Narcissists aren’t always hypochondriacs, but they may display symptoms that suggest a certain degree of illness anxiety disorder.
Some psychologists believe “Narcissistic personalities are particularly vulnerable to hypochondria,” while others maintain they’re more likely to suffer from factitious disorder.
So, what’s the difference?
Hypochondria is an anxiety disorder that causes the sufferer to imagine physical symptoms or worry they have a critical illness.
Factitious disorders cause the sufferer to imagine symptoms, much like the hypochondriac, but instead of doing it out of fear, they do it to deceive others.
Some hypochondriacs, like those with a factitious disorder, may not want to be cured but simply be looking for someone to witness and validate their suffering. This is very similar to how a narcissist might behave.
Let’s look more closely at how narcissists use their fabricated health issues to manipulate those around them and figure out how and if it differs from hypochondria.
Are Narcissists Hypochondriacs?
Not all narcissists are hypochondriacs, nor are all hypochondriacs narcissists, but there are areas where the two conditions might overlap.
For many grandiose narcissists, the very notion of being sick is repulsive. To them, the slightest hint of pain is a sign of failure. But to a covert narcissist or one with less grandiose tendencies, being ill can look extremely appealing.
Introverted narcissists worry about everything, including their health. They will also use their imagined health issues to garner attention and secure special treatment.
Unlike those with grandiose narcissism, these individuals expect the world to revolve around their every twinge.
They believe they suffer more than anyone else and use their ailments to get sympathy and maintain their uniqueness.
This is similar to hypochondria in that both consistently focus on their health and exaggerate minor discomforts into major medical concerns.
While not all narcissists exhibit hypochondriacal tendencies, a subset of narcissists, particularly those with covert or introverted traits, may use hypochondria or fabricate illness to fulfill their insatiable need for attention, admiration, and control.
6 Reasons Narcissists Lie About Their Health
Narcissists may behave like hypochondriacs for several reasons, including
#1 To Garner Attention
Sick people get the attention of their family, friends, and medical professionals. Whatever they need, someone provides for them, hoping to ease their discomfort and dull their pain. This suits the narcissist to a tee, giving them the attention they crave.
As long as everyone is focused on them, it offsets the narcissist’s low self-esteem and perceived lack of acceptance.
Imagine you’re at a family gathering to celebrate the recent graduation of your nephew. Your narcissistic partner realizes she’s not the center of attention so when the family sits down to dinner, she starts clutching her abdomen and groaning. When someone asks what’s wrong, she vaguely mentions feeling unwell and experiencing sudden stomach pain.
Immediately, the concern shifts from your nephew’s achievements to your partner’s well-being. She’s achieved her goal and now has everyone thinking about her rather than your nephew, making her the most important person in the room.
#2 To Gaslight You
When I was growing up, my Dad’s colds were always worse than everyone else’s. We could all be drowning in a sea of mucus and misery, but he’d be suffering more. This is typical narcissistic behavior and some narcissists will take it to extreme lengths, even using it to gaslight you.
Let’s say your narcissistic partner has a bad cold, but you’ve been suffering from long covid for the past few months. The minute she starts to sniffle and sneeze, the complaints begin, and everyone within earshot knows how terrible they feel.
One evening, your partner asks you to make him a sandwich, but you tell him you’ve got a terrible headache and need to lie down.
He immediately turns on you, saying, “You have no right to complain. Your problems are nothing compared to mine. My symptoms are far worse than yours – you’re just doing this out of spite.”
By belittling your symptoms and exaggerating their own suffering, they try to undermine you and make you question yourself. They’ll shrink your need for support while blowing up their own suffering like a balloon animal at a kid’s party.
It’s like they’re using their runny nose to fog up the mirror reflecting your reality, making you wonder if you’re the one who’s got it all wrong.
#3 To Play the Victim
A narcissist can’t validate their own self-worth, making them feel they feel constantly deprived. Their exaggerated expectations are never met, meaning they battle constantly with a sense of deprivation and victimhood.
