When you read or hear about narcissism you come across the term flying monkeys quite often. What are flying monkeys and what is their connection to a narcissist? In this article, I will explain this by going into what I would like to call the narcissist’s web of control. Know this is an in-depth article and thus a long read.
In this article, I will tell you about flying monkeys, smear campaigning, and a narcissist’s manipulation strategies.
What are flying monkeys?
Flying monkeys is a term used a lot in the context of narcissistic abuse and describes the people who act on behalf of a narcissist to a third party, usually for an abusive purpose. A flying monkey can thus be anyone that is under the influence of a narcissist or doesn’t recognize the truth of their manipulative behaviour.
Flying monkeys believe the fake persona created by the narcissist and have fallen for the narcissist’s manipulation tactics. I call the group of people under the influence of a narcissist the narcissist’s web of control. I will explain later how the narcissist (ab)uses this web on his behalf.
When you start seeing the truth of a narcissist in your environment and you start observing and analyzing their behaviour, it might be shocking and overwhelming. It’s kind of scary how they work and how fast and easily manipulated people are. I have a narcissistic father and saw how he carefully build his web in detail. It’s quite amazing and disturbing how much effort a narcissist puts into creating this web.
A narcissist creating a web of control
The narcissist thus tries to create a web of people they can manipulate and control. They will try to charm people to boost their ego, get attention, and to use them for manipulation purposes. When someone is not inside the web and they know it, they will try to marginalize this person by for example using a smear campaign.
A smear campaign is an attempt to damage and question a person’s reputation. It’s a form of negative propaganda and they try to disconnect those people from the environment of their victim. I will get into this more deeply, but first I will show you an example to give you some insight into how a narcissist could build this web of control.
An example of a narcissist’s web creation
I will tell you shortly about a couple in my environment to explain how a narcissist could work. In this example, we are dealing with a charming and intelligent narcissist that is a successful manager of a large organization (a position of status).
A female friend seems to be won over by this narcissist. She fell for his charms and also likes to be with someone that is successful. His position of status is thus attractive to her. For clarity, in this example ‘he’ relates to the narcissist and ‘she’ to the victim of this narcissist. Here are a few observations:
– Not being herself anymore
During the relationship, you can see how she changes slowly and becomes more toned down, while he increasingly takes attention, becomes more dominant, and grabs the role of a charismatic storyteller. Her family and friends are very positive about their relationship, as he is such a nice man and can take care of her.
She, however, gives signals that everything is not going great and that she doesn’t sleep well lately. She only gives those signals when he’s not around, but it seems there never is enough time to dive deeper into it. These signals show this might not be a healthy relationship.
– Conversations with the narcissist
When looking closer at the conversations with the narcissist the conversations feel like a pattern. Once he knew what I did and what kind of choices I made in my life, he would ask an update about this and then he starts with giving compliments. He just keeps complimenting and tries to be flattering, but repeats himself a lot.
It seems off and he can’t really keep attention after two or three questions in conversations. All conversations seem to lead to him telling a story about himself or what he recognizes in himself. It’s clearly about him. For me, this is a clear sign he is at least very self-centered and doesn’t show any real interest. This triggers my narcissist detector.
– Dynamic as a couple
As a couple, their dynamic has only two flavors of being very positive about people or blaming others for all kinds of things. They expect things from others and reward people when they do what they want or play along with them. It’s a form of conditional love. If people don’t play their game of attention and status, they blame them or say those people are selfish. They say they really don’t understand them and are frustrated about it like children. It’s thus a dynamic of black and white behaviour (idealization vs. devaluation) depending on whether people do what they expect from them.
– She becomes more dependent and isolated from family and friends
The relationship shifts to her being more dependent on him for money and validation. She seems to lose touch or contact with her family and friends, creating a void and becomes more dependent on his love. A lot of the people in her environment are acting like flying monkeys and talk about how great and successful the man is. He can take care of her and they are glad she finally found someone like that.
– She has become stuck inside the web of her narcissistic partner
The flying monkeys stuck inside the web don’t see the signals of her losing strength, being less like herself, and becoming less visible. They believe in the false ‘happy and successful’ reality of the narcissist. The people who do see what is happening seem to not act on it because it seems crazy to say what you suspect or they feel uncertain about it.
