Why Do Narcissists Doubt Those Who Say They’re Sick?

If you have a narcissist in your life, no doubt that you have had the unpleasant experience of telling that person that you are sick only to have them not believe you.  I certainly have.  I can’t count how many times my mother didn’t believe me that I had the flu or some sickness.  She didn’t even believe I was injured when clearly I was limping or bruised.  In fact, after she threw me into a wall when I was 19 & I had back pain for the next 10 years, she deliberately would hand me heavy items, smack me in the back & tell people I was faking the injury.

Does any part of my story sound familiar to you?  I would guess it does.  It’s so upsetting & frustrating, isn’t it?  Even if you don’t care what this person thinks of you, it’s hurtful knowing they actually think you’d be capable of lying, let alone about something as serious as your health.  It also can be difficult because if the narcissist is talented enough at gaslighting, you may start to doubt yourself & believe what the narcissist says.  I know, it sounds hard to believe, but it can happen.  I had plenty of times where I wondered if my mother was right, & I really was faking my back injury.

I used to wonder why this happens.  Why don’t narcissists believe people when they say they’re sick or injured?  Eventually, I think I figured it out.

As anyone who knows anything about narcissism knows, narcissists lack empathy.  If another person is sick or injured, they simply couldn’t care less.  So what if someone is suffering?  It doesn’t affect the narcissist, so it doesn’t matter to the narcissist.  If they can convince a person that they truly aren’t sick or injured, maybe the person will stop “bothering” the narcissist with their complaints & problems.

There is also the attention factor.  Narcissists expect to be the center of attention at all times.  If someone is sick or injured, other people will care.  Their attention will be on the patient, not the narcissist.  This is a problem for any narcissist.  If they can convince others that the patient isn’t really sick or injured, they may be able to divert all attention back to themselves.

Along the lines of getting attention is the fact that many narcissists will exaggerate or even outright fake illness or injury for attention.  Not long before the last time I spoke to my mother, she had a trip to the emergency room.  Suddenly she was violently sick to her stomach one day, & my father called an ambulance.  It turned out simply to be vertigo.  Highly annoying, yes, but not serious.  A few hours at the emergency room, & she was home again.  When I spoke to her that last time, she mentioned how she “was in the hospital.”  That comment made it sound much more serious than it actually was, didn’t it?

There are also those who will make themselves sick or hurt themselves in order to gain attention from their loved ones & from medical staff.  Munchausen Syndrome is what that is called.

I believe that because some narcissists will fake or exaggerate their own health issues or even harm themselves, they believe other people do the same.  Narcissists tend to see everyone as alike.  They expect other people to do the exact same things that they do, so if they will fake problems, it’s only natural to them to assume that other people will do the same. They can’t seem to comprehend that other people don’t act like they do.

The next time the narcissist in your life doesn’t believe you about being sick or injured, I hope you will remember this post.  Their lack of belief is their problem, & it has nothing to do with you at all.

18 Comments

Filed under Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Mental Health, Narcissism

18 responses to “Why Do Narcissists Doubt Those Who Say They’re Sick?

  1. You are describing my mother. She never believed it when I was sick or injured. I was always “being a big baby” and “faking just to get attention.”

    I agree with the reasons and motives that you have figured out. 1) Narcissists lack empathy, so they don’t care when you are sick or injured. 2) Narcissists want to be the center of attention at all times, and if someone else is sick or injured, that takes attention away from them. 3) Because narcissists frequently fake or exaggerate injuries and illnesses in order to get attention, they project their behavior onto everyone else and assume that others are doing the same thing.

    There was a fourth reason in my mother’s case: money. When my dad believed that one of us kids were sick or injured badly enough that we needed to be seen by a doctor, our mother would say: “We can’t afford a doctor bill! We can’t afford to buy a prescription!” Her children weren’t worth spending money on — that’s the message I got.

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    • That was a terrible message to give you! Did that happen often?

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      • Yes, my mother said this all the time. One of my younger sisters probably would have died because of this, if I hadn’t happened to be visiting at the time.

