Towards a Mythology of Malingering — Part 1

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.


  1. Thank you so much for posting this! 👏🏼👏🏼❣. I speak from a standpoint of both doctor and patient with chronic conditions; I am both. In school, we had an instructor whose mission in life was to teach us how to spot a malingerer, and listening to him, it sounded like practically everyone was a malingerer until proven otherwise. Some people really do think this way, which is sad. (I respect and even personally like that instructor, and he’s not a bad guy. He’d just worked a lot in workers compensation and personal injury in New York City, so he’d seen his share of people who were actually faking it.)

    But I’m glad that although his information was valuable and I filed it away on the back burner of my mind, I didn’t dwell on it or take it too much to heart, because I knew there were people with invisible disabilities out there who may *look* like they’re faking it on the outside, but really aren’t, and I’m glad I didn’t let his perspective cloud my own. Who’s to say who’s faking it and who isn’t?

    Your post is quite spot-on!

    You’re also right in that it’s not a conspiracy at work here. It’s simple profit motive. Profit isn’t a bad thing in itself; it’s how insurance companies stay in business. And nobody who’s genuinely suffering wants to subsidize someone who isn’t (I.e., the people who are faking it). But although there are a lot of fakers out there, there are also lots of people who are suffering in some way even if it’s not obvious on the outside. People with conditions like Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) or autoimmune disorders (I have both); we have our good days and bad days 😊❤️. On a good day, I’m fine! On a bad day, I’m…definitely not. Same goes for mental health, like depression or bipolar.

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, dear one. Sometimes the insurance companies are like an email spam folder; they get a bit overzealous and trash a valid case. I’m so sorry that you had to pay!! On top of everything else you’re going through. So disheartening 😰

    I’m looking forward to Part 2 as well! 😘❣❣

    Liked by 1 person


    1. Thank you, Laina. Your comments are especially meaningful and relevant. They are also quite motivating! 🙂

      I too have witnessed the issue from both sides of the fence. Not quite the way you have, but I have worked a good deal for insurance companies (I work in IT), and I have someone in my extended family who is a claims investigator for such a company, and listening to him speak, or some of my colleagues who have also worked in claims processing, they really seem to think everybody is malingering. I suppose it makes them valuable to the companies, but they can be really quite insufferable as people.

      Thanks for your encouragement, Laina! Dang, you’re really quite good at this. I really feel like I’m learning a lot from you. You’re a great blogging role model and mentor!

      Liked by 1 person


      1. The feeling is totally mutual, luv! 😊❤️. I feel like I’m learning a lot from you as well, and I like your perspective! Extra-grateful to you for sharing it 💓. Your words are extremely encouraging to me, too, and thank you so much for them also! 😁💖🌟💖

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Lol 😘❤️. You’re fine, luv! I’m cheating, I’m using my mobile phone lol. I would have no idea how to make those on a keyboard, if that’s even possible lol. Your lovely warm vibes come through in your words; I can be somewhat challenged in that area, so I rely on emojis probably more than is healthy lol 😉💗

        Liked by 1 person

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