A narcissistic smear campaign is used to discredit another person by hijacking the narrative of a relationship after it has ended. A narcissist will spread lies or create embellishments about their victim in order to destroy the individual’s reputation. This is a common behavior for those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) when they realize they have lost control over this other person.
What Is a Narcissistic Smear Campaign?
A narcissistic smear campaign is a narcissistic manipulation tactic used to harm a person’s reputation and isolate them from their support network. While this method is most commonly used by those with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD), smear campaigns are not that different from typical efforts to slander an individual–such as that between politicians in an election. However, one conducted by a narcissist will be vindictive and persistent. Often, this is exactly what a narcissist does at the end of a relationship.
Elements of a Narcissistic Smear Campaign
A smear campaign is often conducted by a vindictive narcissist who is seeking revenge against their victim. Usually, they are angry at this person for ending the relationship or doing something that makes them feel wronged. In order to villainize the victim, the narcissist uses lies, exaggerations, and embellishments of the truth to instill doubt about the victim’s reputation among others.
Elements of a narcissistic smear campaign include:
- It’s vengeful: There is almost always a perceived injury–such as a threat to their pride–that causes a narcissist to engage in a smear campaign.
- It is done overtly: Their behavior is often excessive. Smear campaigns are much more than the occasional talking behind someone’s back. These are persistent and consistent acts to harm another person’s reputation.
- It is done purposefully: A narcissist knows what they are doing. Their actions are not done by mistake, despite what they might say to others about “just being concerned.”
- It is persistent: Even when faced with backlash, such as someone not believing them, their behavior persists.
- It contains narcissistic projection: Many with NPD traits project their bad qualities onto others. If they lie and steal, they accuse the target of doing those things.
- It’s calculated: Narcissists know who they can and can’t manipulate in their smear campaign. No person is off limits, but they usually have an idea of who will believe what lies.1
Why Narcissists Use Smear Campaigns
There are many reasons why a narcissist uses a smear campaign, and they often vary depending on the nature of the relationship with the victim. Usually they revolve around a need for revenge, a goal to discredit the target, and the narcissist’s own lack of compassion and empathy.
Below are some reasons why a narcissist may use a smear campaign:
To Protect Their Image
A smear campaign may be used to protect a narcissist’s facade. Sometimes this is due to low-self esteem and self worth, or to avoid or decrease any narcissistic injury they have experienced.
To Maintain Control
Because narcissists typically have control issues, a smear campaign may be used as a way to remain in control of a situation. If they feel they are losing power over a person, this can cause the narcissist to go full force into a smear campaign in order to try to convince others of their “side.”
To Appear Like the Victim
Many people with narcissistic traits believe they are doing what they need to do, and aren’t behaving inappropriately. Often, such as in the case of ending a relationship or friendship, a narcissist feels that they are the ones being victimized. A smear campaign is used to further this false narrative they have been wronged.
To Get Revenge
When the person with NPD traits feels wronged, a smear campaign can be used to get revenge on the person for any perceived offense. Whether they do this by making a victim look bad to their boss, other family members, the court system, or their social circle, the narcissist creates a sense of doubt about the individual as a part of their efforts for revenge.
To Accomplish a Goal or Victory
Not all smear campaigns happen at the end of a romantic relationship. Some occur in the workplace, especially if one has a boss or coworker with narcissistic traits. For example, office smear campaigns achieve a goal of making the narcissist look good, and their coworkers look bad.
Examples of Narcissist Smear Campaign
A narcissistic smear campaign can occur in any kind of relationship. No matter the type–friendship, romantic, office, or familial–no one is safe from a narcissist’s vengeful efforts.
Targeting their own family is not off limits when a narcissist feels wronged. A narcissistic parent might use a smear campaign against an estranged child or the family scapegoat in order to distract others from the family dysfunction, or discredit any allegations of abuse or trauma.
Probably the most recognizable smear campaign is one that occurs against the narcissist’s ex-partner. This is often done as an act of revenge, as the narcissist feels injured by this person ending the relationship.
For example, a narcissistic ex-partner will smear a person in an attempt to discredit them as a parent, create lies in court, and try to turn others in the family and circle of friends against them. It is much more than “breakup drama,” or a “high conflict divorce,” as it is often labeled, and thus commonly excused.
