Getting Over a Character Assassination

Getting Over a Character Assassination
Photo by Nathan Jennings

Have you ever felt like your character was being attacked for no good reason? Like your reputation was purposely being tarnished from all directions, and you could do little more than placidly deny the accusations being thrown at you; often with little effect?

If so, you may have been victim of a character assassination.

Our character is what makes us. The character traits that we have developed and nurtured from the moment we were born are both precious and innate to us; which is why being the victim of a character assassination, whether in the workplace, by a former partner, or at the hands of a seasoned narcissist (or in certain cases, by all three) can feel like the end.

But it needn’t be. Learning how to deal with a character assassination is entirely possible, but it takes guts, willing, and an overall strength of character to push through the mud and come out alive, and fighting, on the other side.

Before we continue, let’s first define character assassination.

What is Character Assassination?

Character assassination is a deliberate effort to damage the reputation, credibility, or good standing of an individual person. It typically takes places when a rival, whether in love, business, or even within a family, decides they wish to take the other person down.

Examples of character assassinations have taken place throughout history. In the Bible (Proverbs 11:9) we’re told that “With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors,” a clear example of this force being wielded.

More recently, during the 1988 United States presidential election, Roger Ailes (who would go on to become the disgraced president of Fox News) produced a campaign advertisement that was designed to serve as a character assassination of Republican candidate for president George H. W. Bush’s opponent, Democratic Presidential candidate and former governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis.

The ad hit out at the Massachusetts furlough program, a program which allowed certain prisoners, including, in some cases, first-degree murderers, to receive weekend passes out of jail. While Dukakis in his capacity of governor did not start the program, he had supported it. During Ailes’ famous Weekend Passes ad, Dukakis is mentioned by name numerous times, as he is during the later Revolving Door ad, which depicted prisoners entering and exiting prison using a revolving door. This ad concluded with the phrase “Now Michael Dukakis says he wants to do for America what he’s done for Massachusetts. America can’t afford that risk.”

Posthumous Character Assassination

Character assassinations can also take place posthumously, as has been the case throughout history. This often takes place in memoirs or other forms of non-fiction in which the author either knew the individual they’re taking down personally, or they have never been a fan of this individual who they believe has been held to too high of a standard; and wanted to bring them down a peg or two after they are no longer able to respond.

This is the worst kind of character assassination. While not everybody deserves to be praised in death, purposely waiting until your target is no longer with us to pick apart their character is in itself a character trait of a weak individual indeed.

How to Deal With a Character Assassination

If you fall victim to a character assassination it can sometimes be difficult if not impossible to come back from it.

Returning to the story of Michael Dukakis, he was soundly beaten in the 1988 United States presidential election, winning just eleven states (including the District of Columbia). While many factors play into the results of an election of this magnitude, the manner in which Dukakis’s character was picked apart at the hand of Ailes and Bush is said to have played a significant role in Dukakis’s defeat.

To survive a character assassination, keep in mind that there are typically two types of people who sink to this level of operation:

  1. The narcissist to whom this type of behavior is normal
  2. The individual who is desperate, and has gotten in too deep

There is no dealing with the narcissist. Don’t fight back by attempting to diminish their character as they do the same to you; this is a race to the bottom in which neither of you will come out victorious. For them, the end justifies the means above all else. Instead, defend against the accusations being slung your way by ignoring their claims and holding your head high. Show the world that you are a person of integrity, and that you are proud of who you are and what you stand for.

When fielding an assault on your character from the second individual, someone who does not do this regularly, instead of ignoring their accusations, try to engage with them to find out why they felt the need to attack your character. (This is especially important if you know the individual personally, such as a work colleague.)

While the damage may already be done, turning your assailant into someone who instead appreciates you reaching out, and who will look out for your needs in the future, will always be time well spent.

Getting over a character assassination can take time, but if you follow the above advice you will get over this vicious assault on your character without breaking a sweat.

If you’re interested in hearing more from me, be sure to subscribe to my free email newsletter, and if you enjoyed this article, please share it on social media, link to it from your website, or bookmark it so you can come back to it often. ∎

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall

Benjamin Spall is the co-author of My Morning Routine (Portfolio). He has written for outlets including the New York Times, New York Observer, Quartz, Entrepreneur, Business Insider, CNBC, and more.