Some People Actually Want To Become Amputees

“The patient described was a man who wanted to remove one of his legs. The description summarized crucial episodes in the patient’s life that were thought to be the origin of the desire: the sight of a boy with a wooden leg during childhood, the attraction toward this boy and the idea that it represented full happiness.” —Study on apotemnophilia (arousal at the thought of becoming an amputee)

In A Nutshell

There is a psychological condition called body integrity identity disorder (BIID) which leads sufferers to believe that they have limbs which should not be there and that they would feel happier without them. Sufferers have been known to arrange accidents or undergo medical procedures in an attempt to fulfill their desire of becoming an amputee. There may also be a sexual component to the condition whereby the sufferer is aroused by the image of himself or herself as an amputee.

The Whole Bushel

Body integrity identity disorder (BIID) is the common name for an unusual, presumably rare, condition which leads sufferers to act out extreme behaviors in an effort to become an amputee. It is analogous to—though more extreme than—other body image disorders such as anorexia and body dysmorphia (irrational obsession with appearance). William Adams writing in Psychology Today likens the condition to the feelings an unaffected individual would have toward a third arm.

The cause of BIID has not yet been established, but its symptoms have been observed. Although the most commonly proposed theory states that sufferers have a malfunction in the parietal lobe of the brain, this theory has attracted much criticism.

Fundamentally, someone with BIID feels that one or more of their limbs are not supposed to be part of them. Despite the presence of all of their limbs, they self-identify as an amputee. The presence of the limb or limbs is a source of distress. As a result, sufferers desperately want to have the limb removed. Usually, the sufferer knows which limb they no longer want, although in some cases a change of preference has been observed.

Unsurprisingly those who are suffering with BIID keep it very private and are typically ashamed of their condition due to its rarity. Unfortunately the perceived bizarreness of the condition leads to feelings of isolation among sufferers. Given that having the condition can sometimes be a source of depression, removing the limb is seen as a way out.

Additionally, some people with BIID may experience apotemnophilia. This is defined as sexual arousal at the thought of becoming an amputee. However, this is not a factor in the majority of known cases.

Although some research has been done in the field, we still do not know exactly what causes the condition or how to effectively treat it. There is a debate as to whether it is ethical for a surgeon to perform an amputation on a healthy limb. Obviously, surgeons are not enthusiastic about performing such procedures. However, if they don’t the patient may cause sufficient harm to their unwanted limb such that the surgeon has no choice but to amputate. As with most things, there is no easy solution for this condition.

Show Me The Proof

Apotemnophilia as a contemporary frame for psychological suffering
Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Some Key Issues For DSM-V
Psychology Today: Amputee Wannabes