Leaving a Person with Narcissism: Here Comes the Smear Campaign

Adult with long curly hair listens on phone with disdainIt 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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!

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Sharie Stines, PsyD, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Taft

    September 20th, 2017 at 10:50 AM

    And the bad thing is that they feel absolutely no shame in spreading these lies and vicious rumors as long as it appears that they have been vindicated.

  • Fran

    September 26th, 2017 at 5:18 PM

    True words! That’s what gets me is they have no concious about it! How does one tap the conscious of a narcissist?

  • Annette

    September 5th, 2019 at 2:57 PM

    You can NOT, the truth offends them. Keep in mind they think only of themselves and how it affects them. Sad but true! You need to work with a good therapist and rebuild yourself.

  • Fran

    September 27th, 2017 at 5:45 PM

    Yes @ TAFT! that’s the rub! They will even tell you that they’ve told other people about “you” and unfortunately its their “version” and its to make you feel like you’re the one that’s in the wrong! So frustrating bc there’s now way to know for sure if they’ve actually said something bad about you or just saying that they did just to get you wrapped up in the “game’!
    so awful!

  • Lori

    September 20th, 2017 at 3:07 PM

    It does not always contain an element of the truth when in most cases the actual truth is only going to be manipulated to fit the needs of what that narcissistic person needs it to be. So you break up with them. There is no truth that you have abandoned this person. Maybe instead of waiting for them to create the tale those of us who have found ourselves to be the victim of this kind of behavior need to fight back and tell our stories before they ever have time to get started.

  • Parker

    September 21st, 2017 at 10:36 AM

    To say that it is relentless is an understatement.
    I broke up with this guy three years ago and there are still days when I hear that he continues to bad mouth me and talk about the crazy things I did to him, none of which are true.
    And he just happens to leave out the mess that he created for me.

  • kenneth

    September 22nd, 2017 at 2:07 PM

    We are all sitting here talking like there is only gonna be one person at fault in this . Well the last time I checked it takes two to tango so there could possibly be those times when a person is retaliating because they too feel that they are being attacked. I personally believe that there is always far more than one side to any story, and to just believe that there is only one person who is being harmed here is completely ridiculous. I don’t think that someone would go on the offensive if they have not already felt like that had been abused and attacked as well.

  • Ade

    September 26th, 2017 at 10:19 AM

    You Sir, have never met a true narcissist or you would understand a little better. I used to think the same way until one almost destroyed my life.

  • Rose

    September 26th, 2017 at 2:50 PM

    “Sir?” I believe Sharie is a woman

  • Sherri

    September 27th, 2017 at 12:26 PM

    Kenneth: While it’s often true that in an unhappy marriage with two relatively healthy spouses, that both individuals play a role in how the marriage unraveled, it is not true when one spouse has a true personality disorder. One person can destroy their marriage because of their personality disorder (just like one who is an alcoholic or sex addict). A narcissist ACTUALLY feels victimized or attacked even if their spouse politely disagrees with them or suggests an alternative solution to consider. The narcissistic disorder causes them to feel superior to others, and they simply cannot tolerate being disagreed with because they ‘know’ that their opinion is the only correct one, and if their partner challenges it, they experience it as an attack on them. If a spouse expresses a differing opinion, they will feel disrespected and become outraged. To be on the receiving end of a narcissistic person’s rage is terrifying. It is NOT normal anger or frustration. Not anything close. There is no way to have a healthy exchange of opinions or ideas with a narcissistically-disturbed spouse.

  • David

    September 14th, 2018 at 12:01 PM

    Respectfully, sir, you have no clue what you talk about.

  • Jennie

    November 21st, 2019 at 1:02 AM

    You clearly have NO idea WHATSOEVER!

  • Johns

    July 22nd, 2023 at 3:08 AM

    Which only goes to show that you don’t have a clue what some of us have endured. please stay out of it unless you take the time to educate yourself.

  • Allison

    September 26th, 2017 at 2:33 PM

    You are right Ade. I don’t think that most of us have the capability to grasp that someone could do something so terrible to another person and yet obviously there are a lot of us out here who have experienced that very type of smear campaign and who know that even though we don’t think that this could happen, it very easily can. We have to remember that for a narcissist this becomes all about protecting what they want to look like to other people, not staining their own image, and who ever gets hurt in the process, so what? It is nothing about you, and all about them.

  • Fran

    September 26th, 2017 at 5:21 PM

    Yes to all of this, im a parent of a narcissist!

