One strategy for dealing with a narcissist or sociopath is to act like a “gray rock,” meaning that you become uninteresting and unresponsive. Using the Gray Rock method, your objective is to make someone lose interest in you. You don’t feed their needs for drama or attention. You don’t show emotion, say anything interesting, or disclose any personal information. Nor do you ask questions or participate in conversations, except for brief factual replies. Limit your answers to a few syllables or a nod. Say “maybe” or “I don’t know.” Additionally, make yourself plain and unattractive, so your partner gains no pleasure in showing you off or being seen with you. This maneuver removes the narcissist's “narcissistic supply.” For sociopaths and borderline personalities, it deprives them of drama.
Using the Gray Rock method, you make yourself seem so boring that the other person has no interest in you and will look elsewhere to get their needs met. Even if you’re accused, you might agree or say nothing. Your nonresistance makes it harder for them to project onto you. The idea is to blend into the background, like a gray rock.
When to Be a Gray Rock
The Gray Rock strategy is the most effective in work and dating relationships or when co-parenting after separation with the goal of being left alone. In marriages, your spouse may not want a divorce for a variety of reasons. Even if you no longer want or expect love from your spouse but want to stay married, be prepared for him or her to get needs met outside the marriage. Consider how you will feel if your spouse openly takes a lover. Not reacting to adultery gives permission to your spouse to “have his (or her) cake and eat it too.” On the other hand, if you want to break up or escape a hovering narcissist or sociopath, using this method may lead to them tiring of your lack of response and leaving you alone.
Risks of Going Gray Rock
In “Confronting Abuse,” I explain why typical responses to abusers, such as explaining, arguing, and placating, are counterproductive. Going "gray rock" is also not without risks. Be forewarned that if you want more attention and love from a narcissist, this tactic will drive them away. Moreover, abusers will up the ante to elicit a response from you to regain control and reassure themselves that you have feelings for them. It’s essential that you understand their mindset. Practice detachment and not responding to anger, putdowns, outrageous accusations, slander, or jealous provocations. Like children having a tantrum, they believe they have the upper hand if you give in and react. However, if you’re persistent, in time, they’ll tire of not getting a reaction.
If you’re with a physically violent partner, you may be in harm's way whether or not you react, because violent abusers don’t need an excuse to take out their rage on you. They may easily manufacture unfounded justifications. In such a case, it’s better to confront abuse, set boundaries, and take steps to protect yourself.
The Hidden Dangers
There is a hidden risk to this strategy that is not often mentioned, but I’ve witnessed it with clients who have practiced it after living with a narcissist for some years. You risk losing connection to your feelings, wants, and needs. Like anyone walking on eggshells in a relationship, you're suppressing your thoughts and feelings with this approach. By not expressing yourself, you risk becoming alienated from your real self. This can be traumatic. Beware that you don’t become depressed and withdraw in other relationships.
Being a gray rock requires you to suppress your natural needs for love, attention, companionship, empathy, sex, and affection. As you become more invisible, your behavior feeds codependency. Rather than learning to be more assertive, you may be replaying dynamics from your childhood. It may cause re-traumatization, reminding you of how you felt growing up if your needs and feelings were ignored. This tactic is based upon self-denial and self-sacrifice. It isn’t the best strategy to feel safe and get your needs met.
A far better option than going gray rock, if possible, is to break up or divorce and go "no contact." If you’re unable to do that for emotional reasons, examine your vulnerability to getting drawn back in. Are you still hoping for love and commitment from this person? (See “Can You Tell if a Narcissist Loves You.”) If so, deep yearnings will sabotage your gray rock performance. It’s a better idea to work with a counselor on letting go.
Unless you’re living apart and unequivocally want to end the relationship, the Gray Rock method is a risky tactic to attempt long term. It’s far better to set effective boundaries on bad behavior and learn strategies to get your needs met. Then you can ascertain whether your relationship can improve or whether it’s best to leave.
Follow the strategies described in my ebook, Dealing with a Narcissist.
©Darlene Lancer 2019
Dealing With a Manipulative Person? Grey Rocking May Help
Picture a grey rock: Unremarkable, forgettable, and similar to countless others scattered nearby. Even the most enthusiastic collector probably wouldn’t have a lot to say about this rock.
So, if you wanted to escape notice, becoming a grey rock might seem like a good way to go about it. Of course, people can’t actually turn into rocks, but that’s where the idea of grey rocking comes from.
Ellen Biros, MS, LCSW, a therapist in Suwanee, Georgia, describes grey rocking as a technique for interacting with manipulative and abusive people. This can include people with narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder as well as toxic people without a mental health diagnosis.
“This strategy involves becoming the most boring and uninteresting person you can be when interacting with a manipulative person,” Biros says.
She goes on to explain that since people with manipulative personalities feed on drama, the duller and more boring you seem, the more you undermine their efforts to manipulate and control you.
Here are six tips to keep in mind if you’re considering this strategy.
Know when to use it (and when not to)
Recognizing a friend, family member, or partner’s toxic or manipulative behavior may prompt you to begin taking steps to safely end the relationship and cut off contact.
But this isn’t always possible. For example, you might need to continue co-parenting with them, see them regularly at family gatherings, or work with them.
