I’ve been reading a lot about psychology and relationships dynamics and came across this fascinating article about “Flying monkeys.”
The role of Flying Monkeys is:
- abuse by proxy
- spread rumors and gossip
- they carry on the smear campaign
- make the narcissist feel like they’re important and special
- do the narcissist’s bidding
Flying Monkeys will treat the narcissist’s target through tactics such as:
- Reject the target’s identity
- Ridiculing the target’s experience
- Shaming the target
- Isolating the target from support and community
- Gaslighting the target making them doubt reality
- Triangulating with others to pile on
- Split the target from the relationship or community
“This way the narcissist looks like the one that’s clean. They’re not involved.” Through this process “the narcissist doesn’t have to get their hands dirty abusing [the target] because they can recruit all these other people to do that work for themselves.”
A narcissists is “going to use mobbing against you so that you feel alone and unsure of your reality.”
The article also talks about how to deal with them at work, at home, and in relationships.
Read the Flying Monkeys (The Narcissist’s Tool for the Smear Campaign) from Medium by clicking here.
Only one percent of the population is diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. Six percent are probably pathological. That is the math from people in the know. You can read all the articles and stories you want but statistically it is highly unlikely you or someone you know is a narcissist in the way you are using the term.
Don’t misunderstand, I’m not saying there aren’t “narcissists in the world, just not as many as you would guess from the number diagnosed as narcissists by disappointed partners.“
For example, your spouse may be self-absorbed and selfish but that doesn’t make your spouse a narcissist. Your Partner might sleep around, lose their temper, or feel entitled to food assistance when they have plenty of money to buy their own, but that doesn’t make them a narcissist. While all narcissists are self-absorbed and selfish, not all self-absorbed and selfish people are the dangerous and unhealthy narcissist you see in the emotional thrillers.
As my Good Doctor reminds me, most self-absorbed and selfish people are just unskillful at dealing with their own emotional needs and wants. Being emotionally challenged isn’t the same as being emotionally pathological. The challenge of the emotionally challenged is being able to honestly confront the ideas, biases, prejudices, damage, and experiences that are obstacles to living a more emotionally complete life. The focus becomes one of humility and intention versus temperament and aptitude. It is the difference between saying “I won’t change” and “I can’t change.”
In truth, I hate the term and think it is dangerously overused. People that spend careers studying narcissism will tell you, overusing the word is hurting people, relationships, and is an obstacle to healing and growth.
On more than one occasion over the last eighteen months I have pointed out to the self-appointed narcissist police on social media that the word is overused and shared the stats, research, and resources. Reading their posts, they would have you believe everyone that ever cheats, every politician, and self-promoting guru they disagree with is an abusive narcissist. They suggest that if someone is angry or loud, or too confident, pretty, or self-aggrandizing they must be a narc. They are just positive their ex is a narcissist and want you to think yours is too.
I once had a group of narcissists police spend an entire thread describing narcissism as out of control, growing exponentially, and a contagion spreading like wildfire.
And when I push back and call bullshit?
People play the trump card: “As a cheater you would say that” and then block me or go into attack mode. As if being someone that cheated makes me instantly wrong about math. I love the ones that push back with, “That’s something a narcissist would say.”
It is this experience with people ignorantly and in a self-serving way using the label is why I speak up.
Once someone is publicly associated with the layperson’s use of the word there is no taking it back. Once it is in print it is always there even when it is not true. You cannot disprove such a mental pathology and once the seed of doubt is planted the weed remains and will be watered everytime we do what needs done to live our truth even if it hurts someone else. After all, by their definition, only a narcissist would leave a marriage after twenty years, only a narcissist would fight child support, or only a narcissist would want to run for elected office.
“Only a narcissist would do something so hurtful. They must lack empathy or feelings,” being the oversimplified refrain.
When I read those threads now I’m reminded of something my doctor is fond of saying: “You spot it you got it.“
In other words, “Narcissists are very good at diagnosing narcissism to get what they want,” writes Jeremy E Sherman Ph.D., MPP at Psychology Today in his article The Key To Diagnosing Narcissism Diagnosers. “If you disappoint them, then you must be a narcissist and it’s all your fault.” I guess it is easier than looking in the mirror.
Of course, I hate the label narcissist for personal reasons.
Immediately after C learned about my secrets and lies, the word was trotted out and used to label, isolate, and shame me. C has not used it to describe me to me, but she has directed all the code words at me in emails.
And her self-deputized posse uses the word, and the code words, all the time when they write to, and about me.
Their use of the word is consciously manipulative. The toxic interlopers know it opens wounds for me personally because of my family history and they get a charge from my reactions, and the well meaning interlopers use it because others have used it and they don’t know any better.
Because of these experiences I don’t use the word. I’m not an expert. I’m not qualified to use the word and so don’t.