        I was 24 years old then, living and working in Houston, Texas. I took a few days off and drove up to Missouri to visit family. My sisters and brothers are a lot younger than me, so they were all still in school. Shortly after they left for school that morning, the school nurse called and told my mother that one of my half sisters, who was ten or eleven at the time, was very ill and to come get her. I offered to drive my mother to the school to get my sister.

        My sister looked terrible. Deathly white, crying, and doubled over in pain. My mother insisted that my sister was “faking to get attention.” (How do you fake pale?) Our mother insisted that we go back home rather than to the health clinic, because “We can’t afford a doctor bill, especially not for a faker, and I need to get something to eat.”

        Reluctantly, I did what my mother said. While our mother was in the kitchen feeding her face, my sister curled up in a ball on the sofa. I went over to comfort her, and she was burning up with fever. “Linda, I don’t understand why Mom never believes me when I’m sick. I’m not a liar! I’m not faking!” she cried.

        “I know,” I told her. “Mom never believed I was sick, either.”

        With my hand on her burning forehead, as I prayed for God to heal my sister, I felt like God told me to take my sister to the doctor. So I went into the kitchen and firmly said, “I am taking her to the doctor. Don’t worry about the bill, I will pay it.”

        My mother made a face and said, “Well, if you insist, then I will go with you. But first I need to finish eating, I’m starving.” Of course, she took her sweet time eating.

        When we finally got on the road, I drove as fast as the speed limit would allow, because my sister was moaning almost nonstop by then and the nearest doctor was in the next town, a good twenty minutes away.

        By the time we got to the clinic, my sister could not walk without assistance. As she limped into the clinic between my mother and me, the receptionist took one look at her and told us to bring her straight back to a room. She then went got the doctor, who was seeing another patient, and told him there was an emergency. He stopped what he was doing and rushed into the room to examine my sister.

        “She has a surgical abdomen,” he said. “You need to get her to the hospital as fast as you can. Put your flashers on and drive as fast as you can drive. Time is of the essence.”

        “If it’s that serious, shouldn’t we call an ambulance?” I asked.

        “We don’t have time to wait for an ambulance,” he said.

        The nearest hospital at that time was 25 miles away. I discovered that day that my little Toyota Celica could go 95 miles per hour.

        It turned out that my sister had hepatitis. She survived, but the doctors said she wouldn’t have, if she hadn’t been brought in just in the nick of time.

        By the way, this particular sister seemed to hero worship me for the next couple of years. But all of that stopped when my mother noticed, and poisoned my sister’s mind with a bunch of lies. I never bothered to find out exactly what the lies were and try to correct them, because if my sister was stupid enough to believe our narcissistic mother, what’s the point, you know?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Did your mother often have illness she would use for attention or as an excuse?

    My narc mother has lots of vague illnesses like Fibromyalgia. Don’t get me wrong. I think she has had legitimate Fibro attacks a handful of times over the decades. But in those instances, when I asked her about symptoms, she was able to give me clear, concrete answers. .

    More often the symptoms are vague, and narcissist injury sets in if I ask to many questions.

    Also, I’m wondering if there is a difference in there is a difference in how a narc mother would treat a son vs a daughter.

    I’m a son, and my mother would allow me to be sick, but offer little nurturing.
    In other words, she would easily write a sick note for school, but the cold wash clothes on the head would vanish after an hour. She would quickly grow bored with the role of the nurturing care-giver.

    To me the message was – it’s okay if your sick, but you need to fix that on your own.

    I have a female cousin with a similar dynamic to yours. Her brothers were given leeway, but not real help. Whereas she never given sympathy at all..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Once I became an adult, my mother started using illnesses or injury for attention, not when I was growing up. When I was a child, it was like she was too strong or too good to get sick or injured, if that makes any sense. In 1990, she threw me into a wall & injured my back, & years later, she developed back problems. For years, I doubted it was as bad as she claimed. Seems in her final 10-15 years, she cried back pain constantly & I still don’t know how real any of it was.

