Relationships can either allow us to flourish, or the opposite, with a possible varied spectrum in between. I also believe that relationships can flow up and down that spectrum to some extent, depending on other factors. For example, you could enjoy a healthy relationship that will hit difficulties and show some signs of toxicity.
I feel it is important to blog about this topic, as it does affect most people I work with. Almost all the people I work with, will be exposed to toxic relationships, either from family background, in the peer relationships, intimate relationships, or all of those.
I believe there could be some links with early family relationships and the type of relationships you enter into as an adult. If someone experiences emotionally unavailable family members, or abusive ones, it could be possible for someone to go into similar kinds of relationships as an adult.
The following is from a face book support group, that supports victims of domestic abuse. Domestic abuse is not just in intimate adult relationships, it is amongst family members also.
Currently my main interest is in understanding how individuals can move on after abuse, so I shall be a little lazy and use the work of others, to outline toxic relationships. The following is a good example of how abusers try to weaken their targets, in order to maintain power, control and manipulation of a person.
Smear campaigning, scapegoating, rejection, discard can be common tools used by abusers or those that for some reason struggle with healthy relationships. I think to be too liberal with the term ‘abuser’ can add more power to this problem, many of us can be unhealthy from time to time. Unhealthy dynamics could possibly be learnt as a child, when observing relationship interactions amongst family members, so for some it could feel ‘normal’. Although for some, this is deeply engrained and used to hurt others. It may help to widen your knowledge if you read up on stages of abuse, known as idealise, devalue and discard. There is a very good book called Psychopath Free which may help if you feel you are at risk of this type of abuse or support from Women’s Aid and the Freedom Programme.
This type of abuse can lead to a victim retaliating, protesting, getting understandably angry, defensive. It is important to realise that although that reaction is a natural response, it can give your abuser more power to discredit you. If you are a victim, seek outside help and try not to respond, as you may allow the abuser more control and power over you.
The following is a good description of smear campaigning from the face book page My Emotional Vampire:
The Smear Campaign ~ View it as a badge of honor! Don’t let them bring you down, you’re too damned beautiful, courageous, intelligent and strong.
When healthy people feel upset about something, they may get angry. But toxic people don’t just get mad – they seethe – and wage a devious smear campaign. One of the clearest indicators you’ve got a mentally unstable person on your hands is smear campaigning. Smear campaigners carefully and strategically use lies, exaggerations, suspicions and false accusations to try destroying your credibility. They hide behind a cloak of upstanding heroism and feigned innocence in an attempt to make as many people as possible think their efforts are based not on their vindictiveness, but on upstanding concern.
As a smeared person, what you are most likely “guilty” of is saying no to someone who is, in some way, failing to respect your boundaries, refusing to follow the same rules as everyone else, or someone who is spreading toxicity and manipulating. Someone entitled. Someone sneaky and vindictive. Someone who is hurting you or taking too much.
While standing up for yourself is the right thing to do, toxic people simply don’t believe you have any right to refuse their mistreatment, and they will set out to “punish” you for having any opinions that differ from theirs.
Virtually all smear campaigners can be counted on to have traits of “Cluster B” personality disorders. Narcissists and sociopaths are among the most virulent smear campaigners, and histrionic and borderline people may also opt to smear those who upset them. Not surprisingly, these four disorders are classified as the “dramatic and erratic” high-conflict personalities.
Narcissists can fly into a vindictive narcissistic rage if questioned instead of receiving compliance with their demands. Sociopaths often have anger management issues and are driven solely by their own wishes, without regard for the rights of others or for consequences. Histrionic people create drama and conflict wherever possible, and they require little to no incentive to do so. People with borderline personality disorder have difficulty controlling their emotional reactions, and may become intensely angered by what others interpret to be minor matters.
Regardless of the reason for the smearing, all smear campaigns work virtually the same way, following a very predictable pattern of the usual dirty tricks and underlying motives. Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the anatomy of the smear campaign.
SMEAR CAMPAIGN TACTICS:
Discredit and isolate the victim Play the victim and/or heroLie-exaggerate-manipulate Manufacture fear Label the victim inferior Hurt the victim for spite
The difficulty with saying no to toxic people is that they are already hazardous. After all, if they weren’t toxic, you wouldn’t have had to say no to them in the first place. Most abusers simply want what they want and will not be denied without unleashing a torrent of phony martyrdom and vicious slander all about you and how you are an abuser. Their story will be warped, slanted and twisted until there’s not one atom of truth left in it.
