A child’s construction of a false self is an adaptive process. Children may develop it to cope with unmet needs, especially the absence of support the child requires to differentiate themselves from their caregivers.
When a child is unable to successfully evolve as a separate individual, a profound wounding occurs. It is this wounding that severs the child from who they really are, causing their true self to retreat into the mist of toxic shame.
Enter the false self
Once the child’s damaged true self is subverted, the false self is developed as a protective fortification. It is the psychological armor the child creates to survive in an oppressive climate of family dysfunction.
The false self is a façade that disguises a vacant, inert, embryonic true self. The true self becomes an unrealized seed with its innate ability to develop roots and nourish the spirit with a rich emotional life unrealized.
Because the disconnected false persona is bankrupt of constructive emotions, it is unable to experience or genuinely express love, trust, or empathy – making it impossible to establish authentic bonds with others. Instead, the counterfeit self relies on subterfuge and predation, mentally spinning deceptive webs to capture its sustenance.
Over time, the false self becomes a prison where the child’s true self is held hostage.
The false self and pathological narcissism
Pathological narcissism is a traumatic stress response that manifests as ego distortion. It is the invention of a fake persona as a coping mechanism for abysmally low self-esteem.
The child’s deformed ego may present as collapsed or inflated, or it may vacillate between these states depending on circumstances.
Narcissism as ego collapse: I am unwanted
The child who develops a collapsed false self learns to obtain the conditional love of their caregiver(s) through compliance and submission. Pleasing their caregiver(s) keeps them safe from harm and so their best defense is to be infinitely agreeable.
To survive in the dysfunctional family they must show up as vulnerable, weak, and co-dependent. They are only acceptable if their ego is collapsed.
Narcissism as ego inflation: I am perfect
Sometimes children react to their caregiver(s) conditional love, neglect, and/or abuse by withdrawing.
Instead of collapsing into compliance, they balloon with contempt. In other words, the child adapts by concocting a counter-dependent false self with a glaringly inflated ego.
Both the inflated and collapsed egos remain undifferentiated, having internalized a tyrannical inner judge that is a facsimile of all the worst elements of their rejecting caregiver(s). Both ego structures are slaves to repetition compulsion in their adult lives.
The false self and addiction
Because the counterfeit self is emotionally isolated from the true self, it is also cut off from meaningful, authentic connection with others.
No matter how masterful it may be in its manipulations, the false self is a solitary figure. The consequence of this disconnected existence is that the false persona is prone to binging on poor substitutes for unconditional love and acceptance i.e. alcohol, narcotics, sex, gambling, work, gaming, adulation, people, etc.
Freedom from the false self
Only an apocalyptic psychological event can shatter the cruel defensive armor of the false self which is every bit as oppressive as it is protective. To relinquish it is to experience the sum of all fears: ego death and the resurrection of the true self.
FLYING MONKEYS ARE ENABLERS who act on behalf of narcissists. They are usually friends and relatives who serve as surrogates, emissaries, fixers and drones in the narcissist’s network. Moreover, they make it possible for narcissists to carry out their campaigns of abuse by proxy.
A person may rationalize playing the flying monkey role for a variety of reasons. Here are some examples:
Necessity – They may feel beholden to the narcissist because they are a relative or friend.
Acceptance – They may long for attention and validation from the narcissist.
Avarice – They may benefit from enabling the narcissist.
Schadenfreude – Some people genuinely enjoy inflicting pain and suffering on others.
Manipulation – They may be empathic people with poor boundaries who buy into the narcissist’s schemes and mischief-making.
Flying monkeys and the cycle of narcissistic abuse
Flying monkeys are usually active in every stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse:
In the idealization or love bombing phase, flying monkeys may be used to provide social proof for the narcissist. At this stage, it’s their job to convince the target that the narcissist’s false self is real.
Flying monkeys help the narcissist accomplish this by vouching for them and helping them appear to be believable, trustworthy and stable. Flying monkeys also provide false verification for the scapegoat stories/smear campaigns the narcissist has crafted to discredit their previous victims.
During the devaluation phase of narcissistic abuse, the behavior of flying monkeys is similar to canned laughter on a sit-com. In other words, the flying monkeys encourage and echo the abuser’s negative sentiments about the person the narcissist is denigrating.
They also cover for the narcissist while they are grooming a new source of attention and adulation i.e. narcissistic supply.
In the discard phase flying monkeys enable the narcissist to control the narrative and escape accountability. Once again, this is done by providing the narcissist with social proof of their scapegoat story/smear campaign which is now directed at their current target.
Flying monkeys provide a narcissist with an alibi for whatever narrative they invent about themselves or the people they target.
They enable the narcissist to use a gaslighting tactics like DARVO against the target. DARVO is an acronym for:
Deny the abuse took place.
Attack the individual confronting the abuse.
Reverse the roles of
The final stage of the cycle of narcissistic abuse is the hoover maneuver. In this stage the flying monkeys enable the narcissist to hook the target and reel them back into the relationship so the cycle of narcissistic abuse can begin again.
This may be done by carrying messages from the narcissist to the target. For example, flying monkeys often surface when the recipient of abuse has ended contact with the narcissist. The flying monkey may befriend the target to extract information about them for the narcissist.
