Leaving a Person with Narcissism: Here Comes the Smear Campaign
September 20, 2017 • By Sharie Stines, PsyD, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert
It took FOREVER to finally leave the person in your life with narcissism, only to realize that once you made that fateful decision, your name became mud.
Your ex is not going to let you go without a fight. You’re going to be villainized like you never experienced before the breakup.
All your friends and family will hear how crazy, unbalanced, manipulative, and narcissistic you are. Your ex will be sure to strike first; you may not want to strike at all, but your hand may seem forced.
The smear campaign of a person with narcissism can be so convincing. Since, throughout the relationship, you mainly kept your mouth shut about the problems you were having, no one really saw this coming. When your ex starts to talk negatively about you, with feelings of hurt and strong conviction, others may be inclined to believe what they hear. They had no idea how “crazy” you were, but now, if they think about it, they do remember the time you did x, y, or z.
Like many people with narcissistic qualities, your ex can be a master manipulator. They can turn on the sad eyes and tears, convincing everyone how dearly you are loved by them and how clueless they are about why it ended so abruptly. Maybe it’s menopause or a midlife crisis on your part. Obviously, something is wrong with you.
The smear campaign may even work with your children. The children have become so accustomed to an abusive relationship that the concept of scapegoating seems normal. Blaming and villainizing others has been modeled as acceptable. They may see nothing abnormal about making you a target of wrath. And since they love the parent with narcissism, they likely want to win their favor, which makes it all the more easy for them to join in the campaign.
The Anatomy of a Smear Campaign
Here’s how a good smear campaign works:
- It generally contains an element of truth. For instance, if the person with narcissism complains you abandoned the relationship, well, this is true. They will likely go on and on about how all they ever wanted was to love you and stay with you, but you, in your evilness, flippantly left the relationship—for no reason other than you don’t care about anything other than yourself and can’t keep your commitments.
- It is done with implication. The person with narcissism may say something like, “I don’t want to sound mean, but certain people, who shall remain nameless, have me worried.” The person with narcissism may imply that, no matter how hard they have tried to help you or deal with your issues, you are irreparable. Some people—you being one of them—are just hopeless. Implication can be a very effective tool. Those listening come to their conclusions about you based on this subtly nefarious input.
- It is also done overtly. Sometimes the person with narcissism just comes right out and says it: you are a no-good lunatic! They will tell story after story about all the awful things you’ve done. They will take every vulnerability you’ve revealed to them and use it now, along with made-up information, to tarnish your reputation and slander your name.
- It is relentless. No one holds a grudge quite like a person with narcissism. They can carry a silent treatment to the grave just as well as they can carry a smear campaign. They are relentless. You may be shocked and dismayed by the battleground you find yourself navigating. Never have you encountered such an enemy.
How to Deal with Narcissistic Attacks
What can you do if you find yourself in this position? Here are some tried-and-true suggestions from those who have gone before you:
- Learn to value yourself above anyone else’s opinion. The only way a smear campaign can work is if you allow it to. If people choose to go along with false accusations about you, then yes, it hurts—but you don’t have to let it destroy you. You can learn to not care what others think about you.
Yes, you do deserve defense, but being caught in the trap of trying to get others (and the person with narcissism) to see your good heart can become a never-ending battle. It is easier to simply tell yourself, “They aren’t going to see,” and move on.
- Remember why you left the relationship in the first place. You were devalued and discarded. You did not leave to continue to be disrespected by others. If others are going to jump on your ex’s narcissistic bandwagon and join their hater campaign, simply walk away and remind yourself that you deserve respect.
- Resist the urge to defend yourself. While this may be easier said than done, it is an important concept. Remember when you were in your relationship? You likely felt defensive often. You probably tried to explain yourself thousands of times, to no avail. You ended up being caught in all kinds of “gotcha” traps. So now that you’re out of the relationship, understand that this person continues to try to control your emotions in similar fashion—causing you to doubt your motives, your good nature, even your sanity. Yes, you do deserve defense, but being caught in the trap of trying to get others (and the person with narcissism) to see your good heart can become a never-ending battle. It is easier to simply tell yourself, “They aren’t going to see,” and move on.
- Make a preemptive strike. In other words, make friends with your “enemies.” Let them get to know you personally. It’s a lot harder to hate someone you know well. If you can befriend the people your ex is targeting for their campaign, you may be able to affect some damage control. If the people being targeted are family (including your children), tell them your side of the story. Let them know you are the target of a smear campaign and to not believe what your ex is saying about you. Inform them your ex is creating “spin” to the point that what they are saying is fiction and a waste of time to believe. Be forthright, convincing, and firm. State your side once, then let it go.
- Spend your time well. No matter what others think or do, you really have no power over them. The only person you have power over is yourself. Regardless of what others do with their thoughts and actions toward or against you, you cannot control them. You may be able to influence them, but that is all. Don’t spend a lot of your precious energy trying to make others see the truth. Spend time with people who don’t judge you—those who value you and help you feel supported and loved. Enjoy your life!