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The Email:

My question is after being mentally ill for so long. Do you think a person can become addicted to being sick? Like it is a way to draw attention to one's self.

AJ's Response:

This is a very good question. My response is a qualified, yes. I say, qualified, because some people, even if they become addicted to being sick, do so at such a subsconscious level that they are really unaware of it. To the extent that they are unaware of it, I would not say that they are consciously just trying to draw attention to themselves. Many people who seem to be "attention-seeking" are in actuality trying very hard in "untraditional" ways, or ways that are considered age-inappropriate to cry out for help.

There can be an element of addiction to being sick with any personality disorder or mental illness in which a person is able to maintain some awareness of self and of objective reality. Whether the addiction is truly to being sick or is more related to being rescued and or not being expected to perform, function, or be personally responsible for oneself -- to the the by-products of being sick -- can be difficult for even professionals to assess in some cases.

There is a very interesting book that touches on this concept that you raise here called:

"Why People Don't Heal And How They Can", by Carolyn Myss, Ph.D. I would recommend anyone with this question about someone they care about or about themselves read this book. You can purchase it from by clicking on the picture.

In many cases a lot of the repetitive behaviour seen with mental illness results from either ruminating on and or being triggered by cognitively- distored thoughts that produce certain feelings. Those feelings are then acted upon. This can be compared to being addicted to a substance or to being addicted to being ill in that there are impulses and urges to repeat "attention-seeking" (and other behaviours) due to the distorted thoughts and feelings as well as often just not having any other coping mechanisms from which to choose. A big part of healing is working on those distorted thoughts to change the feelings at the same time as changing one's actions.

So yes, people can be addicted to being sick. People also get addicted to their coping mechanisms no matter how dysfunctional they may be. Another major part of healing is be willing to risk learning about new choices.

This response is © A.J. Mahari

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This page/section was created on August 15, 2002 as part of the re-organization of (Soul's Self Help Central) © Ms. A.J. Mahari 1996-2002 and moved to this domain December 15, 2002.

Last up-dated July 29, 2007