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 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.

smear campaign

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.

smear campaign

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.

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.

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.

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