A common concern among victims and survivors of Narcissistic abuse is, “I’ve been with the Narcissist so long, I’m afraid I’ve become one myself.”
First, if you feel any inkling of guilt or remorse about your behaviors, you are not a Narcissist. Narcissists are not capable of self-reflection. It is likely, however, that you’ve been bitten by their fleas.
When I left my Ex-N, I had a mild case of fleas myself. Not in the sense that I could infect someone else, but that I knew him so well, I felt like I was inside of his mind. Every step he made, I was three steps ahead of him. I planned most of my activities around his possible reactions. I learned to deal with him using his own modus operandi.
Although nothing he did ever surprised me, I was still caught off-guard from time-to-time. In the end, I felt soiled and violated for behaving and thinking the way he did, so I stopped.
Where does that term come from, anyway?
Fleas comes from the adage “He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas”, which has been attributed to Benjamin Franklin. According to Wikipedia, the quote has an almost universally agreed meaning of “You should be cautious of the company you keep. Associating with those of low reputation may not only lower your own but also lead you astray by the faulty assumptions, premises and data of the unscrupulous.”
The phrase’s true origin comes from 1 Corinthians 15:33, “Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good behavior. BE CAREFUL OF THE COMPANY YOU KEEP! Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it!”
By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes
When infected with fleas, a victim of Narcissistic abuse may adapt behaviors of their abuser as a defense mechanism or as a way to give them a taste of their own medicine. However, it was my experience that acting like a Narcissist with the Narcissist didn’t have the same effect on my Ex that it had on me. He was completely unaffected because the truth was, he was getting supply in the form of negative attention.
In a Narcissist’s mind, negative attention is better than no attention. In fact, they often find it more enjoyable, because if they can get us all worked up, it means we have deep emotions invested in them and the relationship.
As for me, acting in that way usually led to regret, shame and a need to apologize to my abuser. Of course, he seized upon these incidents as justification for his own abusive behavior and/or as a way to take the spotlight off of himself and shine it on me.
Symptoms of Fleas
The truth is, when we have caught fleas from our Narcissist, whether a lover, parent, or spouse, we are actually performing maladaptive coping strategies. Psychlinks.ca has an excellent post referencing seven maladaptive coping behaviors. The post is an excerpt from a chapter of Mind and Emotions: A Universal Treatment for Emotional Disorders (New Harbinger Self-Help Workbook). While I applaud anyone who wants to overcome their own maladaptive behaviors, it’s important to remember that changing yourself will NOT change the Narcissist, nor have a positive effect on the relationship.
Additionally, when you’ve gotten to the point where you are engaging in these unhealthy behaviors, it’s likely you have developed an anxiety disorder. While these maladaptive coping strategies are highly effective in reducing symptoms in the short-term, they result in increased dysfunction by maintaining and strengthening the Narcissist’s own behaviors.
In closing, if you are concerned about the way you’ve acted, it’s likely you just have fleas. However, you’d be wise to analyze the situation, give yourself a good flea bath, and plan an exit strategy.
If you’re considering leaving the relationship, check out How to Do No Contact Like a Boss!
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