Fleas - When a non-personality-disordered individual (Non-PD) begins imitating or emulating some of the disordered behavior of a loved one or family member with a personality disorder this is sometimes referred to as "getting fleas".
Fleas comes from the adage “Lie down with dogs and you are bound to get fleas”.
Sometimes, when a person has been exposed to an abusive situation for a sustained period, they will look for ways to escape - and sometimes they will experiment or resort to behaviors which are not characteristic but serve as a mechanism to demonstrate their anger.
These behaviors are often destructive and counter-productive and rarely get the abuse victim what they want. These behaviors usually result in regret, shame and apologies from the abuse victim towards their perpetrator. Some perpetrators may seize on such incidents as justification for their own abusive behavior or as a diversion from it.
Some Examples of Fleas
- An submissive partner who occasionally becomes violent towards an abusive person or towards their property.
- A placid individual who engages in name calling, shouting or slander.
- A faithful spouse who decides to have an affair.
What it Feels Like
If you have been living for a long time with a person who suffers from a personality disorder, chances are you have been living with the 3 dreadful companions - hopelessness, helplessness and powerlessness. Like an animal forced into a corner it is quite common to have the instinct to fight your way out of it.
Anger is a feeling that comes instinctively when we feel we aren't getting what we deserve. When we feel angry, our bodies produce adrenaline, our breathing rate and heart rate quicken. Our ability to think objectively and perform other maintenance tasks is reduced as our bodies instinctively divert resources towards our "fight or flight" mechanisms. We become like a tightly-wound spring.
However, most Non-PD's are more accustomed to "keeping the peace" than being aggressors and most of us are not comfortable or accomplished in winning arguments or fights.
We will often back down or feel remorse after lashing out. We may begin to compare our behavior to that of the person with the personality disorder and wonder if we are the ones who have "the" problem. It is common for Non-PD's to begin to question if they are the one who suffers from a personality disorder. It is also common for Non-PD's to greatly fear retribution after an angry outburst and engage in a manipulative campaign, similar to hooveringto try to deflect consequences or payback.
What NOT to do
If you find you are doing things that you are not proud of and think you may be getting fleas:
- Don't fight fire with fire with a person who is abusing you - you will just feel twice the heat.
- Don't use their poor choices as an excuse or justification for making bad choices of your own.
- Don't allow your own bad choices to be used as an excuse for somebody else's bad behavior. Everyone gets to be responsible for their own stuff.
What TO do
- Learn all you can about personality disorders and the abusive cycle.
- Get yourself a support network where you can discuss things that concern you without feeling judged.
- Work on setting Boundaries that will help you escape the feelings of helplessness, hopelessness and powerlessness.
- Take along a friend or therapist if appropriate and confront the behaviors of your abuser in an assertive, rather than an aggressive way.
- Promptly remove yourself and any innocent children from any verbally or physically abusive situations.