Alternatively, malevolent flying monkeys may slander, harass, stalk and assassinate the character of the target to such an extent that the recipient of the abuse may feel that the only way to put an end to their torment is to resume contact with the narcissist and plead with them to make it stop.
Types of flying monkeys
Narcissists assign different kinds of flying monkey roles to people depending on the individual’s motives.
There are two main subgroups of flying monkeys: benevolent and malevolent.
Benevolent Flying Monkeys
Benevolent Flying Monkeys have four main characteristics.
The harm they inflict is largely unintentional.
They are susceptible to manipulation.
They have poor boundaries.
They are people pleasers.
As people pleasers, it is easy for narcissists and psychopaths to manipulate benevolent flying monkeys into doing their bidding. All they have to do is appeal to their empathy and/or fear.
The benevolent flying monkey turns a blind eye to the narcissist’s history of odious behavior. They justify this action with self-deception and put their trust in platitudes like everyone makes mistakes, everyone deserves a second chance, they’ll grow out of it someday, and love conquers all.
Benevolent flying monkeys are likely to be triangulated because have a desire to be seen as heroic. They are blind to the true nature of their role as flying monkey. Instead, they view themselves as the peacemaker, the rescuer or savior.
The Meddler is usually someone seeking the thrill of the rescuer role. They are usually reacting to the theatrics of a narcissist. To cast someone in the role of Meddler, a narcissist may go to them and claim that their target has abused them. Because Meddlers lack boundaries, narcissists can easily overwhelm them by pouring out a never-ending litany of woe peppered with threats of self-destruction.
Meddlers are often in awe of narcissists and find their endless drama titillating. However sometimes exhausted Meddlers interfere in an attempt to stop the narcissist’s whinging.
The Empath can also be triangulated by a narcissist. An unseasoned empath is easily be seduced by the narcissist’s manipulation tactics, especially pity plays and love bombing
Highly empathic people often have a blind spot for the scheming nature of a narcissist as they are unable to conceive that anyone would deliberately conjure up the mischief and mayhem that narcissists revel in.
Narcissists corrupt empathic people by mirroring their good-natured persona back at them. Thus, empathic people identify and bond with narcissist’s false persona. Seeing their reflection in the narcissist, the unseasoned empath extends trust but fails to verify the facts. In other words, they do not do their due diligence and dismiss the other person’s side of the story.
When a narcissist is mirroring an empathic person, their empathy can be weaponized. The Empath believes, “this person is similar to me, therefore I will treat them the way I would like to be treated, I will give them the kind of support I would like to have if I were in their shoes.”
To live a life free from manipulation and enabling toxic people, Dr. Paul Bloom’s proposes rational compassion as opposed to unbridled empathy.
Empathy is a disaster in this complicated and interesting world. It has several problems. It is biased. We feel more empathy toward people who look like us, who share our skin color or our ethnicity; who are attractive rather than ugly; who are close rather than far. It’s innumerate. We feel empathy for the one but not for the hundred. Thirdly it can be weaponized.
Paul Bloom, Yale University.
Dr. Bloom points out that empathy can be biased whereas compassion is just.
The Coward is recruited to do the narcissists bidding because they feel intimidated and afraid of the narcissist. The Coward may feel that they stand to lose some advantage by failing to keep the narcissist happy. Their self-interest readily overrides their conscience.
In many instances, the coward relies on the narcissist in some way i.e. they may be employed by the narcissist or they may wish to access privilege through their connection to the narcissist.
Malevolent flying monkeys
Malevolent flying monkeys share several common characteristics, as well.
The harm they inflict is intentional.
They take genuine pleasure in destroying other people.
They have are amoral.
They are highly anti-social.
Malevolent flying monkeys are divided into three common classes: the Scandalmonger (Sadist), the Narcissist, and the Psychopath.
The Scandalmonger is always up for the sadistic power trip of destroying another person. They are recruited into the narcissist’s triangulation efforts because they relish the thrill and brutality of scapegoating.
Scandalmongering is antisocial behavior and it is done without conscience. This type is callously treacherous. Often they make a pretense of sympathy and solidarity with the target in the aftermath of the devaluation or discard stage of narcissistic abuse.
Their aim is to weaponize the trust of the target. Anything the target confides in them will immediately be conveyed to the narcissist and used to inflict greater harm to the target.
If the scandalmonger believes that the narcissist has a high enough status, they don’t bother pretenses and go straight for the target’s jugular by gleefully participating in the narcissist’s smear campaign and assassinating the target’s character.
In both instances, scandalmongers are uninterested in the target’s point of view because their goal is to silence them. Scandalmongers don’t care about what is right or what is fair. They are happy to shoot first and ask questions later – if at all.
Scandalmongers experience a profound Schadenfreude at being able to participate in the destruction of another person.
The Narcissist often finds themselves in the role of flying monkey because they are part of a narcissistic collective or hierarchy. Thus, the flying monkey narcissist barters their loyalty in exchange similar favors from their brethren.
A narcissistic collective is elitist in nature and operates under the belief that its members are superior to others. Examples of how this plays out on the can be seen in tribalism, racial superiority, sexism, gangs, sororities, fraternities, cliques, etc.
Narcissists participate in drama triangles because they wish to be in the good graces of a narcissist overlord and/or they are buying insurance for the day they may need social proof from the narcissist collective when they wage a smear campaign of their own.
