TW: general flying monkey sorts of behaviors
I have an older relative (who I’ll call OR from here on) who I went to visit recently. During the visit, she went into full flying monkey mode on behalf of my estranged parents.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a flying monkey is a term for people who act on behalf of an abuser. Narcissists frequently have flying monkeys. It can be direct or subtle; some examples of flying monkey behavior that I’ve heard from people who have dealt with it:
- (Direct) Berates you for how poorly you’ve treated the abuser, or for cutting off/ignoring the abuser; argues with you about how boundaries you’ve put up are unfair or abusive.
- (Indirect) Tries to friend you on Facebook or follow you on other social media, suddenly wants to visit or catch up, or joins activities/attends events where you’ll be present – all with the end goal of reporting information about you back to the abuser.
Flying monkeys are a type of enabler and are often people who are easily manipulated. In the case of my OR, she is definitely easily manipulated.
During my visit, she went into flying monkey mode in two ways:
First, OR told me – kind of randomly because we weren’t discussing my parents at all – that I’m “definitely out of the will” (referring to my parents’ will). This was a big red flag for me, because OR and I have never talked about my parents’ will or who they might leave whatever they have to – mainly because I don’t care. However, in my mother’s mind, the ultimate form of punishment is removal from the will.
Because money is the thing that matters most to my mother (actual cash as well as perceptions of having money – she’s very classist/elitist), she assumes that that’s what matters to me as well. It’s both funny and annoying that even after I’ve gone permanently no contact, I’m still being threatened with something I care nothing about. It underscores for me once again that my mother does not know or understand me at all.
Therefore, as soon as OR made that comment, I immediately realized that my mother likely put her up something.
Second, OR then told me that if I was to write a letter to my parents outlining all the specific things I’ve done wrong, apologize for each individual wrong, and outline what I’m going to do in the future to be a better daughter, they might eventually be willing to let me back into their lives.
This is when I knew she was in full flying monkey mode. OR isn’t a letter or email person; she prefers phone or in-person contact. My mother is HUGE on letters. My mother is also one of those people who wants anyone who’s wronged her to beg and grovel and rehash all the details about how horrible they are, and will repeatedly bring up and rehash past mistakes, offenses, embarrassing moments, etc. She gets off on it.
A letter where I outline all the very specific ways I’m a horrible person? Well, that would be the ultimate grand prize! And since she assumes I’m as money-obsessed as she is, she clearly thinks I’d produce such a document in the hopes of maybe possibly getting money in return. Plus the added bonus of her once again having something to control me with. Big wins all around for my mother!
Spoiler alert: It’s never happening. I am 100% done with both of my parents.
How I handled it: I handled OR’s flying monkey moment by politely but firmly calling her out on it. She responded by becoming extremely agitated, which is unlike her – she’s generally pretty laid back. I then gently suggested that her drastic overreaction just confirmed for me that I was right. OR continued to deny it. I told her that ultimately, I didn’t care whose idea it was or what her reasons were for making that particular, very specific suggestion that sounded eerily like something my mother would definitely want – my purpose was to visit her, not to talk about my parents.
I asked OR, do you feel that you and I have a good relationship? She replied that she does feel that we do. I said, I’m glad to hear that. Let’s just focus on our relationship, and not discuss my parents any further. OR didn’t bring up the letter again, but she did complain about my mother’s bad behavior toward her. The fact that OR does see that my mother is a very problematic individual is one of the reasons I haven’t cut her off, too.
Because sadly, in the case of flying monkeys, one often does have to cut them off. In fact, that’s one of the reasons why I see people hesitating to go no contact with an abuser – because it means there’s collateral losses as well, and that can be difficult to deal with.
I think if you can keep your flying monkeys in a cage, like I do with OR, you may be able to maintain a relationship. I don’t tell her anything I don’t want getting back to my parents, and if she brings them up, I try to change the subject. So far, it’s working.