It is really common for a narcissist to refuse to participate in communication or connection in a relationship. To do this a narcissist will actively avoid being emotionally/physically intimate with their victim or even going as far as giving them the silent treatment. It is really confusing for victims of narcissistic abuse and often leaves them wondering if the narcissist in their life is using the gray rock method on them.

Narcissists don’t use the gray rock method. When they refuse to participate in communication or connection in a relationship, they are stonewalling you. It’s impossible for narcissists to use the gray rock method because it requires emotional intelligence, which is a quality that narcissists do not possess. 

In this article you are going to learn the difference between the gray rock method and stonewalling. We will reveal three of the most common forms of stonewalling and we’ve also created a short video (see below) with all of the hidden forms of stonewalling that you should be aware of when reading through this article as they will help you realize the difference between the gray rock method and stonewalling. 

A Short Video About the Hidden Signs of Stonewalling In a Narcissistic Relationship

What Is the Gray Rock Method?

When a victim of narcissistic abuse makes a conscious decision to refuse to have a significant conversation with the narcissist in their life, they are using the gray rock method. This is used to prevent the victim from engaging with the narcissist in such a manner that gives the narcissist narcissistic supply and/or information that the narcissist can use to invalidate, devalue, degrade, or humiliate the victim. 

For example, imagine that a narcissistic wife got really angry at her husband for accidentally deleting the record version of her favorite television show. This makes her so angry because she has a routine that she follows every single day and now she can’t follow it to a tee. 

It makes her furious but instead of using healthy forms of emotional regulation, she begins to use her husband’s vulnerabilities and insecurities against him to invalidate, devalue, humiliate, and degrade him 

(e.g. “You have to be the most stupid man on the planet. It is no wonder your family doesn’t give a sh*t about you. How hard is it to not delete my recordings? It can’t be harder than that worthless job that you have. You can barely support me, your family doesn’t love you, you’re not even that good looking or even remotely funny… why the f*ck am I married to a loser?”)

To use the gray rock method here, the husband needs to remain cool, calm, and collected. His wife is just trying to bait him into an argument where she can manipulate him even further. A perfect response to this that follows the guidelines of the gray rock method would be, “I’m sorry I deleted the show. I can see how that would make you upset. I will make sure not to delete anything else.”

This answer is perfect because he gets straight to the point, he doesn’t try to defend or explain himself, he doesn’t get angry, he doesn’t even give her the satisfaction of acknowledging her hurtful words. He just remains cool, calm, and collected like a boring gray rock. 

A victim of narcissistic abuse being yelled at but using the gray rock method.

Why Is the Gray Rock Method Such a Good Defense Against Narcissistic Abuse?

The reason that the gray rock method is such an intelligent defense against narcissistic abuse is because it is designed to reduce the amount of narcissistic supply that the victim gives the narcissist. This “supply” is known as validation, admiration, and reassurance.

To understand the significance of this, we have to backtrack to a narcissist’s origin story. It is believed that narcissism originates from an unhealthy/abusive childhood upbringing with primary caregivers who are emotionally unavailable, unresponsive, and inconsistent. 

This level of neglect means that the narcissist never got the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they need to develop a realistic sense of self. This caused the narcissist to search their external environment for the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they needed to construct a sense of self. 

A simple example of this would be a narcissist constructing their sense of self out of the validation, admiration, and reassurance that they get for being really popular in their high school. 

The combination of their primary caregivers’ neglect and their ability to accumulate validation, admiration, and reassurance from their external environment teaches the narcissist that their true identity isn’t good enough to be loved, accepted, and/or acknowledged by others. 

It causes them to develop a deeply rooted hatred for themselves. This comes with many powerful negative emotions but the problem is that the emotional neglect that narcissists experienced from their primary caregivers prevented them from having a healthy cognitive development which means that they don’t have the emotional intelligence that is required to use healthy forms of emotional regulation. 

What they do instead is suppress their negative emotions with their newly constructed false sense of self. But because of the inadequate approach to the construction of their false sense of self and intensity of their negative emotions, they are dependent on a consistent flow of validation, admiration, and reassurance to remain emotionally stable.

