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What is Gray Rock? How to Deal with a Narcissist

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Relationships with narcissists keep us in a walking sleep-state. They hold us captive, tethered to them by the competing emotions inside of us and the death grip they have on our hearts.

And what does every resource tell us about that death grip and how to deal with a narcissist?

  • The narcissist is not going to release it.
  • There are many forces that keep us there that we probably aren’t going to be able to completely understand while we’re actually in it.
  • We have to break it ourselves and go no contact.

But what if you can’t? 

I’ve written a lot about being unable to go no contact and preparing psychologically. We all have experienced this, regardless of what stage of the relationship or recovery we’re in.

But what if you can’t physically go no contact because of practical reasons that extend beyond your internal frame of mind?

When You Can’t Go No Contact

It can feel like the narcissist’s ultimate checkmate–or at least temporarily.

We’re always told that we must go no contact to truly get control of our lives back, and yet there are situations where that’s just not possible. Here are a handful of reasons why you might not be able to break things off with a narcissist even if you may want to. 

1. You Work Together.

If you work with the narcissist, you may fear that he or she will try to sabotage you when you break it off. The idea of starting smear campaigns with people you know socially is bad enough. But the knowledge that they might try to destroy your career could be paralyzing.

You might need time to figure out how to get another job and the logistics of doing it without the narcissist knowing. There may even be a lot of soul-searching to do over whether you even want to do that or not if you truly love your job.

Then if getting another job in your field in the current economy or in the area in which you currently live would be difficult, you may feel the walls closing in.

2. You Live Together.

If you’ve started building a life together with the narcissist, whether you’re married or not, you can’t just walk out overnight. It takes time to figure out what to do next. Finding somewhere new to live takes time, not to mention working out the legal details if you own property together or both of you signed a lease.

3. You Don’t Have the Resources.

Perhaps you are completely dependent on the narcissist for survival. He or she has isolated you from almost everyone, and you don’t have financial resources. You may be ill or lack job skills and may feel unable to live on your own and have no one else to assist you.

4. You Have Children Together.

The narcissist may decide he or she doesn’t want to be a part of the children’s lives, however, as long as the court system has left his or her parental rights intact, he or she can always reappear at any time and the other partner has no control over it.

5. There Are Other Legal Reasons You Have to Be in Contact.

If the narcissist assaulted you and there are criminal proceedings or there are civil court issues, such as property division, or other legal reasons why the two of you need to maintain regular contact, this could potentially drag out for months or years.

You may not need to have direct contact, but true no contact, by definition, requires not interacting at all with the narcissist, including seeing the narcissist.

No contact is not possible as long as a legal tie exists.

6. The Narcissist Just Won’t Leave You Alone.

Maybe you have broken it off–even more than once. But the narcissist just won’t stop contacting you and let you go in peace. When the narcissist tries to hoover you but you have already gone no contact, then are you no contact or not? What do you do?

Often it’s a combined set of circumstances that narcissists leverage to make it difficult or impossible for us to go no contact in the traditional sense. They are able to use the law or our access to resources or the things we need to survive to torment us.

This can allow them to walk in and out as they please while keeping us off balance and provoking us into reacting as we get more and more desperate.

How to Deal with a Narcissist if You Can’t Go No Contact

Having children with the narcissist is the one reason on this list that the inability to go no contact may always remain permanent. If you have children with a narcissist, you will likely maintain some type of contact with him or her which makes no contact impossible.

Therefore, I will use this situation as the most extreme example of a situation where no contact is not feasible or won’t work. What I will describe about how to handle a narcissist in lieu of traditional no contact in this situation should also work for dealing with a narcissist in every other situation described above.

If you cannot go no contact, there is an alternative that you can use instead of no contact, known as “gray rock.”

This can be thought of as emotional no contact.

What is Gray Rock?

Gray rock is a mindset and a physical act, just as traditional no contact is.

First and foremost, it requires cutting off the narcissist mentally just as no contact does. We must make the decision in our minds that the relationship is over and there is no going back. We must prepare our minds and then close off the narcissist from having access to us emotionally and psychologically.

This is means that even though we must keep interacting with the narcissist, his or her actions will have no effect.

Yet the second part of “gray rock” differs from no contact because instead of then cutting off the narcissist physically (or ensuring the narcissist cannot contact you), it involves a modification in how you act with the narcissist.

Gray rock generally involves the following:

  • flat affect
  • monotone voice
  • responding only when they reach out and only when it is necessary to respond (don’t reach out first unless it is unavoidable)
  • short responses that provide no extraneous information
  • neutral delivery
  • making yourself appear less interesting in their presence so that they feel bored 
  • providing them with no more attention than necessary (no prolonged eye contact, etc.)
  • seeming busy and uninterested in what they say or do

Why Use Gray Rock to Deal with a Narcissist

Gray rock serves multiple purposes:

  1. It trains the narcissist not to expect any narcissistic supply from you.
  2. It avoids giving the narcissist any new information that can allow him or her to take advantage of you.
  3. It helps to protect you from hoovering.
  4. It protects you emotionally from harm as much as is feasible in situations where no contact is not possible.

