If you’ve got an N parent, you’ve probably got Flying Monkeys in your life. What are flying monkeys? To paraphrase the Glossary, flying monkeys are people who do the N’s bidding, whether to inflict additional torment or to simply spy on the victim or spread gossip.
Flying monkeys are people who take your NM’s part in the family drama and act on her behalf. They may be obvious or they may be so subtle that you react with utter shock when you discover their betrayal. But make no mistake: flying monkeys never truly have your best interests at heart because if they did, they would refuse to play secret agent for the narcissist.
In my experience, flying monkeys fall into two basic categories: willing, complicit partners and well-meaning dupes. The willing, complicit partners also fall into two categories: those who believe that you just need to forgive and forget and they are going to help you do just that, and those who just don’t like you and are therefore quite happy to spy on you for your NM, and to do her bidding. The dupes also break down into two categories: those who are fooled by her drama into helping her violate your boundaries and those who believe all of the lies and half-truths that NM and her minions have spread about you and who want you to see the error of your ways.
The complicit partners have their own agenda that they are going to satisfy through helping your N while the dupes are basically people who are fooled by your NM into helping her. I am not going to let the dupes off the hook, though…by stepping in as one of the N’s flying monkeys they are making one critical…and very disrespectful…error: they don’t bother to come to you and ask you for your side of the story. Any rational, truly well-meaning person wants to know both sides of an issue before they agree to assist one side against the other and they have a thirst for truth. Anyone who sides with your narcissist against you without having contacted you first, anyone who takes it upon himself to violate your boundaries after you have clearly stated them, is not your friend, no matter what s/he tries to get you to believe. You are not obligated to tell another person…not even a close member of your family…why you do not wish to communicate with another person. If it is not enough that you don’t want to, if the person refuses to respect your boundaries unless she agrees with your reasoning, then this is a person you cannot trust to have your back…and a person who is a potential flying monkey.
So, just what do flying monkeys do? Basically two things: act as a source of information to the NM and act against you on the NM’s behalf. Maybe your sister will call you and ask seemingly innocuous questions, draw you out, even sympathize and commiserate with you about your mother’s behaviours. But when you hang up the phone, Mum is the first person she calls and unloads everything she heard. It may go further than that…the flying monkey may send you emails or texts, may phone you, and say terrible things. If the flying monkey is also an N…and I believe many are, based on the basic premise that to be a flying monkey, one must be willing to disrespect the person targeted…then the flying monkey may go further: she may attempt to seduce the scapegoat’s husband or boyfriend, tell lies (or highly embroidered and biased versions of the truth) to the scapegoat’s children, even tell unflattering stories to the scapegoat’s coworkers or employer. The flying monkey may resort to outright threats: “if you don’t be nice to your mother, I will tell everyone you tried to seduce my ex-husband when we were still married” (when you did nothing of the sort). Or the flying monkey may try persuasion and guilt-tripping, telling you your mother loves you and how much you have hurt her with your refusal to speak to her…and anything else that may get the NM what she wants.
And what does your NM want? Well, whether or not you are LC, NC, or in full contact with your NM, what your NM wants is control of you, and for you to play your role in the family drama without any thought of backing out. The flying monkey is around to gather intelligence to help the NM further her agenda. When I was the young mother of two, I had not seen or heard from my brother, the Golden Child, for several years…he had been overseas with the military and when he came back, he didn’t tell me. One day a man showed up at my front door, a man on a blue Kawasaki motorcycle, and when I opened the door, it was my brother. Since this was before my knowing anything about narcissism and dysfunctional family structures, I was delighted to see him and invited him in. In retrospect, it should have been obvious to me that he was snooping and asking a lot of personal questions, but being a person who was largely invisible during my childhood, I was delighted he was finally taking an interest in me. It never occurred to me that he was snooping on my NM’s behalf because I couldn’t imagine what would motivate that. My naïveté was to come back to haunt me, as this turned out to be NM’s opening salvo in taking my children away from me and giving them to her childless younger brother to adopt.
The court was full of flying monkeys as witnesses: an uncle, NM’s older brother who lived in another state and hadn’t seen me in seven years (before my children were even born), testified that mine was an unfit home, that he had seen it with his own eyes. A probation officer, who had never even been to my house but who had interviewed my brother, uncle, and mother in addition to interviewing me, described a house that I had never seen before, let alone lived in with my children. I cannot speak to the motives of the lying civil servant, but my uncle and brother’s motives were clear: they wanted my mother to have custody of my children. Why? Because she had convinced them I was a bad person, a bad influence, a bad mother. Did they know her real plan was to kidnap my kids and take them across country to give to her younger brother to adopt? I really don’t know, but I do know that is what happened and that she managed to rope my entire FOO into being flying monkeys for her because every time I called or wrote one of them and asked about the whereabouts and well-being of my children I was either stone-walled or yelled at. That is what flying monkeys can do.