Sometimes, a narcissist may use a smear campaign against a friend in order to discredit and isolate them. A narcissistic friend will go out of their way to hurt the reputation of a friend who they feel has shamed them in some way. While many who are not familiar with this tactic often brush it off as “normal drama,” a smear campaign is a severe form of bullying.
A narcissistic coworker may use a smear campaign against a colleague or officemate to elevate their position or reputation within the workplace. Similarly, a narcissistic boss could spread rumors about an ex-employee to prevent them from succeeding in their new role, or with the goal of making them look bad to other staff or upper management.
Religious or Spiritual Cults
It is very common for cults to use smear campaigns against someone who they feel is putting the “faith” at risk by speaking out against them. They may use “behavior modification” on current members in order to create a mutual and shared sense of doubt and disdain against the person who has left the cult.2
8 Tips for Dealing With a Narcissistic Smear Campaign
How you respond to a smear campaign can make all the difference in whether or not it continues to escalate. Although you may feel angry, humiliated, and helpless, you must not engage. Staying distant from the narcissist allows you to maintain a healthy mental state. Ultimately, remember that you decided to cut this person off for a reason–it is important to take that into consideration when determining how to respond.
Below are eight ways to deal with a narcissistic smear campaign:
1. Don’t Feed Into Their Manipulation
As difficult as it may seem, staying calm and collected when dealing with a narcissist is essential. Sometimes, if someone refuses to react, this can help stop a smear campaign in its tracks. At the very least, it will usually prevent it from getting worse. Fighting back against the smear campaign can trigger narcissistic rage, which will only increase the narcissist’s desire to maintain their vengeful efforts.
2. Don’t Try to Persuade Others
This can be one of the most frustrating things for victims of a narcissistic smear campaign. Unfortunately, trying to persuade someone that the information they’re being fed is false can have the opposite effect of making you look like the vindictive one. Those who believe a narcissist’s lies are likely not your true friends.
3. Pick Your Battles
When dealing with a narcissistic smear campaign, pick your battles. If the narcissist is making claims about your children, family, or employment, these are important to address. Everything else, such as lies that you have an addiction or some other nonsense, simply ignore it. Eventually, their lies will catch up to them and their vindictive behaviors will shine through.
4. Model Good Behavior
Whether it be remaining a positive example to your children or just choosing to avoid stepping to the narcissist’s level, conducting yourself professionally and respectfully at all times is necessary. If you bash the person, others will question if what they are hearing is true.
5. Stay True to Yourself
Staying true to yourself during this time is crucial. A narcissist is doing everything they can to get you to react in order to justify their claims of you being “crazy,” “bipolar,” or “selfish.” Do not give them the satisfaction of reacting to their claims. Remember your worth.
6. Seek Support From Others
Staying in contact with loved ones provides you with much-needed support and guidance. However, cease contact with mutual friends or colleagues who are acting as narcissistic enablers, or “flying monkeys.” Focus your energy on staying close to those who truly support you. When you learn about the nasty things being said about you, you will need someone to lean on. Friends and family who are not part of the narcissist’s attempts at triangulation are the best resources.
7. Limit Unnecessary Communication
If you are able, going no-contact with the person who is smearing you is the best course of action. If you must have contact with them, there will inevitably be times when you will have to engage with them. In these situations, only communicate when necessary and make your responses emotionless and brief–remain professional and concise.
8. Consider Therapy
Being the victim of a smear campaign can result in symptoms of anxiety or symptoms of depression. If you are struggling with these impacts, professional support can help you learn ways to manage these feelings and build communication skills. It also encourages you to empower yourself during this troubling time. There are different ways to find the right therapist, and using an online therapist directory can make the process simpler.
In My Experience
In my experience working with survivors of dysfunctional and toxic relationships, a smear campaign is a very real and traumatic event for the target. The advice I give to my clients often corresponds with many of the suggestions listed in this article, but this is an unfair burden to place on people who are already weakened from abuse. My advice to everyone is to pay attention when someone seems angry and out for revenge. Talking about their painful experience is one thing–bashing another cruelly is unacceptable. While not all smear campaigns are as obvious, being mindful of how someone conducts themselves in regard to another person can help prevent the spread of cruel misinformation.