"First [the Flying Monkeys] took my legs off and they threw them over there! Then they took my chest out and they threw it over there!" ~The Scarecrow, The Wizard of Oz
For as much as I've discussed narcissism and how it affects relationships, both on this site and in several of my books, I have never fully covered the topic of flying monkeys. And I'm not talking about the kind from the movie. I'm talking about the kind that are real people who are so often used as pawns in the gaslighting and manipulation game of a narcissist.
While I've mentioned the phenomenon in a few posts, I have yet to fully define it. So let's just start there.
What is a flying monkey?
It might be a funny comparison, calling them flying monkeys, but the reality of it is anything but funny.
A quick and dirty definition of a narcissist's "flying monkey" is a person who does the narcissist's bidding for them. Sometimes, these flying monkeys are unaware of their role in the narcissist's puppet show - you know, the stage they set for their gaslighting manipulation and preferred state of drama. Other times, they're "in on it" with them.
The Unwitting Flying Monkey
Often, flying monkeys come in the form of well-meaning friends and loved ones. They show up, trying to gently convince you to go along with what the narcissist wants - and it's generally a direct result of their own manipulation by the narc.
See, a toxic narcissist will do anything to get or her way, including telling lies about you and/or others in order to make things go their way.
A Real-Life Example of How a Narcissist Uses a Flying Monkey
For example, let's say that you have gone no-contact with your narcissistic and abusive father. Life has never been better.
Meanwhile, Joe has recently married into your family, and your narcissistic father has convinced him that you're a tyrant who has victimized him since you could speak.
Joe, trying to make everything better between you, comes to you and pleads your father's "case," begging you to let your father back into your life, for the sake of your family.
You don't want to hurt Joe, but you also know that allowing the narcissist back into your life would be toxic for you. You try to express this to Joe, but he's already been warned that "you might say that," so he continues on his mission to "fix" your relationship with your father.
Eventually, you might have to be very direct to get him to lay off. And of course, this causes you to once again look like "the bad guy" in the situation - and your father keeps playing the victim, manipulating and pulling strings all the while.
The Co-Narcissist Flying Monkey: Rare But Real
The unwitting flying monkey is difficult and can really complicate your life - but the co-narcissist kind is much more sinister. And not many people really talk about this kind of monkey.
Every now and then, two or narcissists join forces - and this is when things can get really ugly.
When one is willingly doing the other's bidding, you've got two relentless, abusive manipulators against you - and then you've really got a problem.
This often happens in couples, between parents and children or even just among friends. The only thing you an do is either go no-contact (ideal) or, if you must be in the person's life, get really good at taking control of the situation.
How do you release the flying monkeys?
So, what's the best way to deal with a flying monkey situation? Should you try to convince them that you're right, or should you just keep quiet to maintain your sanity?
That depends on the person. But often, trying to convince them of the narcissist's true intention might be pointless, and in those cases, the best thing I think you can do is to smile, nod and then go ahead and do what's best for you.
What if a narcissist is using you as a flying monkey?
There is also a chance that a narcissist is using YOU to be a flying monkey in order to victimize someone else. That might be the case if you:
- Are hearing a lot of negativity from one side of an argument you're trying to help resolve but not hearing much from the other.
- Have taken sides with someone in your life who has taken sides against you before.
- Are trying to get someone to change their mind in order to make a third person happy/satisfied or otherwise pleased.
- Are trying to help solve a decades-old problem that you just became aware of and might not know all the details that are involved.
How can you avoid being used as a flying monkey?
- Avoid taking sides unless you are a personal witness to a situation and have a valid opinion on the topic because of what you witness.
- If you choose to try to help someone who might be a narcissist try to cause another person to do something, be sure you know all the facts first. For example, if someone accuses another person of neglecting or abusing their children, make sure you have seen real proof of the accusations or made against them - such as verbal confirmation, or physical or psychological signs in the children themselves - or failing that, police reports, recordings or other actual proof.
- Refuse to get involved in situations that don't directly affect you personally when it comes to arguing or trying to help someone else get their way.
Let's talk about this. Do you know any flying monkeys? Is there a chance that you've been used as one? Share your thoughts and experiences in the comments.