The people outside the web are likely to be the victim of negative propaganda and therefore pushed away. Her true friends see or feel that she is slipping away and feel like they can’t connect with her anymore. The narcissist has created a dependency on him and she has become stuck inside the web of her narcissistic partner!
Recognizing you are stuck inside the web
The above example shows it’s very hard to recognize when you are in this situation because it will feel like you are the reason you are unhappy. It can also be tough to recognize if someone else is in this web, as stuck people tend to shut themselves down or slowly disconnect with their support system and themselves. I hope that reading about narcissism gives you more knowledge about narcissism in order to recognize this faster.
A narcissist generally targets people that are somewhat vulnerable at that specific time in order to create a dependency on them. In a relationship, a narcissist stimulates self-doubt and blaming yourself and it seems like nothing of this could ‘obviously’ be because of your narcissistic partner. All the flying monkeys will support this wrong thought.
A narcissist (ab)uses cognitive dissonance, which is a feeling of discomfort following from an inconsistency between an idea/belief and actions. The mind could try to reduce this feeling of discomfort by rationalizing inconsistent behaviour away, such as the inconsistency in a person that seems to love you that similarly is trying to manipulate you in a brutal way. The defence mechanisms of the mind are how victims of narcissistic abuse might survive and cope with the pain. You can read more about these subjects in my article about cognitive dissonance or my article explaining the narcissistic abuse cycle.
This means an important signal to recognize that you are inside the web is that your partner doesn’t stimulate your self-worth, independency, or development as a person. They also don’t stimulate you to have good connections with your family and friends. I will go into this more at the end of the article. First, I will go deeper into manipulation strategies because learning about this will help you recognize this.
I will now tell you about possible manipulation strategies used to create their web of control.
1. Finding triggers and control buttons
A narcissist tends to ask a lot of questions, but it might feel more like an interrogation. You can see and/or feel they don’t really care. They try to find information to form some kind of connection such as similar hobbies or ways of thinking. Then they will talk about this with you a lot or tell their own stories and pull attention towards them. They don’t give a lot of room for disagreeing with them and sometimes keep talking to make sure you have no space to respond to them right away.
They will throw in compliments or be very positive about you, which can be flattering. When you notice this happens to you, it might feel empty or you might wonder what they are trying to do. This means you possibly don’t care too much about flattery or superficial compliments.
Obviously, it’s nice when someone is positive or gives compliments. The difference with a narcissist is that this behaviour in the long term will feel empty and strange because there does not seem to be any further development, such as getting a deeper connection or getting into deeper conversations.
2. Testing your environment
A narcissist’s strategy is using friends and family as tools and they will test your family and friends to see how strong your bond is with them. They will try to get information from them and find out their possible triggers.
A narcissist will search for what someone is passionate about and start complimenting about that or their lifestyle. They try to find a way to connect and ask questions about that subject a lot. From that basic position, they see whether someone is controllable and easy to manipulate.
They will tell your environment positive things about you and observe if your environment will be positive about them towards you. This is creating a form of pressure to like the narcissist and should send you a message that they are great and to be trusted. It confirms which people are on the narcissist’s side and possibly will get stuck inside the web.
3. Creating doubts about people outside of the web
Later on, the narcissist will create doubts about persons that they don’t control in your environment. They will try to magnify any negative thoughts you might have about someone and give this a lot of attention. They try to grow your own doubts and increase your negative feelings about someone.
How does this work? For example, you might think it’s nice if your family would visit your new workplace. If this doesn’t happen right away, a narcissist will bring it up and keep asking questions such as: ‘Why didn’t they go by your work? Don’t they support you? Don’t they think it’s important? I think you deserve it.’
At the moment some friends or family did visit your workplace the narcissist might say; ‘Finally, they came by. They probably felt like they had to do that because you asked for it so much. I visited the first day.’ This is trying to stimulate the feeling of being ungrateful or feeling not respected or loved, by magnifying insecure thoughts about whether someone appreciates you.
