You’ve got FLEAS: For abuse victims with more baggage than expected

NOTICE:¬†kiracarsontang will be transferring to a new URL, maxgoesgodless, in 1-2 weeks to appreciate the fact that I now go by Max, a more gender-neutral name, rather than Kira. ūüôā

Baggage in Mysteryville*

This past Saturday, my twin brother and I hauled ourselves up at 4 AM for the weekend getaway of our lives. We were making the five-hour drive to a rustic town not for its lush mountainsides or armies of cows, but to visit a friend we made three years prior. Like us, Alex* survived toxic Christianity, and offered a stay at their house as an escape from our religiously and emotionally abusive abuser.

But¬†even five hours and countless cow-acres¬†away, my abuser and her church still haunted me. Before I shoveled in pizza and wings, I felt a compulsive need to pray. As I snuggled in for the night, I became suddenly paranoid¬†that Alex¬†and their partner¬†Lee*¬†were somehow watching me through cameras hidden throughout their¬†home. And while we drove past countless churches¬†on Mysteryville’s¬†lazy roads, I found I didn’t have it in me to even peek at their doors.

Unfortunately, it was quickly clear that I wasn’t the only one affected by my abuser. While we were out, sweet, fun Alex¬†tossed words like “shithead” and “little fuck” at children under their breath, tempering the outbursts by admitting¬†“I have a bit of a temper.” They¬†later told me they¬†picked up¬†the habit¬†from their abusive parent, which explains how uncharacteristic of them¬†it was.

Lie by¬†Dogs and You’ll Get FLEAS

When I first discovered that my abuser is truly and inexcusably abusive (as all abusiveness is), my first stop was the website Out of the FOG (Fear, Obligation, Guilt), a website for victims of abusers with personality disorders. It defines FLEAS as follows:

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 ‚ÄúLie down with dogs and you are bound to get fleas‚ÄĚ.

But I really learned about FLEAS from the reddit page r/RBN, Raised by Narcissists (my saving grace in the 40 days left before college), defining FLEAS as Frightening Lasting Effects of Abuse. It explains FLEAS more in depth, with more resources to read, on this page. Here’s my favorite quote:

Many traits that we pick up are very normal reactions to growing up in an abusive environment. [For example,] if you have spent a big portion of your life being constantly attacked, it is no surprise if you turn out defensive and may struggle with even the gentlest criticism.

Whose Fault is it When a Flea Bites?

It seems that every week now, I see¬†a¬†new abusive behavior my abuser commits, a new angle in which she’s damaged me. One thing I’ve repeated is that once I go to college and surround myself with a healthy group of friends, I’ll see more of those behaviors¬†every day.

To be honest, I’m not quite ready, and I’m sure they’ll serve as the¬†heart of many blog posts to come. Going to college, while the best thing to happen in my life, requires me to brace myself for the discoveries to come. But there’s something I’m keeping in mind as the days tick down:

No one blames a dog for being bitten by a flea.

As a survivor myself, I don’t blame Alex for their choice words, even though¬†the children they¬†snap at are completely innocent. While others might recoil, I see their behavior as clear-as-day evidence that someone once treated them with¬†uncalled for contempt and disgust, and while what they¬†say is wrong, it doesn’t make them¬†a bad person.

As for myself, Frightening Lasting Effects of Abuse include

  • guilt and dissociation when I don’t pray before meals,
  • a superiority complex around Catholics (?!?!)
  • major distrust and even contempt toward Christians such as my abuser, and
  • the omnipresent compulsion to be extroverted¬†and belief that introverts like myself are selfish.

Yes, I am FLEA-ridden. Yes, these behaviors sometimes¬†offend others and skew my view of them, and those behaviors are wrong and twisted. But they don’t make¬†me¬†twisted. These FLEAS are a result of 18 years around my abuser, and when they bite, I don’t blame myself. Instead, I identify them as another way my abuser exerts her influence over me, recognize why they are incorrect, and make an effort to change my thinking. This is easier said than done, but it prevents a lot of self-blaming on my part, especially when my road to recovery is already long enough.

If you are an abuse victim and see FLEAS in your life, this is my message to you: don’t hate yourself for it. You found ways to cope with the abuse as it happened, and it isn’t your fault that they developed. Redirect shame, frustration, and anger toward making yourself better and straightening out your head; after all, we’ve given our abusers more than enough of our energy and tears.

When a FLEA bites, bite back.

*Shit.¬†I got up from writing this article to get some Cheetos and when I came back, Alex and Lee’s gender, pronouns, and town had been spirited away in a vicious act of theft by Confidentiality Crocodile. I’ll be more vigilant next post, promise.

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