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Dealing with a Smear Campaign

As a recent victim of a smear campaign by a small group of narcissists, I thought I’d put out a message to others who suffer this modern curse, an intense campaign designed to humiliate an opponent while simultaneously elevating the narcissist. It requires quite a bit of skill, manipulation, and persistence to successfully pull one off.


But for the victim, it can be a shocking and damaging experience. One enduring constant through all this is that the narcissist is so committed to his “truth” that his lies may not be conscious. Winning is all for the narcissist, as is never taking responsibility when things go wrong; while they are always the heroes when things go right, they loudly declare that they have been wronged—no matter how unlikely—when things do go wrong or have the potential to embarrass them, or show them for they truly are..


The smear campaign is born out of a combination of factors, including the need to be right and have his or her “truth” become the prevailing script, retaining status and standing, and maintaining control of his or her image. The woman or man high in narcissistic traits controls her or his public persona very carefully; appearing successful, accomplished, and together is all-important to maintain that air of authority. One thing I’ve learned through all this is that there are no lengths some who consider themselves wronged in some will go to in order to extract revenge, get the upper hand, maintain power or control, or hold on to their social standing by attacking their perceived ‘enemy’.


I’ve personally experienced  stories invented were so unbelievable that I felt that if they were included in a novel, an editor would demand they’d be taken out because they were unrealistic. The imagination of such people is expansive, and is driven by their need for control, the narcissist may seem in command and supremely self-confident, but they’re not going to take his or her chances of having a different truth being established because of an intense and deep concern that he or she will be rejected for being wrong.


Getting through a smear campaign has to be strategic, and varying, depending on how this group or individuals are related to you in any way, but, inevitably, it will confirm every worst thought you’ve ever had about the person, and it’s likely to damage your trust in humanity generally in the short term. The following are some of the steps you can take;


1. Do not engage.

The drive to prove oneself a winner and triumph over shame renders the truth irrelevant for those responsible. That’s important to remember because while your desire to set the record straight is perfectly understandable, it won’t accomplish much and will keep you in the narcissist’s mind by default.


They may tell blatant lies as part of their smear campaign. Though you will, of course, feel offended, it’s important not to retaliate in kind or attempt to turn the tables. If they feel you have engaged in battle, they will escalate their attack in order to win. Take the high ground and stick to the truth; don’t speak ill of your enemy or retaliate unless you have to.


2. Focus on what you can deal with, and not what you can’t.

The narcissist will put effort into co-opting others to his or her side, and, there’s very little you can do about it. Focus on the things you can change and not those you can’t.


3. Be prepared for the narcissist to claim the victim’s role.

This can be very disheartening, especially if you have been the victim of emotional or other abuse. But at the end of the day, you know what is true and what isn’t, which is way more than the person on the other side knows. Again, in the short term, this will be of small comfort but worth it in the long term.


4. Look forward, not back.

A smear campaign will make you feel depressed and hugely insecure; after all, this isn’t always a random stranger going after you, but someone you were connected to in possibly important ways.


Again, the path out differs depending on the connection. It is important that you do not devolve into self-criticism, such as taking the blame for something that in reality never happened. It will be important to figure out what has happened but trying to figure that out when you are working at staying afloat isn’t the best idea.


One of the hardest things is to try not to generalise from the experience; it is easy to make the leap from “one man” to “all men,” but it’s important that you recognize the specificity of the attack. This is one specific person, or group, who is doing to this to you; don’t let it colour your view of the world. Not everyone is high in narcissistic traits.


The decision I made finally was to distance myself from this group, walk away from the common element that connected them to me, and divert my energies to other, better parts of my life, where they cannot influence my mental health.

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