Key Points: Individuals who are high in narcissism may be more likely than others to fake being seriously ill or to fabricate a “health scare.” While the lie’s motivation isn’t always clear, evidence suggests that it may be a way to exert control over others, gain desired attention, or boost the narcissist’s reputation.
Narcissists are known for their compulsive desire for attention and control. They often feel entitled to obtaining and maintaining power and the ability to influence others in all of their relationships, whether it be personal or private.
Power is a fickle concept as it doesn’t need to be intentionally or consciously surrendered; disturbingly, a narcissist can take control of others without explicit permission and simply through manipulation. The vast majority of those high in narcissism prefer exploitative relationships (Set, 2020). Exploitative relationships exist to serve the narcissist, fulfill their desires, and simply keep them (and them alone) happy. Some narcissists go to extreme lengths to establish or maintain relationships that are self-serving—even if that means lying about their health or survival.
Deception is the name of the game for many narcissists. It is defined as the ability to lie successfully and effectively (Wright, Berry, Catmur, & Bird, 2015). Narcissists are often experts at deception. Not only can they create a scenario and narrative, but they can play the part perfectly from beginning to end.
How Narcissistic Deception Leads To “Health Scares”
Despite the immorality, health scares can fall into this category of deception. There are several categories of medical manipulation that are mental disorders—including factitious disorder (Bratskier, 2019). Factitious disorder is an umbrella term for more well-known situations such as Munchausen syndrome or Munchausen by proxy.
Factitious disorders are generally born of the need for attention and sympathy. These people talk about their illness openly, go to appointments, and even start fundraisers for themselves. Unlike hypochondriacs, individuals with factitious disorders know they are not sick: they are just good liars who crave the spotlight.
Narcissists master the art of malingering. Fabricating an affliction or exaggerating a minor illness is used to seek attention, gain sympathy, or simply avoid responsibility (Bratskeir, 2019). While almost anyone has feigned a fever or stomachache to leave work early, most people would consider it morally repugnant to cash in on a serious illness such as cancer.
“As a survivor of kidney cancer, and someone who is being closely watched because it has metastasized, I am personally offended by people who lie about being sick,” says Linda, 62.
Even though not all narcissists lie about their health, they are more likely to lie in general and less likely to feel guilty about deceiving others (O’Reilly & Doerr, 2020). Narcissistic behavior predominantly occurs in social settings to garner the most attention, influence, and encouragement (Fourie, 2020). Thus, fabricating or exaggerating medical problems is fertile ground for narcissistic growth.
In general, narcissists have very low ethical standards and transgress social norms. They are far more willing to cheat or steal and have relationships rife with distrust and infidelity.
They may feel such a personal superiority that they have no qualms exploiting others to get ahead. This overwhelming entitlement also precludes anger, hostility, and violence when the narcissist is ignored or does not get what they want (O’Reilly & Doerr, 2020). Lying about a medical issue or exaggerating an actual situation can occur for several reasons. In some instances, there is just an addiction to lying and the rush of adrenaline that comes with “getting away with it.”
Three common narcissistic reasons are to exert control over people, create a narrative or reputation, or simply gain attention and belonging.
Here Are The 3 Narcissistic Reasons
1. Exerting control.
After a painful breakup, Genevieve missed a call from her ex-girlfriend. A text message from the ex followed the missed call, stating that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. “She said he had been diagnosed right before our breakup, but that she didn’t want to burden me with it,” recalls Genevieve. “I texted her back immediately, within two minutes of her missed call and her text. She didn’t answer because she was having people over.”