Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Essential Guide

Psycho-Emotional Abuse | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

PSYCHO-EMOTIONAL ABUSE: THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE was made to provide you with greater knowledge of this fundamental component of narcissistic abuse.

This information will give you a clear understanding of:

Let’s get started.

What is psycho-emotional abuse?

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.

Neglect, hostility, sabotage, indifference, false concern

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.
Dorota Iwaniec

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:

  1. It is a pattern of behavior.
  2. The harm it causes is deliberate and intentional.
  3. The target experiences the behavior as harmful.
  4. The abuse may be overt or covert.
  5. It may or may not occur in the context of conflict.
  6. It may not immediately seem aggressive.
  7. The aggressor may camouflage the abuse as caring, love, or humor.
  8. The targeted person’s vulnerabilities are exploited to cause them to feel confused, insecure, and unsure of themselves.
  9. It may manifest as neglect.
  10. 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.

Pattern of behavior, malicious, deliberate, exploitative, camouflage

What causes psycho-emotional abuse?

There are many reasons why psycho-emotional abuse may occur. The abuser’s behavior is often rooted in envy, fragility, and aggression.

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.

Some of the specific consequences may include:

  • Confusion
  • Self-blame
  • Depression
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Lack of motivation
  • Procrastination
  • Low self-esteem
  • Fear of failure
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness
  • Self-sabotage

Abusers often compound the damage they do by refusing to recognize the right of the targeted person to feel hurt, wronged, or angry.

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 fearanxietydread, 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 depressioncomplex post-traumatic stress, and auto-immune disorders.

Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

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.

Psycho-emotional abuse has legal status in France and Canada as harcèlement moral and harcèlement psychologique ou sexuel. It was criminalized in 2010.

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.

The Kingdom of Sweden recognizes Coercive Control as the crime våld i nära relationer.

Relationship to narcissistic abuse

Psycho-emotional abuse is one of the two fundamental components of narcissistic abuse. The other is Coercive Control.

Now It’s Your Turn 

That wraps up Psycho-Emotional Abuse: The Definitive Guide.

Now, it’s your turn to have your to say:

What part of this guide resonated with your lived experience?

Do you think you have a better understanding of this kind of abuse after reading this guide?

Do you understand how it works in the context of narcissistic abuse?

Share your insight by leaving a comment below.

Bibliography

Loring, Marti Tamm. “Emotional Abuse: the Trauma and Treatment.” San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass Publishers, 1998.

Iwaniec, Dorota. “The Emotionally Abused and Neglected Child Identification, Assessment and Intervention; a Practice Handbook. Chichester: Wiley, 2008.

Strecker, Peter John. “I Wish That He Hit Me: The Experiences of People Who Have Been Psychoemotionally Abused and Have Psychoemotionally Abused Others.” Victoria University, March 2012.

Stark, Evan. “Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Monkcton Smith, Jane. “Coercive Control is Not Just Psychological Abuse.” Forensic Criminology: Working in Homicide Prevention, 2020.

“C-PTSD Academic Research Material.” Out of the Storm. Accessed May 5, 2020.

* Editor’s Note: This is article is an except from the book ‘Are You In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship.’ To download your FREE copy, subscribe to our Mailing List.

The Narcissist’s Flying Monkeys

Traits and Characteristics of Flying Monkeys

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:

  1. Idealization
  2. Devaluation
  3. Discard
  4. Hoover
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
  • Victim and
  • Offender

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.
Benevolent Flying Monkeys | Narcissistic Abuse

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 mistakeseveryone deserves a second chancethey’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 | Benevolent Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

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 | Flying Monkeys | Narcissistic Abuse

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.

Coward | Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse

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 | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

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.

Narcissist | Flying Monkey

The Narcissist often finds themselves in the role of flying monkey because they are part of a narcissistic collective or hierarchy and thus barter 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 target 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.

Psychopath | Flying Monkey | Narcissistic Abuse Rehab

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

  • Gossiping
  • Spying
  • Gaslighting
  • Manipulation
  • Harassment
  • Sabotage
  • Enabling
  • Intimidation
  • Victim-blaming

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.

Bibliography

How Narcissists Use DARVO to Escape Accountability

What is DARVO?

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.

DARVO | Jennifer J. Freyd, Ph.D.

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:

  • I didn’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 local level, this strategy is common among perpetrators of sexual offenses, psycho-emotional abuse, and domestic abuse. DARVO is a regular feature of coercive and controlling behavior.

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.

Power Imbalance | Social Capital

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.
  • Whistleblowers.
  • 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?

According to Dr. Freyd betrayal blindness is a survival mechanism that arises “when awareness would threaten necessary relationships.” 

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.

More about DARVO

Learn more about DARVO with Dr. Freyd in their lecture ‘Institutional and Interpersonal Betrayal.’

Bibliography