The narcissist can’t seem to get the hint that I don’t want anything to do with them! They’ve reached everyone- my friends, my family, and even my boss! All the lies- they claimed I abused them, stole money from them, and otherwise ruined their life. Everything is a lie, but they don’t see it that way. What can I do?Your Inner Voice
Does this inner dialogue sound familiar? Does it seem like the narcissist in your life doesn’t just twist your words- but they also downright lie and discredit you as a person? Maybe they act one way in front of you, but you feel convinced they’re doing something else behind your back.
Perhaps, you’ve noticed that your loved ones have started acting differently towards you- although you can’t quite identify why. But when you attempt to draw attention to the changes, the narcissist insists everything is fine- you’re just imagining things!
If you’re feeling these feelings, they aren’t random. Your narcissist might be smearing you. Smear campaigns by narcissists often feel demoralizing and exhaustive for the victim. It may seem like things will never get better, like you will always be stuck with their manipulative tactics.
Let’s get into what you need to know and how to deal with the Narcissist’s smear campaign.
What Is a Smear Campaign?
By definition, smear campaigns refer to carefully crafted plans designed to humiliate you and tarnish your reputation. To the narcissist, the purpose of a smear campaign is to bring you down while simultaneously lifting their ego.
It should be noted that not every narcissist engages in a smear campaign. Some opt to move right into a silent treatment stance. However, if you recently ended a relationship, you should be aware of the likelihood of smearing to happen.
Smearing comes in many different flavors, and it can level in severity. In mild forms, it might be passive-aggressive comments about you behind your back. In severe conditions, smearing can include dangerous rumors, threats, and lawsuits.
Smear campaigns typically include the following elements:
- Some grain of truth: You left them! You broke their heart! You don’t love them! To some extent, these statements may be true. The narcissist often magnifies a single shard of the truth to create an entire narrative about your wrongdoings.
- A complete attack of your personality: Narcissists will talk excessively about every mistake you’ve ever made. Some of these stories may be true, but most of them are embellished and falsified to fit their vision of what’s true. Most narcissists don’t believe they are outwardly lying. Instead, their beliefs make so much sense to them that they don’t recognize them as complete lies.
- The bid for empathy: Narcissists want others to believe that they are the victims in the dynamic. They want people to think that you caused the problems and hurt them instead of vice versa. They obtain empathy by spreading lies and rumors about you while portraying themselves as the martyrs.
- Persistence: Narcissists can hold grudges for lifetimes. There are no expiration dates for their feelings of anger or injustice. Once they believe you are the enemy, you will remain that way in their minds.
Why Does a Narcissist Do a Smear Campaign?
Make no mistake about it-smearing is meant to hurt you. The narcissist feels vulnerable or rejected, so they engage in this campaign to restore a sense of power.
If you ended the relationship, you made them look bad. As a result, they will attempt to punish you for this decision. Sometimes, narcissists also start recognizing that you’re “onto them.” When this happens, they will try to smear your name so others won’t believe you if you decide to come forward.
Reading Suggestion: Why Do Narcissists Come Back To Old Relationships
Smearing helps narcissists feel supported- when they can gain empathy and trust from other people, they obtain more control and become the hero once again. In its simplest form, these efforts offer damage control.
Narcissists cannot assume responsibility for making mistakes. They believe they are superior to other people, and they feel justified in their smearing campaign. To them, it’s simply a matter of “sharing useful information” to people who might need it. In their minds, they are doing the world a favor by protecting them from you.
What Are Common Smear Campaign Examples?
When dealing with a narcissist, it’s important to remember that they often engage in various manipulative tactics to satisfy their needs.
At times, you may not even recognize such tactics as cruel. This doesn’t mean you are ignorant or unintelligent- it just means that the narcissist knows your blindspots and has learned to exploit them. Likewise, if you’re no longer together, you may not be aware of the smearing.
Narcissists recognize that family members may be the hardest people to manipulate. After all, they might be protective, supportive, and unconditionally loving towards you. Therefore, smearing tends to be far more insidious.
First, the narcissist often smears the family to the partner first- and this may happen years before you end the relationship. The comments may be along the lines of:
- “Your family doesn’t want to see you happy.”
- “Your family is so dysfunctional! Can’t you see?”
- “Your family has never wanted you to be independent.”
Narcissists use these statements to challenge how you perceive your family. These mental gymnastics are an attempt to increase tension. They want you to feel less trusting and compassionate towards your loved ones- this distancing allows you to be more dependent on them.
Once they start smearing you, they often run to your family first. They may use comments like:
- “I always loved you guys. I don’t know why he never wanted us to visit!”
- “It’s breaking my heart, but I can’t keep going on like this. She’s become so abusive towards me, and I don’t see it getting any better.”
- “I hope you know that I’ve tried to make things better, but his mind seems to be made up. He doesn’t want to give us a chance. My heart breaks for the children.”
Narcissists often attempt to test your friends’ loyalty by making cruel comments about you. They may start subtly with comments like, “I’m worried about her drinking. It keeps getting worse and worse,” or “It was quite challenging to trust her- she was always flirting with that one coworker. It was so hard for me.”