I doubt the majority of flying monkeys are as pernicious as mine were, but it isn’t the big gush of water that wears a hole in rock, it is the steady, unrelenting drip-drip-drip of small drops over an extended period of time that wears down even granite. The small predations into your life, the constant awareness that you cannot know who to trust, the endless violations of your boundaries, the ceaseless little moments of disrespect…they all count, they all add up to the chipping away of your confidence, your self-esteem, your peace.
I know of a man who lives half the continent away from his parents and brother. A kind and compassionate man, when he decided to go NC, he tried to do it gently so as not to upset his mother, and told her that he was going to be out of contact for a while, that he needed some space from his family. His mother agreed, in her sweet way but, within weeks, she was back to sending him emails and texts, often closing them with something like “oops! I know I wasn’t supposed to contact you, but I thought you would want/needed to know this…” Within a month, his NM had violated his No Contact boundaries as if they didn’t exist.
When he stuck to his guns and didn’t respond to her violations she changed tactics and began sending in the flying monkeys. Out of the blue, a cousin he hadn’t heard from in years called him to “catch up.” Cousin asked a litany of nosy questions about his life, his plans, his work, his projects, and even mentioned the mother back home who was hoping everything was OK with him. Sneakily, while professing not to want to know what was wrong, the cousin made it clear that he thought the lack of contact between mother and son, initiated by the son, was wrong and that it made the mother so terribly sad. It was a combination flying monkey attack and hoovering session, all in one!
You can be pretty sure that when you interrupt communication with your N and within a month or two you begin hearing from people who have been off your radar for a long time, these people are flying monkeys. They may be a sibling who is invested in keeping your NM happy and therefore a complicit assistant, they may be old friends or relatives with whom you were once close but have grown away from, who are now dupes, but any way you slice it, these people have come back into your life at this moment for a reason, and the reason is not your well-being.
When I was 14 I lived with my father for a year while my mother was off gallivanting around the country with her latest boyfriend. When she returned, she decided she wanted me back home with her…I was not only her personal maid and housekeeper, I was a source of income in the form of child support. She showed up at the door one night and asked me to take a ride with her. To my surprise, we both got in the back seat. Expecting her boyfriend to be at the wheel, I was delighted to see it was my old singing teacher, whom I had adored.
If I knew then what I know now, I would have gotten right out of that car and gone back into the house. But for the next hour the singing teacher drove us around and the two of them played me like a violin. They trotted out every cliché, every platitude, every conceivable reason I should go back to live with my mother. They succeeded and I made one of the worst decisions of my life: I went back to live with my her. And once I was there, nothing changed. My NM and her flying monkey successfully hoovered me, and I went back to live in the emotional Badlands with NM.
This is what flying monkeys do: they advance the cause of the N at your expense. They could be anybody, even your old grandmother…after my mother put me through 8 years of hell by stealing my children, lying to the whole family about me, and giving my children away to be adopted…my grandmother begged me to “bury the hatchet” with my NM. She was old, she told me, and she didn’t want to go to her grave with all the hostility between her only daughter and her favourite grandchild. I succumbed and, like everything else I do, I did it with a sincere desire to make peace. To me, that meant trusting and being honest and aboveboard…both of which were used against me yet again. But who would think my grandmother—and I always had been her favourite and we all knew that—would act as a flying monkey for my mother and set me up to be exploited and hurt by her yet again?
Whether you are NC, LC, or continue “normal” communication with your N, beware of flying monkeys. They are the people who will criticize you for not doing what your NM wants, will try to sway you towards her agenda and away from your own. They will sabotage, undermine and undercut you without compunction if it furthers the NM’s agenda. They may do it out of blind loyalty to her, animosity towards you, or simply well-meaning interference, but their reasons aren’t really important: what is important is that they are more than willing to put your NM’s wishes ahead of your own rights, feelings and autonomy. If you aren’t doing as your NM thinks you should, then they side with her against you with no thought to your right to self-determination or even your feelings.
Flying monkeys come in all shapes, sizes, ages and from every possible walk of life but they all have this in common: they unquestioningly further the agenda of the Ns in your life and they have no respect for you whatsoever. No matter what they say, they are not on your side.
Don’t pay them any attention.