As a child of narcissistic parents, one of my proudest life accomplishments is over ten years of no contact with them. But let me qualify that. It also took over ten years of no contact to feel proud. For the bulk of my life, I carried all the guilt and shame about their bad behavior. Recovering from narcissistic abuse is a lifelong process that some people never even have the opportunity to begin. Back when I was in contact with them and still trying to make things work, I often experienced extreme migraines, panic attacks and other physical symptoms, not yet understanding all the reasons why my body acted in such violent opposition. Today, I still have frequent migraines and nightmares, but in spite of my daily struggles, I consider myself one of the fortunate ones, especially because I was able to go no contact.
For many, especially those who have children with narcissists, no contact is not an option. For many, gaining the necessary distance to recover one’s identity and heal is extremely tough. Complex PTSD is likely and common. Any narcissist in the space of the abused will likely trigger symptoms which make recovery extremely difficult. So what to do? For those who cannot get away, or get away yet, gray rock is the way to go.
Going gray rock is what it sounds like. The goal is to make oneself as uninteresting as possible, like a gray rock. Go small, blend in, make no attention-grabbing reactions or comments. Stick to surface level exchanges of information in order to get through the moment. Speak as few words as possible. Offer no opinions. Be so boring the narcissist puts their attention elsewhere.
Narcissists are natural predators looking for their next emotional and psychological kill. They are attracted to shiny things, like feelings and authenticity. They lack empathy, so if they sniff it out in others, they want to capture it and play with it. Pretend you are a nature photographer. Use your zoom lens and observe the narcissist from as far away as you can without being detected. But stay alert. Be aware you can be eaten at any moment. Here’s another analogy. Remember Sid, the kid in Toy Story who viciously destroys all the toys he can get his hands on? Well, Sid is the narc and you are the toy. If Sid gets hold of you, act inanimate and broken, and maybe you might have a chance to escape when he’s not looking.
If you find yourself in the company of a narcissist, here are a few things you do not want to do. Do not try to reason with them. Do not tell them your plan for handling them. Do not argue. Let go of being right. And for the love of God, do not tell a narcissist they are a narcissist. You are only inviting pain and suffering into your life by doing this. Ask anyone who has made this mistake. Remember that a narcissist lacks the ability to self reflect with any sort of honesty, so if you want to go gray rock, don’t say or do anything that would suggest the finger they are pointing go inward. Stay focused on the goal of getting through whatever the necessary exchange is and get them out of your space as soon as possible. Back away so slowly, they don’t notice you’re gone.
All of this is, of course, extremely difficult. Expect the narcissist to intentionally say and do things to get a rise out of you. Expect to be hoovered in by manufactured drama. Try to have a plan for when (not if) this happens. Most of all, be kind to yourself, especially if you make a mistake. Practice excellent self-care. Perhaps plan special treats for yourself just following the exchange. Make sure you have safe people to talk to who understand and empathize. It’s never too soon to start the healing process, but understand that if a narcissist is in your life in any capacity, certain things will just have to wait until you are 100% narc free. The good news is, recovery is possible. If you can use the gray rock strategy to reach time and place where you are truly free, it will be well worth it.