That’s where grey rocking can help. By making all of your interactions as uninteresting as possible, you avoid giving the other person anything they can use to manipulate you. Over time, they may stop trying.
Matt Morrissette, MEd, a licensed clinical professional counselor in Boise, Idaho, also suggests grey rocking can help when someone you’ve broken up with or turned down for a date doesn’t get the message.
If you have to maintain some contact with them for whatever reason, keeping your conversation completely non-stimulating could lead them to lose interest and move on, he explains.
If you’re being stalked or otherwise fear for your safety, it’s best to seek legal advice and involve law enforcement instead of relying on grey rocking.
Toxic and manipulative people thrive on conflict, thrill, and chaos, Biros explains. To make yourself less appealing, you want to seem more lackluster and uninteresting.
If they ask questions you can’t avoid answering, keep your face blank and your response vague. Biros suggests giving replying with “mm-hmm” or “uh-huh” instead of “no” and “yes.”
If you need to answer work-related questions more fully, it’s helpful to avoid infusing your response with any personal opinion or emotion. This can help keep someone from grasping at small details they might try to manipulate you with.
Say a co-worker who likes to create drama asks, “Can you believe these new policies? How do you feel about them?”
You might respond with a shrug and “eh” without looking up from your work or making eye contact. Sticking to this noncommittal response, even when they persist, can make it seem as if you really have nothing more interesting to say.
Disengage and disconnect
“Avoid eye contact with the manipulative person when practicing grey rocking,” Biros recommends.
Since eye contact helps facilitate an emotional connection, focusing on another activity or looking elsewhere can help you remove emotions from the interaction. It can also help reinforce your sense of detachment.
Toxic people, particularly those living with a narcissistic personality, are often looking for attention. By giving your attention to another activity, you send the message you won’t give them what they need.
Directing your attention elsewhere can also help distract you from attempts at manipulation. Toxic people may make cruel and negative remarks to get a response, and this can be really upsetting. But having something else to focus on can help make it easier to avoid showing emotion.
If you don’t have a project or paperwork close by to distract yourself with, you can try disengaging by focusing mentally on something more pleasant, such as your favorite place or a person you really care about.
Keep necessary interactions short
In some situations, you might need to have fairly regular conversations with a toxic or abusive person. Maybe your parent or co-worker has narcissistic traits, or you co-parent with a manipulative ex.
Communicating electronically or by phone may work well here, since doing so allows you to avoid prolonged interactions that might cause stress and make it harder to maintain a grey rock facade. But grey rocking can work for any type of communication.
Remember to keep responses as brief as possible, saying things like, “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know” without further explanation.
If you’re managing a co-parenting schedule, limit communication to pick-up and drop-off times.
Don’t tell them what you’re doing
“Do not tell the manipulative person you’re grey rocking,” Biros says.
The goal of grey rocking is to get the other person to lose interest in you on their own. If they realize you’re trying to make yourself seem dull on purpose, they can use this knowledge to further manipulate and attempt to control you.
Instead of giving them any clues about the technique, work toward treating them as a stranger you have no emotional connection with. Remind yourself that you have no obligation or need to share anything extra with them.
That said, spending a lot of time in this mode can start to affect how you express yourself in other areas of your life, so it can be helpful to tell people you trust about what you’re doing.
Avoid diminishing yourself
It’s important to take care not to lose sight of yourself when grey rocking.
“Grey rocking requires a disconnect from your emotions and feelings,” Biros explains. “So it’s possible to experience symptoms of dissociation or complete disconnect from your own feelings and emotions.”
You may find it helpful to talk to a therapist if:
- you begin having trouble connecting with people who are important to you
- it becomes difficult to express yourself within the positive, healthy relationships in your life
- you feel like you’re losing your identity or self-awareness
It might seem helpful to temporarily change your appearance to make yourself seem less physically interesting, by wearing plain clothes or taking less care with your appearance, for example.
But Morrissette points out that these changes may affect your sense of self-identity and self-empowerment. Before making any physical changes, it might help to talk to a therapist who can offer guidance on the most helpful approach for your specific situation.
It’s always wise to involve a mental health professional when you have to maintain contact with an abusive person, especially when that person is a family member or co-parent. Therapists and other professionals can help you develop healthy coping strategies and work with you to explore other approaches if grey rocking, or any technique you try, doesn’t seem to help.
The bottom line
Toxic or emotionally abusive people can be pretty difficult to interact with, to put it mildly. They might lie, create drama, or pick arguments frequently. Over time, manipulation tactics, such as gaslighting and fact twisting. can wear you down, affect your self-esteem, and make you question yourself.
Cutting off contact with toxic people is often the only way to keep them from continuing to cause emotional harm. But when this isn’t possible, grey rocking may work as a technique to get the manipulator to lose interest. If they can’t get anything beyond bland, emotionless answers from you, they may give up.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.
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Do You Sabotage Yourself With the Grey Rock Method?
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Most folks who implement the Grey Rock method are actually digging themselves into a deeper hole.
If you’ve been reading about narcissism, whether in regards to a romantic partner or business colleague, you’ve no doubt come across the term “Grey Rock Method”.
