A narcissist may set out to tarnish your character. Tips, such as documenting interactions and disengaging, can halt the attacks.

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A narcissist smear campaign is all about control.

Narcissists don’t like to appear vulnerable or weak. They will often go to great lengths to protect their fragile ego and suppress feelings of shame and insecurity. This may include engaging in a smear campaign to maintain dominance in a relationship or situation.

But you don’t have to fall victim to their scheme. With resilience and strategic thinking, you can protect your reputation, your relationships, and yourself.

A narcissist smear campaign is when a person with narcissistic traits or narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) uses manipulative tactics to attack someone’s character. They often do this by spreading false or exaggerated information to:

  • mutual friends or acquaintances
  • family
  • colleagues
  • online communities

The narcissist’s goal is to undermine the survivor’s credibility and damage their reputation and relationships. This typically serves to elevate the narcissist’s own status or to retaliate against perceived slights.

Narcissist smear campaign examples

Narcissists may initiate smear campaigns anytime they feel shame or experience a perceived attack. This can manifest differently depending on the context of the relationship.

  • Personal relationships: The narcissist may share personal, often distorted information to mutual friends and family. They try to paint themselves as the victim while framing the other person as the antagonist.
  • Divorce: During separation or divorce, a narcissist may use accusations of fraud or infidelity. They may also provide false information about an ex-partner’s substance use to make it look like they’re an unfit parent.
  • Workplace: A narcissist may attempt to ruin the credibility of an employee or employer in response to being fired, a bad review, or a perceived insult. For example, they may spread rumors about a colleague’s incompetence or dishonesty to discredit them or sabotage their career.
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A narcissist smear campaign has control and self-image at the forefront, says Niloufar Esmaeilpour, founder of Lotus Therapy & Counselling Centre in Vancouver, BC. A narcissist’s fragile self-esteem relies heavily on the perceptions of others, so they use smear campaigns to control how others view both themselves and their victim.

“It also acts as a defense mechanism,” Esmaeilpour says. “If a narcissist feels threatened by someone’s actions, status, or mere presence, they might use a smear campaign to preemptively strike against those who they believe could expose their flaws or criticize them.”

Rachael Dunkel, a licensed clinical professional counselor and certified high-conflict divorce coach in Bozeman, Montana, adds that the intent is to ruin the reputation of the victim.

“This is to ensure the narcissist’s reputation is kept intact or to ensure a reduced risk of loss,” she notes.

Managing smear campaigns often leads to increased distress and emotional dysregulation. This is often part of the narcissist’s intent, says Dunkel.

“Narcissists want to create imbalances in others, and they will do so by any means,” she notes.

Dunkel adds that smear campaigns may come to an end if it seems as though the narcissistic attacks are ineffective.

Here are some ways to deal with a narcissist smear campaign:

  • Maintain your integrity: Don’t retaliate with similar tactics, as this can escalate the situation.
  • Disengage: While complete disengagement with a narcissist may not always be possible, it’s best to keep communication to a minimum. Try using the grey rock method of communication, where you don’t show emotion and act indifferent. You could also hire a lawyer to communicate for you, which can help create boundaries and prevent escalation.
  • Document: If necessary, keep records of all your interactions with the narcissist to help refute false claims. You may want to communicate only by email, text, or with a third party present.
  • Seek support: Build a support network of people who understand the situation and can offer emotional or professional support. In severe cases, legal advice may be necessary to protect your reputation and well-being.
  • Protect your physical and mental health: Engage in activities that help regulate your nervous system and heal responses to trauma and threats. This may include practices such as yoga and deep breathing, working with a therapist, or reaching out to safe friends to share your experience.

If you’re the target of a narcissist smear campaign, try to keep in mind that it’s not about you but about the narcissist’s self-image and need for control.

Tips, such as limiting communication, documenting all interactions, and building a support network, can help protect you and your reputation.

If you need extra support, reach out to a mental health therapist who can help you find additional ways to cope.