IT IS NOT UNCOMMON FOR NARCISSISTS to manipulate others into relationships by making fraudulent claims about who they are, what they stand for, and by mirroring the goals of the targeted individual.
They deliberately make promises they don’t intend to keep and spin webs of deception for the sole purpose of exploiting the target and their resources.
In popular psychology, this deceptive tactic is called future faking. Narcissists profess a desire to build a long-term relationship with the target to obtain short term gain.
Once the target has extended trust to a narcissist, their good faith is weaponized and used to access their assets, e.g. sex, connections, status, goods, and services.
The narcissist’s agenda
Narcissists enter relationships with a self-serving agenda. In their estimation, whenever they interact with another person, they are either gaining power or losing it.
Once they have made up their mind to exploit someone, they disguise their malicious intentions by mimicking love for the person they are targeting.
Early in the relationship, they spend hours asking the target about their hopes, dreams, and goals. The target mistakes this for interest when, in fact, the narcissist is data mining to discover the target’s likes and dislikes. With this information, the narcissist can craft a tailor-made false persona in the image of the target’s soul mate.
Misled by the narcissist’s pretense, the target invests themselves and their resources in the relationship. They may move in with the narcissist, marry them, and have children with them. All the while, though the narcissist is going through the motions, they remain detached.
The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle
The discard phase of the narcissistic abuse cycle often comes as a complete shock to the narcissist’s partner. While they are blindsided by the narcissist’s betrayal, the biggest shock is the ease with which some narcissists abandon their progeny.
So why do some narcissists discard their children?
The reasons why may be rooted in the narcissist’s dysfunctional family of origin. These are high conflict family units with power imbalances, rampant denial, low empathy, and little to no boundaries.
Children not accepted or loved for who they are in a narcissistic family. They live in a gaslit reality where the only love they receive is conditional upon their performance in the roles assigned to them by the narcissistic caregiver(s).
In a dysfunctional family, these roles are:
The Caretaker – this child is given adult responsibilities at a young age and parentified.
The Hero/The Golden Child – this child tries to make the family seem normal and trouble free.
The Lost Child – this child is introverted and flies under the radar.
The Mascot/The Clown – this child distracts from the issues in the family,
Psycho-emotional abuse describes any non-physical pattern of behavior that intentionally harms an individual’s mental state and undermines their ability to reach their full potential. It is a portmanteau of psychological and emotional abuse.
This kind of abuse can occur within a variety of contexts. For example, it can take place in intimate partner relationships, in family relationships, in friendships, in the workplace, etcetera.
Above all it is used to manipulate and control another person or people.
Other definitions of psycho-emotional abuse
Dr. Marti Tamm Loring defines psycho-emotional abuse as, “An ongoing process in which one individual systematically diminishes and destroys the inner self of another.”
Professor Dorota Iwaniec describes it as hostile or indifferent behavior which:
Damages the individual’s self-esteem,
Debases their sense of achievement,
Diminishes their sense of belonging,
Prevents their healthy and vigorous development, and
Takes away the individual’s well-being.
Characteristics of psycho-emotional abuse
Psycho-emotional abuse is subtle and can be tricky to spot – even by the person experiencing it!
Abusers often disguise their malice as good intentions, which confuses the person they target and deceives most bystanders.
At times, the aggression is overt and takes place in front of witnesses. However, in these instances most people do not understand the nature of this kind of aggression and so they fail to recognize that abuse is taking place.
Some of its characteristics are:
It is a pattern of behavior.
The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
The abuse may be overt or covert.
It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
It may not immediately seem aggressive.
The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
It may manifest as neglect.
The abuse causes harm to the targeted individual’s well-being.
Abusers are cunning enough to understand that psychological abuse is a bloodless crime which usually enables them to escape accountability for the harm and devastation they cause.
This is because the theatre of the abuser’s aggression is not visible to the naked eye.
While the recipient of the abuse has no physical symptoms, the emotional wounds may be catastrophic.
A common occurrence is when an aggressive and/or narcissistic person feels intimidated by the presence of someone who they believe has qualities or privileges they do not. They may seek to resolve these painful feelings by asserting dominance over the person they regard as a threat.
In some instances, the abuser is externalizing their toxic shame and placing their burden on the victim. In this way, the abuse strips away the authentic identity of the target and assigns to them a new one that encompasses the parts of the abuser’s persona which they despise and reject.
