The character assassin needs to control the story, not just their version, but everyone’s version of the story. Character assassination happens when one partner is completely unable to speak well of an ex and goes further by proactively tearing down every aspect of the ex’s character, ultimately dismissing that person’s value as a human being and essentially proclaiming, either directly or indirectly, that the ex doesn’t deserve any respect or credibility whatsoever and, furthermore, deserves poor treatment.
Basically, we are talking about a big-league bully who wants to gain something (a false sense of self-worth, a sense of supreme rightness, money, power, property, friends, prestige, custody or some other self-serving agenda) by destroying another.
Let’s look at some distinctions so that we can better understand what real character assassination looks like and what you can do to protect yourself mentally:
WHAT IS NOT CHARACTER ASSASSINATION?
Unhappy: This group of people may be unhappy with their ex’s current actions but they still are able to get in touch with remembering their love for this person and with the fact that they share the interests of the children. People in this group do their best to refrain from speaking negatively about their ex in general, but especially within earshot of their children.
Bitter: A Bitter person is Unhappy, yet hanging on to unhappiness even when there is no current or recent external stimulus coming directly from the ex’s actions to add to the bitter person’s reasons to be unhappy. Bitterness lives in a person’s relationship to the past, NOT in the current situation.
Belligerent: The Belligerent person is Unhappy and Bitter, plus they live in a constant state of near-boiling to boiling-mad over an ex, even years after a breakup or marital disappointment. This person can’t talk about or to the other without at least some simmering rage and obvious disrespect. This person embodies the story of The Hatfields and McCoys.
Taken alone, none of the above categories of people are automatically character assassins. It’s one thing to have hard feelings. It’s quite another to act on them the way an assassin does.
WHAT IS CHARACTER ASSASSINATION?
Character assassination happens when someone wants to dominate everyone’s view of what has happened, removing all credibility and respect from the other person. The people who do this fall into the camps of unhappy, bitter AND belligerent, the perfect storm of feelings that makes a character assassin feel entitled to do what they do.
The character assassin’s story, which is given indiscriminately to any willing or captive listener, includes:
My ex is CRAZY!
My ex is a liar/deceptive!
My ex is selfish!
My ex is a monster!
My ex is incapable of any logic.
I know my ex is (your child, your best friend for 40 years) but you don’t know them like I do.
The character assassin’s story excludes:
I still care about my ex, even though I don’t want to be with them anymore.
My children still need their father/mother and I honor that.
I would rather get less (in a divorce settlement) than compromise the well-being of my children.
I understand that the well-being of my ex is a part of the well-being of our children.
I can see how I contributed to the problems in the marriage.
The specific way I contributed to the problems in our marriage was_______.
The marriage to my ex worked so many years because of (these positive reasons).
HOW DO YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
If your ex is engaging in true character assassination beyond the first months before and after the separation, when things can get pretty heated and people say things they don’t mean, then you need to take these measures to protect yourself:
1. Know the truth about yourself: If you are truly the victim of character assassination, you tend to side, even if it is somewhat subconsciously, with your accuser. Get clear on this. See how it might be true that somewhere inside you, you just feel really bad about anything negative you ever did in the marriage and how you might be massaging this discomfort over and over again. A character assassin will intuitively know this about you.
2. What others think of you doesn’t matter: Do you make mistakes? Of COURSE, you do! We all do! You are only cray-cray if you think you must be perfect and that you must convince others you are perfect. If other people think you are bats or bad, then that’s their business. Not yours.
3. What YOU think is what matters: What do you think? This is the single-most important thing. Make a list that is only your positive traits. Then make another list of 10 things you would like to work on over the next year to take yourself to the next level of personal development.
4. Release fear of losing control of the story: Can you control your ex? Can you control what others do in response to your ex’s story? When you have the wisdom to recognize that you cannot control another person’s claims about you, you can work on releasing the fear you have around this fact.
5. You don’t know what others think: Can you really know what others think about you? No. You can’t. It’s all conjecture. Don’t assume anything and definitely don’t assume the worst. If anything, assume that most people, even children, are reasonable and fairly circumspect about life and its complications.
6. Your actions speak louder than their words: The best remedy for character assassination is continuing to act from your higher self, as best you can under the circumstances. You are not perfect. Reasonable people do not expect you to be perfect. Expect some failure along the way, but just keep being your best self when you can. When you fall off that horse, get back on. Learn to ride the high road. The air is fresh and the view is better.
7. Demonstrate who you are. Does your ex claim you are a hater? Be loving. Does your ex claim you are crazy? Just keep finding your center over and over again and act from that place as consistently as you can. Does your ex claim you are selfish? Recognize the difference between greed and taking care of your reasonable needs. Recognize when you give to charity. Recognize your volunteer services. Recognize the amount of money and time you spend on your children. Know these things for yourself.
8. Advocate for yourself: In a legal situation, you need to get as much evidence as you can to support your story. Get letters from pillar-of-the-community kinds of people to recommend your general character if only to convince your attorney of your general good character, because your attorney needs to believe in you, too, if you are up against a ruthless character assassin.
In the end, the worst result of character assassination is that you believe someone else’s mischaracterization of you. Don’t let that happen! Be good to yourself. Be forgiving of yourself. Be kind to others. Trust Life, God and the Universe to take you to a better place as a result of this journey that includes a pit-stop in Character Assassination Land. You will move on, especially if you don’t get too attached to the place.