It is now almost too long ago for popular memory. On 18th November 1978, Revd Jim Jones the leader of the People’s Temple cult, ordered his followers to commit an act of what he termed a “Revolutionary Suicide” in Jonestown, Guyana. Over 900 obeyed and the whole event was recorded on a chilling audiotape which is widely available across the internet. Over 200 of the victims were children and were murdered, sometimes willingly, by their parents. All but two, one of them Jones, were poisoned with cyanide-laced soft drink and what happened there, gave us the horrible popular metaphor for blind obedience which we know as “drinking the Kool-Aid”.
The events which led up to that day, sparked by the visit and shooting on an airstrip of a US congressman was not a spur of the moment thing when so much poison would have had to be bought, stored and prepared. Jim Jones was charismatic narcissist, but he was not omnipotent, neither could he have personally supervised and schooled over 900 people to die. He had to have people to do his dirty work for him.
Within the community there we elders and the so-called “red brigade” who murdered the congressman as he and his party tried to leave. These were the same minions also dispatched to kill those who didn’t want to commit suicide. The only survivors were those who hid, escaped into the jungle, or who were given tasks by Jones such as carrying moneys to the USSR. Jones’ control of the minds of his followers and close associates was so complete that they believed his word and did his bidding. A total loss of free will.
Whilst it is always problematic applying diagnostic criteria to a dead person after the event, it is highly likely that Jones’ was a narcissist and the events which led up to the events of November 1978 were a severe narcissistic injury which triggered his rage. The cult was facing problems he hadn’t anticipated, a small number of people wanted to leave with the congressman and the jungle of Guyana was far from paradise. This was not helped by the fact that Jones himself was abusing drugs to such an extent at the time of his death that he hadn’t slept for days and his famous all night meetings with his senior staff must have robbed them of their reason too.
This is perhaps why they became willing “flying monkeys” doing his bidding. Flying monkeys is a term used to describe those who enable people with dangerous mental intent, including, but not exclusively, narcissists to achieve the annihilation of those they perceived to be wounding or threatening them. The term comes from L. Frank Baum’s “Wizard of Oz” where the flying monkeys were tools of The Wicked Witch. Such a powerful, iconic image belies the fact that it doesn’t have to be a figure like Jim Jones or indeed a wicked witch who sends a troupe of minions but they can come singly or be as much a victim of the narcissist as the person they are attacking.
A friend of mine related to me a tale of what happened to her when she tried to warn a girlfriend about an ex of hers. She did it because her friend was fragile and a relationship with a narcissist was the last thing she needed. Now whilst she warned in terms which were measured, rational and in no way “labelling” the events which followed were truly frightening:
“She posted accusations on Facebook about me and sent me quotes from The Bible in the middle of the night. I never knew the Bible could be used in such a threatening way! I ignored them, but this just caused her to escalate. The last straw was when she sent a letter to my employers stating that she was worried about my mental capacity to do my job – I was a teacher. My employer had no choice but to suspend me and do a full investigation. It was heart-breaking.”
As an enabler, or flying monkey she did not realise that she was being manipulated. She believed what the other person told her and was convinced she was doing the right thing. Her religious zeal was also manipulated too, making a cruel parody of her Christianity.
Flying Monkeys are not always vulnerable people either. Marriage guidance counsellors and couple’s therapists are particularly vulnerable to being enablers, especially if one member of a couple comes across as being vocal and particularly credible. The same friend told me about couples counselling that she and her ex had attended whilst they were still together:
“I had arranged the sessions to try to help him and I had to sit in a room with the pair of them where the professional, who is supposed to understand manipulative psychologies, was asking me questions and saying such things as: ‘don’t you realise that he is trying to do his best to look after you?’. I was being made to feel like a bad person when he had lied about everything…”
How to avoid being “Minionized”
In a new relationship (friendship or romantic) don’t suspend your critical faculties. You don’t have to question everything but does what they say about others match up with your experiences or that of other people.
Notice how much time they spend talking about this other person or people and the tone of the conversation. It isn’t healthy to spend more than a small proportion of a conversation or the narrative of a friendship talking about other people. The focus should be on the present and you. If it isn’t, ask yourself why.
Are the feeding on your pain? do they dwell too much on the things which have gone wrong for you, not in a sympathetic was but more like an excavation, digging out each detail and dwelling on it? If this starts to happen control what you give them. Listen to their story as a victim carefully, what precisely did the other person or people do to them, does the story repeat into serial victimhood, does it vary inconsistently? – narcissists are often hazy on the detail of such events.
If you are asked to do something, refuse to do anything which does not fit with your moral code especially if they are dictating the act to you. Most of all if the event doesn’t concern you say so.