Saturday, January 21, 2017

the smear campaign in abuse and bullying, why perpetrators slander and try to get others to deride you and hate you

title of illustration: "The Smear Campaign"
© art by Lise Winne

According to Wikipedia a smear campaign is:

an effort to damage or call into question someone's reputation, by propounding negative propaganda. It can be applied to individuals or groups ...

... Smear tactics differ from normal discourse or debate in that they do not bear upon the issues or arguments in question. A smear is a simple attempt to malign a group or an individual with the aim of undermining their credibility.

Smears often consist of ad hominem attacks in the form of unverifiable rumors and distortions, half-truths, or even outright lies ... the tactic is often effective because the target's reputation is tarnished before the truth is known.

Psychopaths and Narcissists

Smear campaigns have been identified as a common weapon of psychopaths[1][3] and narcissists.[4][5][6]


In many countries, the law recognizes the value of reputation and credibility. Both libel (a false and damaging publication) and slander (a false and damaging oral statement) are often punishable by law and may result in imprisonment or compensation or fees for damages done.

Words related to "smear campaign" include: psychological manipulation, character assassination, discrediting tactic, vilifying, shame campaign, false accusations and swift boating.

Slander differs slightly in meaning from "smear campaign". According to Wikipedia, slander is:

a false statement that harms the reputation of an individual person, business, product, group, government, religion, or nation.[1]

Under common law, to constitute defamation, a claim must generally be false and must have been made to someone other than the person defamed.[2] Some common law jurisdictions also distinguish between spoken defamation, called slander, and defamation in other media such as printed words or images, called libel.[3]

False light laws protect against statements which are not technically false, but which are misleading.[4]

In some civil law jurisdictions, defamation is treated as a crime rather than a civil wrong.[5] The United Nations Human Rights Committee ruled in 2012 that the libel law of one country, the Philippines, was inconsistent with Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well as urging that "State parties [to the Covenant] should consider the decriminalization of libel".[6]

A person who defames another may be called a "defamer", "libeler", "slanderer", or, rarely, "famacide".

In other words, "slander" is used more as a legal term than "smear campaign" and tends to be in the form of publications than spoken words, though both have legal ramifications.

The point of using smear campaigns and slander for abusers is to isolate the victim of abuse. For victims of child abuse, the abuser will usually try to isolate you from your family members. For victims of spousal abuse, the abuser will usually try to isolate you from common friends or from your mutual children (called parental alienation, which can turn into parental alienation syndrome), or from co-workers and superiors (for victims of workplace bullying). In general, it is meant to hurt someone else socially. When victims are isolated socially, it makes victims more vulnerable to ever more attack, by ever more people, therefor making the victimization more probable. At its core it is a campaign to rouse others to vilify a target.

You can count on it being used in all abusive situations. It is so predictable, in fact, that if you are a target of abuse, count on it being used and prepare yourself!

The smear campaign in personal abusive situations is a bit different than political, religious or racial smears. For one thing, it is usually told behind your back. If it is in front of you, it is meant to bust up an alliance that you have with another person with fishy facts (divide and conquer). Most perpetrators use smear campaigns in the following way: lies to make you appear as a perpetrator of abuse and the perpetrator to look like the victim of abuse.

The smear campaign feels so necessary to abusers because without attempting to ruin your reputation, you would not go through the maximum amount of "consequence" for what they perceive as "disloyalty" to them (yes, they view themselves as kings and queens). Most abusers want targets to go through the maximum amount of suffering, injustice and damage because they are sadists. Most of them try to do it in a way that does not get them in trouble with the law, however many perpetrators also aren't careful with the law because they assume their victims have higher regard for them than is really the case (that is one reason they are branded as narcissistic). Check with your attorney. Laws for victims are always changing.

Why is isolating a victim so necessary for a perpetrator?

Because they think like predators. If there is a herd, they try to separate the person from the herd.

They do this by trying to ostracize their targets emotionally first. They do it by steps. The first step is to taunt, chide and to dominate their target in what ever way they can in front of others. They try to establish themselves as the authority while at the same time establishing you as the underling (or listener). In the beginning, they try to pass off their derision as your words being funny, a party, a joke. They constantly gauge others' reactions to see if their agenda is working to their favor; i.e. at getting others to see their perspective. They feel if they can get people to agree with their perspective, then they can escalate the bullying. They also gauge how many people are defending the victims so that they can talk them into another perspective. Most of all, they want to see others joining in on laughing, chiding and taunting.

The target may even welcome the laughter at first, just to show he is a good sport. He may say funny things in return (self-mock, much as a comedian would), but in order to make sure others aren't liking the target too much in this stage, the perpetrator will escalate by throwing in a little dig.

