TIPS: When Your Children Are Flying Monkeys (Parental Alienation)

Uploaded 10/13/2023, approx. 27 minute read

Okay, Shoshanim, in the 90s, 1990s, I coined many, many phrases and among them abused by proxy and flying monkeys.

But what happens when your children become flying monkeys, when the abuser, the narcissist, encourages his access to your children, his influence on your children, the fact that sometimes he's a role model for your children.

What happens when the abuser abuses the legal system and then takes away your children from you, uses what is colloquially known as parental alienation and transforms them into flying monkeys at his service, vectors through which the abuser imparts trauma, pain and additional maltreatment.

What happens when your children become your worst enemies?

This is the topic of today's video.

As distinct from other videos which are highly academic, this one includes also a lot of practical advice as to how to behave and what to do. And I hope that you find all this altogether useful and helpful.

My name, for those of you who don't know, luckily for you, is Sam Vaknin. I'm the author of Malignant Self-Love, Narcissism Revisited. I'm also a former visiting professor of psychology and I'm on the faculty of SIAS-CIAPS, Commonwealth for International Advanced Professional Studies.

So let us delve right in.

Abuse by proxy is any situation where the abuser uses other people to perpetuate the abuse, amplify it, magnify it and inflict it upon the victim in a barrage of hostility, animosity, gossip, smear campaigns and so on.

Ganging up on the victim or denying the victim protection when she is attacked by others is a form of subtle abuse by proxy.

Socially isolating and excluding the victim by discrediting her through a campaign of malicious rumors, smear campaign. It's another form of abuse by proxy because it makes use of social structures, reputational damages and the ability to kind of instill shame and guilt in the victim vis-a-vis her nearest and dearest close ones, friends, family and the wider social circles that she moves in.

We keep saying she, but of course the victim could easily be a he. About half of all narcissists are women nowadays, unfortunately, harassing the victim by using other people to stalk her or by charging her with offenses, including criminal offenses that she did not commit at all. These are also forms of abuse by proxy because here the legal system, the police, the courts, they are abused, they serve as a way to diminish the victim, threaten her, endanger her and punish her for things she has never done.

Provoking the victim into aggressive or even antisocial conduct by having other people threaten her or her loved ones. Colluding with other people to render the victim dependent on the abuser.

But by far the children, the victim's children are the abuser's greatest source of leverage over his abused spouse or mate or girlfriend or boyfriend or ex or just a random target for my friend, for my colleague, co-worker and so on.

Children are the best form, the most efficacious form of flying monkeys because children are never suspected. There's an assumption or presumption of innocence when it comes to children. Children are easily manipulated and formed and reformed. Children are like guided missiles, they strike at the very heart of the victim, the dysregulated emotionally and they cause unimaginable hurt.

The abuser often recruits his children and again is hurt.

As many abusers are women as are men, but I'm going to continue with the Victorian literary norm or tradition of using he for mankind. The abuser often recruits his children to do his bidding. The abuser uses his children to tempt, convince, communicate, threaten and otherwise manipulate his target, the victim.

The target is usually the children's other parent or some devoted relative such as a grandparent but it could easily be a teacher, even peers of the child.

The abuser controls his often gullible and unsuspecting offspring exactly as he plans to control his ultimate prey.

The abuser employs the same mechanisms and devices in both cases and in this sense the children are being victimized.

Even as the children end up serving as flying monkeys, even as they inflict pain and hurt on the ultimate target, their victims, exactly like guided missiles or cruise missiles, they end up exploding.

And then the abuser dumps his props unceremoniously when the job is done, expiry date.

The children have an expiry date, they're no longer useful and this causes tremendous and typically irreversible emotional hurt.

There are several strategies that the abuser uses when he attempts to convert his children into as I said cruise missiles or flying monkeys.

The first one is co-opting.

Some offenders, some abusers, mainly in patriarchal, conservative and misogynist societies, they co-opt their children into aiding and abetting their abusive conduct.

The couple's children are used as bargaining chips or leverage.