There’s a lot of really important information about this upbringing in our article How Are Narcissists Made but the reason that the gray rock method is such a brilliant defense against narcissistic abuse is because it encourages the narcissist to discard their victim and find a new source of narcissistic supply. Using the gray rock method is an act of self love that victims of narcissistic abuse use to protect themselves from the narcissist in their life.

If you’re interested in learning more about the gray rock method, please read our articles Does the Gray Rock Method Work, How Do Narcissists React to the Gray Rock Method, and How to Use the Gray Rock Method on a Narcissist.

A person learning about the gray rock method

What Is Stonewalling? 

When a narcissist refuses to participate in communication or connection in a relationship, it is called stonewalling. The most common forms of stonewalling that plague narcissistic relationships are the silent treatment, intimacy anorexia, and gaslighting with ultimatums.

It is important to remember that stonewalling is a product of the emotional immaturity of a narcissist. As we mentioned before, narcissists are incapable of using healthy forms of emotional regulation to manage their negative emotions, so they create a false sense of self to suppress them.

When a narcissist experiences a contradiction to their false sense of self, such as criticism or healthy boundaries, it triggers all of their negative emotions and compromises their emotional stability. The silent treatment and gaslighting with ultimatums are two very common forms of stonewalling a narcissist will use to protect their emotional stability. 

The silent treatment is self-explanatory. It is when a narcissist simply stops verbally or electronically communicating with their victim. Gaslighting is when a narcissist doubts or denies reality. 

When a narcissist gaslights with ultimatums they are denying their victim of their reality by giving the victim consequences for expressing their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs (e.g. “If you don’t stop asking me about BLANK I am going to leave!”).

Narcissists use both the silent treatment and gaslighting with ultimatums to refuse to participate in communication or connection in a relationship. Intimacy anorexia on the other hand is a manifestation of the crippling levels of fear that narcissists have for the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that come with healthy relationships. 

We spoke about this a lot in our articles Do Narcissists Enjoy Intimacy and Are Narcissists Scared of Commitment but the thoughts, feelings, emotions, and needs that come with healthy relationships actually contradicts a narcissist’s sense of self and triggers their suppressed negative emotions. 

This doesn’t only apply to romantic relationships. It is all relationships. Things like mutuality, respect, emotional closeness, honesty, commitment, and vulnerability serve as a constant reminder for narcissists that behind all of their perceived greatness, they are nothing more than a scared and neglected child who feels unlovable,  inadequate, weak, and fears abandonment. 

It is far easier for a narcissist to accuse someone of lying, getting angry, or avoiding intimacy than it is to accept the possibility that someone is trying to truly care about them. Intimacy anorexia is a very common form of stonewalling that occurs in narcissistic relationships. 

Intimacy anorexia is a term pioneered by Dr. Doug Weiss, an internationally recognized licensed psychologist, therapist, intimacy anorexic and sex addiction expert, used to explain why some people “actively withhold emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy” from a partner.

We’ve created a short video (see below) about intimacy anorexia, the connection it has with narcissistic abuse, and a survey that we did among 300 survivors of narcissistic abuse to reveal just how common intimacy anorexia is in narcissistic relationships.

A Short Video About Intimacy Avoidance In Narcissistic Relationships

What Should You Take Away From This Article?

When a narcissist refuses to participate in communication or connection in a relationship, they are not using the gray rock method, they are using stonewalling.

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!


  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

Get a Free Healing Bundle Every Week!

  • 1 Educational Video From a Mental Health Professional
  • 1 Informative PDF About Narcissistic Abuse
  • 1 Journaling Exercise With Multiple Prompts
  • 7 Affirmations for the Upcoming Week
  • Lifetime Access to Our Private Online Community

All of the content that Unfilteredd creates is for educational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for clinical care — please visit here for qualified organizations and here for qualified professionals that you can reach out to for help. This article has been reviewed by our editorial board and has been approved for publication in accordance with our editorial policies.

References:

CHARACTERISTICS OF INTIMACY ANOREXIA

Keller, Peggy S., et al. “Narcissism in romantic relationships: A dyadic perspective.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology33.1 (2014): 25.