What is a Family Systems Illness?
Most people have heard the term “the alcoholic family”. Alcoholism doesn’t just affect one person; it affects the entire family unit. Social scientists and psychologists call it a “family systems illness”; it is the family that is pathological, not the individual.
The alcoholic family is comprised of the alcoholic, the adult enabler (usually the spouse), and the children of the family, who also play a role. Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy (MSbP) is very similar to alcoholism in this way. It is a family systems illness, as it affects the entire family, and each person in the family unit, not just the perpetrator, plays a certain role.
About the Perpetrator
The literature on MSbP states that in MSbP families, the mother is typically the perpetrator. Scientists have yet to explain why this is, but it has been speculated that it has something to do with the nurturing role mothers are supposed to play in society. They are the caretakers, but in the case of MSbP, this role becomes perverted.
We also think that this is a female manifestation of antisocial personality disorder. People with antisocial personality disorder, or more commonly known as sociopaths or psychopaths, show a blatant disregard for the life and welfare of others and use people as a means to an end. The same can be said for perpetrators of MSbP; they want so badly to be recognized by medical personnel for whatever reason, that they hurt their child in order to attain recognition and attention.
About the Adult Enabler
The fathers, like Monika explained in an earlier post, are the “nice guys” and the “workaholics”. Whereas the mothers are usually the dominating and controlling forces in the household, the fathers are passive and absentee, which only allows for the abuse to continue.
About the Children
The children in the family, like the adult enabler, are victims, but are in a more vulnerable position than an adult. In most cases identified in the literature the age of the pediatric victim is under four years, scientists note. When the MSbP abuse is taking place in a multi-child household, one or more children may be victimized, but usually, one at a time are targeted for victimization.
This is what happened with me: I was the targeted victim of my mother’s abuse, my father was passive, and my sister became my mother’s “protege”. Now that my sister and I are adults, I acknowledge the abuse, whereas my sister denies it, and thinks of my mother, who is no longer living, was a great woman.
To this day, my dad who played the perfect passive father role, won’t discuss this with me, while my sister is in denial, and has become my mother. My mother committed suicide. Although I may have my problems, I am okay. However, my sister has trouble with illnesses, employment, substance abuse, and the law.
MSbP Affects the Entire Family
Like the alcoholic family, if the MSbP family does not recognize that there is something wrong and stop the behavior, the effects of the abuse can last a lifetime, especially for the children.
Updated October 6, 2014. Photos by Kucharek, MorgueFile/Chaos, Northcote Aquatic and Recreation Centre with editing by Mathias Poujol-Rost,