They are instructed and they are encouraged by the abuser to shun the victim, criticise her, disagree with her, withhold love and affection, inflict on her various forms of ambient abuse and gaslighting and in many cases just straightforward lie about her.

In these societies this is considered good practice, socially acceptable, a social moray.

As I wrote elsewhere in Malignant Self-Love: Narcissism Revisited, even the victim's children are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness and manipulativeness of the abuser and to his impressive thespian skills, acting skills.

The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events and interprets them to his favor.

The victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They are harassed, unkempt, irritable, impatient, abrasive and hysterical.

Confronted with this contrast between a polished, self-controlled and suave abuser and his harried casualties it is easy to reach the wrong conclusion, the erroneous conclusion that the real victim is the abuser or that both parties somehow are equally responsible and equally abuse each other, equally mistreat each other.

The praise acts of self-defence, assertiveness or insistence on her rights are interpreted as reactive abuse, aggression, liability or a mental health problem. She is crazy.

And this is especially true with young and therefore impressionable and vulnerable children, offspring, common children, particularly if they happen to live with the abuser or if he has custody rights over them or if he has very frequent visitation rights.

Children are frequently emotionally blackmailed by the abuser. If you want daddy to love you, do this or refrain from doing that. If you want mommy to love you, never mention daddy. Daddy is a bad person.

Children lack life experience and other adult defenses against manipulation. They may be dependent on the abuser economically and they always resent the abused, the victim for having broken up the family, for being unable to fully cater to their needs because she has to work for a living and for cheating on her abusive ex with a new boyfriend or a new husband.

So there is a lot of ground the abuser can cover with the children, many levers that the abuser can pull in order to turn the children against the victimized spouse.

And this is known colloquially again as parental alienation syndrome. It's not such a syndrome, but the process definitely exists.

The abuser can corrupt not only the children, but often the system. The abuser perverts and subverts the system, therapists, marriage counselors, mediators, court appointed guardians and evaluators, police officers and judges, especially in family courts.

The abuser uses all these functionaries to pathologize the victim and to separate her from her sources of emotional sustenance, most notably from her children.

The abuser seeks custody in order to hurt and pain his ex, in order to punish her.

And this leads very often to threatening behavior. Abusersbehavior.

Abusers are insatiable and vindictive. They always feel deprived, unfairly treated, having been victimised.

Some abusers are paranoid and sadistic. If they fail to manipulate their common children into abandoning the other parent, they begin to treat the children as enemies, persecutory objects.

Such abuses are not above threatening the children, abducting them, abusing them sexually, physically or psychologically, verbally, outright harming them in order to get back at the erstwhile partner or in order to make her do something or refrain from doing something.

Most victims attempt to present to their children a balanced picture of their relationship and of the abusive spouse. He needs his father, they would say, or she needs a mother.

I would never speak ill of my partner in front of the children. I would never bad mouth them.

It is a vain attempt to avoid the notorious and controversial parental alienation syndrome, PAS, and so they do not besmirch the abusive parent, they do not criticise the abusive parent.

And on the contrary, they encourage the semblance of a normal, functional liaison, a good connection.

And this is of course the utterly wrong approach.

Not only is it counterproductive, it sometimes proves outright dangerous for the child.

Most victims attempt to present to their children the other parent is normal and healthy.

But children have a right to know the overall state of affairs between their parents. Children have a right to not be cheated and deluded into thinking that everything is basically okay and the abusive partner is just another parent or that the separation is somehow reversible.

Both parents are under moral obligation to turn their offspring the truth. The relationship is over for good.

Younger kids tend to believe that they are somehow responsible or guilty for the breakdown of the marriage or the couple.

And they must be disabused of this notion. They must be told that they are not responsible and not guilty, that it is not therefore.

Both parents would do best to explain to the children in straightforward terms what led to the dissolution of the bond, what terminated the marriage, what resulted in the breakup.

