They are sometimes called “Flying Monkeys” — which in the narcissism world represent the individuals that a narcissist will recruit and then use to do their bidding, typically to isolate, alienate, and harass another person.
The classic example of this is observed when a relationship with a narcissist comes to an end. The narcissistic individual will proceed to tell anyone close to the couple — friends, family members, sometimes even the family members of the ex — typically false information that will turn them against the narcissist’s ex-partner or even result in the flying monkeys harassing the ex-partner, alienating or isolating the ex-partner, and leaving the ex-partner feeling lost, hurt, and in some cases, traumatized.
“Flying monkeys” are then, in their fashion, enablers. They not only silently allow the narcissistic individual to continually invalidate, dehumanize, criticize, undermine, and basically victimize everyone them without calling them out – they support them, advocate for them, and even rally behind them.
Fast forward to the revolting underbelly of the American political and cultural landscape of late: Men of power and privilege, such as Jeffrey Epstein, facing multiple accusations of sexual abuse of minors and trafficking. A man surrounded by other men of privilege, who silently stood by. Flying monkeys may not always approve of what the predators and perpetrators in their midst are doing, but their silence and their support of the perpetrator is complicity and it is enabling.
His alleged enablers range from the President to princes to politicos, people who unfortunately set the tone for society. Grandiose success in our culture is too often connected with narcissism and psychopathy. When a guy like Epstein gets a free pass for 11 years, so the flying monkeys could protect themselves and their minions, and with little reflection on the danger a predator represents to other vulnerable young women, that means that we have truly leveled up in the era of irresponsibility, incivility, entitlement, and just plain awfulness.
You may not care about the Epstein case — you may just view it as one more example of powerful men doing bad things, and not your concern. But the epidemic of narcissism-enabling weakens the fabric of democracy, of community, of justice, and of healthy relationships. The toxic relational impacts of narcissism are being felt more and more, and even if you have somehow steered clear of any significant relationships with narcissists in your own life — you still see the news, scan the headlines online, and see social media posts. None of us are immune from being exposed to these toxic patterns.
When the flying monkeys are on Capitol Hill, the houses of Parliament, and corporate boardrooms, then all of us are at danger. It’s the proverbial fox in charge of the henhouse. Concepts such as checks and balances start to feel quaint. And an anxiety starts to creep into all of us, the anxiety that happens when leadership goes missing, and manipulation becomes the norm.
Perhaps in the era of flying monkeys and insecure narcissistic wizards, we need to hold out for Tin Men with hearts, Lions with courage and Scarecrows with brains. American and global leadership are lacking all three right now….
And that is bad news for everyone’s mental health.