Flying Monkeys (also called
“abuse by proxy”)
By Dana Morningstar
This term comes from the movie The Wizard of Oz, where the Wicked Witch of the East has flying monkeys under her spell to do her bidding, which is mainly to harass and torment Dorothy and her friends. In terms of a narcissistic relationship, “flying monkeys” are people who have been manipulated by the narcissist in order to carry out their bidding, usually to harass and torment the narcissist’s target, or to push them back into the relationship.
Anyone can be turned into a flying monkey—friends and family of the narcissist, friends and family of their target, therapists, members of their church, and/or neighbors; you name it. Because they are also being manipulated, flying monkeys are duped by the narcissist into doing the narcissist’s bidding by believing either that the narcissist is the victim of the situation and the target is the one who is manipulative and abusive, or that their relationship issues are somehow shared issues (which they are not). The narcissist’s bidding generally includes spying and getting information from the target, pushing the target back into the relationship, stalking, harassing, or abusing the target.
As a quick side note, saying the relationship issues between a narcissist and their target are shared issues is a lot like saying the dynamic between a bully and their target are shared issues, and that the target is partially to blame. Or that the unequal and manipulative dynamic between a cult leader and a cult member is due to communication issues. Open, honest, sincere, solutions-oriented communication with a narcissist does not stop them from bullying or taking control away from their targets—if anything, having open, honest, sincere, and solutions-oriented communication often makes things worse, as the narcissist isn’t looking for a solution, they are looking to use, abuse, and exploit their target. The more they know their behavior is working to grind their target down, or the more the target opens up and lets the narcissist know how much their behavior is hurting them, the more the narcissist now knows what their target’s buttons are. They will either continue to push those buttons directly, or they will use any information gained from the target against them to manipulate them in the future.
Example: Teri was verbally and emotionally abusive to her girlfriend Jane. Jane thought that given enough time, love, and therapy Teri could change, but she didn’t. The final straw for Jane was when Teri hit her during an argument. A few weeks after their breakup, Jane started to get dirty looks from people and found out that Teri flipped everything around and told their friends a bunch of lies about her, saying that Jane was abusing her. Jane is shocked. Several of their mutual “friends” started to leave nasty messages on her phone and through social media. One night, while she was out for dinner, Jane’s car is keyed.
Example: Rachel divorces John after years of his physical and verbal abuse, which included name calling, yelling, belittling, shoving, throwing things, and threatening her. John begins telling their mutual friends that he never abused her, that he might have raised his voice a few times and said a few things he regrets, but that he never hit her, or cheated on her. After minimizing his behavior, he then spins things around and makes himself the victim of Rachel. John claims that Rachel is just a gold digger and only married him for his money, and now she’s trying to keep him from his kids. His friends and family start treating her terribly and take up John’s cause as their own. They fight for him to get full custody of the children because they believe Rachel is an unfit, manipulative, and abusive mother.
Example: Raul and Samantha are Christian, fairly active in their church, and have been married for thirty years. Raul has cheated, lied, and siphoned funds from their joint account multiple times. Samantha has finally had enough. She has been through all of his excuses, lies, and promises to change enough times now that she realizes he’s not going to change. She files for divorce. Once Raul gets the papers and realizes Samantha is serious, he goes to their pastor in tears, telling him that he has a sex addiction, and that all his lying and stealing is because he strayed from God. He begs for help to save his marriage and to find his way back to God. Raul says he’ll do whatever it takes. He joins different men’s groups in the church and tells anyone who will listen his tale of woe and how he’s working so hard to turn his life around because it damaged his marriage and hurt the woman he loves. Everyone in their church begins to view him as a sheep that has strayed from the flock, but who now has seen the error of his ways, and who has found God. The congregation and the pastor start encouraging Samantha to give him another chance, as they mistake his insistence and actions with joining different groups as sincerity, instead of seeing it as the manipulative behavior that it is. The pastor calls Samantha and encourages couples’ counseling with him (which, unbeknownst to the pastor, has now made Raul’s individual issues into relationship issues, and the pastor is now re-victimizing Samantha by having her share the blame for Raul’s behavior). Due to all this pressure, Samantha caves in and gives Raul another chance. The pastor and the congregation are all thrilled with themselves for helping Raul to find God and for keeping the couple together. Raul is on his best behavior for a while, and things seemed to have really turned a corner…until Samantha’s coworker tells her that she came across Raul’s profile on a dating site.
Dana Morningstar is a former psychiatric nurse turned domestic violence educator who specializes in abuse awareness and prevention. Her passion is working with survivors of abuse to reclaim and rebuild their self-esteem, boundaries, confidence, and identity. She is an author of multiple books on the subject, and also has a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel, as well as several online support groups, all of which you can find under the name “Thrive After Abuse.”