If spousal abuse is wholly or partly to blame for the dissolution of the marriage and the breakup and the heartbreak, then spousal abuse, the issue of spousal abuse, should be brought out to the open and discussed honestly with the children.

In such conversations, it is best not to allocate blame, but this does not mean that wrong behaviors should be excused or condoned or whitewashed or overlooked.

The victimized parent should tell the child that abusive conduct is always wrong, must always be avoided. The child should be taught how to identify the warning signs of impending abuse, especially sexual abuse, but also verbal, psychological and physical.

And moreover, a responsible parent should teach the child how to resist inappropriate and hurtful actions.

The child should be brought up to insist on being respected by the other parent, on having him or her observe and respect the child's boundaries and accept the child's needs, emotions, choices and preferences.

In short, the child should be brought up to force the other abusive parent to accept, to embrace the child's separateness and externality, if the abusive parent happens to be a narcissist.

The child should learn to say no, to walk away from potentially compromising situations with the abusive parent. The child should be brought up to not feel guilty for protecting itself and for demanding his or her rights.

After this, an abusive parent, and especially a narcissist, is dangerous to your child and you must protect your child from this danger at any cost as you would protect the child from other dangers.

Idealization/Evaluation cycles. Most abusers accord the same treatment to children as they do to adults.

Don't forget, narcissistic abusers are children, emotionally speaking. They are like the child's peers. They do not fulfil parental functions. They are irresponsible. They are unreliable and cannot be trusted because they are children. And they treat children and adults the very same way.

They regard both children and adults as sources of narcissistic supply, mere instruments or tools of gratification.

They idealize the children at first and then they devalue the children in favour of alternative, safer and more subservient sources.

And such treatment, being idealised and then dumped, devalued and discarded, is traumatic. It can have long-lasting emotional effects on the child.

And then there's the issue of jealousy.

Some abusers are jealous of their offspring. We all know the stereotypical mother who competes with her teenage daughter for attention, including sexual attention.

The abusive parent, the narcissistic parent, envies the child for being the center of attention and care. This kind of parent's abusive and narcissistic treat their own kids as hostile competitors where the uninhibited expression of the aggression and hostility aroused by this predicament is illegitimate or impossible.

The abuser prefers to stay away from the child altogether rather than attack his children. The abuser sometimes immediately disconnects, detaches himself emotionally, becomes called an uninterested or directs transformed anger at his mate or at the child's parents, the more legitimate targets.

The abuser's relationship with his children involves very many pathological mechanisms and vectors.

Objectification, for example. Sometimes the child is perceived to be a mere bargaining chip in a drawn-out battle with the erstwhile victim of the abuser. This is an extension of the abuser's tendency to dehumanize people and treat them as instruments or objects or extensions of himself.

And such abusive partners, such narcissistic partners, seek to manipulate their former mates and spouses by taking over and monopolizing the common children.

They foster an atmosphere of emotional and very often bodily incest. Incest.

The abusive parent encourages his kids or her kids to idolise him, to adore him, to be awed by him, to admire his deeds and capabilities, to learn to blindly trust and obey him and in short to surrender to his charisma and to become submerged in his foliedde, in his delusion, in his shared fantasy.

The abuser encourages his children to remain dependent, denies their emerging personal autonomy and obliterates their agency. They are not allowed to separate and individually rebel, think critically and become in any way, shape or form their own person.

There's a bridge of personal boundaries.

I mentioned incest. It is at this stage that the risk of child abuse up to and including outright incest, sexual violation.

At this stage, this risk is heightened.

Many abuses are auto-erotic. They are the preferred objects of their own sexual attentions. Molesting or having intercourse with one's children is as close as one gets to having sex with oneself.

When you have sex with your child, you're having sex with 50% of yourself. This is very alluring, seductive and irresistible to many narcissists because it's the ultimate auto-erotic act.

Abusers often perceive sex in terms of annexation and a power play. The molested child is assimilated, becomes an extension of the offender, a fully controlled and manipulated object.

