Hypochondria by Proxy- Life with a Hypochondriac Parent

Written by: Shreya Manerkar – MA (Clinical Psychology)
Last updated date : December 22, 2022

From the time Lucy was a little girl, she would frequently visit doctors. She felt alright but her mother would keep taking her for different tests and to different hospitals. She vaguely remembers one of the doctors telling her mother you have “hypochondria by proxy”. Now when she is all grown up, she wonders what it was like living with a hypochondriac parent.

In this article, you will understand what is hypochondria by proxy and its symptoms. Along with this, you will learn how it feels to live with a hypochondriac parent. Moreover, you will understand how this issue hampers a parent-child relationship. We will also give you some tips to help people or yourself if you suffer from this issue.

Here are some key terms that will help you understand the article better.

  • Hypochondria – It is health anxiety where people worry about falling seriously ill However, there are no real physical symptoms.
  • Proxy – Giving someone else the right to do something you cannot do yourself.

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Chapter 1:

What Is Hypochondria?

It is extreme health anxiety in which people worry about being ill. People conclude that they have some major illness even when they feel normal body changes. A person undergo many tests and check-ups, but the results are normal. This is a mental health issue that stems from anxiety and no real physical problems. As a result of this, people undergo a lot of stress that causes problems in their lives.

Chapter 2:

What Is Hypochondria by Proxy?

In this issue, the parent is concerned with their child’s health and worries that the doctor may not take the symptoms seriously. In Lucy’s case, her mother had this mental health issue and was preoccupied with her health.

Her mother’s fear was irrational because there was no physical cause for her symptoms. This means that there is no reason to worry, but every time Lucy coughs or sneezes, her mother would get anxious.

Let us understand how it feels to have such an extreme and unhealthy fear of falling ill.

Chapter 3:

What Does Hypochondria by Proxy Look Like?

Aswe mentioned earlier, people with hypochondria have health anxiety with no real physical issues. It is the “fear of” falling ill and not a real sickness. A parent with hypochondria will proxy their illness on their child. This means that they will try and live their fear through their child.

Chapter 4:

How Does a Person Have Health Anxiety?

Even though it is difficult to point at the exact reason for the anxiety associated with severe illness, we can consider several factors that can lead to hypochondria.
Beliefs and Thoughts
If you find it difficult to accept any discomfort in the body and want an immediate solution to your problem, you are likely to think all your health issues are serious.
Influence from Family
Just like Lucy, if any of your family members have health anxiety, you will also develop similar issues.
Past Experience
As a child, if you have suffered from serious health conditions, you may develop hypochondria as an adult. In addition to this, you are likely to develop hypochondria by proxy as you become a parent or get into serious relationships.

Chapter 5:

How Does It Feel to Live with a Hypochondriac Parent?

Let us go back to Lucy’s example and understand how she felt every time she would cough, sneeze, or have a minor rash. There is a strong possibility that her mother would rush to the hospital as soon as something was wrong. Even if Lucy was feeling fine, she had to undergo different tests before going home.

Imagine being poked with needles to draw blood or made to undergo scans every time something is slightly wrong. These continuous visits to hospitals and emergency rooms could have caused trauma for Lucy. Along with this, she is likely to develop health anxiety herself. This means that as she grows older, she will start worrying about her health. Alternately, Lucy may also develop a strong fear of going to the hospital because she had to undergo so many tests all the time.

It is also important to note that in some cases, the hypochondriac parent will be overprotective and stop their child from experiencing a lot of things. This in turn will increase the child’s anxiety and lower their confidence. This hypochondria by proxy behavior can lead to a strain on the parent-child relationship.

Chapter 6:

How Does Hypochondria by Proxy Feel?

All parents worry about their child’s health. It is okay to be concerned if you feel your child is under the weather. This means that you care about them. However, would you still worry if the doctor said everything was fine? If your answer is “YES”, then it is not a normal worry.

Is it possible that you are putting the anxiety you feel about your own health on your child? Take a moment to think of the three factors we mentioned earlier – thoughts, experience, and family. Is it possible that you have hypochondria by proxy because of this?

Chapter 7:

How to Deal with a Hypochondriac Parent?

As a child, we feel our parents are concerned for their health or ours. But as you grow older, you realize this is very unhealthy. However, a little support and care can go a long way. You need to understand that your parent feels this is a real issue. Therefore, you have to be patient with them. Getting angry or irritated will not be helpful. You also need to understand the real reason for the anxiety – the fear of dying.

Here are some simple tips you can use when handling your parent. You can also use these tips if you are feeling anxious about your health own.

Accept the Negative Feelings
Remember, there is no “correct” way of feeling when you experience some symptoms. Instead, focus on how you feel rather than what you feel. We understand these feelings may be uncomfortable, but acknowledging them is the first step to feeling better. If we accept we have hypochondria by proxy, we can manage it better.
Avoid News Related to Health
While this is easier said than done, avoid googling information about your symptoms. Also, avoid reading or watching news related to health. Replace this need to google with talking to a friend or family member. It will help distract your mind so that the intense feelings reduce.
Manage Unhelpful Thoughts
It is very easy to believe all the thoughts that come to our minds. Imagine always feeling – “I am going to die”. How scary would that be? If you feel you are unable to control your thoughts, follow these simple steps – take a piece of paper and write down every thought you have about your health.

Next, keep the paper aside for a few hours, and come back and read it. When you read it now, do you feel your thoughts are healthy or unhealthy?

If you feel they are unhelpful, there is a good way to deal with them. Join our self-help course, “Body Image Concerns” this will help you with all the thoughts that are hampering your life. You will learn healthier ways of dealing with anxiety not only about your health but those of your loved ones.

"Practical and insightful" David

70 sections

6-Weeks Self-Paced

  • Educational Content
  • Quizzes
  • Self-reflection material
  • Suggestions & feedback
  • Worksheet, tips & tools to use

$9.00 $12.00

25% discount