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5 tactics to Survive a Narcissist’s Smear Campaign

* I generally write using the pronouns he/him when referring to narcissists, but females are just as likely to be narcissists or exhibit narcissistic traits. So please don't think just because article uses the word him or he that it could not be a woman in that same role.

Expect a smear campaign following the grand finale with a Narcissist.

A smear campaign is exactly what it sounds like – they’re going to destroy your name among your friends and family, and they’re going to do it first to appear like a victim rather than the vicious monster they are.

Smear campaigns are a form of damage control used by narcissists when they become aware that they have been exposed.

Smear campaigns are frequently used to depict the former victim as insane, bipolar, addict, alcoholic, unstable, good digger, thief, cheater, or poor parent.

By fabricating a sequence of falsehoods, exaggerations, half-truths, suspicions, and false charges about the victim’s conduct, the perpetrator works to destroy the victim’s credibility and sanity.

The reasons why a smear campaign is so effective at harming the victim are as follows: the victim loses faith in all friends and their support system; they feel alone, scared, and unsure about what to do.

Consider this as a ‘sorting hat’ from Harry Potter; this will be the process of weeding out true friends and people you no longer require in your life.

Most experts believe that narcissists never go gently into the night; instead of just disappearing, they follow the scorched-earth strategy, leaving nothing but the charred remains of relationships and, in some cases, reputations.

In his book The Narcissist You Know, Joseph Burgo makes the fascinating point that the narcissist is so dedicated to his “truth” that his lies may not be conscious.

Yes, read that line again and take it in.

While they are always the heroic heroes when things go right, they publicly proclaim their victimhood—no matter how unlikely—when things go wrong or have the potential to disgrace them.

The smear campaign is motivated by a number of factors, including a desire to be right and have his or her “truth” become the dominant narrative, the desire to maintain status and standing (while ensuring that his or her inner hidden shame does not become public), and the desire to maintain control over one’s image.

The narcissistic lady or man meticulously curates her or his public identity; looking successful, accomplished, and put-together is crucial.

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The smear campaign is often unwittingly facilitated by others who incorrectly label the daughter as an ingrate or impetuous; don’t forget that there is a Commandment that appears to have the mother’s back as well, because the culture tends to be on the parent’s side when there is an effort to correct old patterns or full-fledged estrangement.

Not every mother will launch a smear campaign—mine, for example, did not—but when she does, it is typically a hurricane.

Nothing surprised me more than the extent to which some mothers who feel betrayed by their adult daughters would go in order to exact retribution, gain the upper hand, preserve power or control, or maintain their social position by maligning their offspring.

Mothers who insinuated themselves into divorce proceedings, taking the side of the soon-to-be ex-husband, mothers who tried to break up their daughters’ marriages by inventing illicit affairs, mothers who notified social services of fabricated charges of child abuse, mothers who insinuated themselves into divorce proceedings, taking the side of the soon-to-be ex-husband, and more were among the stories I heard.

Some mothers contacted their bosses and coworkers as well. It was surreal, and some of the stories were so unbelievable that I was afraid that if they were put in a novel, an editor would demand that they be removed because they were unrealistic—unless, of course, they actually happened.

We all feel better when we’re in control of a situation and can manage our feelings, as opposed to being tossed around by random waves or being beset by someone else’s aggression, but I’ve come to understand through firsthand experience, research, and interviews that the narcissist’s need for control is akin to being tossed around by random waves or being beset by someone else’s aggression.

Despite the narcissist’s outward appearances—he or she may look in command and supremely self-assured—experts believe that underneath the surface, he or she is plagued by intense guilt and a lack of self-worth. Furthermore, as described by Craig

Malkin in his book Rethinking Narcissism, the narcissist hides his or her natural feelings, such as fear, grief, and loneliness, out of a profound dread of being rejected for experiencing them.

Control is what holds it all together for him or her, as well as providing security for the more delicate components.

When you examine these reasons, the smear campaign follows its own logic, doesn’t it?

The narcissist isn’t going to risk having an alternative truth established against him or her.

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How to Survive a smear campaign in one piece.

Your strategies will obviously vary depending on your relationship with the narcissist in question; it’s one thing to be dealing with an ex-spouse with whom you’ll have to maintain contact because you have children, another to be dealing with a friend or lover, and yet another to be dealing with an adult child dealing with a narcissist.

That said, it’ll be difficult and unpleasant, especially because it’ll confirm every negative idea you’ve ever had about the individual, and it’ll likely harm your confidence in humanity in the near term.

