Dear Chump Lady,
I’m writing to ask if you could write a post about how and whether gray rock differs from no contact. Thanks to your blog, I went firmly “no-contact-as-possible-with-shared-custody” very early on. It’s been years since I’ve communicated with the ex via any method other than text or email, and it’s only around once a year (at most) that he’s able to get any reaction out of me beyond the basic “no,” “yes,” and “6 pm”.) But in the last year, as he’s been suing me for custody again, he’s been escalating a lot…trying to get a reaction out of me. And occasionally he succeeds, because at some point I lose my patience. (Nobody’s perfect!)
Recently a friend was telling me the whole point of gray rock is to be BORING, and I realized that when I ignore him, or *almost* ignore him and mostly avoid him, that might actually feeds his desire for drama. No matter how monosyllabic and brief I am, he knows I’m trying not to talk with him, which in his head means I’m reacting to him by avoiding him — and maybe, if he pushes hard enough, he can get a real reaction out of me. So I shifted from minimal contact to trying to be actively, intentionally BORING. My goal is to eliminate any possibility that would let him imagine I’m sitting there stewing, getting angry, or thinking about him in any way. The ultimate goal, of course, is that eventually his narcissist brain will learn, via Pavlovian association, that interacting with me is just no fun.
So, I’m trying this new strategy. Instead of responding in monosyllables or ignoring, I respond to his escalation with over-communication — but ONLY about BORING things. When he bullyingly said I was breaking our agreement by not letting him into my house to look for my daughter’s phone (a baldfaced lie of course; his capacity to lie still boggles my mind!), I responded that my daughter’s phone was in her brother’s backpack, that I had put it there since she had forgotten it when she went to school, and that she might need to charge it because it had been on all day but the charger wasn’t in the bag but she said she had a charger at his house…etc etc. etc.
When he accusingly ordered me to delivery my kids’ uniforms to his house immediately, I replied that my daughter didn’t need another uniform outfit for Monday because she decided to wear her white shirt on Friday but she’s required to wear white on Monday, I’m not sure why, it’s a weird rule, but anyway she only wanted me to buy her one white shirt since she usually doesn’t wear white but it’s still clean but also I will probably get some more in case but anyway he probably didn’t need to wash it over the weekend but he can wash it if he thinks it needs it, but it should be fine to wear again… You get the idea.
Basically, I’m over-explaining with utterly boring, unimportant, and useless information. It’s quite wonderful. I’ve actually succeeded several times in getting him to STOP texting me! Instead of continuing to text me more and more accusatory and escalating messages, he gives up and just replies, “ok, thanks” — or he doesn’t reply at all. Which, of course, is the ultimate victory with a narcissist!
The best part of this, though, is the fact that my son has had some digestive issues over the past few months. This means I’ve been able to text him several long, detailed messages about my son’s poop. The size, the color, the time of day, what he ate, what it looked like he ate…it’s pretty great. I’m really hoping I’ll get a good excuse to send him a picture of it soon.
I would love to read your take on this method! I haven’t been using it long enough to know how effective it will be. Right now, he’s shifting to bullying my friends and neighbors, which is a good sign that he’s feeling like he can’t get a reaction out of me.
Dear Boring AF,
Your poor friends and neighbors. Perhaps you should tip them off and inform them of your strategy? Next time he’s within earshot, they can give a 30-minute summary of a 30-minute TV show, explain the history of Methodism, or offer an exegesis on their gout. The possibilities are endless! Corner him to discuss the finer points of legislative redistricting. Ponder the nocturnal habits of badgers. Invite him in to watch public television fundraising challenges.
He’ll recoil! ARE THERE NO QUALITY KIBBLES?! And go run to the nearest shiny thing.
I applaud your ingenuity. Essentially, you’ve upended the power balance and have returned his aggression with mindfuckery. Freaks underestimate chumps. He could understand you avoiding him, but he probably can’t imagine you’d be boring on purpose. You’re a lesser being of course, so you bore him. Just to greater effect now. Damn.
What you’ve ceased to do is be good kibbles. Try harder to please him, flatter him, indulge his cake-eating. (To CN — I edited out part of the letter where her ex was screwing escorts when she was pregnant.) I’m sure it does infuriate him. I’m very sorry you’re going through a custody battle with this fuckwit. (Document, document, document.)
I can’t say I ever tried this method. (I can natter on about inane things quite effortlessly.) The other strategy I’ve read that works with narcissists, that I positively suck at, is toadying up to them. Tell them how super awesome they are, and how the world will reward them and look favorably upon them, if they’ll just do this one, tiny favor like pick up their child on time. Cupcakes! Confetti! Parades!
Apparently, they go weak for flattery and you can control them. I do NOT advise this. Because you shouldn’t poke bears. I think people without empathy synapses are dangerous and I don’t want them in my life — in a real way or a fake way. And when forced to interact with one (like co-parenting, or toxic family get-togethers), I just summon all my Zen and take a beta-blocker.
So I guess my preferred method of co-parenting with a fuckwit is minimal contact that satisfies court orders. Thank the sweet Lord Jesus for scheduling software. But I’m curious what CN thinks — what’s your narc strategy? Avoidance? Boring blather? Flamethrowers?
I’m all ears.