Furthermore, narcissists may be triangulated if the victim-survivor has special traits or status triggers a narcissistic injury. Narcissists delight in the destruction of people for no other reason than the fact that they have qualities or a position that the narcissist covets. Ganging up on such a target with another narcissist allows them to feel superior to the target. Thus, they are able to resolve the envy that triggered the narcissistic injury in the first place.
The Psychopath is recruited by the narcissist to play the role of enforcer. They know exactly what the narcissist is doing to the target and they know it’s wrong. They are enlisted to slander, harass, stalk, smear, bully and, often, physically assault the target on behalf of the narcissist.
They are the most dangerous of all the flying monkeys.
Common Flying Monkey Behaviors
Have Your Say
Now, it’s your turn! What is your experience of flying monkeys? Were they benevolent or malevolent? Do they fit any of the descriptions of the flying monkeys in this post? Share your experience in the comment section below.
Flying Monkey FAQ
What is a flying monkey?
A flying monkey is someone who acts both as an enabler and a participant in a campaign of abuse by narcissist against a targeted individual.
How do narcissists get flying monkeys?
Narcissists get flying monkeys by appealing to the flying monkeys ego and self-interest. That is to say, the narcissists provides the flying monkey with some sort of benefit. An example of a benefit is acceptance in the in-group with the narcissist. The benefit could also be access to resources and privileges the flying monkey might not enjoy otherwise. It could also be that the flying monkey wishes to please the narcissist and incur their favor because it feeds the flying monkeys ego.
Why do narcissists send flying monkeys?
Narcissists send flying monkeys after the people they target in order to conduct campaigns of abuse by proxy. In other words, they flying monkeys to continue to harm the targeted individual.
How do you deal with flying monkeys?
The best way to deal with flying monkeys is not to engage or have contact with them. If circumstances force you into a situation where you must interact with flying monkeys use low contact strategies.
How do you disarm a flying monkey?
The best way to disarm a flying monkey is not to respond to their provocations. Disengage from any interaction with them and leave whichever space they occupy. If this is not possible, use low contact strategies.
How do you spot a flying monkey?
Acquire a general understanding of typical flying monkey behaviors and tactics. Some of these are enabling, manipulation, victim-blaming, intimidation, gaslighting, harassment, sabotage, spying, and gossiping.
What is a flying monkey narcissist?
The term flying monkey narcissist a Popular Psychology construct used to describe an individual with narcissistic personality disorder who acts both as an enabler and a participant in a campaign of narcissistic abuse conducted by another narcissist.
IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to generate authentic joy, love, or compassion. It’s hardly a stretch to suggest that one’s internal ecosystem would be a bleak and desolate landscape. However, if you were to open up the mind of a pathological narcissist and look inside, what you would find is a psychological wasteland riddled with persecutory objects.
The ambiguity of malignant narcissism is that its outward manifestations are often the opposite of the internal reality, which is a gaping void. The gnawing emptiness within is a catalyst for narcissistic pretensions that serve to preserve their idealized false self. Chest thumping boasts of supremacy are a safeguard against the toxic shame that has engulfed their true self.
Where others have a conscience, the pathological narcissist has a vacuum. For this reason, they are on a constant hunt to consume anything that might fill the void. Alcohol, narcotics, pornography, sex, gambling, people – you name it, the narcissist ravenously devours it. But it doesn’t fill them up because they are bottomless pits.
When narcissists encounter people who are able to manifest constructive emotions the narcissist cannot, it wounds their pride, stirs their jealousy, and causes a narcissistic injury.
What is a narcissistic injury?
A narcissistic injury is a threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s steely psychological armor is penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.
Sensing danger, their ego sends all hands on deck to rescue the false self from annihilation. For this reason, narcissistic injuries go hand in hand with narcissistic rage.
The narcissist’s first line of defense is a disavowal of reality. They devalue the threat, stripping the individual of their humanity and reducing them to the status of object. The narcissist’s ego then fractures the object as it resorts to primary defense mechanisms, such as splitting and projection.
Someone who was once all good is now all bad. A person once hailed as the light of the narcissist’s life becomes the very heart of darkness. The threatening object is made wrong so that the false self can be right. Thus, the narcissist vindicates themselves from any criticism, wrongdoing, and – most importantly – shame.
The more the narcissist uses splitting as an ego defense, the more anything resembling a cohesive identity unravels. Whenever the ego splits an object, an identical split takes place in the ego itself, causing it to become fragmented. The more a narcissist splits off from the abuse they inflict, the more it escalates.
The narcissist is a paper tiger. Their psychological structure is too feeble to grasp a self-concept with any complexity. They are satisfied to worship an illusion of their perfect false self. This disposition is common in toddlers, but it’s crippling in adults.
The construction of a false self may have shielded them from adverse childhood experiences in their early years, but it is maladaptive in adulthood as it prevents them from living authentic emotional lives.
The need for emotional bonds disgusts them. Yet, paradoxically it is also something they covet.
While the false self mimics edifying emotions, it does not experience them. A kind of emotional rigor mortis defines the narcissist’s existence.
How do narcissists cope with narcissistic injuries?
Their fragility sends them on predatory crusades to boost their ego. They may sustain their insatiable false self with adulation or attention or with cruel power trips utilizing coercive control, and psycho-emotional abuse.