They may also double-down their efforts with dangerous lies like, “ I swear, I shouldn’t be telling you this, but he sometimes hit the kids when he got really upset. I was always worried he would try to attack me, too!”
These comments are intended to elicit both shock and empathy. The narcissist’s overarching goal is to turn your friends against you.
With Your Work
Your employment can be incredibly threatening to the narcissist. Your job provides a sense of freedom and independence- a narcissist can’t necessarily influence you, your boss, or your coworkers- until they do.
Narcissists will often drop subtle comments to question your employment. These may include:
- “Wow, I can’t believe they asked you to do that. Seems like that’s putting a lot on your plate.”
- “Your boss is unreasonable. That’s completely unfair.”
- “You deserve to be treated better. I wish you could find a job that respected your amazing skills!”
These gaslighting comments will often make you question your reality. Even if some of the statements have an element of truth, the narcissist often exaggerates the context. As a result, it can leave you with feelings of tension and distrust towards your employer.
At times, the narcissist may also subconsciously sabotage your work performance. They may do this by:
- Keeping you up late at night so you feel tired before an important meeting.
- Booking many spontaneous vacations that result in you needing to take time off (even if you don’t have accrued vacation time).
- Feigning regular illness and convincing you to stay home to take care of them.
- Buying lavish items to “prove” how much money you have (to convince you that you don’t need to work).
Many narcissists try to smear their victims by abusing the court system. They might threaten lawsuits to intimidate or scare you. If you’re going through a divorce, they might overwhelm you with excessive paperwork, swiftly changing agreements, adding on new demands, and attempting to manipulate lawyers and judges.
Narcissists will often highlight any weakness you have to turn people away from you. For example, if you have a mental health condition or medical issue, they will exaggerate the symptoms to prove how unstable, unhealthy, or unfit you are.
With Future Partners
Sometimes, narcissists will engage in smear campaign tactics for several years after the relationship has ended. If they catch wind that you have a new partner, they may continue with the gossip and slander.
At times, they may reach out to the person directly with comments like:
- “Hey man, I know this is weird, but I wouldn’t be able to sleep well at night if I didn’t tell you that she ______ to me.”
- “I just wanted to let you know that he cheated on me. It broke my heart. I hope things are better for you, but I wanted to give you a heads-up.”
- “Did you know what she struggles with _____? I hope she’s been working on it, but it ruined our marriage.”
How to Respond To Smear Campaigns?
How do you counter a narcissist smear campaign? First, you must recognize that you can’t win this campaign. If anything, narcissists look forward to your rebuttal. It gives them ammunition- it offers attention, which they can use to continue building their case against you.
When you respond, you’re still playing their game and abiding by their rules. Therefore, the system remains rigged against you.
Like with most narcissistic dynamics, the best response is no response. Although this is much easier said than done, doing nothing tends to be the most effective strategy.
In other words, don’t engage. Don’t fight back. Don’t try to convince the narcissist that they are wrong or that they are hurting you.
Dealing WIth Other People
At times, your loved ones may side with the narcissist. This, of course, can hurt tremendously. You may feel an immense urge to share your side of the story. You might also want to engage in your own smear campaign against the narcissist.
Unfortunately, these tactics don’t usually work. People often see what they want to see- if the narcissist has convinced them of their truth, they will usually believe it. Additionally, you already know that the narcissist can be incredibly charming and convincing. They know how to captivate an audience by faking emotion and creating a powerful story.
If people inquire about your opinion, it’s best to remain neutral, objective, and even-keeled. Remember that these people may run to the narcissist with anything you tell them- and the narcissist may use this information to continue harming you.
You can try the following statements:
- “My story is different from theirs, and I’m going to leave it at that.”
- “I appreciate your concern, but I’m not at liberty to discuss this right now.”
- “At the moment, I don’t feel the need to defend myself.”
Save Any Evidence
If you have any proof of documented lies, make sure to save copies. Documentation may include text messages, social media posts, voicemails, etc. This evidence may help you if you need legal representation against the narcissist.
Final Thoughts: How to Recover From a Smear Campaign?
Being the victim of a smear campaign can feel painful, frightening, and confusing. You might toggle through intense feelings of anger, sadness, and even some denial about their disturbing behavior.
Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Consider reaching out for professional support if you need help processing them. Therapy provides a safe and nonjudgmental space for you to discuss your relationship and learn appropriate coping skills for recovering from your pain.
Healing is possible, although it may take some time. Remember to stand in your truth- you know who you are. The narcissist may do everything they can to try to convince you otherwise. But the more you choose to honor your worth, the less power they will have over you.
- Branan, N. (2011). Why Smear Campaigns Work. Scientific American Mind, 21(6), 7–7. https://doi.org/10.1038/scientificamericanmind0111-7a
- Iivonen, K., & Moisander, J. (2014). Rhetorical Construction of Narcissistic CSR Orientation. Journal of Business Ethics, 131(3), 649–664. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10551-014-2298-1
- Germain, M.-L. (2017). How NPD Leaders Perceive Themselves and Others. Narcissism at Work, 71–84. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-60330-8_5