malinger (intransitive verb): to pretend or exaggerate incapacity or illness (as to avoid duty or work).
- His boss suspected him of malingering because of his frequent absences from work.
— from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary
I have been accused of malingering — of acting like some sort of sympathy vampire; of faking it, more or less, and in order to profit from the compassion of others. I have been accused, more than once and by several different people, including a couple of family members.
I find these accusations quite disturbing. They make me feel anxious, and if I’m not careful, I can get quite worked up and even feel some fairly intense anger about them too, although through honest introspection I can see that my anger in these situations is secondary and fundamentally anesthetic. It’s only purpose really is to help me cope, however dysfunctionally, with the more primary anxiety I feel in response to these accusations.
For me this anxiety is like a gasoline spill into my “thought furnace“, which is to say that it can pitch me into an autistically obsessive solution search apropos the problem of these accusations — the problem of how best to respond to them, how best to debunk them, how to defend myself against them. I wish I could tell you that my autistic neurology has succeeded — finally solved that particular problem, but unfortunately it has not…at least, not yet.
But I have made a little progress, gained a little insight — just a little. I have had a micro-epiphany, potentially useful, I hope, and would like to document it here, on the chance that it may prove useful to others, or perhaps even invite collaborators to this general project.
The upshot is this: all else being equal, an accusation of malingering is only weak evidence of its own truth.
(Here’s some dramatic music for emphasis:)
Did you know that already? I know it seems perfectly obvious to me now, but it wasn’t always, for some reason, and I have only recently come to realize it myself, and this only after thinking the shit out of it. And I suspect that most people do not understand this about malingering. I suspect that most people subscribe to the myth that we humans have such a good grasp on reality, that the human brain and perceptual apparatus function so well and are so veridical, that whenever, say, Mr. Jones accuses Mr. Smith of malingering, then it’s a safe bet that Mr. Smith has indeed malingered.
To my view, that is a myth.
To be clear, I am absolutely not claiming here that malingering itself is a myth. Nor am I claiming in general that all accusations of malingering are somehow false; nor even in particular that my own accusers were wrong (even though I do actually think they were wrong). To put it another way, what I mean here is that in the absence of any other supporting evidence, there’s really an excellent chance that any given accusation of malingering is false, especially when the accuser stands to profit from being believed.
At the risk of sounding like a tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorist (I am not, and here’s why), I’d like to illustrate this epiphany with a recent example from my own life involving the billion-dollar, global multinational insurance company that did not just accuse me of malingering, but effectively tried, convicted, and sentenced me for this alleged crime, ultimately coercing me into paying a fine equivalent to a month’s salary!
(Cue that music again:)
End of Part 1. Here is a link to Towards a Mythology of Malingering — Part 2.