PATHOLOGICAL NARCISSISM is used to describe an impaired expression of narcissism that disrupts one’s abilities to regulation emotions. It is distinguished by oscillations between the characteristic grandiosity and vulnerability of this personality type. Over time it correlates with emotional dysregulation and diminished interpersonal functioning.
How does pathological narcissism develop?
Pathological narcissism is a construct used to describe a maladaptive and socially destructive form of narcissism. It is understood to develop as a defensive ego structure that protects an wounded true self by shielding it with an omnipotent false self.
A fortress for the ego
Pathological narcissism is a post-traumatic stress adaptation that develops to protect an injured psyche. It functions to desensitize the mind to feelings of dread, fragility, and hyper-vigilance by numbing vulnerable parts of the self. While it shields the self, it also results in low empathy for others and an inability to form authentic emotional bonds.
A fragmented self
Highly stressful or traumatic experiences in early life fracture and severe the self from pervasive feelings of shame and humiliation, which remain hidden in the subconscious mind. An all-powerful false self serves to cloak the fragility of a wounded true self.
Some characteristics of pathological narcissism are that it is:
Self-love to the exclusion of others
Harmful to self and others
Dangerous to the mental health of self and others, and
EXTREME NARCISSISM refers to an antagonistic variant of this personality trait that exists at the far end of the narcissism continuum. It is a defensive ego structure that generates a false self to protect the failed development of a true self. It is used to describe the maladaptive, socially destructive strains of narcissism. It is synonymous pathological narcissism.
An Intersection of Two Disorders
Social psychologist Erich Fromm described the most extreme form of narcissism as malignant and placed it at the intersection of narcissistic personality disorder and anti-social personality disorder. He called it “the most severe pathology” and “the quintessence of evil”.
These intersecting personality disorders include the malevolent traits that comprise the dark triad, vulnerable dark triad, or dark tetrad.
The Dark Triad
Narcissism – grandiosity, arrogance, megalomania and low empathy.
Psychopathy – antisocial behavior, ruthlessness, impulsiveness, selfishness, absence of conscience and emotionally frigid.
Machiavellianism – manipulativeness, amorality, callousness, and self-centeredness.
The Dark Tetrad
Narcissism – grandiosity, arrogance, megalomania and low empathy.
Psychopathy – antisocial behavior, ruthlessness, impulsiveness, selfishness, absence of conscience and emotionally frigid.
Machiavellianism – manipulativeness, amorality, callousness, and self-centeredness.
Sadism – cruelty, mercilessness.
The Vulnerable Dark Triad
Vulnerable narcissism – introverted grandiosity
Sociopathy – Feeble conscience, absence of psychosis, and emotionally volatile. Also known as secondary psychopathy.
Borderline personality disorder – Distorted sense of self, chronic emotional dysregulation, splitting, self-destructiveness, emptiness, rapidly shifting moods, and anger management issues.
Why Does Extreme Narcissism Develop?
Extreme expressions of narcissism are a post-traumatic stress adaptation. It can be thought of as a kind of scar tissue that develops to protect the psyche from unhealed trauma and the failure to generate a true self. Its function is to dull, hardened, and desensitize the mind, to severe consciousness from a state of constant fragility, dread, and hyper-vigilance. It limits an individual’s capacity to form true bonds with others, as it is largely removed from empathy.
Extreme narcissism separates the psyche from painful feelings connected to highly stressful or traumatic experiences. Overwhelming feelings of shame and humiliation are buried deep in the subconscious mind, where a false self is formed to keep feelings of vulnerability emotions at bay.
Characteristics of Extreme Narcissism?
This variant shares the same characteristics as malignant narcissism. Both are:
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.
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.
IMAGINE LIFE WITHOUT the ability to experience genuine feelings of 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 grandiose 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
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.
Narcissists are shame-based and have fragile ego structures. They can suffer from low self-esteem, depression, rage, and paranoia.
THE CHILD OF A HIGHLY NARCISSISTIC PARENT is born into a gaslit reality, in an environment where everything must revolve around their parent’s false self. From an early age, the child must learn to avoid wounding their parent’s fragile ego or risk their parent’s unbridled aggression.
An excessively self-absorbed parent cannot recognize the emotional needs of their child. The more narcissistic a parent is, the more likely they will see their child as an extension of themselves and not as a separate individual. The type of parent will punish any attempts by the child to differentiate themselves.
Highly narcissistic parents master the art of inflicting psychological pain on their children without raising a hand. One of the ways they accomplish this is by invalidating the child’s sense of reality through gaslighting, one of the components in coercive and controlling behavior.
The cumulative effect of emotional neglect and intermittent reinforcement on children over time can cause the child to suffer depression, anxiety, or post-traumatic stress. These conditions can persist long after the child has matured, and they are common among adult children of narcissists (ACONs).
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.
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.