Going Gray with Narcissists/Toxic People


Going gray is considered the best, perhaps only way, to deal with narcissists and other toxic people.  This is easy if you are completely breaking ties with someone you can walk away from.  But what about the people in your life you can’t escape?

Two summers ago I had a major altercation with my parents.  We had not talked for months, and  I was surprised when they asked to take me out to dinner.

The evening was fine.  We discussed frivolous topics.  Any time the conversation steered towards anything sensitive, I changed the subject.  It was hard work for me.  This is the part of “going gray” I did not understand –  going gray is not a passive endeavor, it is an active technique.

I was exhausted by the end of the evening.  As we left the restaurant my dad suggested we 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 love engaging in a great debate.  With normal, healthy people.  An intelligent conversation examining all the sides of an issue is 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.  Fair play for all. The ball might have changed it’s form, because the debaters might come to a different definition of what the ball  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 in a way they control. 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 feeling 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 are now the narc’s puppet.

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 ignorant 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:  I’m sorry you feel that way.  Hey, did I mention the movie I saw the other day?  It was so funny.


  • TP:  I’m mad at you.
  • You:  Hmmm.   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.  (then walk away)


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 by questioning them.  When my wealthy, healthy white mother says “your dad and I have become victims”, my brother wants us to ask “victims of what?  What are you talking about”.    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 smile say “have a good day”, or “goodbye.   Then, when you walk away, say this to yourself “boy, I’m glad I don’t feel that way”.

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

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