According to a contributor named Skylar on 180rule.com ,
“The Grey Rock Method is primarily a way of encouraging a narcissist, psychopath, stalker, or another emotionally unbalanced person, to lose interest in you. It differs from No Contact in that you don’t blatantly try to avoid contact with the disordered individual. Instead, you allow contact but only give boring, monotonous responses so that the mentally unwell person must go elsewhere to get their need for drama gratified.
One might say that Grey Rock is a way of breaking up with a psychopath by using the old, “It’s not you, it’s me.” excuse, except that you act it out instead of saying it and the psychopath comes to that conclusion on his own.”
It’s important to emphasize again that you should never explain to a narcissist or psychopath that you are implementing the Grey Rock Method because they will only use that information to continue manipulating and dominating you— hence why Skylar mentions that you should “act it out”.
“You don’t just practice Grey Rock, you BECOME a Grey Rock. There are grey rocks and pebbles everywhere you go, but you never notice them. None of them attract your attention. You don’t remember any specific rock you saw today because they blend with the scenery. That is the type of boring that you want to channel when you are dealing with a psychopath. Your boring persona will camouflage you and the psychopath won’t even notice you were there. This method strikes at the heart of the psychopath’s motivation: to avoid boredom.”
The Grey Rock technique has been used successfully in many cases of workplace narcissism and certain co-parenting conditions with narcissistic individuals. However, these are two of the rare occasions when Grey Rock should be used. It should not be used in cases where shared custody is not an issue or the narcissist doesn’t work with the victim, yet I see this happen frequently with clients and folks on the recovery forums.
Below, I explain the basics of the Grey Rock method and how it is often used as a shoo-in for No Response.
What is Grey Rock?
Theoretically, Grey Rock enables you to communicate with the narcissist without being sucked into the Narcissistic Vortex. In cases of shared custody, it theoretically allows you to make rational decisions about whether or not the narcissist’s emails or voice mails truly need a response or if their communications are a trap.
A good rule of thumb is to only communicate using yes, no, and specific dates and times.
If necessary, insist on using a monitored email system, such as Our Family Wizard, which is a wonderful co-parenting platform that allows you to communicate about your children without being harassed by the difficult narcissist.
The platform includes email, expense logs, and an electronic journal so you can keep detailed documentation of missed visitations and other things which may prove advantageous in the event you have to go to court.
You can further avoid falling into the Narcissistic Vortex by not responding to any jabs that are made regarding your parenting style or lifestyle choices. A good example of the Vortex is their mentioning something about your dealings with the children or the fact that you’ve begun dating again, and you subsequently sending them email tsunamis explaining your actions or becoming ensued in a long texting crusade–and before you know it, hours of your day have been wasted.
The self-sabotaging version of the Grey Rock Method
Frequently, abuse victims consider themselves as having employed the Grey Rock method when really they’ve gone No Response, neither of which should be utilized except for the two situations previously mentioned (which is when Modified or Low Contact is required).
Often, this is a self-sabotaging behavior that victims employ in order to leave the door open for the narcissist, hoping there might be that one time the narcissist has The Divine Epiphany and makes lasting improvements.
Subconsciously or deliberately, Grey Rock is regularly used as a shoo-in for No Response and used interchangeably with No Contact. If the narcissist is able to get in touch with you by phone, cell, email, or social media, this is No Response, and it’s one of the primary reasons why victims of narcissistic abuse remain stuck in their abusive relationships far beyond practical limits.
If you are not married and trying to end a relationship with a narcissist, then the best strategy is to have no contact with him or her. You end the relationship cold-turkey, as if giving up an addiction. No Contact means the narcissist can’t get in touch with you. It also means you don’t cyber-stalk them or drive by their regular stomping grounds to see what they’re up to.
Those who implement No Contact in its true form have a much higher chance of detaching, healing, and realizing happiness.
On the other hand, No Response means you allow them to call, text, or email, and you decide whether or not to respond. Those who implement No Response usually stay enmeshed in the hypnotic influence of the Narcissistic Vortex, remaining stuck in dysfunctional patterns with the narcissist years after the so-called “end” of the relationship.
Typically, this leads to existing as a secondary source of supply and being the fall back when relationship dramas arise with the narcissist’s other partners. (And yes, it’s possible he or she may try to call from a blocked or unknown number, but that isn’t a valid reason to leave lines of communication open).
What to Do
No Contact is hard because it’s accepting that the relationship over. It means admitting it wasn’t based on love, but on control and manipulation. Accept that the narcissist will not change. Give up trying to find potential loopholes in the narcissist’s behaviors in hopes of finding ways the relationship could have worked or what you could have done differently to make them wake up and love you.
If you do share custody or work with the narcissist, then Extreme Modified Contact is your best line of attack. It allows you to stop being manipulated into taking responsibility for things that weren’t your fault to begin with.
Learning how to effectively deal with a narcissist, especially in cases of divorce and custody issues, can’t be accomplished by reading just this one article. It takes practice, research, and a good attorney. Don’t try to do this alone and definitely don’t put things off until the last minute.
Unfortunately, the narcissist’s victim is the last person in the world who is going to make the narcissist awaken to their dysfunctional and toxic behaviors. If you are a victim, you must walk away because the narcissist’s abuse and unreasonableness will always outlast your sanity.
