If you’re parenting with a narcissist and are unhappy with the way your communication goes, doing grey rock could be really helpful. A narcissist cannot connect healthily with other people and relies instead on ‘narcissistic supply’ to fulfil their needs.

Common forms of narcissistic supply are:

  • Attention
  • Compliments and praise
  • Winning, or achieving something
  • Feeling powerful (having power over you)
  • Feeling in control (being able to control you, and thus, their environment)
  • An addictive substance or activity
  • Sex
  • Emotional energy (which can be positive or negative)

Narcissists obtain this supply from their “victims” by seduction, manipulation, anger and bullying behaviour.

The entire purpose of your relationship and the one goal of everyone involved (including your children) is to feed the narcissist. This form of psychological manipulation works because when the narcissist is “fed” everyone involved is lulled into a false, albeit brief, sense of security. However this is exhausting and an unhealthy way of relating, so the idea of doing grey rock is to get the narcissist to look elsewhere for their supply.

If you think about a big lump of grey rock you’ll realise that it’s very boring, which is just how you need to be with someone who is trying to provoke you into giving them a reaction. No matter what you throw at a grey rock, or how hard you throw it, it will give you nothing back. If you hit it hard with your bare hand, it’s you who will get hurt. How long could you shout at a grey rock without getting bored and going away? That’s what you’re aiming for, boring the narcissist into giving up on you and leaving you alone. The narcissist feeds on your emotional reactions, so you need to starve them out of your orbit.

It’s a bit like a cat and a mouse: whatever the mouse does, the cat will chase it. However nice the mouse tries to be to the cat, it will still chase it: it’s what cats do and you can’t change the fundamental nature or instinct of a cat.

The best option for the mouse is to crawl into a little hole and either stare fixedly at the cat (cats don’t like to be stared at), or to close its eyes and ignore it. The cat will poke its paw into the hole and it will sit there for ages as it won’t believe the mouse won’t come out to engage again, but eventually it will get bored and go and find something else to play with. A narcissist, or emotionally unbalanced person, is just the same, which is why grey rock works: you want them to lose interest in you and find another victim.

Every time your narcissistic ex contacts you, they want an emotional reaction and your aim is to deprive them of the drama they crave. Hopefully, you will already have restricted your communication to written only so when you receive a message your first task is to ask yourself if you need to reply. I know it’s hard for a polite person to ignore a question that’s asked of them, but it does get easier with practice. A good question to ask yourself is “what will happen to my child if I don’t reply?” If you really have to give an answer then ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’ or ‘we’ll see’ are your basic responses. If you need to say more, make sure you keep it as short as you possibly can and that there’s no emotion in what you say: stick to the facts, don’t try to defend yourself or point out their errors. There’s nothing you can say that will convince them that what they say to you isn’t true – because for them that’s not the object of the exercise anyway – so just focus on what’s best for your child.

To begin with the narcissist will be annoyed and may well up the ante by doing things they know will annoy you in order to provoke a response. They may return the children late, or even later than usual, and however anxious this may make you, it’s important not to show it or to react. You cannot co-parent with a narcissist, it’s a question of picking your battles. You cannot control what they feed them, how much TV they let them watch or how late they get them to bed, so it’s best not to give them the satisfaction of knowing their bad parenting upsets you. If it’s something more serious, for instance your child has to take essential medication, you may want to try and insist but as upsetting you is likely to be much higher on their priority list than caring for their child, that may not work either.

When they are rude and aggressive to you it’s not because of anything you’ve said or done, it’s because their supply is running short and they need your reaction. Alternatively, they may play the victim and accuse you of being unfair, mistreating them or making their life hard (although this is most likely to be what they are doing to you). Don’t dignify them with your energy or emotion, just remember who they are – an idiotic, anti-social loser – and who you are: an unresponsive grey-rocker. It will take a while, as well as patience and self-control to re-programme your brain to respond differently, so be patient with yourself whilst you are a grey-rocker in training.

If you need some help with your training,Tina Swithin’s The Narc Decoder is a brilliant book (and I just love the cover and all the “snap, fizzle, pops” before the decoded email emerges!). It’s a small book, very quick and easy to read, and it’s as enjoyable as it is helpful.  

And if you need any further help, just drop me a line (diana@dealingwithdivorce.co.uk)

or give me a ring on 01932 843434.