      Vague description of symptoms in particular makes you wonder how real her illness was. :/

      I can’t say for sure if there is a difference in how sons are treated vs. daughters of narcissistic mothers when it comes to illness. It seems to me that depends on the narcissistic mother in question. Some idolize their sons/make them the golden child, so they get proper care. Some hate males because they see men being the reason for all their problems & neglect them.

      In any case, I’m sorry for what your mother did to you. No child deserves to be treated like that!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Doug. I have been thinking about what you said here to Cynthia: “I’m wondering if there is a difference in how a narc mother would treat a son vs a daughter.”

      I am the oldest of seven: 2 boys and 5 girls. I also have six younger stepbrothers and stepsisters: 3 boys, 3 girls. From what I saw growing up, our mother did not treat girls and boys differently, she treated babies differently from toddlers and older children. She was very clingy, protective, cuddly and loving with infants, kind of like a little girl playing with a new baby doll. But as soon as the child grew old enough to walk and talk, to say “no” and to walk away, our mother shoved the child aside. “Linda, come and get these brats out of my hair, they are getting on my nerves!”

      I was thrown away at age 14 (long story), when my next to oldest siblings, twin girls, were 7, and my brothers were 5 and 3. There was also a newborn half sister at that time, and my youngest half sister had not yet been born. So I wasn’t around much at all after that to see if there were any significant differences in the way my mother treated the boys vs the girls as they were growing up. She was still all about the baby of the year when I was thrown out of the home, and all of the other children seemed to be ignored equally, from what I recall.

      However, I do know that after I was gone, one of my younger stepbrothers became my mom’s new primary scapegoat, since I was no longer there to fulfill that role. My stepbrother went into therapy after he was grown and his therapist recommended that he read the book A Child Called It. The therapist told my stepbrother that his description of how he had been treated by my mother, reminded the therapist of the mother in that book.

      I’m sorry you had a mother who wasn’t nurturing to you, Doug. It’s a very painful wound that may heal with time and the right kind of therapy, but it never completely goes away. At least, not in my experience.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You made a very interesting point. Well several but one thing jumped out at me. Seems to me many narcissists love babies. They are totally dependent, loving, trusting & too young to say “no”, have any other boundaries or much of a personality formed yet. Once a child grows up enough to have their own likes, dislikes, opinions & say no, they serve no use to the narcissist.

        “A Child Called It” is a fantastic read.. it’ll break your heart but also inspire you how that man went from such horrific abuse to becoming such a good, healthy, functional adult

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        • That’s what I think, too, Cynthia, that certain narcissists, like my mother, love babies because they can’t say no and they cannot willfully disobey or walk away. But as soon as they begin to develop their own personalities, everything changes.

          From what I understand about the psychology of child development, the first year or two of a child’s life are the most important. I think this may explain why the children of narcissistic mothers don’t all grow up to be narcissists or even psychopaths. If we are loved and nurtured “good enough” during the first year of life, it sets the foundation for our personality to develop the ability to love and have empathy and compassion for others. Having one or two good years at the beginning of life can give us the strength to overcome all kinds of trauma and neglect that may occur later on in childhood. Although I have no conscious memories of my mother ever being very loving and nurturing toward me, I believe she must have been that way when I was an infant, because I saw how she behaved with my infant siblings.

          The most serious problems in personality development are likely to occur when there is little or no loving and nurturing care, right from the beginning of life. My husband’s first wife, who is now deceased, was taken by the state of California from her mother as an infant. She was being kept locked in a closet. I never met my husband’s first wife, but I have met a couple of her adult siblings, and I met their mother, the one whose children were all taken from her by the state of California back in the 1950s. According to the stories I have heard from various extended family members, the children in that family were all severely neglected from day one, because the mother was severely mentally ill.

          Even as a young adult, this mother did nothing but sit on the sofa all day, smoking cigarettes nonstop, watching TV, and peeing and pooping all over herself. She would then walk down to the store to buy more cigarettes, still dripping with pee and poop. That’s how mentally ill she was. Every one of her children, according to what I have been told, grew up to have serious personality disorders. And they all seem to be dying young.

