What do you do when someone you love chooses someone you used to love?
“I thought they were my friends. I thought they would be there for me! I thought I could trust them. I CANNOT believe they are siding with him. They KNOW what he did to me. My friends KNOW how badly he acted. They said themselves that he treated me like crap! Yet…here we are, six months later, and they aren’t returning my phone calls and now they’re posting pictures with him on social media. When will the injustice of this stop? When will it be enough? It’s one thing to lose a relationship that you know was bad for you. It’s completely different to lose a friend that you thought would be good to you!”
After a toxic relationship the layers of betrayal seem to be endless. Survivors are left questioning everything from who they are, what really happened within the relationship, and who they can trust in the future. In fact, most wonder if they can trust anyone in their future because their view of humanity must be reconstructed along with the work of reconstructing themselves. Questions such as “Is there ANYONE good out there? Am I good? Is something wrong with me? Why do I attract these types of relationships?” resonate in their heads like a goldfish swimming ferociously in a tiny bowl. Their thoughts, like the fish, are swimming in circles and not going anywhere. Survivors feel exhausted and trapped yet don’t know what else to do. So they just keep swimming and bumping into the same glass walls over and over and over. It. Is. Exhausting. In such a vulnerable time survivors typically turn to friends to discuss what happened and try to make sense of their realities.
And then…betrayal. Finding out a friend has become a former friend is crushing – absolutely crushing. “Why would they do this?” becomes the survivor’s battle cry. Or maybe just the survivors broken cry. Because contrary to the popular stereotype of broken, codependent women who would “put up with anything” I find that most women in toxic relationships tend to have the qualities we hope to see in all our daughters – qualities such as kindness, loyalty, generosity, loving hearts, hopeful optimism and the ability to forgive. The problem is, these exact qualities are what toxic people use to manipulate and these exact qualities are what survivors think hold relationships of all types together. And, the torturous dance continues. When the dance with the survivor is through the toxic person often brings the survivor’s friends onto the dance floor. And, when a survivor has been kind, loyal, giving, loving, hopeful and forgiving to her friend and that friend finds themselves in the dance and chooses to partner with the ex, it is especially horrible.
At that point the former friend becomes a flying monkey.
If you have studied the terminology of toxic relationships then you have probably come across the term “flying monkeys.” Flying monkeys are a reference from the Wicked Witch in the Wizard of Oz. There is a classic scene where she stands at the window and screeches, “Fly! Fly!” as viewers see the sky filled with hundreds of vile creatures out to do her dirty work. It seems that Dorothy and her three companions are doomed against such insurmountable odds. People who study narcissism use the term flying monkeys to identify people the narcissist surrounds himself or herself with who are willing to do the dirty work or give into the denial required to align with the toxic person.
People love based on who they are NOT who you are. Let me say that again people love because of who they are NOT because of who you are. And, if you are recovering from a toxic relationship my suggestion would be to get it tattooed on your forehead so you can remind yourself of this fact every time you look in the mirror! If you have had a parent, teacher, therapist, or coach tell you that you need to change yourself to become loveable then it is time to drop the lie. The secret to healthy relationships is finding people who are good at loving. Not changing yourself in an attempt to be loved. This is true in romantic relationships and true in friendships. People love because of who they are not because of who you are. Loyal people will be loyal to you. Giving people will give to you. Cowards will take the path of least resistance and pretend that they are attached to a cause. They will pretend they are aligning with the toxic person in an attempt to do the right thing. They aren’t. They are cowards. They are flying monkeys.
Flying monkeys typically fall into four categories.
- People who are toxic themselves.
It is no secret that birds of a feather flock together, but if you didn’t see the signs of one toxic person then you probably missed the signs of toxicity within their friends too. Count it a blessing when these people go!
- People who want to follow the path of least resistance.
As humans we are designed to survive and oftentimes that means conserving energy. This can be from everything to wanting to sit rather than stand or nap rather than run, but it is no different when it involves flying monkeys. Taking a stand against a toxic person requires energy that many people don’t want to put forth. Cat memes are more popular than crusades to help the most vulnerable among us for a reason. Humankind is lazy. Opinions are more abundant than actions. The silent majority screams, “Let me be entertained rather than challenged!’ Yes, you expected better from the people you have loved so well for so long. I understand how much it hurts. But, let it hurt that they weren’t stronger; don’t hurt because you think you weren’t good enough. They were the weak ones. Most people don’t want the truth. They want the version of the truth that makes life easiest for them. It has nothing to do with you – nothing.
- People who have chosen to stay in a toxic relationship and aren’t brave enough to face the truth in their own lives.
So often the people most opinionated about you staying in a bad situation are people who themselves have chosen to stay in bad situations. They have spent years telling themselves it was the right decision. Telling themselves they did the right thing. Telling themselves their relationship isn’t really that bad so your relationship can’t be that bad. Telling themselves that things in their own lives have gotten better with time rather than facing the fact that they just became accustomed to their own version of hell. Your bravery is terrifying. It is easier to make you the bad guy then to realize they, too, are with a bad guy.
- People who are tricked because they were good too.
The more people you are able to put into this category the better off you will be. People who believe the best in people are extremely likely to fall into the narcissists trap. If you are a good person then it is likely that you were friends with good people. And, narcissists trick good people. The more often you can choose compassion over anger the better off you will be. Knowing that “he/she tricked me too” and giving them grace is much easier than beating yourself up for thinking you didn’t explain your side of the story well enough. It hurts, but you are better equipped to find newer, truer friends now who can love ALL of you. Not just the version of you the toxic person wanted you to be.
No flying monkey or former friend is going to admit these things to you of course. In fact, they may not even admit the reason behind their disloyalty to themselves. They will come up with a cause or a reason to feel righteous because they are “doing the right thing” which will make you feel worse and wonder why you are so wrong. You’re not wrong. You aren’t crazy. Humans are simply wonderful at making themselves feel good even when they don’t do good. They are wonderful at convincing themselves that the choice that serves their best interest is also the choice of morality. They convince themselves they are right which in this case makes you wrong. If you are familiar with the old breakup line “It’s not you. It’s me!” it would be incredibly helpful to visualize your former friends saying that to you. Their choice isn’t about you. It’s about them.
In one of the last scenes of the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy throws water on the Wicked Witch in an attempt to save the scarecrow and accidentally, although quite conveniently, kills the Witch and saves them all. As soon as the Witch vanishes forever (dramatically, of course, as any true narcissist would) the flying monkeys instantly proclaim, “Hail Dorothy! The Wicked Witch is dead!” It took the flying monkeys exactly half a second to begin stuttering that they never wanted to work for the Wicked Witch or do those terrible things. They were victims too they proclaimed! With the narcissistic witch gone they instantly pledged their allegiance to Dorothy. Did they shift because it was the right thing to do or because they suddenly changed and realized their past sins? No. They shifted their allegiance because it was easiest. They shifted their loyalty not because they cared about the Wicked With or about Dorothy, but because it was the most convenient way to save their own skins. If you have lost a friend who you never thought you would lose its okay to grieve and try to have compassion wherever appropriate. But, also take comfort in the fact that they didn’t choose your ex over you, they quite simply chose themselves.