It becomes apparent to the target before it becomes apparent to others that he, the target, is being used more than others as a laughing stock. He is also being used, ever-so-slightly, as the object of insults. If the target reacts with pain, the perpetrator might say, "Can't you just take a joke? Aren't you capable of fun? What is wrong with you?"

There is a reason why "What is wrong with you?" is part of the dialogue. It is to get others to doubt your ways of perceiving what is happening, your social competence. It is a way to set up a pecking order too, so that the perpetrator can dominate and control how others see you, the target. It is a way for the bully to become an authority on what the target is about, and especially to constantly whittle away at how the target is being perceived by others as well. The perpetrator might start saying other things along with the usual "What's wrong with you?" like "Why don't you understand anything? Why don't you see that this is just light fun? Why can't you see that we all love you and you're just being sensitive? Why can't you have a sense of humor along with the rest of us? Why are you backing off? Why can't you just go along? Don't be a drama queen!" and so on.

Basically all of this is a form of gaslighting, which is usually part of abuse too. Most gaslighting is slow and insidious.

In order to run a successful smear campaign, gaslighting is necessary in order to get the target/prey separated from the herd, and to get the herd to look at the member as not desirable or lovable, and eventually expendable and worthless.

If the abuser is a sibling, he may want total control of parents and for ALL of the family resources to go his way. If the abuser is a spouse, he may want total control of the kids, and what better way than to smear the other parent? Or he may want his spouse to be an under-ling, in a subservient role where he is calling all of the shots in the marriage. If the abuser is a co-worker, he may be trying to climb the ladder by vilifying and making up stories about his co-worker. If the abuser is a boss, he may be trying to shame you into working harder (ineffective -- in fact, self-sabotaging).

However, gaslighting can work effectively in the short run (as a quick fix) even if it is damaging in the long run.

If the initial gaslighting goes successfully, the perpetrator will then start to cut off as much influence as possible so that the target is no longer part of the herd, and shunned. If a member of the herd listens intently, the perpetrator might interject: "You poor soul! You're seeing her?" or "You're going to listen to her?" or "You know better than to take her seriously!" or "You shouldn't listen to her. You know what the truth is," or "Your ideas are so much better than hers. Why are you listening to her?" or "I swear to God, I'm sick of what she's done to me! How can you listen to her?" or "You can't be listening to her again! You know better than that!" or "You don't know her like I know her." Perpetrators shame other parts of the herd who listen to or have a relationship with the victim. They are also known to arm-twist people who are on the sidelines with rewards, punishments or threats.

It is all very evil ... and unfortunately planned and common among abusers. The whole point of the perpetrator's agenda is to get others to doubt the target more and more and more and more (subtly through time, going in one direction in the continual escalation of abuse), and to render the target voiceless, with perspectives and experiences not worthy of taking seriously or listening to by others in the group. The perpetrator might interrupt the target, find ways to cut off the target's speech, find ways to make a joke out of what the target said, find ways to denigrate what was said, find ways to re-interpret what was said so that it sounds bad, and so on. The whole point is to make the target appear ugly and undesirable to others, to assign ugly motives, ugly words, ugly perspectives, ugly philosophies, ugly incompetencies.

Sometimes both the targets and the herd are confused as to what is really going on, for awhile, but one thing becomes apparent: the target often withdraws, and sometimes goes completely silent, while the perpetrator seems to be dominating most of the time and is getting ever more arrogant, swaggering and blustering as the escalation progresses (I will talk about some reasons for arrogance in another post, so check back).  

If the others do join in, eventually what happens is that the perpetrator starts to escalate to the next level. If the target speaks up, or has a perspective that he wants considered, the perpetrator will either interrupt, find some way to cut the target off from expressing anything, or try to shame or accuse the target of some kind of fallacious wrongdoing.  

Then they try in subtle ways to work on others to see the target as flawed, whether that be calling the target stupid, crazy, ugly, incompetent, not worthwhile, untruthful, selfish, lazy, provoking, too sensitive, or all of it. More often than not, it is all of it, and I mean ALL of it, whether the name-calling is intellectualized or not ("intellectualized meaning replacing "mentally ill" with crazy, "intellectually challenged" for stupid, etc) -- it is all the same thing in the end as far as how abusive it is.

What is most insidious about this progression is that it is erroneous, called erroneous blaming, another form of abuse.

When perpetrators make their target a laughing stock successfully, they have won half the battle. If they have successfully enlisted others to deride the target, they have won all of the battle.

This is when you will notice that the perpetrator escalates by insulting, denigrating and humiliating the target. Even in this next step, they are constantly gauging other people's reactions to see how far they are willing to follow along with going along with abuses (called gang bullying or mobbing). It is a slow process, but absolutely intentional, and it can be deadly (as some targets are driven to suicide, especially if they have no other social networks).

