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Who else thinks ‘The Wizard of Oz’ is one of the greatest screen classics of all time? Don’t you just love all those larger than life characters? Dorothy, Toto and that ragtag band of lovable misfits? Of course, the Wicked Witch of the West is beyond the pale when it comes to wickedness, and we didn’t really care, did we, when she started to melt? But is there anything truly more loathsome than her wretched flying monkeys?

Illustration by me

They mindlessly, seemingly without the power of thought (even the level of thought attributed to the lowliest of the higher primates), did the witch’s bidding. And they did it gleefully, brutally and without a shred of mercy or remorse. Nothing beats the malice of a flying monkey.

Undoubtedly, they were weak-willed and lacking in character and moral judgement. And, so it is with the troupes of ‘flying monkeys’ that encircle, and do the bidding of your run-of-the-mill, narcissistic, emotional and psychological abuser.

Fuelled by the (dubious and insincere) esteem of their master or mistress, they leap into the fray in ignorant defence of someone who very likely views them as inferior, expedient and easily manipulated. We can forgive them for being ignorant (I suppose) but not for being malicious. They have something to gain from their willingness to attack the real victims of abuse, as flimsy as those gains are in a rational and moral light. They gain strokes to their fragile egos; pats on their backs; ingratiating thanks and sickly compliments about how wonderful and faithful they are. They have already set your abuser up as a demi-god who can do no wrong and it’s far easier for them to believe it. There’s no need to think for themselves if they can simply place their trust in someone else – someone who has the confidence to present themselves as incredibly special and knowledgeable.

Truly, they walk among us, these flying monkeys, and they look just like you or me. Sometimes – more often than I care to remember – they are our friends and family. That’s why their attacks hurt so much. It’s also one reason they are ‘chosen’ by our abuser.

So, what is their role, these misguided and weak-willed beings, so lacking in insight?

As with every other strategy used by a controlling narcissist, their purpose is to undermine you; destroy your belief in yourself and your own reality; convince you that you are not the victim of abuse but the perpetrator; confuse you about what happened and what didn’t’; remove your sources of support by spreading the word of your ‘craziness’ amongst your social and family groups; and hit you relentlessly with cruel accusations. It’s one thing to take a ‘barb’ from one source. En masse it is soul destroying and very much a part of the ‘crazy-making’ agenda.

By this stage you’ve probably already been isolated from your entire support system. The narcissist and their flying monkeys may well be all you know. You’re alone and under attack.

I found myself in that position a decade ago. It destroyed my mental and emotional health and added a whole new dimension to my ever-present debilitating physical condition. I wish I could outline the details here, as real-life examples are so instructive, but I believe it would set me up for defamation charges, so I must hold off. Abusive people are perpetually indignant and ready to bring in the law when exposed for what they are. Truth is no defence.

The flying monkeys you encounter may not always be overtly abusive but beware of their covert attacks. They have an endless repertoire of reproachful looks, dramatic facial expressions of hurt, disbelief and disapproval, barely concealed whispers ‘behind your back’ (yet designed for you to be aware of), and are often gifted with spiteful innuendo. They’ll emulate their master’s/mistress’s penchant for protracted periods of the silent treatment. A concerted attack by a whole group will bring you to your knees. And they’ll kick you while you’re down.

Because they do such a large portion of the abuser’s dirty work (while the abuser slips under the public radar), they help to fuel the illusion that the abuser is actually squeaky clean. Innocent. It’s a neat trick. Deflection. Diffusion of responsibility.

It’s particularly insidious when an abusive individual enlists children to the role. Perhaps they are your stepchildren or even your own children who are being poisoned by an estranged spouse. These kids don’t yet have fully formed personalities, characters, morals or world views. They’re a piece of cake to manipulate, making them an attractive choice for your unscrupulous tormentor. They’re innocent pawns in a sick game.

Adults, however, are a different prospect. They are chosen for their inherent weaknesses. They need to be easily swayed, which means they’re intellectually lazy. They also need to obtain a measure of reward from hurting the victim (just as the perpetrator does). They undoubtedly love the drama of heightened emotions and the esteem derived from a pat on the back for a job well done by their puppet master. They lack moral fibre.

So, don’t listen to them. Don’t let them take up space in your head. On some deep level, possibly long buried, you still know who you are, what you believe in and what you stand for. Hold fast to that, and believe that one day, you’ll reclaim your authentic self.

Flying monkeys are cowards at heart. Stand strong but don’t try to fight them with rational words. They’re no more rational than instigator of the abuse. Turn your back. Laugh at them. Tell them they’re talking rubbish…and mostly, give them no sign that you are affected by their words and actions, even if you are affected at this moment. Fake it till you make it. It will reduce their power over you.

I’d like to say that they’ll eventually disappear from your life and leave your primary abuser to ‘gaslight’ you all by himself, but that’s unlikely to happen. I’ll tackle gaslighting in my next post. It’s the most devious, dangerous and cruel strategy of all. You need to be armed against it.