Lie Down With Dogs & You’re Bound to Get 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’s to begin to question if they are the one who suffers from a personality disorder. It is also common for Non’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.

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.
  1. Yep. This all resonated with me. My narc ex gf used to try to provoke me into hitting her. I couldn’t understand why at the time,but now I do. She was looking for that ‘golden nugget’. The excuse she could use to justify her bad behavior. Thank God I never did hit her,tho I sure felt like it sometimes. And I also never cheated on her during our 2 year relationship,tho she cheated on me many times. After I was no contact for about 6 months I did finally give her her golden nugget,that excuse to really hate me forever and use in her smear campaign against me. But I am sure I surprised her with what I did. I did not give her the golden nugget she expected. What I did was simply report her to the Internal Revenue Seevice (IRS) for the tax fraud she committed. I wrote a detailed letter stating what I know she did and how she filed fraudulent returns for the 2 years I was with her(and probably before that also). When I spoke to an IRS fraud investigator he assured me they would check it out. While I know they will not put her in jail or even file criminal charges,I do know they will make her pay back all the money with interest and a huge penalty. I figure it will take her 10 years or longer to pay it all. I just figured that if she wants to hate me forever,then I would give her a good reason to do that-without doing anything illegal. And I openly admit that I derive some satisfaction from that. I was always unable to hold her accountable for her actions,so I will let the IRS hold her accountable for her actions. Let’s see if her lies,manipulations,and narcissistic rage work with the IRS. I bet it don’t! Anyway,that’s all behind me know and am continuing the healing process. Thanks so much for the keen insight you provide in your articles.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I never understood why I had an affair on my very ex husband when I was 22 yrs old. I am now 69 yrs old. Having affairs was not my usual pattern. My first husband was ten years older, an alcoholic, got rid of my dog while I was out of the country visiting my parents, kept telling me about how in love he was with a past girlfriend. When I left him, he came to my office with two bags filled with new clothes, then took me to show me an apartment in a neighborhood I had mentioned I wanted to live in. Fortunately, I never got lured back in. I was his third wife in ten years. Also a gift was I did not have children with him.
    I spoke to him recently to discover he had no relationship with his only daughter, his wife had breast cancer and he was calling me.
    What a gem. I could have picked up a stranger in the street and it would have been an upgrade. Thank you for the discussion on “fleas”. It finally makes sense why I had an affair on this man. (He never found out).


  3. This is a relief to read! I cussed my husband out one day and told him to get his head out of his a** so he could see clearly!
    The next day I apologized and said there was no justification for my behavior and promised not to do that again. He was sort of gloating and said something like “yeah you’re really out of control”.
    Of course; he’s a malignant narcissist. He finally packed his toys (after a year and a half) and stomped off the playground. Thank God!
    So much for our new marriage.


  4. This article really resonates with me because I’ve experienced this first hand. I went from the abused to the abuser. I felt like I was standing up for myself but really I fell prey to my NPD wife’s scheme to lower me to her level.

    By becoming an abuser my actions validated her abusive behavior. Me calling her out on her behavior is now viewed as being hypocritical. This opened the door to her becoming more abusive.
    I was in utter shock with how low she was willing to stoop to get a reaction out of me. The feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and powerlessness slowly overtook me. Life has been more than difficult these past few years for me. I’am working hard to rebuild myself up but it is extremely hard because I still live with my wife. I feel that she can sense the end is near so she’s desperate. I was a perfect victim and the thought of starting over in finding a new one after 12 years is unappealing. I could care less. I’m going to break free and build a new life. A life I’ve been denied for oh so long.


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