I have caught my own FLEAS while dealing with Tracy.
Sometimes, we who have been targeted by the abuses of a narcissist, wonder if we, too, are now narcissists. It can be catching, especially if we are raised by narcs.
But the recovery community uses the term “fleas” to describe our own harmful behaviors, picked up from the narcs, but which do not mean we ourselves are narcs. The trick is to figure out whether you are a narc yourself, or just have “fleas” which you can kill off with a good flea bath.
As posted in FLEAS – Bad Behavior Patterns and Habits Picked Up from Living or Dealing with a Narcissist by Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers:
Now, you may not have NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder). Some children of Narcissists do, and some don’t. Let’s say you don’t, but you were raised by someone who did/does. Therefore you have some issues that can take the shape of NPD – like a shadow or a snow angel, or even an echo.
You’ll have some issues in the same sorts of areas that Narcissism occupies, because you picked up these fleas FROM a Narcissist.
…..But you don’t have NPD.
What you have is the shadow – “maladaptive behaviors”, as psychologists call them, the unhelpful patterns you have been taught, and which you have had to resort all your life.
And they are glued in, most often, by the shame you have been made to carry.
What you have is nicknamed “FLEAS.” They’re the bad behavior patterns and habits we picked up from living with a nutcase who had total and unhealthy control over us. They are the pain and guilt and crazy patterns we had to take on as children in order to just survive. And they’re completely un-learnable. (Meaning, you can un-learn them!)
One of the most common issues that newbies demonstrate is a tremendous fear that they themselves have NPD.
It’s a perfectly understandable fear. All human beings do Narcissistic things, and when DoNM’s who don’t have NPD recognize and acknowledge their own self-centered behaviors, they sometimes worry that they have NPD.
They feel guilty about possibly having hurt someone’s feelings, been self-centered, etc., and they panic. It can really be upsetting, even terrifying. And they beat themselves up mercilessly for it – because that’s what they’ve been taught to do.
You’ll notice that I said, “Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers who don’t have NPD”…
In order for someone to recognize, acknowledge and feel guilty about their own Narcissistic behaviors, they first have to have a level of empathy and sense of emotional responsibility that Narcissists, by definition, do not possess.
On the DoNM forum, the usual response to such a person is, ‘If you’re that worried about the impact of your behavior on others, and you’re willing to publicly share your fear of being NPD, trust us — you don’t have NPD… you just have FLEAS.’”
Violet writes in Am I a Narcissist, Too? All About Fleas:
We can pick up fleas anywhere. I have seen things on FaceBook, people saying really hurtful, mean things about LGBT people, about people of colour, about the poor and disadvantaged, about women, and they are absolutely shameless about it.
Some of these people are narcissists, but others have picked up fleas from narcissistic politicians, pastors, or other authority figures they either revere or fear. Taken out of that environment and shown how their words and attitudes actually hurt other living, breathing human beings, some of these people will feel shame for what they said and the hurt they caused.
Others will not, and they will rationalize and justify what they said, even blame their victims for their hurt (I have actually seen someone say that feeling hurt by the words of a bully is a choice, that you can choose not to be hurt and therefore what the bullies say and do is OK!) : these people are most likely narcissists.
I’ve seen versions of this as well. For example, statements that we choose to be offended by others; that we can simply stop being offended. Or, “I’m not responsible for your emotions.”
There are different ways people mean this, however. The first was said in the context of, Yes, what they said is offensive, but you can choose your own reactions–thereby not giving the offender power over you.
The second, I’ve seen used as an excuse to do whatever you want, because it’s the other person’s fault if they’re offended. It was said by Richard to me, after I told him he was doing some things that hurt me. I forget what they were, just that it was close to the time we broke off the friendship, and that he basically took the responsibility for my being hurt off his shoulders, putting it on mine. ???!!!
I’ve seen it in other places as well, the excuse that if we hurt somebody, it’s their fault for being hurt. That’s very narcissistic, and goes against everything my husband and I were taught growing up. It’s yet another sign that I’ve pegged Richard correctly as a narcissist.
If you’ve hurt and offended someone, the very least you can do is apologize for hurting them, even if you don’t feel your action was wrong in and of itself. You can listen to how you can avoid hurting that person again.
Sure there are times when that person was offended by an innocent action which should not be offensive (ie, offended by a gay man kissing his partner in public, or offended by an introvert who means well but is quiet, or offended by a woman breastfeeding her baby at the mall).
