Narcissists may use flying monkeys to legitimize their bad behavior. Here's how to avoid getting caught in their spell — and avoid becoming one yourself.
The term ‘flying monkey’ comes from the flying monkeys in the Wizard of Oz, who were under the spell of Wicked Witch and used to carry out her evil plans. In relation to everyday narcissists, flying monkeys are those who enable and aid abusers by acting on their behalf.
Narcissists gather flying monkeys by becoming close to them. They manipulate people into thinking they are friends, so they will spread rumors and lies for them, or excuse their bad behavior. Narcissists may try to pull the friends and family of their target under their influence, in order to make it easier to manipulate them. Flying monkeys also help narcissists maintain their positive social image by defending them and denying their abusive actions.
Signs You Might Be a Narcissist's Flying Monkey
Flying monkeys are not always inherently bad people who wish to cause harm. In fact, they are usually the victims of abuse and manipulation themselves. Experts claim there are two types of flying monkeys: the benevolent and the malevolent flying monkeys.
Whereas benevolent flying monkeys inflict harm unintentionally, malevolent ones take pleasure in hurting others. There are several signs to look out for which may indicate you are acting as a flying monkey for a narcissist, or you might be especially at risk to do so.
- People pleasing: Many benevolent flying monkeys are people pleasers. Narcissists can manipulate them easily as people pleasers want to be helpful. They may convince themselves the narcissist is in need of help, a loved one, or a second chance. Oftentimes, narcissists will even convince people pleasers that they themselves are being abused. They flip the roles between abuser and victim so that the people pleaser will act as their rescuer.
- Poor boundaries: Having a hard time setting appropriate boundaries makes you more susceptible to manipulation by a narcissist.
- Empathy: Highly empathetic people are at risk of being manipulated by narcissists, especially through tactics like love bombing and pity. Love bombing is a common sign of a toxic person, such as a narcissist.
- Fear: Some people are pushed into acting as flying monkeys through intimidation tactics. Flying monkeys may be afraid of the narcissist, or they may have something to lose if they stop appeasing the narcissist. The narcissist may even hold something against them as blackmail. Benevolent flying monkeys often accept their role because it seems like the only option.
- Feel of loss of self: Have you ever felt like your friend’s life had a lot more going on than your own? This might be because you are being taken up participating in their manipulation tactics. If you find yourself acting according to the wishes of another, and thereby hurting another person, you might be serving as a flying monkey.
- Love of drama: While this might sound like a rather shallow reason to become someone’s flying monkey, it is why many people actively participate in other people’s abusive behaviors. It might make you feel like you are on the ‘good side’ of a conflict when you help a charismatic narcissist ‘get back’ at another person by harming them. Watch out for when you start enjoying the drama your or their behavior creates, when it harms another person.
- Psychopathic tendencies: While the four signs listed above apply to benevolent flying monkeys, having psychopathic tendencies makes it easy to become a malevolent flying monkey. Those who are highly anti-social, amoral, and enjoy inflicting harm on others are much more likely to work together with abusers. Luckily, psychopathic individuals are fairly uncommon, meaning flying monkeys are much more often benevolent than they are malevolent. However, if these characteristics apply to you, we recommend seeking professional help.
Apart from these characteristics which make it easy to become a flying monkey, there are common behaviors of flying monkeys to watch out for as well. If you find yourself spreading hurtful gossip, spying on others, gaslighting people, and making excuses for abusers, you should check yourself. These behaviors are not okay, and they may mean you are being used and manipulated by a narcissist.
Tip: Here’s a skill narcissists likely don’t have: Intellectual Humility — Uncovering Its Benefits, Obstacles, and Development
How to Spot Flying Monkeys
Because narcissists use flying monkeys as scapegoats to do their bidding, you may not realize there is a puppet master. On the flip-side, you may not realize that your loved ones are actually acting as flying monkeys against you.
Flying monkeys can be your family, close friends, coworkers and more, whom a narcissist has reeled in to act as their puppets. However, flying monkeys can also be individuals who you met through the abuser. If you feel you are dealing with abuse and manipulation, there are several behaviors to look out for in others.
- Gossiping: Flying monkeys benefit narcissists by spreading rumors and lies about others. If you consistently catch somebody spreading hurtful, false information about you, they might be a flying monkey. Former flying monkeys have said that spreading the narcissist’s narrative was a significant part of their role.
- Surveillance: Another major help flying monkeys provide for abusers is surveillance. Flying monkeys who are close to the target have access to their whereabouts and details of their life. They can report information back to the narcissist, who then uses it against you. This can manifest in dangerous ways. For example, if you cut contact with somebody because you’ve recognized as abusive, they may have flying monkeys who enable their abuse by continuing to spy on you for the abuser.
- Gaslighting and victim-blaming: Flying monkeys are fiercely loyal to narcissists. Often times, narcissists will play the victim to their flying monkeys and say that their victim is in fact the abuser. When victims then confide in their loved ones about what they are experiencing, they are often invalidated. This is textbook victim-blaming and a clear sign you are dealing with a flying monkey.
- Enabling and excusing: If you’ve confided in a loved one and told them about the abuse you are experiencing, and they continue to make excuses for and therefore enable the narcissist to continue their abuse, they are likely a flying monkey. For example, if you tell a friend about how your partner is manipulative and cruel to you, but they say things like “everyone makes mistakes sometimes” and “but they seem like such a great person so I don’t think they would hurt you on purpose,” this is a mindset that both invalidates your experience, and enables the narcissist to continue hurting you.
How to Deal With a Narcissist
If you find yourself being manipulated by a toxic person, you should first distance yourself from them. Stop listening to the narcissist in your life, and start speaking with your loved ones to get their side of the story. The same goes for situations in which you are dealing with flying monkeys. If people are not treating you right, you need to cut ties. Stop meeting them one-on-one and quit divulging private information about yourself. If possible, you may want to cut contact completely. Instead, surround yourself with people who are loving and supportive.
You should also consider seeking professional help from a therapist. Regardless of whether you fear you’ve become a flying monkey or you are dealing with them in your life, speaking with a professional can help you navigate your relationships in a healthy way.
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