What I try to remember is it doesn’t have to be bad to look bad. Relationships are mirrors and therefore we find what is true about us far more often than we find what is true about others. “Every accusation is an autobiography,” write Linda and Charlie Bloom, authors of Happily Ever After . . . and 39 Other Myths about Love: Breaking Through to the Relationship of Your Dreams.
And although friends, family, and associates have all suggested, or called C a narcissist, I push back. I don’t know if she is or isn’t, and they know even less than I do. They weren’t there for all of the amazingly generous and loving things she did for me, her kids, and her father. She is, at her best, a good and kind hearted woman.
At her worse? Well, we all have Ugly.
What I do know is, I am not pathological or a narcissist.
Unskillful as fuck? Yes. Am I learning? Damn right. Am I confident? Obviously. Am I humble enough to admit where I am wrong? I try.
Will I fail? I hope so, because with every failure I get feedback on what to try next and for the first time in a long time I welcome the pain of failure. I am very curious about what I am learning about myself.
As such, I don’t believe C (or K) are pathological or narcissists but even if C is, it doesn’t matter. What matters to me is through secrets and lies I betrayed my Love of loves, our families, our life, and myself. I cannot blame anyone else for those actions but I can own who I am, what I did, and my future.
What I can do is educate myself enough about how I react to people, places, and things in such a way that I am taking more skillful actions with my emotions and thoughts.
What I can do is change the one thing I can control, and that is me and my attitudes.
Now for thiS
Within 24 hours of the reveal I met individually with the people I felt were my closest friends and told them in a general way that I betrayed C with my former wife and that I was waiting to hear what C wanted.
After C asked me to leave I publicly acknowledged that C and I had a catastrophic, nonrecoverable failure in our relationship and that it was my choices that lead to this place. I never mentioned my betrayal.
I contacted those people I considered friends and asked them to look after C because I didn’t believe it was appropriate for me to be the cause of the pain and also the single source of support.
I drove to North Dakota because that is where she asked me to go and I waited for instructions from C. I haven’t heard her voice since.
I have said before, I knew what the outcome would be if K called C. I knew.
However, I am grateful to K for helping free me from these lies and secrets. It was the only lies and secrets I carried. Since the cage was open I have consistently faced the music. I have “the balls to tell the truth and tell people in my community, my family, my circle of friends” what I did.
I will not be blackmailed by shame or by toxic outsiders. I will never go back into the shackles a lifetime of unskillfulness built for me. I will not be a prisoner in my own life because of guilt, shame, or fear.
However, knowing this, one of the things I have struggled with understanding is why people I considered friends just disappeared, stopped returning my calls, and didn’t show up for me. I would never do that to other people regardless of what they do.
I just wouldn’t.
But an interesting thing happened a few weeks after I left, and weeks before I posted my first journal entry. The Flying Monkeys Patrol showed up in a FB messenger and the most dangerous of the splitters accused me of all kinds of nonsense, inserting his ego into a situation that, from my perspective, never concerned him.
He did it such a way that it was obvious he was ignorant of what C and I had already agreed too. He did it in such a way that was threatening and abusive. And in this ambush tactic, and C’s silence, I was left unsure of my reality and burdened with a ton of questions.
He did this, and a number of other things, that by even my unskillful measures is creepy. As a friend said, “He is clearly working to get into her panties.”
Auditions were open. Everyone wants to be C’s Hero.
Of the people that disappeared the one with this particular birdie really ate at me. She was never friends with C. C never particularly liked her, but like so many things about C I don’t actually know if that was true or not now.
As such, over the first fourteen months I made repeated efforts to talk with this little birdie. We actually made some progress I thought.
Last summer we walked the trail and had a long chat about me being “super smart and manipulative” and what C told her and showed her. Nothing I haven’t already admitted and owned.
I owned it. Again.
She told me she heard my online journal was full of “poor me” language and self pity. More nonsense and rumor mongering from interlopers and outsiders.
I laughed and asked if expressing my pain and hurt, longing for C, remorse and guilt over my behavior, and openly discussed my consequences and feelings was the same as self-pity.
I asked this birdie if she has read anything I’ve written. “No,” she replied…but she heard. *eyeroll*
I asked her if I ever made her feel unsafe, did she ever see me acting inappropriate with her or her staff, or if she ever feel I manipulated her for my benefit. She answered with a resounding, “No.”
I asked if she ever heard me say anything negative about C or our relationship. Another resounding, “No.”
I was emotionally vulnerable and open.
Last fall this birdie and I met again and, while she painted her restaurant, we chatted about the future and past. We talked about her business and mine. We chatted about local politics and trail usage.
She asked about a mutual friend that I am dating.
We had a conversation about the differences between what is public, personal, private, and secrets.
I was emotionally vulnerable and open.
