Accurately identifying a flying monkey can be a daunting task for victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse because of how similar they can be to narcissist enablers. The abuse that flying monkeys internalize can manifest in a subtle form like the flying monkey pretending to be the victim’s friend or in a very obvious form like the flying monkey actively participating in the narcissist’s smear campaign of the victim. Fortunately, there is an accurate and reliable approach one could have when trying to spot a flying monkey. 

The most accurate and reliable approach one could have when trying to spot a flying monkey is to uncover the relationship the suspected flying monkey has with the narcissist in their lives and figure out the narrative that the suspected flying monkey supports.

Using this approach will help guide the victim or survivor of narcissistic abuse through all of the gaslighting, projection, self-doubt, and self-blame that comes with the presence of flying monkeys and/or narcissist enablers.

A victim of narcissistic abuse mapping their way out of the narcissistic abuse cycle.

Uncover the Type of Relationship That the Suspected Flying Monkey Has With the Narcissist

To recruit a flying monkey, a narcissist will spread lies and gossip about the victim to create a narrative that portrays the narcissist as the victim and the victim as the abuser. This strategic approach that narcissists take when discrediting their victims attract different types of flying monkeys. 

  1. Flying Monkeys Who Are Forced Into the Role
    • In a narcissistic group setting, like the workplace or a family, the narcissist’s abusive behavior often frightens those who witness it so severely that they’re forced into becoming the narcissist’s flying monkey out of the fear of becoming the target of the narcissist’s wrath if they don’t.
  2. Flying Monkeys Who Naturally Gravitate Towards the Role
    • People who have low conscientiousness, high level of extroversion, and high levels of agreeableness, are often so self-absorbed, impulsive, extroverted, and susceptible to manipulation that they naturally gravitate towards the role of a flying monkey. This type of person could be narcissistic themselves or they could just be attracted to drama filled environments.
  3. Flying Monkeys That Are Manipulated Into the Role
    • After months, years, or even decades of narcissistic abuse, one’s mental and physical health will begin to deteriorate. Narcissists are very good at spreading lies and gossip designed to make the friends and family become concerned for, angry at, or disappointed in the victim. 

While there are three different types of flying monkeys, it is important to acknowledge that they’re all incredibly dangerous. Experiencing narcissistic abuse for an extended period of time often leaves victims and survivors unable to conceptualize their own version of reality. 

It’s for this reason that victims and survivors often don’t confide in others because they are certain that what they’re going through is abuse, they confide in others to have their version of reality validated. 

When victims and survivors accidently confide in flying monkeys or narcissist enablers instead of supporters, they could be thrown back into the narcissistic abuse cycle indefinitely. 

You see, escaping the narcissistic abuse cycle is more than just the victim or survivor escaping the narcissist in their life. Escaping from the narcissistic abuse cycle also requires them to escape from the narcissist’s flying monkeys and enablers as well.

It’s for this reason that being able to analyze the relationship someone has with a narcissist to determine whether or not they’re a flying monkey is such an important skill to have.

Find the Narrative That the Suspected Flying Monkey Supports

In the beginning of this article we mentioned how similar narcissist enablers and flying monkeys can be. For example, a narcissist enabler may say something like, “…you two just need to focus on working together instead of against each other all time…” and a flying monkey might say something like, “…I never hear you say something positive about the relationship, are you sure that you’re trying hard enough because I can’t tell…”

After months, years, and even decades of gaslighting and crippling levels of self-doubt/self-blame, those two statements have the potential to push the victim or survivor back into the narcissistic abuse cycle. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse in a blue shirt being gaslighted by a narcissist enabler

Obviously, the victim or survivor could just cut both the narcissist and the flying monkey out of their lives, but with the right approach, narcissist enablers can be converted into supporters. This is important to know because as we mentioned before, flying monkeys and narcissist enablers tend to be close friends and family members of the victim.

If a victim or survivor is able to accurately identify a flying monkey and convert a narcissist enabler into a supporter, it is a thousand times more helpful for their healing journey. 

Fortunately, the same technique victims and survivors can use to find the narrative that the suspected flying monkey in their lives supports is the same technique they can use to turn narcissist enablers into supporters. 

The best way to determine which narrative a suspected flying monkey has accepted would be for the victim or survivor to start a discussion with them about the abuse they’re enduring. 

This conversation is not meant to convince anyone of anything, it’s an opportunity for you to see if the conversation is irrational, hostile, and one-sided or if the conversation is engaging, meaningful, and mutual. 

When using this conversational technique it’s really important for victims and survivors to remember that they’re not trying to convince anyone of their version of reality. They know that the narcissist is in the wrong, they don’t need anyone to validate your reality but themselves and their supporters. 

To begin this conversational technique victims and survivors must focus on the behavior patterns, not the terminology. 

What does this mean? 

It would be nice if we could just tell our friends and family that someone in our lives is narcissistic or a narcissist and they’d believe us without hesitating, but we can’t. A majority of the time, the moment a victim or survivor uses the word narcissist, narcissism, or narcissistic, they are immediately shut down by those around them. 

A narcissist enabler being angry at a victim of narcissistic abuse for calling their abuser narcissistic

This ignorance can be avoided if the conversation circulates around the characteristics, personality traits, and behavior patterns of a narcissist instead of the terminology.

When this conversational technique is used correctly, it is by far the most reliable technique one could use to spot a flying monkey and/or a narcissist enabler.

We unpack this technique much more thoroughly in our article How to Explain Narcissism to Others but focusing on the narcissist’s characteristics, personality traits, and behavior patterns will cause narcissist enablers to have an engaging, meaningful, and mutual conversation because they have not blindly accepted the narcissist’s narrative and it will cause flying monkeys to become irrational, hostile, and one-sided because they have blindly accepted the narcissist’s narrative. 

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

While the conversational technique is a really important skill victims and survivors should develop, it shouldn’t be forced. If they’re trying to explain narcissism using this technique to a suspected narcissist enabler and aren’t getting anywhere, the narcissist enabler should be relabeled as a flying monkey for the victim’s or survivor’s safety.

Uncovering the type of relationship a suspected flying monkey has with the narcissist in their life and figuring out the narrative that the suspected flying monkey supports are two very reliable ways that victims and survivors can accurately spot flying monkeys.

With that being said, one must set and maintain healthy boundaries as well.

Why?

If for some reason the victim or survivor was unable to determine whether or not someone in their lives is a flying monkey, a solid foundation of healthy boundaries will protect their emotional stability from being harmed.

How?

A huge part of healing from narcissistic abuse is the victim or survivor acknowledging that the limitations their abuser placed on them are only as real as they let them be. When it comes to doing something as difficult as cutting toxic friends and family members out of their life, healthy boundaries offer an irreplaceable amount of support through hard times.

So, if a victim or survivor were to have troubles spotting a flying monkey, they could simply determine whether or not the suspected flying monkey or narcissist enabler should be in their lives based on their willingness to respect the healthy boundaries.

 a victim of narcissistic abuse setting boundaries with the narcissist in her life

The happiness of the victims and survivors of narcissistic abuse is the most important aspect they must protect throughout their healing journey and beyond.

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!


  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!

  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

West, Alexandra E., and Barry J. Fallon. “Rule-setting and rule-breaking: A conceptual model of rules and expectations in romantic relationships.” Proceedings of the Australian Psychology Society’s. Vol. 143. by, 2005.