Another example of questioning a connection is: ‘Why does he/she never call you? Wouldn’t that be nice? You are good friends, right? Doesn’t he or she like you anymore?’ All these questions aim to disturb your connection and positive feelings about friends and family that are not inside their web of control. And yes, this is very disturbing manipulative behaviour.
4. Creating tensions and disconnecting you from family and friends
The narcissist might try to create a difference (or show a contrast) between your friends/families’ behaviour and their own loving behaviour towards you. They will say you deserve to be treated right and not like how they treat you. A narcissist wants you to start blaming them and you might even not notice that the narcissist manipulated you into that position.
This can be a slow process to disconnect you from your family and friends. In the meantime, they keep maintaining a connection with your friends and family that can be manipulated easily. This is all to weaken your support system and creating more codependency.
How the web is used
The flying monkeys or manipulated environment as a whole is the web of a narcissist. By having third parties in control, a narcissist will want to maintain an illusion of having power over you. This is all to be able to control and manipulate you, as the web will provide pressure or self-doubt. The web can work in multiple ways:
1. Smear campaign
The web can be useful for a narcissist when you, for example, break up with a narcissist. They will have the support from the people inside their web and they could play the victim towards them. Everyone inside the web will understand the narcissist and the narcissist could spread lies about you. This means old fashioned gossip and trying to turn other people against you.
A narcissist could even use things as saying they are concerned about you because you are for example an alcoholic or depressed. They will thus create a false reality and convince people to believe it. Most things you do will confirm their lies and false reality, which is a very tough spot to be in. It can be devastating and have real consequences.
The narcissist will know your weaknesses and soft spots and use those. They could accuse you, turning the truth around or act like they want to ‘protect’ you. It will seem everyone is against you and you might even start doubting yourself. It’s very painful when this happens.
You can read more about smear campaigning and how to deal with them in my in-depth article about the narcissist’s smear campaign.
2. Abuse by proxy / Triangulation
A narcissist can use their web to get other people to abuse you. In this method, the narcissist itself will try to stay out of it and stay clean. They merely use their puppets as a puppet master to reject you, shame you, tell you that your crazy, etc. You can read more about triangulation in my in-depth article about triangulation and my article with examples of narcissistic triangulation.
3. Advocating the greatness of a narcissist
The web can be used to advocate the greatness of a narcissist. People could say your narcissist is so great and the best thing ever happened to you. It creates pressure and it might be scary to tell someone that the narcissist isn’t so nice as he or she appears to be. It will seem like you are crazy by saying those bad things about them!
4. Disconnecting yourself from your environment and support system
The web is used to disconnect yourself from your environment and make you more dependent on the narcissist. You will get more doubts about whether people like you and all these people seem to like your narcissist a lot. When someone is not inside the web, the narcissist will also try to create a disconnection or make sure you will doubt your connection with those people.
Victims inside the web
So who are these victims that get stuck inside the web? Sadly, it actually can be anyone. Here are a few possibilities of people stuck inside the web:
– The flying monkeys could be naïve people who just don’t see what’s going on. They might be less smart than the narcissist, which makes it easier to manipulate them. They don’t intend bad and possibly can’t even fathom that a human being would do this kind of manipulation.
– It could also be less strong or less dominant people that tend to follow dominant persons to survive or as a habit. They learned to stay under the wings of dominant persons to feel safe or comfortable.
– There are also just toxic people without boundaries that seem to like gossip and drama. They care about status and flattery, just as the narcissist does. This could be for example because of their own insecurities.
– Some people might just be temporarily fooled, as most people don’t suspect someone is a master at manipulation. People are more likely to start off with a basic trust in people, which a narcissist will abuse.
Doubts about your observations and feelings
The web is used to create doubts and uncertainty about yourself and your thoughts. Am I the one that is crazy? And can I even think this way? Are all other people wrong or am I?
It’s important to see how these manipulation strategies work and how it creates these uncertainties, so you realize you are not crazy! Unfortunately and sadly, you are dealing with a narcissist. And narcissists are masters of manipulation without any empathy. It’s not a fair game, it’s brutal and devastating.