But oftentimes, the offensive act could simply be avoided next time.
(Also see this post.)
Tracy, too, as I saw time and again, would justify whatever she did, even though it hurt others. She hurt Todd, so she justified it as his fault. She hurt me, so to this day she justifies her actions as “nothing wrong” and talks like my being hurt is somehow “childish.”
Even Richard told me back in February 2008, Good luck getting an apology out of her, because she rarely apologizes to anyone, thinking whatever she does is justified. I don’t have the e-mail in front of me and don’t recall if I kept it, but I still remember it.
(I remember thinking when I got it, “I don’t want to deal with that woman anymore!” This was the first time I seriously thought about breaking off the friendship.)
She used Richard’s past abuses of the children to justify her own abuses of the children (I have an e-mail proving this). Which means she’s like this to everybody: me, Todd, even Richard. And this is one of the signs of a narcissist, according to the above.
There is more good stuff in that blog post, explaining how we can tell if we’re narcissists or have just picked up some “fleas”–and how to eradicate those fleas.
From the website Out of the Fog (Fear, Obligation, Guilt):
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”….
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….
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 hoovering to try to deflect consequences or payback.
That link also gives ways to avoid catching “fleas.”
When looking back over and writing about the situation with Richard and Tracy, I discovered my own “fleas” caught from dealing with Tracy’s abuses and Richard’s abusive enabling of her abuses–or, as a mutual friend once put it, coddling her BS, just as Richard complained people did for Tracy’s mentally ill mother.
I was angry with her abuses and bullying, and trying to fight and resist them. Tracy would then pounce on these fleas or other mistakes and bring them up, whether to Richard and/or to me, again and again and again, as proof of my “bad” character.
I grew up with a narcissistic brother, but the rest of my family (except for an aunt by marriage) is not narcissistic. I was bullied as a child, but this is common for anyone who is in any way different from the “norm,” and I was an imaginative, socially awkward child who struggled to fit in, who did not understand why everyone called me “weird.”
But ever since I left my childhood bullies behind and entered adulthood, moved away from my brother, and found a husband who is not a narcissist, who is willing to face his own flaws and improve on them–I was not used to being so relentlessly bullied by anyone.
I thought most adults were far too mature to do this, that most childhood bullies and “mean girls” grew up eventually. (In fact, this belief allowed me to forgive my childhood bullies.)
The things Tracy said to and about me, cuts on my character, snarks at anything I did or said, cutting on the most innocuous of things (like my husband being the cook), even outright lies (like that I did not serve vegetables or that I manipulated my husband or that I never tried to befriend her or that I was never allowed all the privileges of Richard’s other friends), startled and appalled me: a definite smear campaign.
Even worse was that I occasionally did do things were wrong, “fleas” which I picked up in desperation to try to somehow deal with and fend off her many attacks. And when I did, she grabbed onto them and would not let them go–the proverbial dog with a bone.
I’d apologize, and/or never do those things again, thinking that was enough–but they would be brought up again and again anyway, as if I did them continuously and never stopped.
There was a serious power imbalance, power struggle. Friendships are not supposed to be one person in charge, making all the rules, which the other has to obey. They’re supposed to be give and take. And I was sick of trying and trying only to get more bullying and abuse all the time.
She also complained about things I did which were not wrong, such as when I told my husband in what I thought was a private conversation, how she was abusing and bullying me, Richard and the children. I could stand up in righteous indignation and know that she was being unjust.
But when I did do something wrong, it became something she could use against me in perpetuity. She did the same thing to Richard, from things he has told me.
There’s nothing you can do to make up for these things. There’s no way you can get a narc to back off from your faults. When you commit the mistake, she goes into orgasmic glee as she smears you on Facebook and says what a wonderful day she’s having. When you apologize, she uses this chance to beat you over the head about what a worm you are for having done it.
Meanwhile, the many abuses she has committed against you and others are forgotten, never apologized for because you “deserved” them, and you better “grow up” and accept these abuses as your due because you’re so horrible, so it does you no good to point them out to her. All you can do is escape and lick your wounds till they heal–far away from the narc.
For an example of how completely a narcissist can justify, excuse and forget her own many abuses, just see what Tracy wrote to me here.
If you can look with regret on your own mistakes and sins without justifying them, maybe understand why you did them but without excusing yourself, then no, you are no narcissist: You have just caught fleas.