Narcissists are constantly looking for people they can devour…and playing dead (grey rock) DOESN’T work.
Since narcissists are predators (like many of the big felines) putting yourself in a submissive position will result in your DEMISE.
So many people want to believe that the narcissist they’re with is somehow different from the rest; that the narcissist THEY know isn’t a predator. But what else do you call someone who is constantly hunting down people they can prey upon?
If you believe you’re dealing with a narcissistic person, you can’t turn a blind eye to their true intent. Watch Season 1 of Dirty John and you’ll see EXACTLY what I’m talking about. Though most narcissists are not as deadly as John Meehan, they do engage is the SAME deceptive and predatory patterns.
But, I’m not just talking about physical survival…your emotional survival is absolutely at risk if you’re involved with a narcissist and there is NO way around it.
Grey Rocking takes way too much of your mental and physical energy. Even if you can ignore the narcissist’s games and hooks for a short period of time, it still wreaks havoc on your psyche, your central nervous system, and ultimately, your mental and physical health.
This is why grey rock should only be used on a limited basis and only for a short period of time. If you share kids with the narcissist, then extreme modified contact should be implemented…which is the closest you can get to no contact when you share kids. Hint – the success of Extreme Modified Contact relies on not giving the narcissist access to your cell phone unless it’s specifically stated in your custody order to do so.
The only other rare cases are if you work together or own a business together.
It’s so easy for us to convince ourselves that we don’t need to block the narcissist for one reason or another. Unfortunately, this is the worst form of self-sabotage that will ultimately ruin your life.
If this article resonates with you and you know it’s time to stop the chaos, end the mental torture, and begin healing your life. Then I’d love for you to join me in our Warrior Inner Circle by claiming your free Beginner’s Healing Roadmap.
You can sign up right here.
If you’re ready to go deeper and change your life right now, I offer a wide range of effective resources and techniques to protect against toxic people – in my bestselling program, The Essential Break Free Bootcamp.
I’m excited to share with you the psychological tools that I and thousands of others have used to heal from narcissistic abuse.
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References The Gray Rock method of dealing with psychopaths. Retrieved April 30, 2018, from https://180rule.com/the-gray-rock-method-of-dealing-with-psychopaths/
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What is the grey rock method?
The grey rock method is a strategy some people use when interacting with manipulative or abusive individuals. It involves becoming as unresponsive as possible to the abusive person’s behavior.
People often discuss this approach as a way to deal with people who have narcissistic personality disorder or antisocial personality disorder, also known as sociopathy. However, researchers have not investigated whether the technique is effective, and it may carry risks for people who use it.
This article examines the grey rock method in more detail, including what it is, how people use it, and its potential risks. It will also provide other strategies for dealing with abuse, along with support resources.
What is the grey rock method?
The grey rock method involves communicating in an uninteresting way when interacting with abusive or manipulative people. The name “grey rock” refers to how those using this approach become unresponsive, similar to a rock.
The technique may involve:
- avoiding interactions with the abusive person
- keeping unavoidable interactions brief
- giving short or one-word answers to questions
- communicating in a factual, unemotional way
The aim is to cause the abusive person to lose interest and stop their antagonistic behavior, to protect a person’s emotional well-being.
Why do people use it?
People use the grey rock method as a coping mechanism for emotional abuse. Emotional abuse includes any behaviors that a person uses to exert dominance and control over someone else. It can include:
- insulting, demeaning, or humiliating someone
- attempting to control their finances, work, social life, or appearance
- extreme jealousy and possessiveness
- monitoring someone by reading their emails, texts, or online search history
- gaslighting, where a person pretends someone is mentally unstable to undermine them
Emotional abuse has a significant impact on mental and physical health. Consequently, people may try tactics, such as the grey rock method, to defend themselves from harm.
Individuals may have the temptation to use this tactic if interactions with the abusive person are unavoidable. For example, people may use this method with:
- family members
Does the grey rock method work?
There is no research on whether the grey rock method is a safe or effective way to protect a person from emotional abuse. Anecdotal evidence suggests some people find it helpful, but it is not a technique that prominent abuse organizations cite as viable strategies.
Whether the method works may depend on a person’s situation, their relationship with the abusive person, and the abusive person’s temperament.
The grey rock method may be enough to deter some people, but there is no guarantee it will work for everyone. It also carries some risks.
Some of the potential risks of using the grey rock method include:
If a person uses the grey rock method and the perpetrator does not immediately lose interest, they may try increasingly harmful tactics to get a reaction.
This may lead to the abuse or manipulation escalating or getting worse. In some cases, people may resort to threats or violence if someone does not behave the way they want.
Escalation is common in abusive relationships and can occur gradually or suddenly. For this reason, the grey rock method is not a long-term solution for people who live with abusive people.
Impact on self-image
Abusive people can attempt to control how others behave by eroding their personal identity. They may undermine someone’s individuality by pressuring them to change how they talk, dress, or act.
Over time, this can damage a person’s mental health and make them unsure of who they are. There is a chance that the grey rock method could exacerbate this effect by encouraging people to suppress their true emotions and personality.
It is a good idea to be mindful of this while using this technique. If the person practicing it notices the approach makes them feel worse, they should seek advice from a mental health professional or abuse advisor.