When you start to suspect that someone might be a narcissist, you will probably go through some doubts concerning your observations and your feelings. You might think you look too negatively at someone and you can have doubts about whether it’s right to have such negative thoughts.
You might think: ‘Shouldn’t I just have faith and trust that someone is a good person?’ These are very healthy human feelings to have. It seems judgmental to think someone is a narcissist, which is exactly the human characteristic that a narcissist abuses.
Questions to ask yourself when having doubts
I think it’s important to focus on a few things when you have doubts about your observations and feelings. Here are some questions you can ask yourself:
– Behaviour: What behaviour does the possible narcissist show? Observe facts and possibly document what happens. Don’t judge yet, but observe their behaviour and just see what they do.
– Your energy: Does this person give you energy or do you feel like your energy is being drained? Why is this and does this happen with other people as well or just this person?
– Growth/development: Does this person enjoy the growth of other persons without having to make it about them? Is this person happy when someone in his or her environment is developing as a person?
– Kindness to yourself: Do you show less or more kindness to yourself since you are dealing with this person? Why is this? Does this person stimulate kind thoughts about yourself?
– When they are not around: Do you enjoy time being alone? Does it possibly feel calmer or as a relief when the possible narcissist is not around?
– Center of attention: Can this person be okay with not being the center of attention or does this seem to be problematic? What happens when someone else gets the attention?
– Empathy or interest: Do you see/feel empathy or real interest in other human beings from this person? Do you feel a deep connection with them or not?
Answering these questions will give you some insight into the situation. In a way, it doesn’t even matter if someone is narcissistic or not. It’s about signs of narcissistic behaviour and more importantly the effect this behaviour has on you and the environment.
If your answers to the above questions show a negative pattern it is at least clear that this person hasn’t got a positive effect on you and your energy. It’s not about proving or knowing what this person is, but it’s about what kind of people you want in your environment. I hope that this would be kind people that give you energy and want you to develop as a person and be happy!
Dealing with the narcissist’s web
It can be tough and painful to see someone being under the influence of a narcissist. It’s not always easy to get them to see the truth. You would need to find out how influenced your environment is and slowly see if they can become aware of what is going on. This will take time and possibly they might even never realize the truth. Some people will subconsciously choose to stay under the influence of a narcissist. So, how do we deal with the narcissist’s web?
A narcissist pulls all attention towards them and they live off other people’s energy. They will drain your energy and the energy of their environment. Therefore, we want to focus on our own energy and being ourselves. The best thing is to focus on yourself and in some way, if possible, ‘rise above’ this. We are all love and kindness and I think it’s important to start showing this love and kindness to yourself.
Probably you behaved differently or not like yourself when you were under the influence of the narcissist. Show normal behaviour, focus on your own good intentions, and try to behave like yourself again. It may remind people of who you really are and possibly fall out of the influence of the narcissist’s stories.
Know that not everyone has to stay under the influence of the narcissist forever. Some might, but there will also be real friends who will ask you about it. When you have a deeper connection with someone this will be stronger than the narcissist’s control.
Try to not play the game, because it will only backfire and prove the lies. Keep your integrity and stay calm and friendly. This gives them no fuel to support their lies. There is no point in fighting for the truth if doing this drains your energy. Every person has its own perception and people will see what they want to see.
Stay true to yourself and real friends will recognize it and have your back. And the people that don’t recognize it might just not be your true friends. It’s good to know who your true friends are.
Take care of yourself
The best advice I can give from my experience is thus to take care of yourself and your energy. Remove yourself emotionally and if possible physically from the narcissist and their web of control. Going no contact is ultimately the best option to remove a narcissist from your life. In this way, they can’t drain your energy.
If you can’t go no contact right away, take a look at my article about the grey rock method in dealing with narcissists. It’s a useful technique to start emotionally detaching yourself from a narcissist and thereby protecting yourself. You could learn more about shifting attention to yourself by using conscious breathing as well.
If you are (probably) dealing with a narcissist in your environment, know that you are not alone. I hope reading this was helpful. I wish you strength and I wish you love and kindness in your environment!
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