enough to kill him, they are enough to keep him bedridden. In his sickness, their relationship strengthens. By the end of the film, he willingly takes part in it, despite the macabre nature of their enduring love.
    Alma: I want you flat on your back. Helpless, tender, open with only me to help. And then I want you strong again. You're not going to die. You might wish you're going to die, but you're not going to. You need to settle down a little.
  • The 2020 film Run features this. Sickly, paraplegic teenager Chloe, discovers that her "mother", Diane, is actually a woman who abducted her as a child, and the majority of her ailments are actually induced by the medications Diane is giving to her, including her paralysis. Diane turns homicidally violent when her ruse is exposed.
  • The Sixth Sense had the ghost of a little girl who had died after being poisoned by her mother in order to gain sympathy from outsiders. After her death, the mother turned her attention to her little sister. The girl's ghost gets Cole to find a videotape she had made showing the poisoning which he shows to the father, who angrily confronts his wife at the post-funeral service.

  • A particularly chilling example is Patricia Cornwell's The Body Farm, in which a teenage boy is murdered and a woman, instead of feeling sympathy for his parents, is jealous of the attention they get and thus kills her own daughter in order to get the same attention and sympathy.
  • In the Doctor Who Expanded Universe short story "Monsters", one of the eponymous monsters is the protagonist's mother, who has Munchausen by Proxy. When the protagonist tries to tell her about the alien monster, the mother's response is to gleefully cart her off to a child psychologist.
  • In Tana French's In the Woods, the detective protagonists discover strange bouts of illness in the medical records of the murdered girl and speculate Munchausen by proxy. Although this guess proves incorrect, they're right about one thing: she was being poisoned by a family member.
  • In It, Eddie's mother uses Munchausen by Proxy to keep him under control.
  • Misery: Annie's treatment of Paul (and the babies she murdered as a nurse) has shades of this.
  • Saving Max: This is half of Marianne's motive, the other half being Mad Scientist. She's had two children before, both of whom died from her abuse. Her only surviving child Jonas has been diagnosed with autism and intellectual impairment, but he wasn't born that way - he has Childhood Brain Damage from a seizure induced by Marianne, who has trained him to display autistic behaviors such as self-injuring on cue. She laps up the attention she receives from her children's illnesses and deaths.
  • Inverted in The Secret Garden, in which Colin's father is so set upon avoiding attention that he has his servants and hired a doctor to convince Colin he's too frail and crippled to walk or leave the house, the better to keep father and son isolated from outsiders and each other. Thus, Colin had never learned to walk because he was prevented from trying to.
  • Plays a large plot point in Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn when Camille discovers that her mother deliberately sickened her sister Marion in order to "care" for her, resulting in Marion's death, and suspects that she may also be behind the murders of Natalie and Ann. Ultimately Adora's abuse did indirectly lead to the murders but Adora wasn't the one who killed the girls.
  • Julie Gregory's haunting memoir, ''Sickened'', chronicles the author's 20 years of abuse at the hands of her severely narcissistic mother and schizophrenic father. According to the memoir, not only would her mother regularly tamper with her diet and prescriptions, but she also continuously pressed doctors to perform disturbingly invasive procedures in order to get the desired diagnoses.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Dee Dee Blanchard story itself was dramatized in the Hulu miniseries The Act.
  • The Blacklist has the team tracking someone abducting mothers. They're pulled into it when Red's ally, Senator Panabaker's daughter-in-law Sheila is found malnourished. The team track to a building of several mothers in the same state, all with sick children and wonder what psycho is doing this. However, they soon realize all these mothers were targeted because they were making their kids sick. The kidnapper, Ava, lost her sister when their mother poisoned her and is now out to punish women who do the same. Panabaker doesn't want to believe it until the tests prove the only thing wrong with her granddaughter is the drugs she's being fed. Ava is stopped (even as the team admits they sympathize with her) and all the mothers, including Sheila, are arrested. The team reflects on how Ava's actions were extreme but still ended up saving kids from their horrible mothers.
  • In series two of The Bridge (2011), Saga deduces that Martin's nanny has been doing this to his son. It turns out that she has herself been a victim of it.
  • Criminal Minds:
    • There's an episode where the Unsub used his manipulation over his wife's health to prove that he had control over her living or dying.
    • Another episode had an Unsub who forced his own son to asphyxiate himself via hanging himself, but that was no longer enough and he got his son to help him spread this over the internet as a "game", the hanging offering a brief high to those who manage to avoid strangling themselves to death (naturally, a few fail). Then the Unsub, who was a paramedic, got to arrive on the scene and play the hero by trying to save the asphyxiated teens. Hotch calls him a classic case of Munchausen by Proxy.
  • A case on Elementary sees Sherlock and Joan discover that a son killed his mother because he discovered that she had spent years drugging him with his grandfather's heart medication to make him think he was ill. However, Joan has little sympathy for the son, considering that he also killed the doctor who told him the truth about his mother's actions, despite the fact that the doctor only learned about the issue because she had been committing fraud (using the names and contact details of other doctors to write bogus prescriptions) and would have almost certainly lost her medical license and been sent to prison for nothing more than trying to help the boy.
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia when Mac poisons Dennis with blended foods that upset his stomach disguised as protein shakes in order to nurse him back to health and prove that he's dependable.
  • JAG had a Sub Story, "Silent Service", where sailors on an attack sub kept falling ill or suffering unusual "accidents". It turned out the ship's Chief Medical Officer was responsible, creating the illnesses and injuries so he could then save the day. A review of his file revealed two of the previous ships he served on suffered mysterious maladies that he "cured", and was subsequently given awards for.
  • The original Law & Order series had an episode featuring a mother who had several children and killed each one, claiming that each child inherited and then died of a rare genetic disorder in order to gain sympathy. She also tried to harm a foster child.
  • Law & Order: Special Victims Unit:
    • Seen in "Sick", a case that actually centered on a thinly-veiled Michael Jackson analogue. The grandmother of the second accuser is the one proven to commit abuse of the child, having poisoned her with mercury and claiming it was cancer. They make a deal for immunity on defrauding the millionaire, but Novak still decides to prosecute her for fraud for all the hundreds of thousands she's raised through donations for the "illness", as well as attempted murder. The woman tries to claim that she's "sick" and can't stand trial, but Novak dismissively comments "No one's that stupid" and everyone will see she's just greedy.
    • Another episode, "Pathological" (this one being Ripped from the Headlines being based on Dee Dee Blanchard), features a mother who poisoned her 15-year-old daughter with drugs her entire life, putting her in a wheelchair she didn't need and causing her to have seizures. When this is revealed, the daughter gets better and ends up killing her mother in self-defense.
  • Midsomer Murders: In "Dressed to Kill", Gill Templeton is deliberately aggravating her son's Rocco's anemia and telling him that he has leukemia, so that she scam the village into paying for him to travel to Florida for treatment; planning to take the money and Rocco and disappear.
  • The murder victim in episode 4.06 of Motive was revealed as a woman who poisoned her stepson for attention, and had previously poisoned (and killed) another boy four years prior. She was killed by the deceased boy's music teacher, who had suspected her in the death.
  • Scrubs. Discussed in one episode:
    JD Narrating: The Stanleys' child was sick, and I just spent the last 20 minutes asking them awkward questions to rule out the possibility of child abuse.
    Mother: Who would smother their own child?
    JD: You'd be surprised. There's something called Münchausen Syndrome. where a parent will intentionally harm their child to get some attention on themselves.
  • In Season 3 episode 5 of Supernatural, Sam and Dean investigate the spirit of a girl who is close to death and in a coma ever since her mother made her drink bleach to gain attention and pity.
  • The X-Files: The episode "Calusari" followed Mulder and Scully investigating a child whose Romanian immigrant grandmother's behavior toward said child led them to suspect she was engaging in this. This being The X-Files, however, they wound up wishing it was actually something as mundane as this. Turns out the kid was possessed by the ghost of his stillborn brother, and granny was trying to exorcise him. Whoops.

