A Moment of Science

Wannabe Amputee

People with this strange disease want nothing more than to be amputated.

gingerbread_amputee

Photo: E. E. Piphanies (flickr)

Scientists are still trying to figure out ways to help people who want nothing more than to lose a part of themselves.

We all have cravings at times. Pregnant women have been known to crave some pretty strange stuff.

However, no craving is odder than the one associated with a psychological disorder called apotemnophilia. People with this strange disease want nothing more than to be amputated.

Why would anyone want to lose a limb? Scientists don’t know. Wannabe amputees often claim that they want to lose a limb as a form of self-fulfillment. Somehow, chopping off a leg or hand or arm makes them feel whole and complete. In some cases, apotemnophiliacs also crave attention and a sort of special status that comes with being crippled. Studies suggest that some people receive secondary benefits from being sick, such as relief from the stress of typical day-to-day responsibilities and the sense of being important. Such individuals appear to be quick to adopt the sick role and do not recover from normal illness as quickly as others. For some reason, being sick builds their self-esteem. Apotemnophilia might represent a very extreme case of this phenomenon.

Some scientists think that a possible underlying cause is body dysmorphic disorder, where a person believes that they have a defective and misshapen body part, but apotemnophiliacs are basically different. They have no problem with the limb itself, they just feel that they’re ultimately better off without it.

Strange? Yes, but real nonetheless. Scientists are still trying to figure out ways to help people who want nothing more than to lose a part of themselves.

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