To answer this question, we must first deconstruct the word narcissism, strip away the distortions of popular psychology, and understand it in its original context.
Narcissism is a word used to describe self-idealization. All human beings have a propensity to assign value to themselves. In fact, in and of itself, narcissism is not an inherently negative trait. On the contrary, a normal or healthy amount of narcissism is necessary for our mental health.
One of the keys to understanding narcissism is recognizing that it exists on a continuum. Problems arise when narcissism is excessive. Likewise, when it is deficient, it can pose a different set of challenges.
Excessive narcissism can inflate the ego to the extent that it generates a sense of superiority that eclipses one’s ability to value others. The most extreme expression of this trait is narcissistic personality disorder, also known as NPD.
The inability to see the value in other people can be an obstacle to treating others with respect and dignity. It fails to inhibit the individual’s aggression and relies on a plethora of primitive defense mechanisms to preserve the bloated state of the ego. For this reason, it is sometimes called malignant narcissism.
It is in the fertile soil of this brand of narcissism that DARVO can occur. DARVO is an acronym that stands for:
Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, coined the term DARVO 1997 to describe a defensive tactic commonly used by manipulators to avoid being held to account by scapegoating the person they harmed.
“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.”
What is DARVO in narcissism? It is one of the most extreme forms of gaslighting commonly used by highly narcissistic people and NPDs to preserve their idealized image of themselves.
Confidential support is available 24/7/365 to anyone experiencing abuse. In the USA call 1-800-799-7233 or log on to thehotline.org. In the UK call 0808 2000 247 or log on to nationaldahelpline.org.uk.
DARVO IS AN INITIALISM that stands for Deny, Attack, Reverse, Victim, and Offender. It is used to describe a defensive manipulation tactic used by one person to avoid being held accountable for their acts of aggression toward another person. It is an extreme form of gaslighting behavior that can be perpetrated by an individual or group. In the latter instance it is referred to as institutional DARVO.
Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D. first conceptualized DARVO in an article she published in 1997. Dr. Freyd, a professor of psychology at the University of Oregon, explains that perpetrators of DARVO
Deny their behavior
Attack the person who is confronting them, and
Reverse the roles of
According to Dr. Freyd, the DARVO tactic can be used by people who inflict harm on others as well as the bystanders who support them. Sometimes the purpose of DARVO is to minimize a transgression, and at other times it is used to deny that the transgression ever took place.
The DARVO tactic can be a means used in the process of scapegoating. It changes the focus from the misdeeds of the true culprit and emphasizes real or invented shortcomings of the person they harmed.
For example, a perpetrator breaks the law by assaulting another person but minimizes their crime by claiming that they were the actually victim by framing the victim-survivors acts of resistance as the actual assault. Thus, they make it appear as if they are the victim and the actual victim-survivor is the perpetrator.
Dr. Freyd explains:
“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.”
DARVO often relies on cultrual biases and people’s propensity to discrimination. It is most successful in the context of systemic oppression, i.e. racism, sexism, etcetera.
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.