Then at the end of December I have a casual conversation with some friends over dinner and in the process learn that between the time I left at the end of November and the end of March, nearly 120 days later, this little birdie called three of them and discouraged them from talking with me or having anything to do with me. She told them, based on what C told her: I was unstable, a narcissist, and C had been looking for reasons to end the relationship for months because she was scared and felt unsafe.
I’m stunned into silence. Kind of.
After some thought, I called the little birdie and ask to meet and chat for a bit.
After hours, and over a beer, I tell her what our mutual friends told me about her calls. She admits she did this.
I ask, “Why didn’t you call me?” knowing I had tried reaching her repeatedly in the first two months.
“I didn’t know who you were based on what C told me.”
“You could have called.”
“I didn’t know what was true.”
It was then I realized that not only had this birdie called people discouraging them from talking with me, she also told people in and out of her restaurant. She told those people the same things she told my friends over the phone.
It was at this point I realized this birdie wasn’t a friend.
What I suspected, and now confirmed through this birdie, was almost immediately after I left, there was a gathering of people and over coffee and almond rolls, C informed them I was dangerous, a narcissist, and she was afraid.
C has always known her power. I know it too. She is a charming, single mom of beautiful twins. It is easy to accept what a woman tells you at face-value in an age where we have sold the idea that all men are metoo predators in wait. Where we’ve conflated hurt feelings as abuse and pain as the enemy. We’ve convinced ourselves that if we feel something negative it must be someone else’s fault.
We tell ourselves, we can “ignore other people’s reasons, because after all, they’re just narcissists.”
At this point the stage is set for othering of good people that have made mistakes. We lump the most emotionally unskillful with the most dangerous abusers. It’s why we house nonviolent drug offenders next to rapists and murders. We’ve rejected nuance in exchange for acceptance into the tribe.
Unfortunately, “When it’s a whole group of people who are subscribing to that reality, and then you, you’re going to feel really alone. You’re going to really be tempted to doubt yourself and your perception of reality. The flying monkeys can be a very powerful ally for the narcissist.”
When confronted with the evidence of the bullying, harassment, threatening, and dangerous behaviors of her friends, C responds, “I have no idea what you are talking about. I’m just living my life.”
Later, when I confront C more directly about what she has said to people, she replies, “Prove it.”
I respond, “I can prove it but there is no reason, we both know. I have a list and seen copies of your text messages.” Many ending with, “Please don’t tell him I told you.”
C calls me irrational and delusional and goes silent.
I chalk it all up to “hurt people to hurt people” and excuse it as lazy grieving.
In May, after nearly seven months of harassment and stalking by C’s friends I take a seventy pages of slander, harassment, and bullying to local law enforcement. The Chief asks me to give him a few weeks to try and diffuse the situation.
I mistakenly agree to let him try instead of moving forward.
The Chief asks C to meet with him and look over the book thinking she may be able to make it stop by telling her friends to stay out of it.
C refuses to meet with the Police Chief to look at any of it. Instead, twenty four hours later, one of C’s posse members calls and spends an hour defending her actions and tells the Chief I am dangerous and he should keep a close eye on me.
Three days later the Monkey’s bullshit resumes.
Forty days later, as I get the restraining and harassment order paperwork finished, I call the Chief and give him a heads up I am moving forward. He asks for a few more days. He gets in the squad car, drives to C’s house, and hand delivers the book to C and he directs her to tell her to tell her Flying Monkeys to stop.
For the most part it stops.
C can’t pretend she doesn’t know anymore.
Although, I still get trolled from anonymous accounts, and now they refer to me in code on social media instead of using my name.
For example, around month eleven, one of the most toxic, abusive and gleeful Flying Monkeys writes my doctor to give his opinion on what ails me. My Good Doctor and I have a good laugh.
About his decision to write a letter to her, my Good Doctor says, “Now that’s what triangulation and narcissism looks like.”
Here is where I am now on all of this: pain is not the enemy. It is temporary and necessary and beautiful.
Unfortunately, if we are not skillful, we focus pain inward and it makes us self-absorbed. We flee, fight, or freeze in the face of the arrows we feel being flung at us and we are frightened by the thought of the pain that hasn’t happened yet.
We react. We panic. We look to survive.
We do and say things to get out of whatever is creating the pain. To make it stop. Depending on the skillfulness of those on the receiving end of the behaviors they strike back in their own unskillful ways.
From the other position our behavior may look to be irrational, boundaryless, or uncaring. Maybe it is or maybe it is just unskillfulness flooding thoughts and deeds. The we get angry with them for not seeing us as right and not responding how we think best.
We don’t stop long enough and examine whether the arrows are meant for us. It is never personal unless I make it so.
I made a lot of things personal early on. I told C, I would take all the slings and arrows and I did because that is what a Hero does. I had plenty of poor behaviors at the beginning, and over the years, of trying to hide my guilt and shame. It leaked out in a hundred ways in a hundred places. It hurt good people.