For those narcissists who dabble in hypochondria, imagined illness gives them the ideal narrative. They can weave a tale in which their life would’ve been grand without these relentless health issues. They would’ve soared to the pinnacle of success, nabbed that elusive promotion, and enjoyed all the finer things in life if only those pesky doctor’s appointments hadn’t held them back.
In this way, they paint themselves as the ultimate victims. They’re fighting a valiant battle against these invisible enemies and not getting the recognition they rightly deserve.
And the beauty of it all? They gain an audience for their woes, an eager audience ready to console and console some more. In their tale, they’re not just surviving; they’re overcoming against all odds. It’s a perfect, self-written script that caters to their insatiable need for attention, pity, and affirmation.
#4 To Get Special Treatment
Narcissists will use their ill-health to get those around them to treat them differently. They may even get a doctor to give them special documentation so they can grab the best parking space or get preferential treatment.
There’s a fascinating story on Quora that illustrates this point perfectly.
Gwyn McVay writes about her father’s wife, who she says had a knack for developing life-threatening illnesses at the worst possible times.
One Christmas, she develops terrible abdominal pains that she says need immediate attention. There’s just one problem – none of the local doctors would do. Instead, she insisted her daughter drive from Minneapolis to Pennsylvania to take her to a doctor in Minnesota – a round trip of over 1,000 miles!
The diagnosis? Constipation! It didn’t matter though – she ensured she had everyone’s attention and some special treatment!
This story shows just how far some narcissists will go in their efforts to cause drama and get special treatment.
#5 To Evoke Guilt
Narcissists can make their unsuspecting victims feel guilty and remorseful by playing the role of the perpetual sufferer.
As people express concern and offer help, the narcissist magnifies their dependence on others. Whether it’s relying on someone to cook dinner or seeking emotional support, the narcissist makes it clear that they’re in need. This dependency creates a sense of guilt in those around them, as they feel obligated to provide assistance.
The narcissist knows how to tug at heartstrings. They might drop hints about feeling neglected or unimportant due to their health issues. This emotional manipulation places the burden of guilt on those around them, making them feel responsible for the narcissist’s well-being.
Imagine a narcissistic individual who habitually exaggerates their health problems. They frequently cancel plans, claiming that their condition has taken a turn for the worse. As a close friend, you might feel guilty for wanting to spend time with others or engage in activities they can’t participate in.
They’ll use this guilt to keep your attention focused on them and ensure you spend your time running around after them rather than fulfilling your needs.
#6 To Avoid Responsibility
While you must be on hand to fulfill your narcissistic hypochondriac’s every whim, they’re too ill to do anything at all, including taking responsibility for their actions.
They’ll be in too much pain to attend your son’s soccer match. They won’t be able to help around the house because of their bad back, or their wheezy chest means they won’t be able to join you for the family outing on Sunday.
Narcissists will use their imagined or exaggerated symptoms to shirk responsibility and avoid honoring plans or commitments. They may even use their illness to excuse their behavior, saying they are quicker to anger because of the constant pain or forget important dates because they’re so exhausted.
They might even use their symptoms to shift the blame onto you, saying your constant nagging makes them feel worse or that you’re neglecting them when, in reality, you’re busy doing all the chores they would normally do.
How are Narcissism and Hypochondria related?
Both narcissists and hypochondriacs seek attention, but in different ways, with narcissists craving admiration and hoping that others will express concern for their well-being.
Narcissists might feel entitled to special treatment due to their perceived superiority, while hypochondriacs may seek special attention due to their perceived fragility.
Both conditions involve a heightened focus on oneself. Narcissists are self-centered due to their inflated sense of self-importance, while hypochondriacs fixate on their health due to excessive worry or fear of illness.
The underlying causes of narcissism and hypochondria can sometimes overlap. Early life experiences, such as neglect, trauma, or inconsistent parental validation, can contribute to both conditions. Individuals with narcissistic traits might develop hypochondria to gain the attention they lacked in childhood.