Sex to the abuser is the ultimate act of depersonalization and objectification of the other. The abuser actually must abase with the child's body.

The abuser's inability to acknowledge and abide by the personal boundaries set by other people puts the child at heightened risk of abuse.

Many abuses are defiant, contumacious, they abhor and reject authority. They are a law unto themselves. They don't abide by anyone's rules.

There's a very high risk of verbal, emotional, physical and often sexual abuse that consists of a breach of boundaries and a defiance and reckless attempt to break the law and all rules.

The abuser's possessiveness and panoply of indiscriminate negative affectivity, negative emotions.

Allemotions. All these transformations of aggression, rage, envy, they hinder the abuser's ability to act as a good enough parent.

The abuser's propensity for reckless behavior, substance abuse and sexual deviance endanger the child's welfare or even the child's life.

The relationship between children and their abusive parent or narcissistic parent is always conflictual even when the child adores and admires the abusive parent, even when the child attempts to emulate the narcissistic parent. Even when the narcissistic parent becomes the child's role model, there's still an underlying current of conflict because minors pose little danger of criticizing the abuser and confronting him. They are perfect, they're malleable and they're abundant sources of narcissistic supply.

So the narcissistic parent derives gratification from having an incestuous, emotionally incestuous or physically incestuous relations with adulating physically and mentally inferior, inexperienced and dependent bodies, his children.

And yet the older the offspring get, the more they become critical, even judgmental of the abusive and narcissistic parent.

Grown-up children, older children, let's say on the cusp of adolescence and later are better equipped, better able to put into context and perspective the abusive parent's actions to question the narcissistic parent's motives to anticipate this kind of parent's moves.

As they mature, these children often refuse to continue to play the mindless pawns in the abuser's chess game. They hold grudges against the abuser for what he has done to them in the past when they were less capable of resistance. They can gauge the abuser's true nature, true stature, true talents and accomplishments which usually lag far behind the claims that the abuser makes and commensurate with them.

And this brings the abusive parent back a full cycle.

This mature, growing maturity of the child, this independent thinking or critical thinking, this autonomy, personal autonomy, growing personal autonomy, this push the abusive parent and narcissistic parent to adopt a different position vis-a-vis his children.

Again, the abusive parent perceives his sons or daughters as threats. He quickly becomes disillusioned. He devalues them. He loses all interest. He becomes emotionally remote, absent and callous, rejecting and critical, refuses to communicate, citing life pressures and the preciousness and scarce of his time.

This is his way to passive aggressively punish his children for having dared to doubt him and question his motivation and actions.

The abuser feels burdened, cornered, besieged, suffocated and claustrophobic by the responsibility over his children. He wants to get away. He wants to abandon his commitments, move past them on because his children are now people who have become totally useless or even damaging to him.

They challenge his grandiosity. They undermine his inflated, fantastic self view.

The abuser does not understand why he has to support these children, why he has to suffer their company and he believes himself to have been deliberately and ruthlessly trapped by his former spouse or partner.

The abuser rebels either passive aggressively by refusing to act or intentionally sabotaging the relationships with his children or actively by being overly critical, aggressive and pleasant, verbally and psychologically abusive, physically abusive sometimes, slowly and to justify his actions to himself.

The abuser gets immersed in conspiracy theories with clear paranoid use when it comes to his children and the other spouse.

To his mind, the members of the family are conspiring against him. They seek to belittle or humiliate or subordinate him. They don't understand him. They stymie his growth.

The abuser usually finally gets what he wants. His kids detach and abandon him to his great, feigned sorrow, but actually to his enormous relief.

If all else fails, the abuser recruits friends, colleagues, mates, family members, the authorities, institutions, neighbors, the media, teachers, in short, third parties, kind of flying monkeys to do his bidding.

He uses other people, institutions, social mores to cajole, coerce, threaten, stalk, offer, retreat, tempt, convince, harass, communicate and otherwise manipulate his target.

He controls these unaware instruments exactly as he plans to control his ultimate victim.