Lies will be sprinkled in to try making their audience fear, prejudge and rebuke you for the supposed evil you’ve perpetrated against this innocent lamb (or a vulnerable, well-respected person). You didn’t ask for your boundaries to be respected — you are a vicious animal who attacked them, and you’ve supposedly attacked others, so everyone needs to “be careful” of you if they want to be “safe”. Everyone should stand up on behalf of this good person by shutting you out and standing up against your “abuse”.
If the the abuser is a co worker, they will try to get you into trouble or fired; if they are related to you, they will attempt to have you kicked out of the family or to make you feel left out. You must be marginalized and cut off from the pack so you will be left feeling weak and alone. It is the payback the smear campaigner exacts for the fact that you got in their way. They want you sorry you were ever born, and they know how much it will hurt you to be shunned and turned against, and how powerless you will feel without the assistance of others.
The smear campaigner must see to it that anyone they are telling these lies to is “kept sweet”, and they will play the good one, the nice helpful one, the innocent one who is only trying to warn people of how secretly evil you supposedly are when nobody’s looking. They’re doing their coworkers, the family, or society a grand favor by bravely speaking out against your misdeeds and righting a wrong. They cleverly play the friendly everyday good person who is upstanding, supportive and likeable, just like the people they’re trying to reel in. They would never do anything wrong or unlikeable, not them.
The smear campaigner needs to make their audience think they are a perfectly innocent person who was shockingly blindsided by your supposed evil, unreasonability, over emotionality or mental instability. Smear campaigners’ goals are to create mistrust of you, fear of you, and condemnation of you. If they think their audience may not swallow the lie that they have done absolutely nothing to contribute to the matter, they may admit that they have done something very minor, but that your response to it is outrageously unreasonable (or completely incompetent).
Popular lies of the smear campaigner include statements and insinuations that you are mentally ill, incompetent, untrustworthy or unreasonable. The smear campaigner does this so that if your legitimate upset shows, the observer will attribute it to irrationality, ill intent or instability, and not to your normal upset at having been badly mistreated.
Most people who use smear campaigns have several things in common.
The smear campaigner must work to make people believe them. They will put on a good face, agree with their listeners and feign integrity and kindness. Carefully tending to his or her image as an innocent and upstanding whistleblower who is bravely speaking up against evil is a necessary part of the smear campaigners plan. Whether smear campaigners claim to be your victim or just a conscientious bystander (or both), they know that being seen as “the good one” fools the most people possible.
This is a righteous and brave warrior of truth – not someone who is having a tantrum because you got in their way when they were doing something wrong. This is not a cowardly tyrant who is seething with revenge — certainly not. This is just a decent person who is bravely trying to help others by spreading the word to be careful and avoid a monster of an abuser – you!
Smear campaigners may claim that they don’t want to say anything bad about anyone, and that it’s “not like them”, but they just have to say something about you in order help good people snuff out your supposed evil. They must break with their usual humble moral humility in order to step up and save the decent people of the world by finally exposing the truth about you that nobody has ever known!
Of course, it’s not the truth; it’s a smear campaign. But most everybody wants to support a person who has been hurt by someone abusive and will rush to their defense, so that’s the role the smear campaigner often plays — the good and innocent victim-hero. Smear campaigners play on the sympathies of others, using people’s empathy to gain social leverage against their victims.
Most smear campaigners are highly narcissistic, and narcissists cannot ever be expected to apologize, come clean or admit any wrongdoing, even if caught red-handed in their lies. They truly believe, in their own way, that a smear campaign is the right thing to do to you, because you have opposed them, and you should have known better than to do such an unthinkable thing, so it’s simply all your fault they’re smearing you anyhow. They’re teaching you a lesson — agree with whatever they want, or else. You “asked for it”, and they’re teaching you better.
Smear campaigners are like spoiled playground bullies who kick another child when the teacher’s back is turned, just because the child doesn’t give them whatever they want. They cannot be made to empathize, and they are well-practiced in their abusive games, because they have been playing them all their lives.
If you should become the subject of a smear campaign, you may find the following practices to be helpful in reducing or eliminating the damage.
