The term “flying monkeys” comes from the classic film The Wizard of Oz. The wicked witch enlisted these creatures to do her bidding. They followed her instructions regardless of their evil intent.
Interestingly, when she died, the monkeys celebrated. It seemed they weren’t inherently evil themselves, but followed her out of fear and conditioning.
In psychology, the term has come to describe people who do a narcissist’s bidding. If you’ve ever set boundaries with a narcissist, it will be a flying monkey who approaches you to smooth things over.
By smooth over, I mean gaslight, trick, guilt trip, and manipulate. I’ve been on the receiving end of flying monkeys in both in-law and family of origin relationships.
Dysfunctional families tend to cater to the most toxic person in the bunch. Much like the wicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. The other family members do everything in their power to keep the toxic person happy.
I set boundaries with my mother for the first time as a young woman. Soon after, I received a call from her sister, not to encourage, support, or understand me. No, she had been sent by my mother to cajole, guilt, and blame me for being out of contact.
Later, I married into a dysfunctional family who also enabled a scarily toxic matriarch. Again, when I set boundaries with my monster-in-law, her husband got sent to get me back on board with the family system.
These flying monkeys can come across as sweet and well-intentioned. But their sole aim is to get you into line at the expense of yourself. Like the monkey army in the film, they enlist to fight the witch’s battles.
Flying monkeys never have your best interests in mind. And they will damage you if you let them. They will erase all the hard work you put into setting boundaries and telling the truth.
How do narcissists get flying monkeys?
Not always through fear mongering or aggression. Some will manipulate to get sympathy so their supporters feel compelled to help them.
For example, my father-in-law played the role of enabler in their family. He probably felt it his job to rescue his wife. As a result, he believed her when she turned the tables and made me into the aggressor.
All the while the narcissist/toxic person is sitting back and watching someone else do their dirty work. They enjoy the feeling of being above the person they are persecuting. And gaslighting them into believing they are the toxic one.
Flying monkeys lack empathy, integrity, have weak wills, and only want to keep things the way they are. They may seek to avoid the wrath of the narcissist/toxic person. Or they want to appear as a fixer and enjoy the attention.
Whatever the reason, beware! You thought dealing with the narcissist was bad enough. Now you’ve got to fend off her flunkies off, too.
How to deal with flying monkeys
1. Know what they are
Through this and other articles, learn about the phenomenon of flying monkeys. Remind yourself they need not appear evil to hurt you.
See through their sympathetic act and recognize the disconnect between soft spoken words and their true intent. That is, to get you back in line and abandon yourself in the process.
Your persecutor may have duped them into believing they are doing good work. They may think they are rescuing you by bringing you back into the family fold.
2. Listen to your intuition
Listen to your body’s cues. Mine told me that this person was not on my side and I needed to protect myself.
Flying monkeys can be people you thought you could trust. And that can feel heartbreaking.
3. Strengthen your sense of self
If you’ve grown up around dysfunction, you may suffer from low self-worth. Your sense of self may feel fractured which makes you easier to manipulate.
If you’re unsure of yourself, flying monkeys can gaslight you and make you believe you are the abuser. They will play on your self-doubt and help their puppet masters look good while throwing you under the bus.
The more you learn about narcissism and gaslighting, the more equipped you will be to deal with it when it comes your way. Stay strong in the face of the unbelievable.
Do not get swayed by people who refuse to face the dark truth. Reconsider spending time with those who deny obvious dysfunction. Some so-called positivity is toxic and can do more harm that good.