Going Gray with Narcissists/Toxic People

Going gray is considered the best, perhaps only way, to deal with narcissists and other toxic people.  I thought I had it down with my ex, but I did not.  I wasn’t going gray, I was simply avoiding him.  Since we live in the same community, and share numerous friends and associates, avoiding him is not an acceptable way for me to live.

I figured out what going gray actually means in relation to my parents.  They insisted on taking me out to dinner for my birthday.  This was the first time I had any substantial contact with them since our family armageddon this summer.

The evening was fine.  We discussed frivolous topics.  Any time the conversation steered towards anything sensitive or potentially volatile, I changed the subject.  It was work for me.  I guess this is the part of “going gray” I did not understand.  Going gray is not a passive endeavor, it is a very active technique.

I was tired by the end of the evening.  As we left the restaurant my dad suggested we needed to “discuss” what had happened over the summer.  I said “I am not going to discuss that.  I am going to choose my words carefully and I think that is all we can do as a family – be more careful about the words we say to each other”.   We left on a neutral note, which was the best outcome.

I liken going gray to what happened on the Titanic.  After the dinner the men escaped to the smoking room while the women stayed at the table.  What did they discuss?  Perhaps a little gossip, but certainly nothing of substance.  Their conversations were gray.

You might be thinking this is a cop-out.  Isn’t this what we as women, we as empowered people of the 60’s & 70’s, worked hard to move away from this?  Hasn’t our country deliberately moved away from being gray, to grow as individuals as well as a collective?  Yes.  The answer is yes.  I’m thrilled this has happened.  I love engaging in a great debate about any of the numerous issues of our era.  With normal, healthy people.  Few things are as exhilarating (at least to me) as an intelligent conversation examining all the sides of an issue.  It’s like tossing a ball around the dining room table.  Everyone gets a chance to hold the ball, to decide who to toss it to, and to decline it if they don’t want it.  At the end of the conversation the ball is put away.  The ball does not become an elephant in the room.  The ball might have changed it’s form, because the players might come to a different definition of what the ball is or what it represents, but at the end the ball is put away.

This will never happen with the narcissist or toxic person.  This person will take the ball and refuse to hand it off.  If they do hand it off, it will be temporary. When they snatch it back, which they will, they will speak in loathing tones to those who expressed a different view of the ball.  In the end, the ball will sit in the middle of the table growing and growing, pushing people out of their seats, one by one, until all that is left is the ball and the smiling narcissist who has “won”.

If you choose to play this game with the narcissist/toxic person you will always lose. You will walk away leaving pieces of yourself behind.   You will leave behind those pieces that you thought were ok and now believe are wrong, ignorant, stupid, naive.  The narc/tp loves this!  Each of those pieces you leave behind reinforces their omnipotence.  Each of these pieces makes them stronger and more determined.  If you do this long enough, you will be a walking zombie.  You will have left so many pieces of yourself at the table there will be nothing left.

You can make this choice.  You can continue to play ball.  You can also choose to avoid.  In many situations that is not only possible but desirable.  Or, you can go gray.

Here are some examples of going gray:

  • TP:  What are those people thinking, standing in the road with their stupid signs?
  • You:  Yes, the weather was brutal today.  It was really hot.
  • TP:  You were disrespectful to me.
  • You:  That is terrible that this is how you experienced things.  Hey, did I mention the movie I saw the other day?  It was so funny.
  • TP:  I’m mad at you.
  • You:  Would you like some peaches?  They are fresh and delicious.
  • TP:  I can’t believe you did that.  Something is wrong with you.
  • You:  Good bye.


If the Narc/TP continues to push their agenda remember this important fact:  It is their agenda, not yours.  You have the ability to decide how to react.  Take a breath, clear your head, think to yourself – “this is his agenda, not mine.  This has nothing to do with me”.  Then decide:  Smile and change the subject, or leave.

My brother has suggested that we hold our parents accountable for their crazy accusations and opinions.  I did not feel right about that, but couldn’t quite express why.  This is why – in holding them accountable you are feeding them.  You are giving them the ball, over and over again, and the ball is growing.  You will never, ever be heard.  Your handling of the ball will be a short reprieve during which the narc/TP will figure out their next accusation.  Anything you say or do while holding the ball will be used against you at some time.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

  • It Is Not You.
  • You Owe No Apologies.
  • You Are Not a Bad, Thoughtless, Rude, Stupid, Insensitive Person.
  • You are OK.

Practice this as you go about your day with people who are rude to you.  Practice thinking “this has nothing to do with me”, then smiling, saying “have a good day”, or “goodbye.   Then, when you walk away, this to yourself “boy, I’m glad I don’t feel that way”.

Good luck!!  May the Gray Be Ever In Your Favor!!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s