“You are a horrible communicator” “You don’t communicate with me” “Communication is key” “Our problem is that you don’t communicate” “Communication, communication, communication.”
It got to the point where just hearing the word communication is now a borderline trigger for me. I don’t go into full-blown flashbacks over it, but it definitely makes my stomach turn. So writing this blog is both an easy flow of content but also a gut-wrenching topic.
Let me start by saying I am a blogger, a poet, an aspiring author, and an avid journal-keeper. Language was always my best subject in school, too. I’m pretty good at putting my thoughts into words and getting them out. I am also by nature a very non-confrontational person. I’m pretty hard-headed and set in my ways when there’s not much resistance, but when I see that confrontation will arise from my desires, I tend to stuff them and keep walking. I’m a people-pleaser and an empath. I say these things because it sets the stage for the accusation of being a terrible communicator.
Narcissists use all kinds of tactics to abuse people. One of those tactics is to gain your trust, then once they have it and you’ve opened up and shared honesty with them, they will throw your honesty back in your face and pin your with guilt and shame over what you’ve shared. It may be immediately within the same conversation, or it may be days, weeks, months, and years down the road. They may use that same information as repetitive ammo for the rest of your relationship. Eventually the victim catches on and learns to stay silent. Communication becomes unsafe. It becomes a lose-lose situation. You either open up and risk being victim to your own truth or you stay silent to protect yourself and end up being accused of ruining the relationship. There’s no winning.
The victim learns that the abuser can’t be trusted, but then they catch on to that and turn the tables again. The abuser sees that the victim is no longer opening up and being vulnerable – so they create a little window of safety to gain trust again. After a little while the victim slips into the false security and opens up – only to find out it was a trap and the cycle repeats.
I’ll give you a couple of examples.
While Jane and Bob were dating, Jane opened up and shared with Bob that she used to be a heavy drinker back in her party days over a decade ago and was even known to pop a pill a time or two. Clearly this was her old life and she has grown past that and is now much more mature and stable. Her life looks nothing like it did in the 8-10 years ago. Jane and Bob are married now, and whenever Jane picks up a glass of wine or tries to take a Tylenol, Bob scowls at her and disapproves saying it reminds him of what she told him. He forbids her to consume any form of alcohol or medication because of what she told him about her past.
Sandy and Luke have been married for a while. Luke’s emotional abuse has turned Sandy into a quiet, timid, and private hermit. She doesn’t talk about her feelings and she’s afraid of Luke. Luke asks her what’s wrong but she is afraid to be honest because in the past when she has tried to talk to him about the abuse, he’s lashed out at her and turned things around to make her feel guilty. He pulls out the honeymoon card — “I’m sorry, I know I’ve not been the best husband. I love you and I just want to know what’s going on. Is it me? Is it something I’ve said? We can’t work on it if I don’t know.” After some coaxing, Sandy finally feels like maybe he genuinely wants to change. So she tells him that his control over her life hurts her, and she doesn’t feel like she has any say in her own life and is afraid of his angry tirades. She immediately regrets her decision to be honest because the moment the words leave her lips he’s done it again – “Why is this all about me? You don’t communicate with me so I never know what’s going on! You always act so shady and don’t tell me things so yeah I’m sure it seems like control but I’m just trying to keep communication open with my wife! You’re always attacking me! I don’t control you! You’re just never honest with me!”
Julie and Frank are members of a church. Julie wants to go to the women’s group and participate in a Bible study. Frank opposes at first because he doesn’t want Julie “talking about their marriage with the other women – because that’s what women do.” Julie promises she won’t. He agrees to let her participate, but when she comes home he grills her about every second she was with the women. “What did you talk about? Did you talk about me? You didn’t talk about our marriage did you?” Julie feels trapped because the other women did, in fact, ask her how she and Frank were. She told them “We have some things we are working on but we are ok. Please just pray for us.” Julie didn’t give any more information than that, but she’s afraid to tell Frank that even that was mentioned. He continues to grill her until she finally tells him. He explodes on her “What?! Why did you say that!! Now they are going to think something’s wrong or that I’m abusing you or something! You have to make it right. You have to tell them everything is fine!” Julie is caught between a rock and hard place because she can’t be honest with him and she can’t open up to her small group. So she completely shuts down all together.
So you see, it’s never about the victim’s feelings. The abusive narcissist needs to be right, needs to be in control, and needs ammo. The narcissist uses information received through communication to turn it around and guilt, shame, or blame their victim. Therefore, communication with a narcissist is impossible and unsafe.
The best way to “communicate” with an abusive narcissist is to use a method called “grey rock.” Grey rocking is when you give only information that is necessary, and keeping the conversation deflected from being personal to the victim. It’s a way of shutting down the narcissist’s attacks and keeping them from pulling out more info for ammo during an argument. Keeping those lines cold and hard will protect the victim from being pried open and their words used against them. The grey rock method gives no excitement for the narc to continue engaging with, and is an alternative to “no contact” when that isn’t feasible. Grey rocking would use phrases like
- “I’m sorry you feel that way…”
- “That’s interesting…”
- “I see…”
- “I hear what you’re saying…”
The grey rock method deserves a whole post of its own, because there is so much more to it than this, but for the purpose of shutting down the narc’s accusations of lack of communication and deflecting blame and shame, this will suffice. The victim has to learn that it is NOT their fault, and learn to accept that the narcissist will never believe the truth.
There is absolutely no shame or guilt in NOT communicating with your abuser – because it fuels the abuse if you do. So keep yourself safe and know that you are amazing and beautiful and God has designed you with an incredible purpose. That purpose is not to be a doormat or dart board. Learn who you are and know that the mind God designed in you doesn’t have to remain shut down. Open up to the Lord and let Him grow you!