He employs the same mechanism, same devices and he dumps these people unceremoniously and abruptly when the job is done, as I mentioned before.

A major form of vicarious abuse or control by proxy is to engineer situations in which abuse is inflicted upon another person.

Such carefully crafted scenarios of embarrassment, shaming, humiliation provoke social sanctions, condemnation of the victim, opprobrium, physical punishment, chastising against the victim, society, a social group or an institution like the legal system become the instruments of the abuser.

Abusers often use other people to do their dirty work for them in a variety of settings, not only in romantic or intimate relationships. And these sometimes unwitting accomplices largely belong to three groups.

Number one, the abuser's social milieu.

Some offenders mainly in patriarchal and misogynistic societies that I've mentioned use the local culture, local permissive culture, the culture that condones, encourages, justifies, excuses and upholds abuse by proxy as a form of disciplining or instilling cultural and societal values, socialization.

They use this in order to torture the victim and make sure that she doesn't stray out of line.

Such societies and cultures aid in abusive conduct. The victim is held hostage, isolated and with little or no access to funds, transportation, a social network or her family and friends.

This is known today in some countries in the West as coercive control and in one or two of them it's a criminal offense.

Often the couple's children are used as I said as bargaining chips or leverage.

Ambient abuse by the abusers clan, king, kitchen, village or neighborhood is rampant in these societies and cultures.

The victim's social milieu can also be used to inflict on her or to perpetuate abuse.

Even the victim's relatives, friends and colleagues are amenable to the considerable charm, persuasiveness and manipulativeness of the abuser.

The abuser offers a plausible rendition of the events. He interprets these events to his favor, in his favor.

People rarely have a chance to witness an abusive exchange first hand and in close quarters. It's a he said, she said situation.

In contrast the victims are often on the verge of a nervous breakdown. They don't look good, they look crazy.

And confronted with this contrast as I said, the victim is misjudged and the abuser is widely considered to have been the victim.

The system itself is not immune to these misperceptions.

The abuser uses elements of the system as I mentioned, anything from therapists to police. He uses them to pathologize the victim, to separate her from sources of sustenance and ultimately and especially from her children.

And so what can you do about it?

How should you behave with your children in the face of such almost impossible to avoid behaviors and strategies?

Narcissistic control freaks, they micromanage their children's lives and they turn them into sources of narcissistic supply to be discarded when they grow old and critical and so on and so forth.

What can you do about it?

Fighting the narcissist head on is a losing proposition and likely to get you estranged from your own children or even to lose them altogether in a custody battle.

What you can do is modeling. Modeling is a theory in psychology. Bandura is its main proponent.

Modeling says that the way to educate children, to raise them up is to provide them with a good personal example to show the child that not everyone is a narcissist.

So you need to model your son or your daughter. They're likely to encounter narcissist in the future. In a way, they will be better prepared to cope with narcissist, more alert to the existence of narcissist and narcissist she cannery.

And being exposed to a narcissistic parent renders the child more desensitized to narcissistic abuse in the future.

It's not altogether bad. It's not unadulterated evil. There are good aspects to having been exposed to a narcissistic parent in early childhood.

And for this, you should be grateful. There is nothing much you can do otherwise.

Stop wasting your money, your time, your energy and your emotional resources on this intractable problem of how to insulate your children from the abusive parents or narcissistic parents influence. You can't. It is a lost war, though it is a war in a just cause.

Instead, make yourself available to your child. The only thing you can do to prevent your child from emulating his mother or father or narcissistic is to present to the child another role model, you, the non narcissist.

Hopefully when the child grows up, the child will prefer your model to the other parents model. The child will make a choice between two models, which was the winning one.

But there's only that much you can do.

You cannot control the developmental path of your child exerting unlimited control of your child is what narcissism is all about. It is exactly what you should avoid at all costs.

However worried you might be. Narcissism does tend to bring to breed narcissism or some other forms of dysfunction, but that is not inevitable.

