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Goldberg, C. (1990). Hypochondria Woeful Imaginings by Susan Baur Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, x + 252 pp., $19.95. Psa. Books, 1(4):544-547.

(1990). Psychoanalytic Books, 1(4):544-547

Hypochondria Woeful Imaginings by Susan Baur Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988, x + 252 pp., $19.95

Review by:
Carl Goldberg, Ph.D.

Susan Baur's thesis is that we could learn a great deal about the human condition if we were able to explain hypochondria. Not only is hypochondria our earliest and most common malaise, its symptoms include a great many different kinds of trouble, all of which speak to the sufferer's inability to deal successfully with the human condition. The author defines hypochondria as “a preoccupation with health or disease …whose intensity disrupts normal living habits and is disproportionate to any medical problem that may actually exist…. [It] responds only temporarily, if at all, to reassurance” (p. 1).

Hypochondria can, and frequently does, involve conflicts in all areas of human existence—social, interpersonal, financial, occupational, as well as the somatic and the intrapsychic. The central difficulty hypochondria poses for the practitioner (as well as for the sufferer's significant others), according to Baur, is a paradox in which the hypochondriac desires a relationship with a powerful, caring other in such a way that he or she can act helpless while, at the same time, wishing and expecting to be discovered as a special and, potentially, highly capable person. In the author's words, the hypochondriac's deepest desire is to be seen as “a diamond in the rough” (p. 103), to be nurtured and developed by the powerful caretaker. Baur further contends, on the basis of the considerable empirical and literary sources that she draws on, that the hypochondriac comes to this untenable predicament because of lack of skill and absence of feelings of legitimate entitlement. Thus, the sufferer is prevented from asking directly and confidently for those social and emotional resources he or she needs in order to feel that the world is a desirable place in which to be.

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