What the Term ‘Flying Monkeys’ Means When We Talk About Narcissism
When people discuss narcissists, they sometimes use the phrase ‘flying monkeys.’ Flying monkeys refer to people who carry out the work of a narcissist or an abusive person, and it comes from The Wizard of Oz, in which the Wicked Witch of the West puts flying monkeys under her spell.
It’s often difficult to recognize a flying monkey, as they may seem like normal people who are simply taking sides in a disagreement or conflict
They did the bidding for the Wicked Witch in much the same way as people might ‘work’ for a narcissist—hence the term being used to describe these people. A narcissist might use their friends or family—or even yours—as spies, or to spread rumors, making them act as substitutes for themselves.1
Here’s how to tell if someone is a flying monkey and how to deal with them, as well as why people might submit to narcissists.
How Can You Tell If Someone Is a Flying Monkey?
“It’s often difficult to recognize a flying monkey,” explains Lauren Kerwin, PhD, licensed clinical psychologist, “as they may seem like normal people who are simply taking sides in a disagreement or conflict”.
Signs Someone Is a Flying Monkey
However, Dr. Kerwin outlines a few key tell-tale signs to look out for:
- They side with the narcissist no matter the situation or evidence presented to them
- They spread gossip or rumors about you
- They gaslight or manipulate you
- They dismiss or trivialize your feelings
- They pass on information about you to help the narcissist harass you
Flying monkeys could be friends or associates of the narcissist, friends or associates of you, or people you think of as authority figures.1
Why Do People Submit to Narcissists?
There’s no easy answer here as there could be any number of reasons. Often, narcissists will begin ‘grooming’ their flying monkeys from the beginning, testing the relationship between you and them.
They can flip things, making people believe that they’re the ones being abused, rather than it being the other way around.
Flying Monkeys May Be People-Pleasers
Often, flying monkeys are people-pleasers. They want to be helpful and don’t want to disappoint the narcissist, particularly if they’re a friend or relative. And it’s likely that they’ve been manipulated or coerced by the narcissist themselves, or fear them and submit to them so they don’t become a target themselves.
They could be in denial, or “simply lack the emotional intelligence or empathy to understand the harm they’re participating in,” says Dr. Kerwin. Often, flying monkeys fulfill their role without actually realizing it, or genuinely believing that the narcissist is in the right because they’re taken in by them and their perspective.1
Sometimes, flying monkeys will have conditions or disorders that make them more susceptible. However, this certainly doesn’t mean that everybody with a certain condition will be a flying monkey.
For example, somebody with narcissistic personality disorder might be a flying monkey. In this case, a narcissist might submit to another one if there’s something in it for them, be it money, power, or the hope of overtaking them in the future.
People with anxiety might be drawn to the power and confidence the narcissist projects, while co-dependent people may like to serve a narcissist as a way of feeling purpose and satisfaction with their life.
How to Deal With Flying Monkeys
Dealing with flying monkeys isn’t always going to be easy. In many cases, they’ll be friends or family members of you, the narcissist, or both. However, Dr. Kerwin suggests some strategies that you can try.
- Be firm with boundaries
- Avoid confrontation as it can create drama, says Dr. Kerwin
- Get support from trusted loved ones or a mental health professional
- Document any incidents of abuse/harassment, as this could be useful if you involve the authorities
- Limit contact as much as you can
It might be difficult to follow these steps, particularly if you’re leaving a relationship with a narcissist or cutting them out of your life. They may send flying monkeys after you, and limiting contact entirely may not be possible. However, it’s important to be as firm as you can when you set boundaries and avoid confrontation where possible.
Before you cut a narcissist out of your life or end your relationship, make a plan and a list of reasons why you’re leaving the relationship. This is a good idea because the narcissist and their flying monkeys can distort reality, causing you to question yourself too.
If you’re having to deal with flying monkeys, whether the narcissist is still in your life or not, you may benefit from speaking to a mental health professional. They can offer you help and advice tailored to your circumstances and situation and can help you manage in the aftermath if you decide to end the relationship as narcissistic abuse can have long-term mental health effects.
Author: Adam England