1. Don’t get involved.

The “Vindictive Narcissist” is a type identified by Joseph Burgo in his book The Narcissist You Know; as he writes, “… the drive to prove oneself a winner and triumph over shame renders the truth irrelevant.”

That’s important to remember because, while your desire to clear the air is understandable, it won’t get you very far and will keep you in the narcissist’s orbit.

Burgo mentions the smear campaign directly, stating, “…She may make obvious lies as part of her smear effort.”

Though you will undoubtedly be upset, it is critical that you do not respond or seek to turn the tables. If the Vindictive Narcissist believes she is in a struggle with you, she will increase the intensity of her assault in order to win.

Take the high road and tell the truth; don’t talk badly of your adversary unless it’s absolutely necessary.” This is difficult medicine to chew, but at the end of the day, you’ll feel good about how you behaved yourself; that’s what matters.

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2. Concentrate on what you can handle rather than what you can’t.

The narcissist will make an effort to sway people to his or her side, and there’s not much you can do about it. It’s especially true if you’re an adult child trying to establish boundaries or quitting cold turkey.

People want to believe in the mother myths—that all women are caring, that all moms love—and, unless they are truly open-minded or have personal experience, they are more likely to side with the parents.

This is difficult to accept, especially when close relatives are involved, but concentrate on the things you can control rather than the ones you can’t.

If you’re going through a divorce with someone who has a lot of narcissistic tendencies, the same advice applies: don’t interact or play tit-for-tat, but take extensive notes and write everything down.

Make sure your lawyer understands how individuals with narcissistic tendencies act; for more information, check this piece, which contains perspectives from both an attorney and Malkin.

3. Expect the narcissist to take on the victim’s position.

I can attest that this drove me insane during my divorce when my ex claimed that I had fled and abandoned him, leaving out all the reasons why and connect-the-dots; the fact that his claim might be proven to be false didn’t deter him in the least.

It’s much more frequent when your mother lists all she’s ever done for you—food! Clothing! Shelter! —and will portray you as a jerk at best and a lunatic at worst, while portraying herself as the helpless victim.

As Burgo points out, the narcissist is likely telling this story to everyone who will listen and, more frighteningly, believe it.

All of this is depressing, especially if you have experienced emotional or other forms of abuse. But, at the end of the day, you know more about what is true and what isn’t than the person on the other side.

Again, in the short term, this will be of little comfort, but in the long run, it will be worthwhile.

4. Not backwards, but forwards.

I’m not a therapist or a psychologist, but you don’t need to be either to recognize that a smear campaign will shake you to your core and make you feel extremely insecure; after all, this isn’t some random stranger pursuing you, but someone you cared about or loved and was connected to in significant ways.

The way out varies again depending on the connection. We cannot pick our parents, and while we may feel guilty for exerting ourselves and despondent because we are being rejected once more, the reality is that we were born into this position. If the smear campaign is the result of going no contact, it’s critical that you don’t fall back into old self-criticism patterns, such as excoriating yourself for all your failed attempts to please her or him or being furious with yourself for not acting sooner.

As I explain in Daughter Detox, embracing yourself is an important part of the healing process; you acted while you could.

Being the target of a smear campaign by someone you choose to be with brings up a slew of other, often contradictory, ideas and feelings. Yes, it’ll be necessary to figure out how you got here, but doing so while attempting to keep afloat isn’t the best option.

One of the most difficult things to do is to avoid generalizing from the experience; it’s simple to jump from “one man” to “all males,” but it’s critical to acknowledge the particular. This is a single individual who is doing this to you; don’t let it affect your outlook on life. Not everyone has a high level of narcissistic characteristics.

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Seek help, since going it alone won’t get you anywhere.

Working with a gifted therapist to help you navigate these waters can be life-changing, so please look after yourself. He or she will also assist you in remaining as unreactive as possible, which will be beneficial.

As Shakespeare predicted, the truth would eventually come out.

Emergency Numbers

Rape Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the nation’s largest organization fighting sexual violence: (800) 656-HOPE / (800) 810-7440 (TTY)

988 Mental Health Emergency Hotline: Calling 988 will connect you to a crisis counselor regardless of where you are in the United States.