  • Eminem was a victim of this as a child. His mother would have him think he was sick when he wasn't, causing him to take medication he didn't actually need, possibly leading to his later issues with drug addiction.
    My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't
    Now I grew up and I blew up and made you sick to your stomach, doesn't it?
    - "Cleaning Out my Closet"
    • Slim Shady also claims that he has Munchausen's-by-proxy in "Vegas", and makes his girl sick for his own amusement.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In the Changeling: The Lost sourcebook Grim Fears, the character Auntie Ally is a changeling who, after losing her husband and daughter while she was in Arcadia, suffers from a pathological need to be needed. She continuously volunteers to cook at changeling events, spiking the food of certain individuals with hedgefruits that cause painful physical symptoms, and then "nurses them back to health". Making this already unpleasant situation significantly more dangerous is that, due to the tortures she suffered in Arcadia, Ally has (unknown to her) a brain tumor that's causing her behavior to become increasingly erratic. If the players don't find out and stop her, it's very likely she'll overdo it and outright kill her next "patient".

    Video Games 
  • Soul Sacrifice: This comes up in the backstory of the Basilisk. Before his transformation, he was a young man with a sickness that left him blind. His nurse was an ugly woman who came to rely on his condition for validation. When he began to recover, she began poisoning him to keep him from recovering his sight. One day she miscalculated the dose, and revealed the truth as he was dying. His rage at being treated like that summoned the Chalice.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 
  • Big Mouth: Mona says she feeds her grandmother Tom's of Maine shampoo so she'll get sick and Mona will get praise for taking care of her. Cue Parody Product Placement.
    "Tom's of Maine: Keep Your Grandmother Sick."
  • In Drawn Together, Princess Clara spends an episode caring for Wooldoor and making sure that he still needs to be cared for. The show even lampshades this by having the bottle of pipe cleaner she feeds him say "Not to be used for Munchausen by Proxy" on the label.
  • In an episode of King of the Hill, Bill takes care of the Hill family after they all get the flu. When they recover Bill's so desperate to keep taking care of them that he attempts to poison the soup he was making them with ipecac, only for Hank to walk in and talk him down.
  • Total Drama: In "Chinese Fake Out", Sierra buys an herbal tea that supposedly doubles as a Love Potion and uses it on herself and Cody to make him fall for her. He has a severe allergic reaction that leaves him nearly comatose for most of the following episode, and Sierra delights herself in feeding him more tea, thus making him sicker, and taking care of him. However, it's unclear if she knew she was making him sick the whole time or if she was just deluding herself into believing the tea was making him love her more rather than making him sicker.

Alternative Title(s): Munchausens By Proxy