Narcissists believe that by destroying a person or thing, they obtain power over it. They accomplish this through deception, seduction, and psychological cannibalism. To the narcissist, this affirms their imaginary superiority.
It is their way of making the false self appear real.
Narcissistic Injury FAQ
What is a narcissistic injury?
A narcissistic injury is any threat to the narcissist’s false self. The threat may be real or imagined. What matters is that the narcissist’s psychological defenses are penetrated and they experience a painful reminder that their false self is an illusion.
Why are the weakness of a narcissist?
Narcissists are shame-based and have fragile ego structures. They can suffer from low self-esteem, depression, rage, and paranoia.
In dysfunctional families with malignant narcissists or psychopaths at the helm, it is not uncommon for the abuser to target and weaponize children to further isolate the recipient of the abuse.
Why are children targeted for Coercive Control?
Abusers seek to maintain total dominance over the people they target by isolating them. Manipulation of the victim-survivor’s perception is easier to achieve without outside influences, which could be accessed through children or the child themselves.
Therefore, it is in the interest of the abuser to undermine the authority of the victim-survivor in their parental role and willfully sabotage the relationship between the targeted individual and their children.
Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.
In his research Dr. Evan Stark, author of the book ‘Coercive Control’, found that this kind of abuse has a far more damaging and pervasive effect on the a targeted individual than acts of physical abuse.
Dr. Stark’s research found that the violence model of domestic abuse was too limited to gauge the extent of injury because much of suffering inflicted on survivors was not prohibited by law at the time.
“Over the years, we’ve been able to amend the understanding of partner abuse that limited it to violence,” Dr. Stark told Welsh Women’s Aid, “And we’ve talked a little bit about the extent to which it involved Coercive Control. We rejected the violence model in part because we heard from women themselves about the range of harms they were experiencing beyond violence.”
The impact of Coercive Control on children
Child abuse occurs mainly in connection to domestic violence. Dr. Stark’s research found that in 45% of domestic abuse cases, the abuser was hurting the spouse and the children. Exposure to and direct abuse were harmful to children.
Dr. Stark explained, “As I began to interview children and looked at the research of Emma Katz and others – which was based on my work but went way beyond it by looking at the qualitative effected of Coercive Control on children. It really became clear to me that children were being coercively controlled as well as women.”
The study showed that child abuse is closely linked to the abuse of the targeted parent.
Dr. Katz’s study found that children raised in a coercive and controlling ecosystem suffered from entrapment similar to the targeted parent.
The abuse children experienced at the hands of an abusive parent were low-level assaults, comparable to the abuse inflicted on the targeted parent.
The research findings were the same regarding the sexual assault of children.
Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them as co-abusers.
Dr. Evan Stark
According to Dr. Stark, “There was sexual assault of children, some of it dramatic, but most of it fell on a continuum of sexual coercion: touching, inappropriate dressing [of] boys as well as girls.”
The research also found that children experienced the same patterns of isolation, intimidation and control as the targeted parent.
Children are weaponized in coercive and controlling relationships
The evidence gathered by the researchers discovered that children were often “weaponized” against the targeted parent by the abuser.
Abusers use Coercive Control tactics to modify the identity of the child and turn them against the targeted parent.
Dr. Stark explains, “Batterers would weaponize children. They would use them as spies. They would use them sometimes as co-abusers if they were older children. They would use them as pawns in court processes as ways of extending their abuse.”
What can be done when children are targets of Coercive Control?
Raising children with a high conflict personality, such as a narcissist or psychopath, can be extraordinarily challenging.
This is especially true, for survivors who have left the relationship and are targets for their abusers vindictiveness.
Have you or someone you know experienced coercive and controlling behavior? Does Dr. Stark’s descriptions of the power dynamics in a dysfunctional family resonate with you? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if narcissists possess such extraordinary manipulation skills they appear to bend reality to their will.
This is made painfully clear when they inflict harm on someone and, astonishingly, escape accountability by flipping the script and blaming the person they’ve wronged.
Narcissists are expert at erasing the pain they cause from the narrative. They wipe their hands clean by projecting their malice, aggression and treachery on to the target.
The more malignant a narcissist is, the less of a conscience they have. This makes them able to blame the survivor with such ease and skill that, once the narcissist has spun their web of deception, the survivor appears to be the aggressor and the narcissist their hapless victim.
In many cases, survivors are left reeling as their abuser blithely revises the fact of their aggression, twisting the truth into a narrative that bears no semblance to what actually transpired.
This is because narcissists have mastered a tactical maneuver that effectively grooms individuals and, indeed, entire social groups by controlling their perception of events.
The name of this strategy is DARVO.
What is DARVO?
DARVO is an acronym for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim and Offender. It is a defense mechanism used by manipulators to evade accountability for the abuse they inflict on others.
The term was first presented in a 1997 article by Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Oregon and founder of the Center for Institutional Courage.
According to Dr. Freyd, “The perpetrator or offender may Deny the behavior, Attack the individual doing the confronting, and Reverse the roles of Victim and Offender such that the perpetrator assumes the victim role and turns the true victim – or the whistleblower – into an alleged offender.”
Denial is used by the abuser and bystanders in their clique. It usually sounds like:
Ididn’t do anything, but if I did, it wasn’t that bad.