- Immediately discontinue speaking to the smear campaigner.If you can’t possibly do this because it’s a work situation, limit the time spent talking to this person alone as much as humanly possible. Abusers lie and manipulate, and prefer to have all their conversations with their victims when the victim is without the benefit of witnesses. Abusive people don’t like witnesses, so avoid being alone with them at all cost. That’s when the abuse will be at its worst, and that’s when you’ll say the things they will cruelly twist into lies later. Deliberately approach them to have any unavoidable conversations in public, while standing in line at the water cooler, in a busy hall, while in a vehicle with others, or in a packed elevator. They may attempt to weasel out of the conversation by suggesting you have it later, in their office, at their house, or another isolated environment. Avoid this by cutting comments down into very small pieces. For instance, don’t ask what the plan is for the big sales project while flying by their door. That’s a conversation for later, when the two of you will be sitting down alongside Jane (surprise!) whom you thoughtfully arranged to have join you to help take notes. Right now, as you race by their office, you just need to know “one quick thing”. If you’re invited into a more lengthy discussion, let them know you’re rushing and you’ll get back to them. Then carefully plan that interaction, too, or they’ll take the upper hand.
- Put things in writing.One of the great benefits of the electronic age is, we can have an instant and verified copy of every piece of correspondence we send. If you absolutely must speak to the smear campaigner and you have the option of saying whatever you need to say in writing, do it. Having a record of exactly what has been said by you is invaluable protection against distortions and misrepresentation. Blind Carbon Copy (BCC) what you send to the smear campaigner to a third party whenever possible. When writing the content of the correspondence, do not say anything you would not want everyone to read. If you do, it’s guaranteed that everyone will soon be reading it (or what’s left of it after the smear campaigner’s creative “editing” work).
- Know the lay of the land, and act accordingly.If the abuser is a co worker, you have two options: sit down with management or leave the position. If the abuser is a supervisor, you can approach senior management, however you may still have to leave the employer (or at least that particular role). If the abuser is a family member, your options are similar: approach others to see if you can get support, and stop seeing abusive/unsupportive members. Unfortunately, the great majority of families in which there is an abuser are not at all supportive of members who demand that the abuse stop, and members of these families often turn against the abused member. Dysfunctional families are irrational and incapable of meeting requests for healthy boundaries, and no contact with some or all of the family may be your only option. If your work environment is similarly dysfunctional and the abuse is not seen through, not looked into, or you’re not taken seriously, then the problem, like with abusive families, is a deeper and more systemic one, and leaving will be your best option, no matter how much you may have wanted to keep the job otherwise.
A summary of important points to remember about smear campaigns: Smear campaigns are typically conducted against people who have stood up against some form of unfairness, abuse, or entitlement.
Narcissists are highly active smear campaigners, and those with other “high conflict” cluster B personality disorders such as AsPD, BPD and HPD are prone to smearing others.
A smear campaign involves lies, exaggerations, and cultivation of mistrust toward the victim.
Smear campaigners insinuate that the victim is mentally ill, unreasonable, incompetent, untrustworthy, or abusive.
Smear campaigners typically play on the sensibilities of others, using people’s empathy and morals to turn people against their victims – most often for having done nothing more than disagree with the smearer.
A smear campaigner prefers to make others think they are good people who are rightfully standing up against the victim’s supposed immorality or abuse.
Smear campaigners play the victim, the hero, or both.
Smear campaigners try to ostracize their victims and make them feel alone, unpopular, and unsupported by others.
Smear campaigners enjoy the feeling of having “gotten back at” their victims, and believe it is completely justifiable – even fun – to mistreat someone for having an opinion that is different from theirs.
Smear campaigners do not acknowledge the wrong they do, and cannot typically be expected to genuinely confess or apologize — even after they’ve been proven liars.
Do not speak to smear campaigners unless it’s completely impossible not to. If you DO have to speak to the smearer, do so only in the presence of others and in copied emails/properly documented letters. Plan ahead to prevent being put in difficult positions by the smear campaigner.
Lastly, remember that you do have the right to make fair and healthy requests, and if you are smeared as a result, smearing is an unreasonable and unacceptable response.
There is a lot of awareness now of this and help and support, please do not tolerate any abuse, seek help. My advice is not to react towards the abuser, as if the person is abusive, what you say is likely to be twisted or even lied about. Confide in someone you trust or a counsellor, gp, charities like Mind etc. Record interactions if you can not avoid them, including phone conversations, so that you can reveal lies or false accusations.
Thoughts and opinions are my own.