Are you unintentionally enabling the narcissist in your life? Here's how to tell.

Are you friends with a narcissist?

Narcissists don't always act alone when they manipulate and emotionally abuse their victims. Often times, they may be encouraged by enablers who provide external validation to help justify their pattern of toxic behaviors.

"These can be toxic people who don't really see the behaviors from the narcissist as bad or negative," says Lisa Sonni, a certified relationship coach specializing in abuse recovery and education. "They're typically people who err on the side of the narcissist, agree with their behaviors (and) buy into the story … that the narcissist is the victim."

A narcissist's enabler is someone who blindly encourages their unhealthy and toxic behaviors.
A narcissist's enabler is someone who blindly encourages their unhealthy and toxic behaviors.

A narcissist's enabler may, for instance, encourage victims to forgive their narcissistic friend. Or blame the victim for abandoning the narcissist or setting boundaries. But Sonni says it's important to clarify that enablers are people around the narcissist – not the victim of the abuse.

"There are many reasons victims stay (with the narcissist), and it isn't enabling abuse," Sonni clarifies. "It could be out of fear, isolation, financial dependence or the fact you have children together. But saying a victim is enabling their abuser fails to take into account the complex dynamic of how abusive relationships work."

What is an enabler? Why are they called 'flying monkeys'?

The term "enabler" is not exclusive to narcissism. Commonly used in reference to addiction, it describes anyone who encourages negative or self-destructive behaviors.

Similarly, a narcissist's enabler will blindly support and defend them, according to Sonni.

It's why they're colloquially known as "flying monkeys," a nod to the Wicked Witch's minions in "The Wizard of Oz."

But unlike other enablers, they may consequently adopt abusive tactics themselves (such as gaslighting, baiting and projection) in order to make excuses for the narcissist.

What are the signs of enabling a narcissist?

Common signs of enabling include:

  • Refusing to stand up to the narcissist.

  • Doing damage control and cleaning up their messes.

  • Shielding them from consequences.

  • Apologizing on the narcissist's behalf or rationalizing their behaviors to others.

  • Blaming others for the narcissist.

  • Guilt tripping victims of narcissistic abuse.

Why do people protect narcissists?

Some enablers may be toxic themselves, justifying their friend or family member's abusive tendencies because of a lack of empathy, fear of disapproval or a self-serving effort to comfort themselves about their own unhealthy actions.

But not everyone who enables a narcissist is a "flying monkey." Some may be unaware that they're doing so, genuinely believing the narcissist's lies and manipulation. They may also feel emotionally or financially dependent on the narcissist, and therefore feel obligated to remain complicit. Other times, the enabler may reinforce the narcissist out of fear— to protect themselves and avoid being targeted.

The problem with enabling a narcissist

Whether or not you're intentionally supporting a narcissist, Sonni advises against doing so – even if you think you're helping or protecting yourself.

Victims of narcissistic abuse typically experience manipulation and emotional abuse and "are already questioning if they are the problem."

"Having an enabler only adds more credibility for the narcissist," Sonni adds, noting that this external validation may influence a victim to stay longer, or permanently, in the abusive relationship.

Instead, experts agree the best solution for dealing with a narcissist is no contact. But when that isn't possible, try setting boundaries with "gray rocking," a communication technique that involves being as disengaged and unresponsive as possible.

"It really comes down to being able to step back and see the sides of both people, not just the narcissist," Sonni says. "If someone is being particularly negative, combative or high conflict with another person, it's about not just blindly following what one person tells you. It's about seeing there are two sides, meaning the victim will have a different interaction and experience than the narcissist and enabler."

How to know if you're dealing with a narcissist? Read these

The ultimate narcissism explainer: Here's what it is – and what it isn't

What it's like to divorce a narcissist: One woman's battle with post-separation abuse

Can narcissists change?: We talked to diagnosed narcissists who claim they have

What is 'echoism'?: Are you prone to narcissistic, emotionally abusive relationships?

'Pseudomutuality': Why it takes so long to spot narcissistic abuse

Are you dating a narcissist?: Watch out for these red flags.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What is a narcissist enabler? How to know if you're encouraging abuse