Can we really point the finger of blame at social media when mothers seek attention by deliberately inflicting injuries on their children? Munchausen by proxy syndrome is the name given to behavior of caregivers who purposely exaggerate, lie about, and/or induce physical, mental, and/or behavioral health problems in those under their care. It may be used to label a mother’s actions when she manufactures a child’s medical crises as a way to gain attention and sympathy. Researchers claim there’s a connection between a rise of Munchausen by Proxy Syndrome and social media’s impact on modern life. Munchausen syndrome is named after Barin von Munchausen, and 18th century German officer who was notorious for telling embellished tales of his past experiences.
Social Media and Attention-Seeking
Those who have an extreme need for attention-seeking can find ample opportunity to satisfy their needs through sites like Facebook, Google+, etc. Recently, the case of a New York woman accused of poisoning her child with salt came under scrutiny. Investigators found out Lacey Spears, frequently posted updates about her son’s frequent hospitalizations on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and a blog.
Many of us have seen more benign attention-seeking efforts on our social media networks. Facebook and Twitter are full of those mining for approval from others or fishing for sympathy. From posting selfies to status updates about friends and family members who are ill, social media provides endless opportunities for people to seek approval and support from others. Even posting messages seeking to raise awareness about important social, environmental, and political issues is typically motivated by a need to be acknowledged as the messenger of useful information.
The question then becomes what forms of attention-seeking should be rewarded? Most people I know want to avoid having drama queens in their life, due to how energy draining it can be to deal with them. The severity and frequency of the drama may be taken into consideration. Do you continuously reply with encouragement to a friend who has a new crisis to report every other day?
To call people who exhibit Munchausen’s syndrome drama queens is an understatement. Such people have a severe mental issue and need psychiatric intervention. Rewarding such twisted attention-seeking with sympathy and compassion exacerbates the problem and can contribute to further deadly behaviors. If you suspect someone you know has a mental illness that is driving extreme attention-seeking behaviors, what is the best way to handle it? Experts advise against rewarding such behavior with the attention and sympathy being sought. However, can withholding attention lead unstable people to inflict even worse harm on a child to get the attention they crave? I’d like to hear your suggestions for the best way to respond to extreme cases of online attention-seeking.
Written by Dana Altman