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Want to Defeat Narcissists?


Clients often complain about the narcissists in their lives and I’ve written several blogs about coping with them. I was thinking about them when I was waiting for someone in a doctor’s office and clocked fellow A talking non-stop to fellow B for 40 minutes! I couldn’t believe fellow B sat patiently, injecting only a few questions. Nor could I suppress a silent cheer when fellow A finally stopped talking and fellow B said, “But, you never answered my original question.” 

We needn’t become captive to narcissists, especially the ones who drone on and on (and on and on) talking about themselves. I recently read about a technique called “gray rocking” which is one tool to try out. According to Deborah Ashway, LMHC, the term describes the person on the receiving end of an interaction trying “to make themselves as boring and nonreactive as possible to decrease the amount of provoking or emotional reactions” from someone else. She says that “when somebody doesn’t give the manipulator the responses they want, they’re no longer able to push their buttons.”

When someone drones on or comes at you with words to annoy you, try using a facial expression or making a sound. You’re not being rude. You’re just not engaging. Or say something monosyllabic like “yes, no or hmm.” The more neutral your response, the less the narcissist has to grab onto and come back at you with. Visualize yourself as, yup, a gray rock—you know, boring and nondescript, part of the background, nothing to see here, folks. That way the narcissist will lose interest in you and turn their attention elsewhere. (However, this won’t work with all narcissists. Fellow A above is living proof.)

Remember, one of the worst things you can do is to engage in argument with a narcissist who is intent on winning a power struggle. This will only lead you to feeling more unheard and unvalued and will ratchet up your frustration and animus.

The gray rock concept may go against your natural grain: your wish to be heard, seen and validated. However, you’re unlikely to come away from talking with a narcissist feeling these things. Think about those in your life and how you feel interacting with them: invisible, brainless, gutless, totally uninteresting, and invisible.

Lest you think I’m being mean to the self-centered, I’m not trying to hurt them, but I am trying to prevent you from being hurt by them. Learn how to protect yourself from the self-absorbed, especially if they’re close intimates like family members and bosses. At the least, don’t give them the fodder to make you feel small. Instead, show them you don’t care by turning yourself into a simple, boring old, ho-hum gray rock.