          I just can’t understand how a woman that gross and mentally ill, managed to find so many men willing to impregnate her.

          I met that woman when she was on her deathbed a couple of years ago. She was my stepdaughter’s grandmother. My stepdaughter asked me to accompany her to El Paso so she could see her grandmother one last time. She was not close to this grandmother, no one was. But for the sake of closure, she felt she needed to go.

          Oh, my. The family dysfunction that I walked into there. . . it was bad.

          Liked by 1 person

          • That’s what seems to happen. Babies are great! Toddlers & older are awful because they can say no. My mother’s mother was a lovely grandmother to me when I was little. Called me “Cindy-Baby”. But once I got a bit older, things started to change. They got worse & worse over time. As an adult when I was her main caregiver, she was horrible to me. I think because as I got older, I tolerated less & less of her crap.

            My word.. your stepdaughter’s grandmother sounds awful. It must’ve been bad. Kids were almost never taken from parents in the 50’s. Do you know what her diagnosis was? How is your step granddaughter? How did she handle that trip?

            Liked by 1 person

        • ibikenyc

          “Once a child grows up enough to have their own likes, dislikes, opinions & say no, they serve no use to the narcissist.”

          I had forgot all about this until just now, when I remembered consciously thinking, as an adolescent, that now that I had a mind of my own, I was no good.

          Long ago I understood that it was her and not me, but seeing it put this way is another piece in the puzzle.

          Thank you 🙂

          Liked by 2 people

  3. One more thing — about the book A Child Called It — would you believe my own mother called me one day, 16 years ago, and asked me if I had ever heard of that book? I told her yes, I had read it. “Was I as bad as that mother?” she tearfully asked.

    I got so excited! I thought this meant my mother had finally seen the light and had changed! But no, that wasn’t the case at all. My stepbrother had given her a copy of the book and said she should read it, because his therapist had said that my mother was just as bad as the mother in that terrible true story. Back in 2003, when my mother called and asked me if I had heard of this book, I was still trying to get along with my mother. So she figured she could count on me to say “Oh no, you weren’t as terrible as Dave Pelzer’s mother.”

    The truth is, in some ways, my mother wasn’t nearly as bad as the mother in A Child Called It. But in other ways, she was much worse.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I appreciate both of your comments and feedback so much!.

    I remember a video on the subject of narcissists’ and babies. I’ll copy the link and then the key phrases below.


    OR

    “It’s easy for a pathologically narcissistic person to have positive feelings for something or someone that does not challenge them, threaten or contradict them. For something that cannot reject or abandon them.”

    “(Babies) don’t assert their own needs in a threatening way”
    “For a time (babies) will love you unconditionally no matter what
    you do to them.”

    “I remember a situation with a narcissistic mother who always said she loved babies and she had one every two years or so until she had five children. Without fail, the child that was around two years old was emotionally abandoned immediately for the new baby.

    Like, literally, all the attention was focused on the current two-year-old until the day, the very day, that whenever the new baby was born. And then the two-year-old was pushed out and ignored, along with the rest of the older children who had to take care of themselves, while the mother spent all her time shut in a room with her new baby.”

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    • Ugh.. that is heartbreaking!! How awful for those children! 😥

      It’s kind of strange I guess.. I went the total opposite. I don’t care for babies. I find kids who are old enough to have boundaries & know some about their likes & dislikes much more interesting. Probably partly because my mother always fawned over babies, but also because if I’m going to interact with someone, I want our relationship to be more equal & balanced.

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  5. My ex hated it when I was ill. When I had pneumonia in hospital he ignored me. I’d text him telling him I loved him and he’d respond ‘don’t start’. When I had appendicitis he thought I was faking it. I was never allowed to be ill. I struggled with my pregnancies and he told me to just get on with it. Yet when he was ill it was like the world was crashing down around him!

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