It never happened, but if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
Thus, the abuser is able to craft a scapegoat story which is used to cultivate biases against the target and rally bystanders to their cause.
“This occurs, for instance, when an actually guilty perpetrator assumes the role of ‘falsely accused’ and attacks the accuser’s credibility and blames the accuser of being the perpetrator of a false accusation,” explains Dr. Freyd.
In a DARVO climate, no amount of evidence will suffice as proof of the abuser’s transgressions. The target will not be believed within a social circle that has been groomed by a narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator. On the contrary, the target will be subjected to a terrifying campaign of victim-blaming by the group.
Once the abuser has successfully secured the bystanders’ support and conditioned them to perceive the survivor as the perpetrator, the clique collectively subjects the survivor to the merciless process of scapegoating.
If the survivor lives through it, they are usually driven into isolation and social death. Other outcomes can include homicide or death by self-annihilation. The narcissist, psychopath or manipulator’s endgame is the complete destruction of the target.
DARVO as a collective grooming tactic
The cognitive distortions created by DARVO cultivate an ecosystem of moral corruption. Members of the peer group are encouraged by the narcissist to engage in polarized or black and white thinking.
The group’s empathy for the narcissist is weaponized and used to encourage negative biases about the recipient of the abuse. Narcissists, psychopaths and other manipulators do this in order to ensure that members of the dominant clique become indifferent and callous about the betrayal of the survivor.
The desensitization of the group opens the door to the objectification of the targeted individual and once this is accomplished every kind of violence becomes acceptable.
Examples of this can be seen in manifestations of anti-semitism, racism, sexism and homophobia.
Why do bystanders participate in collective betrayal?
In other words, bystanders yield to betrayal blindness in the interest of looking out for themselves and to avoid the loss or pain they might risk if they sympathized with the target.
They assign more value to their relationship with the abuser so it follows that it’s in their best interest to empathize with the narcissist not with the survivor.
In fact, in many cases bystanders may stand to gain more social capital if they lend their support to the narcissist. So it is usually a combination of greed for gain and an instinct for self-preservation that eclipses any ethical or moral considerations in the bystander.
In other words, members of the clique adapt to conflict within the group by “turning a blind eye,” to the harmful behaviors of the narcissist.
The longterm effects of DARVO on survivors
Many survivors feel psychologically obliterated by the trauma of experiencing DARVO. It can have disastrous consequences for the survivor’s mental health. For example, it can cause severe anxiety, panic, depression, and post-traumatic stress which, in turn, can adversely impact the survivor’s physical wellbeing.
DARVO invalidates the survivor’s lived experience. It inflicts further pain and suffering as the wronged party is cheated out of any measure of justice. Instead, in addition to the original violation, survivors are persecuted and blamed in spite of the fact that they are the wronged party.
Rejection from their peers and the narcissist’s immunity to being held accountable is a constant cascade of salt poured in the survivor’s wounds, causing them to be repeatedly re-traumatized.
GENDER STEREOTYPES often make it difficult for men and boys to recognize when they are targets of narcissistic abuse. The prevailing assumption is that men cannot be victims of domestic violence – this is false. Current research shows that 1 out of 7 survivors are male.
The belief that men can never be victims can create perilous blind spots, leaving them unable to recognize when they are targets for narcissistic abuse. Often male survivors remain in denial until the damage to their health and quality of life reaches a critical level.
In domestic abuse discussions, the convention is that men are assigned one of two roles: they are either the protector or the aggressor. Misleading social norms erase the fact that men can also be victims of psychological and physical violence.
Society acknowledges male privilege while sometimes ignoring the reality that some men do not have equal access to these advantages. A variety of socio-economic factors determine the degree of a man’s privilege such as race, class, ability status, and sexuality. Male privilege is not fixed or equitably distributed. It fluctuates.
The assumption that all men have equal access to male privilege can blind us to the existence of power dynamics in which men are at a disadvantage.
Male survivors often slip through the cracks
This injustice often causes male survivors to slip through the cracks where they don’t receive the care and support they need to recover from the abuse and its consequences. In many instances, the male survivor’s anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress goes untreated and can escalate into serious health outcomes, including auto-immune disorders like lupus and fibromyalgia, substance dependency, and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD).
Narcissistic abuse against men and boys can encompass emotional, physical, and sexual violations. It can occur in heterosexual or LGBTQ relationships.
Some common signs of narcissistic abuse are:
Charm then harm – The abuser blows hot then cold. They are nice one moment and nasty the next. This tactic is called intermittent reinforcement and its purpose is to confuse the target and condition them for ever-increasing maltreatment.
Coercive Control – This is characterized by mind-games, degradation, isolation and the regulation of the target’s life. It is akin to hostage-taking. The target is subject to the approval or condemnation and subsequent punishments of the abuser.
The abuser may call you names, put you down and insult you. They may stop you from seeing family and friends. They may also control your finances and use fits or anger and rage to intimidate you.
Narcissistic abuse can be physical as well. It can manifest as physical assault or rape. The more pathological the abuser is the more likely they are to hit, kick, bite, scratch or shove you. They may threaten to hurt you, your children or your pets and they may act on these threats. They may threaten to publically humiliate you.
Though they choose to inflict the abuse on you, they blame you for their actions.
If you are experiencing narcissistic abuse, remember you are not alone.