Not all the offspring of narcissists inexorably become narcissists. Narcissistic parents regards his or her child as a multifaceted source of narcissistic supply.

The child is considered and treated as an extension of the narcissistic personality. It is true.

The child that the narcissist seeks to settle, opens open scores with the world and with you, especially the child is supposed to realize the unfulfilled grandiose dreams, to actualize the fantasies of the narcissist.

The parent has broken dreams, unfulfilled wishes, such as role to dedicate his life or her life to fulfilling these dreams. This life by proxy can develop in two possible ways.

The narcissist can either merge with the child or the narcissist can become ambivalent towards the child. The ambivalence is a result of a conflict within the narcissist between his wish to attain his narcissistic goals through the child and his pathological destructive envy of the child and of the child's accomplishments.

So on the one hand, the narcissistic parent pushes the child to become what the narcissist had failed to become, to realize the narcissist's unfulfilled dreams and wishes, to accomplish things the narcissist could only dream of.

But then when the child does become accomplished, is successful, the narcissist wishes to destroy the child because he experiences uncontrollable or consuming envy.

And to ameliorate the unease bred by this emotional ambivalence, by this conflict dissonance, the narcissist resorts to micromanaging the child's life through myriad control mechanisms.

And these control mechanisms are guilt driven, guilt driven, you know, guilt tripping the child. I sacrifice my life for you, you owe me. Dependency driven, I need you, I cannot cope without you. Goal driven, we have a common goal which we must accomplish, it's we against the world or even explicit.

If you do not adhere to my principles, beliefs, ideology, religion, set of values, if you don't obey my instructions, if you don't follow the path that I set out for you as your parent, I'm going to impose sanctions on you.

Exercise of control helps to sustain the illusion that the child is a part of the narcissist.

By controlling the child, the narcissist renders the child an internal object which he can then micromanage and manipulate an internal object that will never abandon him.

And such sustenance calls for extraordinary levels of control on the part of the parent and obedience on the part of the child.

The relationship is typically symbiotic and emotionally vicissitudinal, turbulent. The child fulfills another important narcissistic function, narcissistic supply.

There is no denying the implied or often imaginary immortality in having a child. The early natural dependence on the child serves to assuage the fear of abandonment, separation and insecurity, which is an important driving force in a narcissist's life.

The narcissist tries to perpetuate this dependency using the aforementioned control mechanisms.

The child is the ultimate secondary source of narcissistic supply. He is always around the child. He admires the narcissist, he accumulates and remembers the narcissist's moments of glory and owing to the child's innate wish to be loved and cared for, the child can be extorted into forever giving without ever receiving.

For the narcissist, as far as the narcissist is concerned, a child is a dream come true, but only in the most egotistical sense.

When the child is perceived as reneging on his duties to provide the narcissistic parent with a constant source of adoration, constant supply for example, the emotional reaction of the narcissistic parent is harsh and revealing.

It is when the narcissistic parent is disenchanted with the child that we see the true nature of this pathological relationship.

The child then is totally objectified and rejected. The narcissist reacts to the breach in the unwritten contract between him and the child with wells of aggression and aggressive transformation.

The narcissistic parents suddenly hold the child in contempt, rages at the child, emotionally and physically and psychologically abuses the child. He tries to annihilate the real child brought to the narcissist's awareness through the child's refusal to act the way the narcissist wants him to.

And then the narcissistic parents attempts to replace the existing child with a subservient, egotistical version.

The narcissistic parents tends to produce another narcissist in the child if the exposure is massive, extensive, intensive and long term.

Narcissism is contagious.

But this outcome can be effectively countered by loving the child, providing an empathetic, predictable, just and positive upbringing which would encourage a sense of autonomy and responsibility in the child.

Provide your child with an alternative to his father's venomous and exploitative existence to his mother's overbearing and domineering and annihilating micromanagement. Trust your child to choose life over death, love over narcissism, human relationships over narcissistic supply.

Ultimately, in the vast majority of cases, children make the right choices having become adults and they don't turn out to be narcissists or abusers.

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