How and when to use the grey rock method
If someone is in close contact with a person behaving in an abusive way, the safest approach is to seek support from a qualified professional.
For example, people in abusive relationships can get advice on how to handle their partner’s behavior and how to leave the household safely from organizations such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
However, if contact with an abusive or manipulative person is unavoidable, the grey rock method may be a way to set boundaries and minimize harm during interactions.
When communicating with the abusive person, try to:
- Be brief: When communicating with the abusive person, give short answers to questions, such as “yes,” “no,” or “I do not know.”
- Be factual: Use simple, factual statements during conversation and avoid disclosing personal opinions or information unnecessarily. This keeps the conversation impersonal.
- Avoid emotional engagement: This can be difficult, particularly if a person is acting in a threatening or antagonistic way. To remain detached from the conversation, try focusing on breathing, and avoid making eye contact.
- Maintain privacy: Avoid sharing personal information with them, including on social media.
The grey rock method vs. social withdrawal
It is important to note that the grey method differs from social or emotional withdrawal.
Sometimes, people experiencing abuse retreat from their social life and avoid seeing their friends and family. They may also seem distant or unresponsive during normal conversations. This is an unintentional psychological reaction to the abuse.
By contrast, the grey rock method is intentional. People who use it do so on purpose and only around specific individuals. It does not involve distancing themselves from others — only from the abusive person.
What to do if the grey rock method does not work
If the grey rock method does not have the desired effect, or a person notices it impacts their well-being, there are other ways to cope.
The optimal strategy can vary depending on the situation. However, the following approaches can benefit many who have to interact with abusive people.
Looking after mental health is important when dealing with someone who is manipulative or abusive.
A person can try:
- practicing positive self-talk and self-compassion
- taking time for themselves
- creating a quiet space where they can feel safe
- seeking help from a supportive therapist or counselor
Similarly, support from trusted friends, family, or community members can help someone build resilience. It can also prevent a person from becoming isolated. Try:
- seeking out supportive people
- letting them know what is happening
- maintaining relationships with friends and family where possible
- joining support groups
- looking for local community support organizations
When searching for help and resources, it is possible that an abusive person can see someone’s online search history, so remember to cover tracks by deleting it.
Safety plans help people living in abusive situations cope with the abuse and ultimately create a safe way for them to leave. This may include:
- keeping potential weapons locked away
- avoiding wearing things that abusive people could use as a weapon, such as scarves or jewelry
- setting money aside in a place the perpetrator cannot access
- finding alternative accommodation or a shelter
- enlisting help to leave from friends or family
- creating plausible reasons to leave the house
The National Domestic Violence Hotline have an interactive safety planning tool that helps people tailor plans to their situation.
Some people may wish to pursue legal action, such as a restraining order. If this is an option, gathering evidence of the abusive person’s behavior can help.
Taking photos, saving emails or letters, and documenting events in a diary may all help. Store this evidence in a safe place or send them to a trusted friend.
To deal with abusive behavior in the workplace, a person can file a report with human resources or speak to a trusted superior.
When to seek help
Anyone who feels their mental or physical health is deteriorating because of a relationship with a manipulative or abusive person should seek support.
People can get support for their own physical or mental health from a doctor or therapist. Anyone in immediate physical danger should dial 911 or contact the local police department.
Relationships with manipulative and abusive partners, coworkers, or friends can be difficult to manage. The ideal option is to remove themselves from such relationships, but sometimes, this is not possible.
The grey rock method may temporarily help some people. However, it is not a long-term solution, particularly for those living with abusive partners or family members. In these situations, abuse can escalate to dangerous levels.
Safety planning, social support, and self-care are important ways to stay emotionally and physically safe where contact with an abusive person is unavoidable.
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Covert grey narcissist method rock
Here's how victims of narcissists can use the 'gray rock' method when no contact isn't an option
- The best method of dealing with toxic people in your life is to go no contact, and block them from all platforms.
- But sometimes this isn't possible, like if you work with them, co-parent with them, or they are one of your parents.
- In these cases, "gray rocking" is the next best thing, which is a boundary setting technique that allows the target of psychological abuse to remain grounded.
- Essentially, it is a way of becoming as dull and unremarkable as a gray rock to the abuser, ignoring any attempts at baiting.
- "Psychological abusers crave chaos," said trauma therapist Shannon Thomas. "The gray rock technique removes drama from the interaction, with the hope the toxic person will look elsewhere for their drug-like addiction to creating tension for their entertainment."
- Visit INSIDER's homepage for more stories.
When dealing with a toxic person like a narcissist, the universal advice tends to be to stay as far away from them as possible.
Cutting off communication and blocking them from every social media account are the first steps in what is known as "no contact." It tends to be the only way victims can heal from the chaos and damage the toxic person caused.
But sometimes no contact isn't feasible. For instance, it can be really hurtful to completely cut out a narcissistic parent, even if they've spent your whole life criticizing your insecurities and flaws, and pitting you against your siblings. If it's an ex-partner, you may share a child, so ignoring them isn't possible either.
Trauma therapist Shannon Thomas, author of "Healing from Hidden Abuse," told INSIDER that in these cases, it's vital that survivors of toxic people have something called "gray rocking" in their toolbox of skills.