Phone Hotlines for Male Survivors of Narcissistic Abuse
ManKind confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. Call 01823 334244.
Samaritans provide non-judgmental listening services 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Call their helpline 116 123.
Resources for Male Survivors
Here is a selection of web-based resources for male survivors of narcissistic abuse:
1in6.org The mission is to help men who have had unwanted or abusive sexual experiences live healthier, happier lives. Our mission also includes serving family members, friends, partners, and service providers by providing information and support resources on the web and in the community. They operate an anonymous online chat.
Male Survivor (USA) We help facilitate healing for men from all walks of life.
Male Survivors Partnership (UK) a space that’s been developed to provide information and support to organizations working with male victims/survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and sexual exploitation; and provide male survivors themselves with a single point reference to national and local support services.
ManKind (UK) supports men suffering from domestic abuse from their current or former spouse or partner (including same-sex partner), including physical, psychological and verbal abuse. ManKind operates a confidential helpline for male victims of domestic abuse and domestic violence. Call 01823 334244.
Men And Boys Coalition (UK) is a network of organizations, academics, journalists, professionals, and leaders committed to highlighting and taking action on the gender-specific issues that affect men and boys.
RAINN (USA) Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline 1-800 656 4673 (USA) in partnership with more than 1,000 local sexual assault service providers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice.
Safeline (UK) provides individualized, specialist support for survivors of sexual abuse or rape regardless of their gender, disability, economic status, creed, and age.
If you know of any resources for male survivors of narcissistic abuse that are not listed here please share them in the comments section and we’ll add them.
THE BUZZ OF MY SMARTPHONE broke my concentration. I picked it up and checked my messages. A grief-stricken family member had texted me to let me know my cousin Francis had died.
Frantic phone calls ensued as I struggled to come to terms with my shock and sorrow. A hidden heart condition had claimed his life. He died five days before Christmas. His funeral would take place in Massachusetts in the New Year.
I was heartbroken to find that I could not attend. Fortunately, technology made it possible for me to mourn with my family from a distance. Francis’ sister and I texted on WhatsApp, and she kindly sent me updates so that I could feel like I was part of the gathering.
After the service, she sent me a photograph of herself standing next to the open casket. I saw my late cousin’s body, resplendent in a tailored ivory suit, carefully arranged in peaceful repose.
At first, the image overwhelmed me, and I shut my eyes to shield my mind from the painful reality that he was gone. My first impulse was to delete the photo.
When I opened my eyes and looked again, I saw his sister standing bravely by his side among the countless floral wreaths that surrounded around him. I realized how happy Francis would have been to see how cherished he was and the tenderness that went into celebrating his life. From that perspective, the image began to give me a sense of comfort.
A Memento Mori
The photo reminded me of my finite existence and put many things into perspective. Instead of deleting it, I kept it as a memento mori.
Memento mori is a Latin phrase that means “remember death,” or “remember you must die.” It refers to works of art that recognize the ephemeral nature of the material world and encourage focus and meditation on the afterlife.
These artworks became widespread when the Great Plague swept through Europe during the Renaissance. The concept reverberated in literature, paintings, and song.
As technology evolved, so did the memento mori. The invention of the camera made it possible to immortalize and preserve images of deceased loved ones. This became a popular art form in the Victorian era.
I was a child the first time I saw a memento mori. My grandfather and my mother were organizing our family archives and discovered a postmortem image of one of our ancestors. My grandfather was disgusted and threw it away.
That memory became especially poignant this year. As I write this, Francis has been gone for four months, and I still have the postmortem photograph stored on my smartphone. I don’t sit and stare at it but it’s somehow comforting to know it’s there, especially as the world navigates the uncharted waters of COVID19.
Its existence is not something I discuss with anyone. Occasionally, I find myself wondering about the emotional significance of keeping a memento mori. I can’t decide if it is a healthy, unorthodox or macabre custom. For answers, I turned to clinical psychologist Dr. Michael C. Kinsey, author of Dreams of Zugunruhe and founder of Mindsplain.com.
Why are memento mori images a source of comfort for the bereaved?
Human beings are both sensory and social creatures. The way we learn that we exist is by being seen by others. When we’re upset, we’re comforted by being held. Knowing that someone is “there” for us is a core element of being able to explore the world. Over time, the process of knowing ourselves and finding comfort becomes more and more autonomous and abstract. We represent ourselves and experiences of others instead of directly perceiving them. John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory, called these representations “internal working models.”
Internal working models are built around experiences, and experiences are built around the senses. Pictures give us something to look at and hold when someone is gone – no matter whether the separation is temporary or permanent.
I think that looking at – and perhaps holding – pictures help us to make representations of the absent loved ones feel more immediate. They comfort us by giving us a rich sensory experience to scaffold our memories and procedural representations of that person.
I have an especially strong childhood memory of my grandfather’s disdain of postmortem photography. There is still a part of me that feels leery about the appropriateness of the memento mori image. Maybe because it was taken on a smartphone and transmitted to me via social media. Is this a normal response?
That’s interesting. My hunch is that funerals are a communal and social way of coping with grief, where tradition and sacred values are at the forefront of the experience. Snapping a photo with a phone may feel analogous to facing the back wall in a crowded elevator. That is a violation of norms at a time when there is a strong social imperative to submit to them.
