I swear, I made every single communication mistake while splitting up with my abusive ex. In the months leading up to, during, and long after our official break up, all I wanted was for them to understand.
—Please, see me! Hear me! Feel me! I yearned.
In my attempt to communicate and be understood, I wrote endless text messages and letters, some of which I never sent. I cried and screamed, pleaded, and begged.
—Why? Why can’t they just get me?
I don’t know what made me think that, after not having been recognized for a decade that it would suddenly, magically, happen then. But I see it now.
Gaining empathy and understanding from a narcissist is impossible.
It’s basically impossible for most people to fathom the narcissist’s mindset and void of empathy. We simply cannot accept that another person is incapable of relating to us. At all.
Secondly, more essential than the desire to be loved is the human need to be understood. It makes us feel validated, safe, accepted, and like we belong. It helps us understand ourselves. When this need is not met—especially by someone close to us—we feel boundless grief.
Lastly, I hadn’t realized any of this yet; that they were a narcissist, that I had never actually been seen by them and never would be. I held onto a hope that the reality of potentially losing our relationship—of losing me—would open their eyes; awaken to reality, take responsibility, step up, and ultimately save the day.
Newsflash: They didn’t.
At the time, this drove me mad with sadness and frustration. Using every communication tool and skill available to me—speaking as clearly and honestly as I knew how to—my words seemed to bounce off them like water on oiled skin. I just couldn’t get through!
The harder we try the more we suffer.
The more effort I put in, the more I struggled with stress, anxiety, and an overwhelming feeling of defeat. Instead of resolve, my feeble pleadings brought nothing. They simply fed my ex; giving them, not only my energy but a ton of ammunition. Each of my outcries, a Molotov cocktail handed to them to be lit on fire and hurled back.
Looking back it’s clear that it was a lost cause and that nothing I could have done would have changed that. If anything, the process helped me understand myself—all though this could have been accomplished in healthier, less strenuous ways.
But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20 and yet, from this, I learned. A lot.
Over a year past our separation, after my ex had moved overseas, I was still spending a ton of energy engaging in quarrels. Had it not been for having a child in common, who lives full time with me, I would never have stayed in touch—but, alas, I had no choice but to honor his rights to be involved and to contact via video calls.
The advice that shifted everything: Give them nothing!
A daily struggle, each message from him cost me hours of fretting what and how to respond. Turning to a friend, I asked for advice and help to edit my messages.
—Don’t give them anything! my friend urged. Remove every single emotional statement from your messages—every bit of anger and hurt. Say only what you absolutely need to. Give them NOTHING!
His advice was hard to swallow.
—How can I? If I don’t fight back, they get away with it, right? They win! Should I just let myself be walked over like that?
My friend made me realize what soon became obvious to me: By giving the narcissist nothing, you keep your energy to yourself. In return, they get nothing to react to.
This sounds fairly easy in theory. In reality, it’s a challenge to stop yourself from reacting to insults and blatant lies told to you about yourself, to empty threats over impossible legal claims and other ludicrous, insensitive, and straight-up mean messages.
But, it’s worth it!
Become a grey rock.
Educating myself, I learned about the grey rock method, which is defined as “a practice where an individual becomes emotionally non-responsive, boring, and virtually acts like a rock. Emotional detachment serves to undermine a narcissist’s attempts to lure and manipulate, causing them to grow uninterested and bored. The grey rock method takes away what the narcissist needs and desires most—attention.” source.
Slowly, I began to say nothing but the bare minimum. I became as boring as I possibly could.
If they asked me anything about me, I was always “fine”, nothing more, nothing less. From then on, I was never tired, stressed or exhausted, neither was I great or wonderful.
I’m incredibly dull in every way possible. To them.
Surprisingly to me, this worked way faster than I could have anticipated. Gradually, the narcissist retreated, and gone were the threats, lies, and other aggressive outbursts. With that, the countless amounts of energy spent on retaliating were regained and could be used for far more productive endeavors.
Today, my ex is lame as a lamb, and even more so, they’re almost polite in their communication with me. I would have never expected them to ask nicely when I have time or to apologize when they don’t honor their appointments. It feels like night and day, and the effects this has had on my life have been extraordinary: I’m free!
Regain your power.
I no longer fear the act of opening the messaging app we use to communicate. I’m no longer flooded with dizzy anxiety and start seeing stars when I open a text. I don’t pace around at home giving imaginary speeches that I’m too scared to deliver to their face. They no longer have power over me.
Nowadays, I see them grappling to get something from me—trying to crack jokes, to address me with buddy-terms, and build rapport—but without success. I don’t react.
I continue to be boring, dull, and uninterested. I remain a grey rock. I give them nothing. And that way, I keep it all for myself, and the people and things that matter.
To everyone who, for whatever reason, has to remain in touch with the abusers, narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, or other toxic people they’ve left behind, I highly recommend this approach:
Do not give them anything to react to, and do not react to anything coming from them.
No matter what you say or do, you will not be understood—and trying is futile. Not reacting does not mean that you lose, but rather the opposite; it’s a win where the prize is your own peace and sanity.
Take your life back.
Remember that you have friends, family, therapists, and other supporters out there that will listen and that you can share your frustrations, and victories with. You have others who will allow you to be a lot more than just “fine”, and this is where you should focus on being understood.
The faster you accept the hard-to-swallow fact that the narcissist will never empathize, sympathize, see or hear you, the closer you are to regaining your power, energy, and peace—your life!
Falling Out of Love With a Narcissist
How to let go of the fantasy image of a dream that never was