911 Emergency

The National Runaway Safeline: 800-RUNAWAY (800-786-2929)

Self Abuse Finally Ends (S.A.F.E)

American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, Trauma & Child Abuse Resource Center

Domestic Violence Shelters & Resources

Futures Without Violence

National Center for Victims of Crime

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

National Sexual Violence Resource Center

Prevent Child Abuse America

Stalking Prevention, Awareness, and Resource Center (SPARC)

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine: 1-800-950-NAMI, or text “HELPLINE” to 62640. Both services are available between 10 a.m. and 10 p.m. ET, Monday–Friday

National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255); www.suicidepreventionlifeline.orgOr, just dial 988

Suicide Prevention, Awareness, and Support: www.suicide.org

Crisis Text Line: Text REASON to 741741 (free, confidential and 24/7). In English and Spanish

Self-Harm Hotline: 1-800-DONT CUT (1-800-366-8288)

Family Violence Helpline: 1-800-996-6228

American Association of Poison Control Centers: 1-800-222-1222

National Council on Alcoholism & Drug Dependency: 1-800-622-2255

LGBTQ Hotline: 1-888-843-4564

National Maternal Mental Health Hotline: 1-833-TLC-MAMA (1-833-852-6262)

The Trevor Project: 1-866-488-7386 or text “START” to 678678. Standard text messaging rates apply. Available 24/7/365. (Provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer & questioning—LGBTQ—young people under 25.)

The SAGE LGBT Elder Hotline connects LGBT older people and caretakers with friendly responders. 1-877-360-LGBT (5428)

The Trans Lifeline is staffed by transgender people for transgender people:
1-877-565-8860 (United States)
1-877-330-6366 (Canada)

Veterans Crisis Line: https://www.veteranscrisisline.net

International Suicide Prevention Directory: findahelpline.com

The StrongHearts Native Helpline is a confidential and anonymous culturally appropriate domestic violence and dating violence helpline for Native Americans, available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. CT. Call 1-844-762-8483.

‘Find a Therapist’ Online Directories


UK & Republic of Ireland

  • Emergency: 112 or 999
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 90 90 (UK – local rate)
  • Hotline: +44 (0) 8457 90 91 92 (UK minicom)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 90 (ROI – local rate)
  • Hotline: 1850 60 90 91 (ROI minicom)
  • YourLifeCounts.org: https://yourlifecounts.org/find-help/

2 thoughts on “5 tactics to Survive a Narcissist’s Smear Campaign”

  1. I worked at a company for 5yrs I resigned b/c my boss who I never dated began stalking me I never made any passes at him GOD knows I would never. I left thinking it would stop but I was wrong I’ve tried to start I tried to start over that’s when the smear campaign began in my church, family even in my own home my Moms husband fed into the smear campaign and he continued it himself as if he was my former boss. My Mom sometimes well tell him to knock it off but I realized the reason why my Moms husband believed the smear campaign & is spreading the lies is b/c he’s a narcissist just like my old boss. All I do is pray & pray that this mess will end I’ve lost 10 yrs of my life b/c of this smear campaign I can’t keep a job b/c ppl don’t wanna hear that stuff and the lies are embarrassing as well. I going back to school to get my degree to start my life over but I know my former boss will find out he uses different ppl to pick ppl in my family to find out stuff so I just don’t tell anyone anything know one knows yet that I’m starting school on purpose I just don’t know if I can handle another smear campaign when I start classes for my degree. I will admit I cut off everybody but two ppl b/c I know I can trust them. How do I manage this going forward.

  2. I am surprised there are not more respondents here. I only became aware of the whole Narcissist thing a couple of years ago. My experiences:
    I experienced a pretty bad childhood full of verbal and physical abuse, actual torture, the identified patient thing, while my older brother got the red carpet treatment. I didn’t realize that the younger brother was “on deck” to become the Golden one once the older brother was institutionalized for Schizophrenia. I suspected that my egg donor withheld her full nutso buse of me until the younger golden boy agreed to finally visit the older golden boy in the mental hospital. Then she went off the rails full bore abuse toward me, complete with smearing and the long anticipated disinheritance.
    My other experience was at my police job. There were actually 2 Narc bosses, one dominant, 1 flying monkey. I inadvertently exposed the lesser Narc. I spent the last 5 years of my career fighting trumped up charges. That abuse id very common in the public sector, because there is no accountability up on high, and the taxpayers get the lawyer’s bills. You see this kind of thing in other areas, almost daily news. I suspect that I was smeared after I retired, and so I could not get a decent job. Narcs make the best liars! I am happy to report that I did make it to retirement, though, and several of these Narc nutjobs have since died.
    As an aside – the high ranking police supervisor was sadistic to many people in the several departments that he worked for, a sort of “Typhoid Mary.” Because of his sadism, I took a proxy Hares Psychopathy Inventory test for him. He came in a couple of points below Ted Bundy. But keep in mind, I could not answer the questions about his childhood, which was before my time. They really need to do brain MRI’s to look for abnormalities, before they actually hire. It would be money well spent.

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