narcissist’s flying monkey

What is a flying monkey?

The term “flying monkey” comes from the world-famous Wizard of Oz story by the American author L. Frank Baum. In the fairytale, the flying monkeys were under the spell of the Wicked Witch and did her bidding against Dorothy and her friends.

In psychology, this term is used to describe abuse by proxy, meaning that the narcissist uses their friends, family, coworkers (or those of the victim) to spread gossip about their target in order to damage their reputation. Psychologists describe such attempts to harm the reputation of a person (or group of people, or a company) by telling lies about them or spreading negative propaganda with the term smear campaign.

The narcissist’s goal there is to keep control over the victim by manipulating those individuals into tormenting the victim. These manipulated people narcissist turns against their target do not necessarily have to be the narcissist’s of the victim’s family or friends. In some cases, flying monkeys are a group of individuals who join the persecution of a person they barely know on the internet. Maybe they just heard something negative about them or read something this person wrote that was taken out of context.

Flying monkeys can also be people who harass victims of nonconsensual pornography, sometimes referred to as “revenge porn” (sharing ex-partners’ nudes or sex tapes as a form of retaliation). Religious organizations can also manipulate people into becoming their flying monkeys by spreading misinformation about people or groups of individuals they disapprove of (“witch hunts” in the Middle Ages are a perfect example of it).

All ideologies, especially the ones that encourage any kind of intolerance and discrimination, need flying monkeys to work. Nazism, homophobia, sexism - you name it. On a more individual level, particularly in romantic relationships, it’s a single narcissistic person who turns others against their victim so they act hostile toward the latter.

Could you potentially be a narcissist who uses people as their flying monkeys to manipulate someone? We hope not, and to make sure you’re not, take this Narcissism Test.

How and why do people become flying monkeys?

Due to their insecurities, narcissists are always in desperate need of power and control. And one of the most common ways to remain in control of any given situation for the perpetrator is through triangulation - when the narcissist brings a third person into the relationship to create an imbalance that supports that need for the power they constantly feel. Triangulation can manifest in narcissistic environments in different ways but one of its most common forms is through flying monkeys. The whole point of enlisting flying monkeys is to get enough people to believe the narcissist’s narrative so the victim has no choice but to give up on theirs.

Types of flying monkeys

Some individuals become flying monkeys because they want to. People who become this type of flying monkey often start deliberately doing these sleazy things already in their early years. We’re sure you’ve seen a child join in bullying and abusing another kid just because the crowd was doing it too. It doesn’t matter if there was only one “leader” who started it or if it was a group of children who organized it, but it’s important to understand that most were flying monkeys. Some kids may do it because they enjoy the power it gives them; others, because they are afraid of becoming victims of bullying themselves if they disagree to follow the crowd.

Another type of flying monkey is an individual who has been manipulated by a narcissist into doing so - usually with the “help” of different forms of the emotionally abusive person’s lies or threats. Even couples therapists, sadly, sometimes become flying monkeys for a narcissistic spouse, if they are inexperienced. There is a subtype of the kind of flying monkeys that is easily manipulated, and it is a drama-seeking flying monkey. This type of people enjoys gossip and drama, they’re essentially thrill-seekers. And because narcissists are real masters of captivating storytelling, it is very easy for them to recruit this kind of flying monkeys - it is intriguing and exciting for the latter.

The third type of flying monkeys becomes what they become because they are forced to. For instance, in narcissistic families, children often turn into flying monkeys out of fear of becoming the target of the abuse themselves if they don’t. Another example is a narcissistic work environment where an employee is witnessing their boss emotionally abuse a coworker but they choose to turn a blind eye to it because they are afraid to lose their job.

Without any doubt, someone who has been recruited as a flying monkey through manipulation is as dangerous for the victim as a person who has become a flying monkey of their own free will. The flying monkey’s origin doesn’t really matter when narcissistic abuse happens. However, in some cases, if a flying monkey who has been lied to finds out the truth, there is hope for the victim and the flying monkey to expose the narcissist together and put an end to the abuse.


Why is it so easy for the narcissist to get flying monkeys?

Narcissists usually have a highly charismatic and impeccably charming identity in public, and only the victim gets to see their true, horrifyingly evil identity behind closed doors. It’s exactly with their charm and charisma that the narcissist convinces everyone around them of their trustworthiness while they believe the victim is the only one to blame. Because the narcissist’s abusive upbringing has led them to believe that being vulnerable and kind to people means being weak. But deep down inside, they understand that it is disgusting what they do - and they hate themselves for it. This is why the narcissist, essentially, devotes their entire life to maintaining that fake nice identity they feel is more acceptable in the eyes of society. Unfortunately, oftentimes, as the narcissistic relationship progresses, the narcissist becomes more and more admirable in the eyes of all friends and family while significantly diminishing the victim’s credibility - because everyone believes that the victim is crazy, abusive, etc.

So, how can I avoid becoming a flying monkey?

Here are some useful tips that will help you not to become one of the tools in the narcissist’s hands:

  • Observe your reactions and avoid being driven by strong but superficial emotions. Give yourself the benefit of a doubt. Remember that the more skillful the narcissist, the more subtle and sophisticated the manipulation. Some abusers pretend they care about their victims and are just trying to help them.
  • Admit you might have a prejudice against a person or a business that may influence your decisions. If you believe, for instance, that a company is greedy and corrupt, then it is pretty easy to manipulate you into believing all new rumors about new ways in which a corporation exploits people, even if that news is nothing but clickbait.
  • Seek more information - as many details as possible. Always double-check everything and evaluate how reliable a source is.
  • Listen to the other side of the story. Ideally, talk directly to the individual at whom mud has been thrown. Obviously, sometimes rumors turn out to be true so you don’t have to believe that person blindly either. But asking for specific details, paying attention to an individual’s nonverbal communication, and then checking your intuition about how honest it sounded might help you find out the truth.
  • In some cases, consider facing the source of defamation. Of course, it is not recommended if you are dealing with a malignant narcissist who might start targeting you for an act of revenge. If you think it’s relatively safe, then you can try and share your doubts with that person and see how they react. If they understand your attitude, they are, most likely, honest. But if they start playing a victim or raging at you, chances are high that they are the true manipulator and abuser.