"Not all survivors of psychological abuse choose to implement no contact for a variety of reasons," she said. "They may not yet be ready to leave the relationship, may decide to stay in a workplace where there is a toxic individual, or may not want to cut contact with healthy family members, and to go no contact with one individual would create distance from others."
Gray rocking, she added, is perfect for interactions where a survivor and abuser have to come in contact. It's part of "detached contact," and is a boundary setting technique that allows the target of psychological abuse to remain grounded.
Essentially, they attempt to become as dull and unremarkable as a gray rock to the abuser. They're present, but they do not engage with anything being said, especially any attempts at baiting.
"Psychological abusers crave chaos," said Thomas. "The gray rock technique removes drama from the interaction, with the hope the toxic person will look elsewhere for their drug-like addiction to creating tension for their entertainment."
Read more: Narcissistic parents identify their children as either a favourite or a scapegoat, and they pit them against each other
The first use of the term gray rocking seems to be in a blog post on the website and forum Love Fraud by someone called Skylar, who describes it as "primarily a way of encouraging a psychopath, a stalker or other emotionally unbalanced person, to lose interest in you."
"As Skylar describes, gray rocks are such a normal part of everyday life that we hardly even notice them," said Thomas. "This type of invisibility creates a safe distance from a narcissist, who is looking for an emotional punching bag."
Narcissists thrive on drama, and acting like a gray rock will probably leave them bored.
"Some days are harder than others to implement becoming a gray rock, and being aware of our stress levels is vital," Thomas said. "If we are tired, overly stressed, or already upset, it will be harder to stay in gray rock mode when we come into contact with the abuser."
It takes practice, she said, because at first it can feel robotic and awkward. But after a while it will help you feel like you have more control when dealing with the toxic person in your life, because they will no longer see you as someone they can use and manipulate.
"That is the entire goal of gray rock," said Thomas. "Becoming so inconsequential, the abuser looks right past you in search of someone who will get sucked into their vortex of arguing and heightened emotions."
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There is a narcissist in your life. It’s unfortunate and you no doubt wish it were not the case, but it is.
There is a narcissist in your life and you have little choice but to interact with them.
– Are you doomed to live the rest of your life as a pawn in their never-ending game?
– Do you have to endure their abuse?
– Will they always have a hold over you?
No. No. Most definitely no.
The narcissist may be in your life, but they do NOT have to be in your head!
The method below requires practice and you won’t get it right first time, but, when used consistently, it will put distance (mostly emotional, but also physical to some degree) between you and your abuser.
It is known as the Gray Rock Method.
The basic idea is that you embody all the thrill and excitement of exactly that: a gray rock.
The type of rock that you wouldn’t look twice at. The type of rock that remains ignored and unnoticed as you walk on by.
The phrase “Gray Rock Method” was first coined by blogger Skylar in this article on her website: https://180rule.com/the-gray-rock-method-of-dealing-with-psychopaths/ after a fateful conversation she had with a complete stranger. You should definitely go and read that article after you’ve finished here.
Who Should Use The Gray Rock Method?
The most effective way to deal with a narcissist is to go no contact.
Cut them out for good and prevent any form of contact whatsoever. Change your number, your email, block them on social media, and even move home if you have to.
Unfortunately, things aren’t always that simple.
There are times when cutting the narcissist out altogether just isn’t practical.
If you find yourself in any of the following predicaments, Gray Rock is likely to be your best option:
- you have a child or children with a narcissistic ex
- you have a narcissist colleague or boss in a job that you feel unwilling or unable to leave at the present moment in time (although you should make it your long term goal to find work in a different company or department)
- you have narcissist parents or family members who you will have to see occasionally at family events
Why Does Going Gray Rock Work?
Your narcissist is an actor; one who wears many masks and plays many roles. The people in their life – including YOU – are the supporting cast in their own, personal soap opera.
It’s part romance, part drama, part action, part thriller, part comedy (the joke’s always on you), and even part horror (in which they are the scary monster and you are their terrified victim).
Every scene in this live action soap opera must keep the narcissist interested and engaged. They will write the storylines and direct the other actors via manipulation and coercion so that they are thoroughly entertained.
They will ensure that they – the star of the show – receive their fix of attention, adoration, or praise from the other characters.
Whether you play a big role such as a partner or family member, or a smaller part such as an occasional acquaintance, adopting the Gray Rock method is an effective way to get yourself written out of the series altogether.
Just imagine watching a scene from a show or film in which one character gives nothing in the way of emotion or interesting dialogue. How boring would that be? You’d probably switch over to something else, right?
Well, the narcissist is the same.
If your scenes together can’t provide them with that level of excitement, they will be forced to look elsewhere for it.
By remaining emotionally unresponsive to the narcissist’s bait and prompts, you reduce your worth in their eyes.
They want Oscar-winning performances while your scenes end up on the cutting room floor.
Eventually, they will feel the need to turn you into nothing more than an extra; someone who flits in and out of the background with barely a speaking part at all.
They may still try to engage with you from time to time in order to see if you have what it takes to become one of their co-stars again, but as long as you remain boring and rock-like, you’ll never make it past the audition stage.
