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Are You a Flying Monkey? (And How To Avoid It)

written by: Kosjenka Muk

The expression "flying monkey" might sound cute, but it actually describes something quite dark: a person who was manipulated into tormenting somebody on behalf of the manipulator. It originates from the book "The Wizard of Oz", in which a group of winged monkeys serves an evil witch and executes her destructive commands.

This term is most commonly used in the context of narcissists and narcissistic abuse; a "flying monkey" is somebody who is directly or indirectly persuaded by a narcissist into making a victim's life difficult. However, it's not necessarily only narcissists or psychopaths who manipulate in these ways; such games are often played by average people too, although usually to a lesser extent.

There can be a whole flock (swarm?) of "flying monkeys". These are, for example, people who join online persecution of somebody they barely even know, except they heard something bad about them, or read a quote taken out of context. Or anybody who harasses victims of revenge porn. Or groups of teenagers who decide to ostracize a less popular classmate. You don't really need a true narcissist for such things to happen.

Various religions organizations can make big parts of whole populations into their flying monkeys, by spreading unreasonable fears, misconceptions and falsehoods about any group of people they don't approve of (historical "witch hunts" are a perfect example, but there are plenty examples in modern times, too, all over the world). Organized ideologies in general are full of flying monkeys. Neonacism, sexism, any kind of intolerance and labeling people, anything that encourages discrimination and dehumanizing of somebody else for the sake of an ideology... there is not necessarily a single narcissistic person who manipulates others into it, but there are often several distinguished cases somewhere in the background.

These kinds of games often start already in childhood. Did you ever join into ostracizing or abusing another child just because most other kids were doing it too? Maybe one child started it, maybe several were the leaders, but most were flying monkeys. Some children (and adults) do it because they truly enjoy malice and the power it seems to give them, and some do it because they are afraid they might become victims themselves if they don't follow the crowd. The reason doesn't matter; the results do.

On a more individual level, you might be a "flying monkey" if you spread rumors and gossip. Or if you start acting hostile towards somebody after hearing rumors and gossip about them, without checking their side of the story. It fairly often happens after love breakups, but it's also common within business and family relationships. Even helping professionals can sometimes become "flying monkeys" for abusers, if inexperienced and overly trusting. The person who initiates such abuse might want revenge, or some form of tangible profit, or just to release frustration and gain sympathy, for example.

Why are "flying monkeys" sometimes good people?

Do you believe you wouldn't fall for such a thing? Narcissists often choose well intentioned, but inexperienced, naive or impulsive people for the role of a flying monkey. Children and young people fit this description, but also adult people with strong sense of justice and not enough objectivity. Narcissists often present themselves as victims, trying to incite righteous anger toward the true victim. Some people are very skilled in this.

Another category of well intentioned "flying monkeys" are people who spread various conspiracy theories and alarming articles without carefully checking how realistic, logical and proven they are. Spreading alarm can be a powerful feeling (Hey, look at me! I know more than others, my eyes are wide open, I defy powerful authorities!), or it might be a result of fear or desire to help others, but not only it's often a waste of time and deflects focus from real, urgent problems; it can and does create real damage to others (such as decreasing group immunity by refusing to vaccinate children).

(To be clear: some conspiracies do happen and create huge damage, but it's a big difference between believing in a conspiracy that includes a narrow circle of people (or corporations), and realistic motives and proofs, and a conspiracy theory that theoretically includes whole professions worldwide without any obvious motivation or profit, or proven data.)

You might be manipulated into being a "flying monkey" even if you love the victim and dislike the abuser. A jealous ex of your partner (or a jealous parent, sometimes) might tell you something bad about your partner and make you suspect or put pressure on them, or even leave them. On the other hand, some warnings might be genuine and realistic. How to distinguish between facts and fantasy?

Part 2: how to recognize manipulation and deal with "flying monkeys"

"Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate." - C.G. Jung

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