Frankly, I have no experience with this. This is my first real meaningful pile-up in shitheadery. These things encouraged the most toxic Monkeys to pile on because they haven’t dealt with their own damage.
Which raises the question, is C a narcissist or, like me just self-absorbed in her pain? I doubt she is a narcissist and I’m in no position to decide. I give her the benefit of the doubt based on what I know about myself.
I look at C’s behaviors and I choose to give her the same compassionate consideration. I know enough about her to know that she and I are very similar in a variety of relationship ways. We share Patterns and life experiences. We carried similar, and at the time unconscious, wounds into our relationship.
I do see her. Not all of her. And not completely. But enough.
I know she has Ugly and despite knowing this I continue to love her and leave the door open because I know I loved her. I believe she loved me.
My doctor calls it loving with an open hand and it is a risk, means uncertainty, and is emotionally open. Daring greatly opens the door to failure, loss, and hurt. I’m doing it anyway.
Naturally, it sets the stage for me to be hurt, ridiculed, and rejected but I never lied about what I felt for this woman or what I believed. “To live,” writes Pema Chodron, “is to be willing to die over and over again.” Every time I have been vulnerable and rejected in this process something has died but something better has also bloomed.
Every time I have been annihilation by her reactions, actions, choices, or those of the Flying Monkey Patrol, I discover something that is indestructible in me.
The reality is, how I feel about her is indestructible and pretending otherwise is just another kind of lie.
How I feel about C doesn’t mean we should be together. C is neither the solution or the problem so I’m not looking to her to heal or fix anything. I’m not broken, just hurt and unskillful. I have, most moments, embraced the idea that whatever comes out of this is already better.
I’m healing and finding my way without C and without looking for a rebound or for someone to distract me. Going out and “banging chicks,” as a friend suggested, just so I look tougher or feel wanted or make her jealous would be pathological…or at least deeply unskillful.
Instead I’m adulting.
Grieving takes time and this is my path and now, so many long days later, I like where I am even if I know it isn’t where I am going to stay.
I could choose to take all these things I’ve learned and filter it through a confirmation bias algorithm, and see all of this darkly. I could use it to hurt C. I don’t and if you can find a spot where I talk unkindly about C (or K) to make me look better please tell me.
Based on the experience, I could spin this into “but I’m a victim too” storyline.
I could have caved, broke, disappeared, and hidden. I could have killed myself to avoid the attention. I could have had a temper tantrum and shown up at the house or an art show or work. That is what the Flying Monkeys told people I would do. I have done none of that because that is not who I am. It never was.
Frankly, I chose not to do those things because on my best days, that is not who I am.
I have done none of those things because my guiding principle is simply: the only right we have with another is to leave. C is not my hostage. She is not my property. She knows where to find me when she is ever ready. I have told her that since the day I met here. It was my first promise. It is one of many promises I kept.
Luckily, in my worst moments I have people around me now willing to see me holistically and accept and love all of me and not just the easy parts. I have friends.
They make it safe to be the man I am, and not the man they imagine me just so they can avoid their own work. I am a man that cannot be broken. I am a man that cannot be emotionally blackmailed. I am a man that loves. I am a man curious about my nature and interested in growth. I am a man that dives deep and swims far.
Through this journal, I have repeatedly talked about what happened, what I have done, what others have done, and how I choose to respond. I’m still angry about some things, but that is mostly because of pride. I’m working on it.
I recognize C has wonderful qualities but she was never perfect.
The isolation, loneliness, rejection, grief, and fear that once wounded me so deeply doesn’t drive me like it did at the beginning. It cannot be leveraged to shame me.
As such, I can finally see clearly, the Flying Monkeys and their brethren cannot touch me or hurt me. I know almost everything I have been accused of by Flying Monkeys and Broken Knights is wrong and self-serving. They are consistently wrong about their facts and details.
They are constantly wrong about C and me. Their behaviors tell a story far darker about themselves than anything they imagined about me.
I know C talked, texted, and called them. I know C told them enough of my Ugly to know I have Ugly. The rest they took upon themselves and made up. I don’t blame C for their choices, just like I don’t hold her accountable for mine, but that doesn’t make them less her Flying Monkeys.
Flying Monkeys (The Narcissist’s Tool for the Smear Campaign)
The narcissist doesn’t have to get their hands dirty abusing you because they can recruit all these other people to do that work for themselves.
And finally, they’re going to use mobbing against you so that you feel alone and unsure of your reality.
When it’s one person against one person that gaslighting can be really challenging. When it’s a whole group of people who are subscribing to that reality, and then you, you’re going to feel really alone. You’re going to really be tempted to doubt yourself and your perception of reality. The flying monkeys can be a very powerful ally for the narcissist.
Read the rest of the story here.