This is just another way to frame the concept of narcissistic supply. Paraphrasing from the article linked above:
…you and the attention you provide are addictive; they have to receive a “fix” every now and then in order to satiate their ego. […] If you continue to give them what they want, they will continue to subjugate you to their needs and wishes.
To relate this to our soap opera analogy: a narcissist wants you to be a character who brings drama and excitement into their life, and if you continue to play this role, they will continue to write storylines for you.
How Do You Go Gray Rock?
There’s an old saying that is quite relevant here: you can’t get blood from a stone.
In this case, you are the stone (or rock) and the blood is any behavior that provides the narcissist with the supply they crave.
Keep dialogue to an absolute minimum. If you don’t have to talk to them, don’t.
Stay in the car when you drop your kids off at their house. Sit at the other end of the table for family meals. Ask to move desk away from them at work. Avoid interacting with them as much as possible.
But don’t make a big thing out of it as this will just give them ammunition.
When you do have to talk to them, stick to tedious subjects like the weather. If they ask questions, give short, uninspiring answers that can’t possibly lead to further conversation.
They ask, “how are you?” and you respond “fine, thanks.”
They ask, “what did you do at the weekend?” and you respond “I did my laundry and mowed the lawn.”
If they respond with “you’ve become boring,” just nod and smile in agreement (they don’t have to know that you disagree wholeheartedly with that statement).
A simple yes and no will suffice where appropriate, but sometimes you won’t want to commit to an answer if it means giving an opinion. In these cases a non-binding “hmmmm,” “maybe,” or “we’ll see” will do.
Never talk about your personal life, even the smallest details.
They will hook their claws into any morsel of information you provide and use it to try and further the conversation and extract narcissistic supply from you.
They want to know what you value in your life now. They envy what you have (regardless of what it is), and if they can’t have it, they will seek to take it from you somehow.
Don’t give them the chance; remain secretive about your new life without them.
Never tell them how well you are doing (as much as it might please you to rub their noses in it).
Remember, they are driven by their egos, and any suggestion that you are better off without them or that they are in some way inferior to you will be seen as an affront to their identity.
They see themselves as above everyone else in every regard, and if you imply that you are doing better than they are, it will enrage them.
Do not ask them questions.
Even if it seems like harmless small talk, as soon as you engage with them and ask them about their life, it gives them the green light to reel off a list of their recent accomplishments (whether true or fabricated) to belittle you.
Or they might rant about a mutual acquaintance to see if you’ll react in any way. Don’t give them a platform. Don’t pander to their need for attention.
Try to stick to facts wherever possible.
Parents’ evening is at 7pm on Wednesday. The doctor has given them (your son/daughter) antibiotics to take every 8 hours. We have 5 new clients this month. Statements that the narcissist will struggle to challenge because they are not subject to interpretation. The last thing you want to do is get into a debate with them.
Avoid mention of the past at all costs.
You don’t want to revisit those dark times even if they do. By bringing up your history, you risk the resurfacing of old wounds and arguments. You’ll also be faced with the blame game which is never a game you can win.
If this should happen, one tactic which can help to diffuse the situation is to publicly accept responsibility for the problems you faced together (even if you don’t accept it on the inside).
Any attempt to apportion some of the blame on them will only be met with denial, defensiveness, and attacks on you.
The Gray Rock Method is not always easy, but it is often effective. You might want to scream at them at times, but by biting your tongue and not flinching when they try to get a response, you will starve them of the drama they feed off.
Rather than go without it (which is simply not an option for them), a narcissist will look elsewhere for a new source of supply.
Other essential narcissist reading (article continues below):
Going Gray Rock In Appearance
In addition to your interactions with the narcissist, you can also try to mimic a gray rock in terms of what you look like and what parts of your lifestyle are visible to them.
If the narcissist is an ex-partner, try to appear as plain as possible when you have to see them. Narcissists have a very superficial eye, so by making yourself less physically attractive, you will fly under their radar more easily.
If they comment on how bad you look, let it go in one ear and out the other. They are trying to get a reaction from you, but if you just shrug as if you don’t care, they will believe you weren’t the catch they thought you were.
Create new social profiles if you can, but be aware that they might still be able to find you again. So change your privacy settings to restrict what they can see and use a very plain profile picture (or even one that isn’t of your face) so that they find it boring to try and snoop.
Avoid extravagance in any form that they might see. Go for a basic model of car, avoid jewelry, buy a modest house (if they should ever be required to visit). Don’t let them see anything that might make them think that you are doing well for yourself (for the reasons mentioned above).
It can seem like you are restricting your life for their benefit, and in some ways this is true, but remember that no car or house or other luxury will make you happy in the long run, especially if it riles up the narcissist you have no choice but to deal with.
Having a life as free from them as possible will bring you the most peace and happiness, so do whatever it takes to make this a reality.
What To Expect From The Narcissist
When you employ the Gray Rock Method with a narcissist, you can expect them to react to it.
They may not know precisely what you are doing (and you should NEVER tell them that you are taking this approach), but they will sense a change in your behavior toward them.
One common response is anger because it is something they have no doubt used countless times against you in the past. They may shout and they may act in a threatening way, but you must try to remain cool, calm, and composed in the face of their rage.