In the Alejandro Amenábar film ‘The Others,’memento mori images were used to excite horror and awe in the audience. Yet, there are Facebook groups dedicated to antique postmortem photographs, where they are regarded as things of beauty. What is behind the allure of such images to people who aren’t related to their subjects?
Human beings are remarkable in our ability to create complex, abstract ideas and concepts. However, the more abstract, the less personal, immediate, and emotionally salient. Seeing a dead body is a profoundly impactful image. I think a corpse is incredibly evocative because of the way it’s both “real” in a material sense, yet devoid of any of the social emissions we expect. There are no facial expressions, noises, rhythmic breathing, fidgeting. It’s an uncomfortable feeling to encounter a “person” that is lacking the capacity to relate to others and the ambient environment in the way we expect of an entity so defined by its capacity to connect and attune.
In short, the conspicuous absence of the person within the body is emotionally striking, thus giving it stronger influence over our attention. When an emotion is strong enough to capture our attention, we are forced to deal with our feelings. We experience the heaviness of the moment, we imagine the life the deceased person lived, we search for meaning in life and death.
In your opinion, do you consider memento mori images a healthy custom?
It’s not a question of health vs. not healthy. Grief and loss are something we process collectively and personally. As you point out, at times communities have used pictures as a way to process loss. There could be any number of personal reasons why you might want to take a photo that is not based on shared meaning.
I might speculate though that taking a picture of a dead person is much more of a “just in case” type of measure. It’s a last chance to see someone in the flesh, and taking a picture could be a precaution against feeling some type of regret. From a logical perspective, there is no reason to consider a final moment with a body to be more important than any of the moments we had with a person when they were alive. But psychologically speaking, last moments are among the most salient in memory and therefore carry added pressure to make optimal use of them.
Do you think the Victorian practice of memento mori images as an art form can serve as an aid for mourners, especially in the age of COVID19?
I’m sure creative people could make wonderful use of death portraiture to deal with personal experiences of loss and to say something both meaningful and relatable about impermanence and the human condition. As far as the psychology literature goes, there was an interesting study done by a colleague of mine about “coming to terms with” death. Her study examined the effects of death on the people who work around dead bodies in Varanasi, India–a place where many Indian people come to die or bring deceased loved ones. The hope was that the people who encountered death every day would achieve a deeper peace with and acceptance of death. The findings were essentially that people who work around death every day respond to it in basically the same way that everyone else does. An interesting and important null result. The study was the dissertation of Sylvia Fernandez at The New School for Social Research.
This interview has been edited and condensed. It is syndicated at Medium.com.
A PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSIST HAS MASTERED the art of inflicting psychological devastation without ever raising a hand. Their skillful manipulation of people’s perceptions and emotions leaves a trail of bloodless crimes in their wake.
This kind of person regards the pain and suffering they cause as a testament to their omnipotence. In reality, it is a manifestation of their sadistic nature.
A narcissist weaves a web of lies to entrap their victims. They win their romantic partners through deception and maintain their relationships through coercive and controlling behavior.
Thus, children of narcissists are born into a gaslit reality and given to the care of a psychological predator.
Here are four subtle ways narcissistic parents abuse their children.
1. The false self becomes a false idol
As a parent, the narcissist’s false self becomes a false idol that demands to be worshipped by their family unit.
Narcissists create glaring power imbalances between themselves, their spouse and children.
Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.
Because the narcissist’s needs supersede the needs of everyone else, the group internalizes the message that their needs don’t matter unless the narcissist says they do.
If the spouse is empathic, the narcissist undermines their authority. The children learn that might is right. They must appease the narcissist if they want to have their needs met.
2. The narcissist engineers dysfunction
Because a narcissistic family unit is an organism that operates in a gaslit pseudo-reality, it is less akin to a family and more like a cult or a dictatorship.
In this dynamic, the group can’t be supportive, accepting, healthy, or just. Instead, family members behave and interact in unhealthy ways.
The children must learn to navigate the power imbalances and the inevitable abuses of power that ensue.
Thus, the default setting for existence in a narcissistic family is dysfunction.
3. Love is conditional
Children of narcissists learn that love is abuse. The narcissist shows them that if someone displeases you, it is okay to punish them and call it love.
For the child of a pathological narcissist, love is having your personality rejected and replaced with one the narcissist prefers. Love is neglect, abandonment, tyranny, and subjugation.
Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination.
The child is love-bombed when the narcissist feels the child reflects their false self. The moment the child fails to do so, the narcissistic parent blithely discards them.
4. Narcissists reject children who are not like them
Survival in a narcissistic family depends on each family member’s ability to take on and reinforce the assigned roles, toxic attitudes, and habits of the narcissist. No one is safe from a narcissist’s pernicious scrutiny, not even their children.
In the narcissist’s view, anyone who does not echo their image of themselves is rejecting them. Failure to reflect and affirm their false self is a threat. Thus, a child who does not accept the role assigned by the narcissistic parent triggers a narcissistic injury.
A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem.
The narcissist cannot process negative feedback, and by extension, nor can their family unit. They have zero tolerance for any person or thing they believe may endanger their fragile false self. When faced with such a threat, narcissists attack — even if the source of their ire is an infant.
