There’s a term that floats around the narcissistic abuse survivor community, flying monkeys, to refer to all of the people, friends, family, and admirers, in the narcissist’s “fan club” who are so blinded by the charms of the narcissist that they do the narcissist’s bidding.
I am not quite sure where it originated specifically in this context, but the term literally refers back to the “flying monkeys” in the Wizard of Oz,” whom the Wicked Witch of the West sends out to do her evil deeds. In fact, their only purpose is merely to carry out her commands. They’re so loyal, all she has to do is wave her arms around and demand something and off they go to mindlessly make it happen.
The comparison to the people surrounding the narcissist would be comical if it weren’t so true, and the damage it inflicts so real.
Why are flying monkeys so crucial for the narcissist?
1. THEY PROVIDE ATTENTION (NARCISSISTIC SUPPLY) AND SUPPORT THE NARCISSIST’S ENTITLED BELIEFS ABOUT HIMSELF/HERSELF
What does it look like? A narcissist will keep people around who will agree with him or her and make him or her feel good about him or herself. That describes most of us, but a narcissist will take it to the extreme and analyze the comments and behaviors of the people they interact with to gauge their status within the circle. They are consistently scanning the scene for signs of disrespect and cutting off those who disagree or oppose them or do not recognize their “greatness,” contending people are jealous or envious– or just not up to their level. It’s an exhausting game of ego-preservation.
For example, it was common for my ex to go without speaking to one or more of his friends or some extended member of his family for “disrespecting” him. In one example, a friend did not send a verbal invitation to him directly to a party but instead invited him through another friend. He took this as a personal slight, unable to think of no other alternative explanation, and not only refused to attend, but demoted that person in his life, spoke ill of him, and refused to interact with him for months, believing him to be jealous.
The criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder spell out very clearly the desire to be constantly and excessively admired, an entitlement to obedience and compliance with their ideas and expectations, and a delusion that people are envious of him or her.
2. THEY ENABLE THE NARCISSIST’S BAD BEHAVIOR
What does it look like? The fan club ignores the warnings and red flags that something isn’t right about the narcissist when they know damn well some of the things he or she does aren’t normal or acceptable and may be flat-out immoral. Yet they provide him or her with “outs” or excuses and sweep things under the rug. They may also engage in neutralization, throwing their hands up and saying, “Well, there’s two sides to every story,” or worse, put the blame on the victims. They listen to the sob stories when the narcissist tries to paint himself or herself as the real victim and may unwittingly or even knowingly help him or her engage in damaging actions. Or perhaps they just turn a blind eye and refuse to speak up and call it out for what it is.
This is a very important role for the fan club, arguably the most important. It requires the least amount of work on the part of the flying monkeys and provides the most amount of overarching support to the narcissist’s ability to engage in the abusive and damaging behavior. The narcissist needs all of these people who provide a cover of normalcy. They allow him or her to believe that what they are doing is justifiable and they help them maintain their impression management that their lifestyle is normal. “He’s a good guy, he just has problems.” “He’s such a good guy.” How many times did I hear this? Narcissists and sociopaths are great at seeming like tortured souls, magicians who make decisions that inflict horrific pain on others which then tends to throw things around them into chaos that they claim to have no control over or don’t understand the magnitude of.
3. THEY ARE WILLING TO DO THE NARCISSIST’S BIDDING WHERE THE TARGET IS CONCERNED
In the true sense of the term “flying monkeys,” the fan club may act as an extension of the narcissist, parroting his manufactured feelings toward the victim or acting on the narcissist’s wishes regarding his or her target. It’s abuse-by-proxy. The list of things that they may be tapped to do can include:
attacking the victim physically or verbally or making threats
hoovering on behalf of the narcissist
taking part in the smear campaign by spreading gossip
ostracizing the victim or sabotaging the victim’s recovery
spying on the victim and reporting back to the narcissist
With flying monkeys, the victim is abused twice: once by the narcissist, and again by his or her fan club. The abuse comes in multiple forms. Obviously, it can come from direct attacks. More insidiously, however, it may result from additional gaslighting that further neutralizes the narcissist’s behavior and twists the victim’s reality of events. The fan club may have a desire to protect the narcissist at all costs, and that loyalty is what the narcissist depends on.
So why does the fan club stay so loyal?
Fan clubs seem to be discussed primarily from the point of view of victims and how victims are harmed by them or how abusers use them to harm victims. But what about from the point of view of the fan club itself?
Understanding the dynamics of the relationship between a narcissist and his or her fan is an important thing to also consider because it keeps the focus on the narcissist and how vast the scope of narcissistic abuse really is when you pull back the camera and look at the bigger picture from the 10,000-foot level.
Just as I didn’t always do what my ex wanted, sometimes the fan club knows they’re getting played too, and to such a degree that they veer off course and pull out of the narcissist’s reality for a few minutes. I’ve seen it for myself.
There were times when some of my ex’s friends were so taken aback by a moment of egregious behavior that he had spontaneously displayed, that they dropped their scripts.
Sometimes they didn’t say much, they’d just sit or stand with me after he’d stormed off instead of following him, or follow me out to wait for a car to make sure I was okay. They were in shock– just like I had been at times when the mask had dropped.
Other times, they did speak up
- He’s an asshole.
- Just lose all contact with him.
- You don’t deserve this.
- Get a restraining order.
- Stop coming back to him.
And a couple of times, they asked me the question: why do you keep coming back to him?
The million dollar question, one I’ve touched on by explaining how breaking up with a narcissist has to come in stages, and I know I’ll write many more posts about it in time. But the blindness of his friends in understanding the answer to that question was the same blindness I had for a time in understanding their own loyalty to him.
Other people are attracted to narcissists for the same reason that boyfriends and girlfriends are. They can be charming, charismatic and mirror back to you positive things about yourself. They make grand promises and occasionally deliver. They are good with words and great at denying, blame-shifting and gaslighting. They can be a lot of fun to be around when you can come up with the right excuses to write off their “quirks.”
I came back for the same reasons you’re going to write off in your head everything you’ve seen tonight.
I came back for the same reasons you’ve always ignored all the red flags that happened before he even knew me, but everyone swept it under the rug every time he did something terrible.
I came back because he’s not like that all the time, so you just accept the excuses because he’s got you wrapped up in the game and you’re being gaslighted too.
I came back for the same reasons that you sit around hoping you’re wrong that something’s not right every time you hear about another crazy story even though you know deep down you’re not and you wonder how long you can go on fooling yourself.
And yet it’s easier to believe that you’re wrong about how bad it is than to have to consider that everything you know about him could be a facade, or to figure out which pieces were real.
Yeah… you don’t have to explain. Believe me, I understand.
If you really want to believe people are essentially good but they just make mistakes, especially if the person in question is someone you know and care about, you will go to great lengths to protect that belief. In fact, the more “mistakes” that person makes and the deeper the rabbit hole goes, the harder you fight to maintain the belief because it’s almost too scary to believe how absolutely wrong you were and how close to darkness you’ve actually been sitting the entire time. If fan clubs wants to know why victims stay in relationships with narcissists, all they need to do is take a look in the mirror. It’s criminal-mindset behavior in a social setting.
I don’t wonder why the fan club is so loyal to a narcissist. I know why.
Yet it’s a dangerous game for everyone. That lack of conscience thing doesn’t discriminate. Because narcissists are generally unable to have close attachments, they have no more loyalty to their fan club members than they do their relationship partners. They will not hesitate to betray or mistreat them in the same ways or for the same general reasons as they do their partners, for example, if they perceive one of the fan club members has disrespected them or merely for enjoyment or if they think they can get away with it.