by Eddie Stephens
Originally published in Divorce Magazine.
The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-V) defines Narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) as an affliction characterized by grandiosity, a need for excessive admiration, and a lack of empathy; and manipulative, self-centered, or demanding behavior.
Someone with NPD can cause significant distress to anyone who associates with them. It affects anywhere from 1 to 6 percent of the population.
As any seasoned family law attorney will tell you, a narcissist going through family law proceedings will undoubtedly increase the expense of a divorce and often creates devasting psychological damage to their spouse, their children, and even the divorce professionals involved in the case.
Narcissists do not see the divorce process as a collaborative process to peacefully divide a union, finances, and child responsibilities. Instead, it can be a game to them. They constantly gaslight to distract and keep you off balanced.
Narcissists can cause damage in court proceedings. They can lie without remorse and simultaneously charm Judges. Some judges are not equipped to recognize these traits, and court proceedings are typically rushed. The full picture is often missed. This can lead to unjust results.
A narcissist wants to control you.
A narcissist feeds on the energy they can drain from you.
What does one do when they find themselves on this complicated web and in a position where you HAVE to communicate with a narcissist? What happens if you have children together?
Grey Rock Communication
From sitting on my perch as a divorce attorney for 25 years, I have witnessed one technique that consistently works” “The Grey Rock Method.” “Grey rocking” is a defense mechanism you can use when toxic people are trying to dominate or manipulate you.
How do you execute this coping tool? Become the grey rock.
Be stable. Be blank. Be unresponsive.
Provide no personal information. Don’t react. There is no reason to argue with a narcissist, as they are never wrong. Do not engage.
If children are involved, ensure you provide information necessary to co-parent, but nothing more. If the information is provided orally, it should be followed by a written e-mail or missive. For example:
Bobby has a fever and is showing signs of the flu. I plan on taking him to the Doctor today at 3 pm should you wish to join us. If you are unavailable, I will let you know what the doctor says.
No arguing. No drama. No disparagement. Rather, the respectful exchange of information. A narcissist could take the above appropriate email and respond in an inappropriate manner. For example:
What did you do to Bobby to make him sick? You know I have to work at 3 pm…. You planned this. I know it.
How do you respond to something like that? Very simple…. you don’t.
Emails and texts make great evidence. They show exactly how you treat the other parent, which, in turn, tells a judge what kind of person you are. If you are in a situation where you are litigating children’s issues, whether during the initial proceeding or post-judgment, write every email as if it will be read by a Judge.
Your refusal to provide a reaction starves the narcissist of the very thing they seek… your energy.
Will this change the behaviors of a narcissist and how they treat you? It’s possible but not guaranteed. There are some very sick and evil people out there. If you were unlucky enough to spawn with one, you will have years of mitigating harm to yourself and your children.
The Grey Rock Communication Method is a tool to help provide that protection. Grey rocking is an effective strategy that helps you reduce unwanted focus from negative individuals.
Thank you for this Eddie. I have a client who is struggling in this exact scenario. You have summed it up brilliantly.
I love this! May I share it with my clients?
Thank you, I preach this same method to my clients all the time. I just didn’t realize it had a name. I always tell them “DNE – do not engage.” It is so hard for clients to not want to respond and defend themselves from the attacks and accusations but need to understand that no amount of defending yourself against a narcissist will make it stop.