There are challenges to this trajectory, of course, but that is for another post. In the meantime, it is important to put up strong boundaries and to pursue new relationships that they cannot infiltrate.

The smear campaign is an ugly political campaign.

It is probably the worst stage of abuse, especially if it is successful in isolating the target socially. Social isolation means that abusers will have an easier time getting away with abuses within the social group because no one will stand up for the target. Some people rate being gaslighted higher on the scale of being abused than all other forms of abuse, but I would rate the smear campaign higher if only because smears include a lot of gaslighting and lying with a gang mentality. It is like a criminal getting away with a crime, and continuing with more crimes against you, to destroy your life bit, by bit, by bit. It can negatively effect your self esteem and dreams for living in peace without abuse and coercion.

Smears are done to get a victim of abuse derided by any group of people that will listen to smears, and to take smears seriously, as truth. To a perpetrator, it is like getting a jury of peers to all agree. That group of people can include anyone close to you including your family, inlaws, spouse, children, co-workers, boss and friends. Some perpetrators of abuse try to smear your reputation to every person they know about in your social sphere through subtle stalking (I talk about that in this post about triangulation).

If you have gotten used to the silent treatment from an abuser, and prefer to live with it, and if the abuser has caught on that the silent treatment is not packing enough of a punch in terms of making you feel miserable, hoovering you back with love bombing can be the only way they feel they can get access to your latest social contacts and social influences to smear your reputation again and again. The more clever narcissists do feign that living without you has become impossible. They also feign that they are truly sorry for everything they have done, that they cannot live without you any more and will do just about anything to make it up to you. They have also been known to fake tears (crocodile tears) just to gain access to more of your social support. Beware!

The reason why you need to be wary? It is really the only way that they can do damage again, to control, to keep testing their smears with ever more of the people in your life. If they can influence other people's perceptions of you, they feel they have an endless avenue to keep up the abuses and smears. And if you won't let them back in your life, they can, and often do, send out their flying monkeys to lay guilt trips on you. They can even become dangerous stalkers who show up at events just to make you uncomfortable and to rattle you by their intense gazes, dirty looks, tisking and constant presence.

Hoovering often happens when you are getting successful or are successful at something in your life, i.e. when you aren't thinking about them any more. Perpetrators can't stand to be left out in the cold during your high-flying times, so their personalities can often switch to super sticky sweet with crocodile tears when they feel deflated and insecure again (i.e. when their arrogant steps start to flag).

Many abusers could be classified as insane if it weren't for their use of gaslighting and the smear campaign. Unfortunately, that is where evil departs from simple insanity.

Further reading:

The Vindictive Narcissist -- by Joseph Burgo, PhD

Debunking the Narcissist’s Smear Campaign -- by Zari Ballard

Why Narcissistic People Lie, Smear Campaign, and Gossip About Victims -- from the Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Flying Monkeys -- Oh My blog

Flying Monkeys Lie and Say Narcissistic Abuse Heals Over Time -- also from the Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Flying Monkeys -- Oh My blog

Smear Campaign survival strategies recommended by and for Abuse Survivors -- also from the Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Flying Monkeys -- Oh My blog

Smear Campaign: Is a Narcissist Trying to Ruin Your Rep? -- by Angela Atkinson for the Queen Being website

The Smear Campaign - View it as a Badge of Honor -- by "My Emotional Vampire" (facebook)

Narcissism and Parental Alienation Syndrome -- by Sharie Stines, Psyd

From "The Little Shaman Healing"
this is an accurate description of what happens in a smear campaign by an abusive person:

From Sacha Slone on how the smear campaign happens
(in her own words):
"Narcissists and Sociopaths pump targets for information, store it, and file it away in their brain to use against the target one day. The only solution is to NOT share personal information with people you don't know or trust 100%":

From someone who has been through a smear campaign
by Tom ("Narcissism Survivor")

found on Twitter:


  1. It is grate that you are carrying all of these subjects. Learned especially from you. English not always good.

  2. Many of these are such great posts that I am suggesting them to students. Some of the ones that don't get as much coverage are posts like erroneous blaming, perfectionism and projection, all done excellently. Your posts on the silent treatment are as thorough as they get. Good work.

  3. This is probably the most important post. As survivors we have to understand this will happen some day. They run these experiments on everyone it seems. I always made sure I had friends that my narcissistic parents never knew about. They rejected my two sisters, and I felt like I might be the next one some day. Then it happened. I naively thought I would be spared because I barely say anything but the most bland uninteresting stuff, nothing that should cause a temper tantrum. But the thing is, there is no perfection you can attain with them no matter what you do. They are all that matters in their world, you are nothing and no good even when you turn yourself into a pretzel for them. Anyway, find friends, but keep them away from your narcissist parents!


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