Communication is an essential part of any relationship. Without healthy communication, relationships often suffer and breakdown. Though everyone has varying levels of capacity, depth, and knowledge of how to communicate well, the goal of most relationships is to foster good communication and protect relational connection. When dealing with a narcissist however, fostering good communication and protecting relational connection is often not the goal.
Communication in an abusive relationship, however, is usually the front lines of battle a narcissist will capitalize on. After all, a narcissist does not want their victim to have clarity and their goal for the relationship is not connection. Their goal is often to bring as much chaos and confusion as possible in a relationship in order to maintain power and control. That is why learning about healthy communication versus toxic communication is an important skill for most people but is especially imperative for a victim of narcissistic abuse.
Below are two common communication terms often associated with narcissistic abuse. One type of communication is often used by a narcissist to punish and abuse their victim. The other type of communication is often used by a victim as a means of protection from their abuser.
Stonewalling is one common term used to describe abusive communication a narcissist may employ, similar to the silent treatment. This tactic of abuse is often used by a narcissist to punish their victim, using a verbal and/or an emotional wall as a way to refuse to engage. A narcissist will usually stonewall a victim to maintain a sense of control and to enact punishment for a perceived wrong against them.
Stonewalling is not the same as when a person with C-PTSD experiencing the flight or freeze trauma response. A trauma response usually kicks in when a person feels overwhelmed and may need a pause from communicating. Disengaging from communication for a time is often necessary for the victim in order to center themselves. They are usually willing and able to re-enter the conversation from a more grounded and meaningful place, seeking to restore connection.
A narcissist often wants to maintain power and control and does not want to resolve issues in a relationship. A person who might seem to be stonewalling due to trauma often needs to regain safety within themselves with the aim of resolving issues in a relationship.
While there are times in a healthy relationship that stonewalling could almost seem to be at play, the true toxic nature is often revealed through consistent, underlying patterns of chronic lying, manipulation, gaslighting, minimizing, blame-shifting and denying harmful actions or behaviors.
When toxic dynamics are present in a relationship, it is more than likely that stonewalling is not accidental or a reaction from the flight or freeze response like you would see in C-PTSD. It is highly likely that you may be experiencing stonewalling from a covert narcissistic abuser.
Another important term regarding communication when understanding narcissistic abuse is a term called, grey rocking. Though this term may sound similar to stonewalling, the intent and motive behind it is very different.
Narcissist thrive on drama and chaos and feed off of negative reactions. Grey rocking is a term used to describe the act of refusing to engage emotionally with a narcissist and only engaging verbally when absolutely necessary, in order to protect yourself from abuse. The goal of grey rocking is to deprive a narcissist of attention, to avoid narcissistic projection, and to help a victim maintain emotional safety.
Grey rocking is different than stonewalling because the goal of grey rocking is self-protection, while the goal of stonewalling is punishment and control.
If a narcissist feels they are losing control of their victim, they will often increase their attempt to bait a victim into a reaction. While responses are often more helpful than reactions are in any relationship, even typical responses to a narcissist can often be counterproductive. It’s essential for a victim to understand the mind of a narcissist, practice detachment, and not respond to provocations.
While cutting off contact with a narcissist is often the only way to keep them from continuing to cause emotional harm, that is often not possible when children are involved. If children are involved, grey rocking may help to communicate only what is absolutely necessary with a narcissist while staying as detached as possible. If a narcissist doesn’t receive a payoff (supply) from their manipulative abuse, they will often begin to look for an audience elsewhere.
Learning about healthy communication versus toxic communication is an important skill in any relationship but is especially important for a victim of narcissistic abuse. Not only is education imperative, but it’s often the key of clarity a victim needs to move forward on the path of freedom and healing.
If you recognize the signs of stonewalling in your relationship, I’d encourage you to explore the root of the communication issue. While it’s possible you may be dealing with someone who simply lacks good communication skills or might be experiencing a trauma response that is hindering them from communicating, it’s also possible that you are experiencing stonewalling from a narcissistic abuser. I am praying for God to release fresh clarity, wisdom, grace, and peace in your life. May the powerful presence of Holy Spirit flood you even now, filling your heart with courage and boldness, as you follow His leading in your life.