  • Karen

    September 26th, 2017 at 7:28 PM

    Yes, two hands up from me in Identifying with this article! From what I could gleen, my ex did have an element of truth to his “stories”, I find out years after the fact from his, now alienated family to him! He said.. “she would abandon the children on the side of the road before I even arrived for access visit takeover”. I suppose in his mind that is true! The reason I would jumped in my car with locked doors and drove off when he pulled up in front or behind me was because he would jump on my car, wave his fists at me through the drivers door and demand I get out of the car and hand the children over to him on the footpath all the while screaming at me that I was Psychologically damaged (being polite) and had ruined our family by leaving when in the end, he tried to suffocate me in bed with a wet towel with our two children sleeping either side of me! I would then be so hysterical and upset knowing how angry he was driving our kids an hour to his home and what he could possibly do in his fit of rage with our children in his car! When I changed access to in front of Manned police stations…he then was reportedly saying it was his idea because I was abandoning the children on the side of the road when I used to meet him halfway between our homes…there is an element of truth in what he said…just not the whole truth. I also self doubt myself when my daughter shows me his Facebook photos and I see he has Narcissistic quotes up about his exs…he honestly believes he is the victim! If I had not won in Federal court to keep our children safe and to stop him drinking and taking drugs with our children in his care and witnessed him lie on the stand about a Sports club, his family and Autistic son telling lies to “frame him”…I would feel more empathetic towards him! I also asked for every course the court could enforce him to completed to help him believing him to be undiagnosed Autistic to. 18 months ago the Federal Court ordered him to undertake domestic violence, alcohol and Autism awareness courses ( he does not accept his sons diagnosis by several specialists), Psychology counselling and to take a copy of Court ordered Psyc reports with him to sessions. That was over 18 months ago and he still has not completed any! I tried, really tried to help him but there is nothing else I can do to help their dad!

  • Fran

    September 27th, 2017 at 5:39 PM

    I would like to chime in to say that I’m so happy to see all the comments, info, and thankful to Goodtherapy.org for publishing the narcissist info. I have a situation in that our son, now 24, is a full fledged narc. and didn’t realize it until 2 years ago. Looking back , he exhibited characteristics of narc. at the early age of 5! I was beside myself as a mom because I had no idea how to deal with it. His pediatrician dx him with ADHD ( wrong!) and psych, dx was PDD NOS, (maybe) Son always said kids were mean to him on playground- I went to watch playground- nothing unusual, it was his misunderstanding or narc that made it an issue for me to deal with. Said he’d like school if it were not for the people. Fast forward, he graduated from a major university, and has a great job, is super smart and works for a MAJOR company as a hardware engineer but has still exhibited all the characteristics of narc. My problem is that I don’t know how to deal with this adult son,/ narc. I’ve read all the posts from goodtherapy.org and its been super helpful but nothing states specifically how to deal with a son or daughter with this affliction, most all is wither spouse , or how to deal with if you’re a child with narc parent. Nothing posted if your a parent dealing with a narc child. HELP!

  • TwilightlostB

    November 4th, 2017 at 12:33 AM

    I was clueless about the smear campaign going on behind my back. It happened at work because a colleague was insanely jealous of me. Jealous of what? I’ll never know. I was quiet, didn’t bother anyone. Came in, did my job and went home. People liked me – that must have been it. People like me and so I became the target of a jealous narcissist. The stories and lies concocted about me were unbelievable. It got worse the more I fought back but I stayed until I had a better offer to work for another company. It’s a wonder the smear campaign didn’t ruin my career. I never figured out how to deal with the narcissist but I pray to God I never meet up with another one again.

  • Tio

    May 13th, 2018 at 12:31 PM

    They are convinced conmans. Insult after insult.

  • Huisman

    August 11th, 2018 at 7:10 AM

    Thay said that I should look unkempt and untidy while i did my best to look good and snarled at me that i would have dark circels around my eyes and could imagine that nobody wants me or said I can believe that nobody wants you. Don”t want to held accountable for what they did and don”t understand that.

  • Tio

    August 11th, 2018 at 7:14 AM

    It is important that somebody is taken this seriously about this facts issues of abuse. That wound exists by shame and guilt and express this in anger. .

  • Jahid

    September 7th, 2019 at 3:24 AM

    Leave them alone. Narcissists are croocked people, their words never match their actions. All people have a personality shape. Some may disguise it at the beginning, but it will come out soon. My narcissistic father tells people that he has 5 storeyed building, he does an excellent job, that I go to MIT ! All of which is false. If people are okay with it, why do you care? It’s about them, not you. Until they get their validations, they will keep on their drama. And time is narcissist’s biggest enemy. Over time even flying monkeys turn against them.

  • Andrea

    June 14th, 2021 at 10:01 AM

    Another reason is you dont even know its happening until its too late..bc they..(your partner) act to you like nothing is wrong..or like youve made up..meanwhile they are out talking terrible lies about you behind your back to people. You have no idea this is happening…thus have no notion to go to that person to defend yourself or the lie. You might begin to notice some discord amonst people but wont be able to put your finger on it.. Your partner somehow convinces them that approaching you with this info would only be harmful to him..or make the situation much more difficult to deal with.

  • reyhan

    December 13th, 2021 at 1:26 AM

    thanks alot of information

  • L.May

    November 17th, 2022 at 3:59 PM

    Andrea. You are spot on with your words. The most perplexing emotion for me was when our 2 sons suddenly turned icy cold towards me without any explanation. At the time I did not know they were their father’s ‘flying monkies”. He even utilised them against me in the divorce process in court, they lost that particular case and now estrangement continues to this day. I had never heard of narcissism before, and after 4 years of research on the subject, I can confidently state my ex husband of 20 odd years would fit the criteria of a malignant narcissist. I don’t know the word to describe my feelings now.

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