Narcissists see a child’s individuality as an act of insubordination. Their response to this perceived narcissistic injury is contempt, oppression, and rejection of the offending child. As an act of expediency, the narcissist casts the child in the psychologically devastating role of the family scapegoat. The narcissist condemns the child to bear the blame for all of the family’s dysfunctional behavior and its outcomes.
To grow up in a narcissistic family is to grow up in an inverted reality, where right is wrong, and wrong is right. Anything goes as long as you tow the narcissist’s line.
There will be flagrant betrayals, hypocrisy, double standards, cruelty, and abuse. If one of the parents is empathic, the children will get a daily dose of how to manipulate, exploit, and subjugate another human being.
A lot of different personalities develop in the narcissist’s ecosystem. How the child turns out depends on how they navigate the harsh psychological terrain of the family.
NPD usually develops in adolescence or early adulthood, whereas ASN can develop in the late teen years or deep into adulthood.
Dr. Millman noted those who develop ASN are driven by a preexisting high level of narcissism to pursue wealth and status.
In these cases, highly narcissistic individuals develop full-blown narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) once they reached their goal of obtaining fame and power.
The Fifth Edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V) does not include ASN.
Characteristics of Acquired Situational Narcissism (ASN)
Some of the characteristics that distinguish ASN from NPD are:
Late-onset – ASN develops during late teens or adulthood.
Real power – Someone with ASN has acquired real and measurable power as opposed to grandiose fantasies.
Response to the environment – ASN develops in part as a response to the enabling behaviors of members of the individual’s support system, entourage, and society as a whole.
What are some of the risks of Acquired Situational Narcissism?
Like anyone else with NPD, someone with ASN becomes maladaptive. They may experience high levels of anxiety and depression. Their relationship with reality may become distorted.
Some of the ways this plays out are:
Poor decision making.
Inability to maintain stable relationships resulting in divorce.
Dysfunctional relationships with their children.
Substance dependency to self-medicate, and
Abuse of power in the form of criminal behavior to test the limits of their influence.
Prevention of Adult Situational Narcissism
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Here are some actionable steps you can take to prevent the development of ASN:
Work on your character – Develop personal and moral qualities to create an internal compass.
Adopt a value system – Clearly identify the values that reflect your moral qualities.
A strong support group – Your inner circle should include a small group of people who reflect your value system. These friends should not be impressed by wealth or status. They should not fear to call you out when your behavior is in conflict with your values. They should care about who you are not what you can do for them.
Develop a healthy attitude to power – Learn about how power can be used for its highest purpose so that you can create a positive and constructive relationship with it that’s in line with your character and values.
* This article was originally published by Narcissistic Abuse Rehab on Quora. It is also published on Medium.
While many teenagers may be somewhat narcissistic, it is usually a normal stage of development and self-corrects over time. For this reason, clinicians are reluctant to diagnose NPD and other personality disorders in minors. However, when children present as callous and unemotional they may be tested by for conduct disorder.
Good enough parents seek to cultivate empathy and mental wellness in their children. Parents who have experienced narcissistic abuse, either in their personal or professional life, are often keen to prevent these dysfunctional behaviors in their children.
So, how do you spot a fledgling narcissist?
What is a fledgling narcissist?
A fledgling narcissist is an adolescent or teenage child who mirrors the behaviors and attitudes of a narcissistic caregiver or role model.
It’s distinguishing features are:
A sense of entitlement
Inability to accept responsibility
A lack of gratitude
An air of superiority
A belief that they are special
Exaggerations or compulsive lying
Contempt for peers
In other words, they act out the narcissism present in their ecosystem in the form of role models and the culture at large.
Within the family system, a highly narcissist child is often cast in the role of The Manipulator, also known as The Mastermind.
Experiments of dominance
A fledgling narcissist usually experiments with these behaviors in the home, targeting an individual they feel confident will endure their aggression and insolence.
If the child’s expressions of superiority and dominance go unchecked, there is an increased probability that the child may become a full-blown narcissist.
Sometimes high levels of narcissism are encouraged in children. This can happen if one or both of the parents are highly narcissistic. In those instances, narcissistic behavior may be reinforced in the child(ren).
Who does the fledgling narcissist target?
They practices their behavior on a family member. Usually, this will be a sibling or anyone they perceive as vulnerable.
The targeted brother or sister will be subjected to sibling abuse which can take the form of physical, emotional or sexual abuse,
If one of the parents is the target of an ongoing campaign of coercive control by a pathological narcissistic spouse, a budding abuser may target the vulnerable parent with their aggression.
After they’ve enjoyed successful experiments at home, the fledgling narcissist will graduate to targeting someone outside the home.
These early experiments are forays into discovering how far the fledgling narcissist can go.
What you can do as a parent
Abuse should never be tolerated, especially not from your own child. Here are some actionable steps you can take with a fledgling narcissist child:
Consider family therapy with a licensed professional.
Make it clear that there is zero tolerance for abuse.
Set hard boundaries.
Be explicit with the child about what behavior is acceptable.
Inform the child about your “deal breakers” i.e. behavior that is unacceptable.
Write down the terms of engagement and seal the deal with a handshake.
If the child breaks the deal, call out the behavior.
Consistently enforce the boundaries.
Have Your Say
Have you experienced a fledgling narcissist in your life? Do you recognize some of the characteristic mentioned in this post? Please share your story in the comments below.