What Gray Rock is Not

Gray rock is a tactic that you utilize to protect yourself from the narcissist’s controlling behavior. What that means is that it is not a response to the narcissist’s actions, nor is it done to try to elicit any response from the narcissist.

1. Gray rock is not disconnecting from your emotions.

If you feel disconnected from your emotions, that is likely a response to trauma. Gray rock is not a complete disconnection from how you feel. In fact, the opposite is true.

You should be in touch with how you feel as much as you possibly can so that you will be able to actively maintain gray rock in the face of any surprise actions the narcissist might try to get you to break it and react.

Easier said than done, I know. This note is just to make clear that gray rock is a deliberate withholding of emotion in order to avoid

2. Gray rock is not isolating yourself or withdrawing.

If you’re still in love with the narcissist, it may feel easier to put a wall up completely and shut everyone out in order to keep the narcissist out.

We can’t always control how our brains respond to trauma, and if this has happened, I hope that you’ll be gentle with yourself and work on getting back out on the world again while learning how to keep that barrier constant with the narcissist in your life.

3. Gray rock is not punishing the narcissist.

Gray rock is not about the narcissist, just as no contact is not about the narcissist.

When you go gray rock, you are doing it for yourself and your own peace of mind and not in any way to control anything the narcissist does. There should be no expectations that your actions will cause the narcissist to change or do anything different–except hopefully to someday stop doing things to trigger, bait or hoover you.

4. Gray rock is not manipulative or narcissistic of you.

I have heard people mention that they feel as if they are being cruel when they use gray rock, or that they feel guilty deliberately showing no emotion or interest in what the narcissist says or does.

I’ve even seen people begin to wonder if it makes them like the narcissist, who sometimes refused to talk and acted cold.

Using gray rock is not equivalent behavior to what the narcissist has done, however.

It’s all about motive. Narcissists stonewall, walk out, ignore, dismiss your feelings because they are not empathetic and don’t care about your feelings or want to hear what they view as criticism about themselves. They engage in this behavior to punish and control.

In contrast, you are implementing gray rock only as a last resort, as part of the break-up. It’s a reaction to the way the narcissist behaves to stand up for yourself and set boundaries.

For you, it’s healthy because it protects you from an unhealthy person and situation.

This is an example of a narcissist mind game, where he or she twists your healthy behavior into something harmful or equivalent to their damaging behavior.

Gray rock is a metaphorical form of no contact. It can be used when you are unable to go no contact immediately or to prepare yourself for full no contact, or in situations where traditional no contact is unlikely to ever be possible.

If you find yourself unable to escape the death grip of the narcissist, gray rock may cause the narcissist to release that grip on you.


Don’t forget to check out these resources:

Kristen Milstead

Kristen Milstead is a narcissistic abuse survivor who has become a strong advocate for finding your unique voice and using it to help others find theirs.

One Comment

  1. There have been many stages indeed trying to leave him, I left my father years ago, but get entrapped when I was disabled by another malignant narcissist for 27 yrs. I was severely disabled, in severe pain of fire, from Interstitial Cystitis, he got rid of my job that I was offered at the Post Office, when I was away he signed my name and wrote that I didn’t want the job offer. I tried many times to leave but all the doors kept shutting, I couldn’t survive financially and he held all the money to himself, he emotionally and psychologically tortured me for years, and left me to die of a cardiac arrest, life with him was no life, being an abuse surviver I had no family to turn to and he got rid of all my friends, so the isolation, and brainwashing began to suck me in,. I was raped in 1989 by him and he caused me to get this disease, and didn’t care that I became bedridden, didn’t help me to find a doctor. He raped me again in 2015 of July and he convinced the police and a friend of mine to go along with him. He set me up in the state of florida, when he and I were separated for 3 days, he gave the key to the man at the end of the street, and at about 1am he broke in, I tried to get help, but the police didn’t believe me, I was beaten into a coma for over 8 days, when I awoke I was transferred to the psycho unit, I asked why, I had clearly been beaten half to death, bruises all over my body. Then the State of Florida vs. me, I had no help, I had to leave the area and quick. I went to California. They dropped the case. When he raped me again in 2015 of July I went back into another county, there unfortunately I met up with another predator, a malignant narcissist, he stoled a great deal of the money I had save for 27 yrs. to leave the Malignant Narcissist. The sirens went off inside of me, as my intuition told me this person was dangerous, but I had no place to go, there this person abused me, emotionally and psychologically, he was oh so charming and charismatic, he spread smear campaigns, isolated me, used brainwashing techniques of intermittent reinforcement patterns, gaslighted me all the time, and he tried to cause me to have a fatality, I am now free and starting to rebuild my life, I don’t ever want to return to this abuse. I will take good care of myself and never again will I allow this type of cluster B personality near me. It is very hard to leave the malignant narcissist because they play their game so well and take away your sense of self. But it can be done and I am wishing the best for everyone who is going through this. Going no contact and reading about this disorder almost daily to help you to realize the games they play with your life. I only started to realize about this disorder 4 years ago, there I began to understand that my father was one, my X husband and the person I was involved with.

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