- When ending a relationship with someone who has a demonstrated need for revenge, be prepared for them to turn on you.
- Due to the nonphysical nature of smear campaigns, most protection orders cannot offer much protection.
- Disengaging and choosing what to defend against will decrease the likelihood of things escalating with a vengeful ex.
- John, 35, ended a relationship after a couple of years of “trying to make it work.” His ex went on a rampage, telling the world he cheated, reporting him to his bar association for false allegations, driving by his house at all hours of the day, and using his information to max out his credit cards–all in an attempt to seek revenge for how she felt she had been wronged. The police refused to take a report about the female perpetrator because “this is normal breakup stuff.”
- Molly, 41, went no-contact with her mother after years of therapy. Her mother told the family egregious lies about her in an attempt to alienate and isolate her. The more Molly tried to defend herself, the more the family victim-blamed by saying they did not want to get involved in “drama between you two.”
Few know the cruelty and chaos that comes with ending a relationship with someone who is out for revenge, whether it be platonic, romantic, or familial. Those who have been through this experience understand all too well that this will be one of the most stressful times in your life. Knowing how to react will be the glue that keeps you together.
Following the steps below will not stop their behaviors, but they will provide the grounding necessary to help you survive the experience with your dignity and sanity intact:
1. Do. Not. Engage. This is essential. After hearing a constant stream of lies coming from the mouth of someone who once claimed to care for you, you may feel humiliated, exhausted, and even furious. As much as you are tempted to contact them to beg them to stop, fight back, or argue with them, you must not engage.
They are looking for a reaction and will inevitably use anything and everything you say, write, or post against you in their attempt to "prove" whatever they have claimed about you. Stay silent. If you feel you must react, write it down, and have a trusted friend available to call—or just speak it out loud to yourself when you are alone.
2. Pick your battles. Do not attempt to rebuke every allegation and lie. Decide what is worth your time and focus, and let the rest go. They are claiming you cheated on them? This will be impossible to disprove, so leave it alone. They called your employer or licensing board to make false allegations? This is likely worth your time and effort as it could affect your livelihood.
Even while defending yourself, keep the focus on disputing the untruths and not on the person doing the damage. Trying to prove your case by speaking ill of this person can have the unfortunate effect of making you also look vindictive. So, as difficult as it may be, keep the focus on the behaviors: "Yes, we ended the relationship recently, and they are quite angry. I assure you these complaints are false. Thank you for taking the time to listen to me."
Along these lines, I also recommend not referring to this person openly as a narcissist when communicating with third parties, such as employers or law enforcement, as this will reflect more poorly on you. Your best course of action is to avoid labels and let their actions speak for themselves. Eventually, others will see the patterns.
3. Know your truth. This one is important because there will be times when you will doubt yourself. It is inevitable that someone who has narcissistic traits will claim the victim role, so be prepared to hear through others about all of the ways you have harmed them, even if you know that these are exaggerated, embellished, or flat-out lies.
As they are unaware of their own projections, they will undoubtedly tell everyone that you are doing exactly what they did to you; they will believe this to be true despite all logic pointing otherwise. Therefore, if they are out for revenge on you, they may claim you are out to destroy them. If they are stalking you, they may claim you are stalking them.
Even more dangerous is the tendency of abusive people who have actual traits of narcissism to assign this diagnosis to their ex-partner, making themselves look like the victim. This is crucial for survivors to understand, as outsiders looking in often do not know who to believe.
4. Continue to conduct yourself professionally at all times. It is challenging not to react or to fight back, but it's essential to conduct yourself professionally. Treat this person as you would a disgruntled customer or client: calm and firm, no emotional reaction.
I have developed a set of strategies that I share with my clients when they have to engage with a person who may be out to get them. I call it the “N.E.B. technique”: N for necessary, E for emotionless, and B for brief.
- Ask yourself, “Is this communication or reply necessary?” A nasty text about how ugly you are? Ignore it. A text about childcare? This may warrant a reply.
- Next, construct an emotionless reply. Imagine you are sending your message to the CEO of a major company—professional and concise with no emotion.
- Lastly, make the reply brief. One or two sentences will usually suffice. I also recommend waiting about four hours before replying unless childcare or court orders state otherwise. This will allow you to reflect on your emotions and construct a professional and emotionless reply.
5. Decrease the common links. Unfortunately, Friday night D&D is no longer a good idea. Mutual friends may have to go, lest they become flying monkeys or informants to further inflict harm. If friends do not want to "choose sides," make a choice for them. This is not a normal ending of a relationship, and keeping mutual friends can actually be dangerous.
Do not try to convince people that this person is abusive; simply wish them the best and move on. Ideally, they will eventually see what is going on. If not, they were not a true friend to begin with.
In her work with survivors of narcissistic abuse, Melanie Tonia Evans writes:
When we are triggered by the fear of what the narcissist may do, we react and try to expose the narcissist and frantically appeal to others to help us. Yet, people don’t want to get involved. They shut doors in our face, don’t listen, don’t care, switch off, and even turn against us.
And, you are shocked to see how the narcissist twists it all by making you out to be the wrong and crazy one. This can lead you to lose credibility, court settlements, and even your children.
Do not attempt to expose them or "prove" what they are doing to you. Focus on keeping yourself and your loved ones safe, happy, and healthy. Everything else will be exposed eventually.
Facebook image: DimaBerlin/Shutterstock
Evans, Melanie T. "How to Expose a Narcissist Without Looking like the Crazy One". https://blog.melanietoniaevans.com/how-to-expose-a-narcissist-without-l…. 9/2018. Accessed 1/17/2022.