What are the effects of psycho-emotional abuse?
The cumulative effect of psycho-emotional abuse is the erosion of the recipient’s self-worth and trust in their judgment.
They use a variety of tactics to convince the person they target that they brought the abuser’s aggression on themselves.
They defend their aggression and escape accountability through the process of scapegoating. This is done by using the targeted individual’s vulnerability to excuse the abuse. By blaming the person they victimize, they absolve themselves of any wrongdoing.
Abusers often silence targets by using threats and intimidation. They enlist agents to gang up on the target. The result is that the targeted individual may experience fear, anxiety, dread, and panic.
Prolonged psycho-emotional abuse can lead to adverse health outcomes. It may cause chronic anxiety which can impact the targeted person’s physical and psychological well-being. Over time, this may cause depression, complex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.
Comparisons to Coercive Control
Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse are both power- and control tactics.
Psycho-emotional abuse may refer to harm inflicted on men, women, and children by abusive men, women, and children.
Coercive Control originated as a descriptor, Dr. Evan Stark, used to describe the entrapment and subjugation of women. It points to a specific kind of gender-based violence, namely how abusive men prevent women from “freely developing their personhood, utilizing their capacities, or practicing citizenship.”
Coercive Control may include isolation, monitoring, sexual abuse, financial abuse, and bodily harm.
Dr.Stark underscores that Coercive Control is more akin to hostage-taking and kidnapping.
“We must stop characterising Coercive Control as only psychological abuse,” Forensic criminologist Dr.Jane Monckton Smith of Gloucestershire University explains, “Psychological abuse is a method used by controlling people to exert and maintain control. Coercive Control is a campaign made up of any or all of these things which then trap people in a relationship, and make it impossible or dangerous to leave.”
Gaslighting is the distortion of another person’s reality. It’s purpose is to undermine their sense of self-mastery. It is a feature of Coercive Control and psycho-emotional abuse.
The United Kingdom recognizes Coercive Control as criminal behavior. Laws prohibiting coercive and controlling behavior came in to force in 2015. The legislation is gender-neutral and applies to anyone experiencing entrapment and domination.
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.
Karpman, Stephen B. A Game Free Life: the Definitive Book on the Drama Triangle and the Compassion Triangle by the Originator and Author. Amazon. Drama Triangle Productions, 2014.
SOMETIMES IT CAN SEEM as if highly narcissistic people possess such extraordinary manipulation skills that they appear to bend reality to their will. In many cases, survivors of narcissistic abuse are left reeling as the perpetrator 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. It is a blame-shifting tactic used for gaslighting in the context of emotional abuse.
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.
At the structural level, Dr. Freyd refers to this tactic as institutional DARVO.
Who gets targeted for DARVO?
For DARVO to occur a power imbalance must exist. It is most effective when the abuser has more social capital than the survivor.
If the abuser is a member of a dominant group and the survivor is a member of a disenfranchised group, generally the survivor is less likely to be believed.
People who are likely candidates for DARVO are:
Survivors who confront their abuser.
Socially vulnerable individuals or groups, e.g. women are more likely to be targeted for DARVO than men.
What is the purpose of DARVO?
The DARVO tactic serves many purposes.
DARVO is a smokescreen used by narcissists, psychopaths or other manipulators to conceal the truth of their behavior.
DARVO enables the narcissist, psychopath or other manipulator to control how others perceive the target and the conflict.
DARVO often stuns the targeted person into confusion and silence.
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.
Sarah J. Harsey, Eileen L. Zurbriggen & Jennifer J. Freyd (2017) “Perpetrator Responses to Victim Confrontation: DARVO and Victim Self-Blame,” Journal of Aggression, Maltreatment & Trauma, 26:6, 644-663
Freyd, Jennifer J. “Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.” Freyd Dynamics Laboratory (August 2014): 08.48 minutes.
GENDER STEREOTYPES sometimes 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 blind spots, leaving men and boys unable to recognize when they are targets for physical and psychological violence. 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. Society recognizes male privilege while sometimes ignoring the reality that a number of men do not have equal access to many of the advantages associated with their sex. 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 some men are at a disadvantage.
Male survivors often slip through the cracks
This can causes male survivors to slip through the cracks where they don’t receive the care and support they need to recover from domestic violence 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.