Alternatively, they may belittle you for staying silent or offering little in the way of a reaction. It’s the classic child-like approach to someone who isn’t listening; to call them names, tell them they are being silly, or laugh in their faces; anything to elicit a response.
Sadly, a narcissist is not shy when it comes to using others against you. In an attempt to draw you back into a confrontation, they may involve your children, your friends, your family, or your fellow colleagues.
They will lie and fabricate stories about you, try to turn others against you, get others to do bully you, or threaten those you care about unless you comply with their wishes.
Always put your safety and the safety of those you care about first. If the threats seem genuine, seek the protection and guidance of the police, the courts, and the social authorities.
Other times, when you know the threats are nothing but words, you should hold your ground, remain steadfast in your Gray Rock approach, and wait for them to get bored. They will eventually.
If you can sustain your nonreactive stance, you will notice a shift in the narcissist. They may still try to push your buttons, but they will do so less and less often as they get tired of the playing the game.
That’s not to say that they might not, at some point in the future, start trying in earnest again – possibly when their new source of supply dries up – but as long as you don’t take their bait, they will be forced to seek their narcissistic supply elsewhere once again.
One thing you should never expect from a narcissist is remorse. They have none.
No matter how much hurt they caused you and however harrowing your ordeal, they will accept precisely zero blame or responsibility for it. So don’t go looking for it.
The Dangers Of Going Gray Rock
While it is an effective means of dealing with a narcissist when going no contact is simply not an option, the Gray Rock Method does have one or two downsides.
Firstly, you might try to use it in the wrong circumstances. When it IS possible to go no contact with a narcissist, you must always take this option.
You might be tempted to simply use the Gray Rock approach rather than go through all the hassle of cutting them out once and for all, but this is not advisable.
Yes, you may still have feelings for them. Yes, you might hold out hope that they can change. Yes, it does require some upheaval and effort to ensure your paths never again cross.
None of these things should be used as excuses for going Gray Rock when you have the option to go no contact.
If you have unnecessary interactions with a narcissist, then you leave yourself open to the risk of falling back into their trap.
As good as you may think you are at being nonreactive to them, it only takes one slip-up and you can soon find yourself in the unwelcome situation you tried to escape from.
The second danger of using this approach is that you let it creep into other parts of your life and other relationships.
You may start using the silent treatment with friends or new partners, you may experience a growing sense of indifference toward the wider world, and you may lose interest in all the things you once had a passion for.
You can also lose the ability to empathize with others as you numb yourself to any emotion, fearing it leaves you vulnerable to manipulation.
You have to remember that it is ok – even advisable – to be open and honest with other people, and to let your guard down and trust again. You can’t live the rest of your life at a distance from other people just because you have to take that approach with the narcissist.
The Gray Rock Method can be a very effective way to handle a narcissist who you have to still interact with on a regular basis. It can safeguard you against further hurt by making sure you don’t become one of their targets again.
Remember, they don’t want to play with a boring toy, so be just that. Don’t be their entertainment, be their least favorite pastime.
Check out this online course designed to help someone heal from narcissistic abuse.
Click here to learn more.
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Let’s Talk About the Grey Rock Technique
Grey Rock: A Technique for Difficult but Necessary Relationships
The logic underlying the grey rock method is that manipulative and narcissistic individuals feed on response, emotion, and drama. Perhaps you were told growing up that schoolyard bullies were trying to provoke your response, and that if you ignored them, they would feel defeated and eventually retreat.
The same line of reasoning applies to the grey rock technique.
When a person goes grey rock, he or she will refrain from showing any emotional response, thereby denying the abusive person a clear path to escalate the situation. Grey rocking often involves:
Shrugging and nodding
Using noncommittal phrases and responses like “eh,” “mhm,” or “uh-huh”
Avoiding eye contact
Responding briefly, and without elaboration, to direct questions
Ending or leaving interactions as quickly as is safely possible
When Might Someone Use the Grey Rock Technique?
The grey rock technique is recommended for anyone who is in a long-term, committed relationship with a manipulative person.
This can go for any type of relationship.
One misconception is that the relationship between the victim and the abuser must be romantic or amorous in nature.
This is not true.
Situations where the grey rock technique may prove useful extend far beyond marriages and romantic relationships. In fact, there are many precarious interpersonal situations where grey rocking can come in handy:
Relationships with difficult or abusive coworkers who regularly attempt to start workplace fights or drama
Relationships that involve unavoidable interactions with manipulative siblings, stepparents, in-laws, or other family members or relatives (for example, family holiday gatherings)
Relationships with roommates or host family members who exert controlling or manipulative behavior
Grey Rocking When Children are Involved
The flexibility of the grey rock technique makes it useful in a variety of relationship contexts, including ones that involve children.
However, unfortunately, for many, the presence and inclusion of children can either discourage or complicate the use of this technique because of fear that it may negatively impact the child(ren).
Still there are ways to effectively—and almost passively—go grey rock so as to avoid it affecting the child.
As an example, let’s consider the use of the grey rock technique in a co-parenting situation.
One spouse might share co-parenting duties with a narcissistic ex-husband or ex-wife. In this case, the non-toxic parent will likely have to interact with the manipulative parent on a regular basis for things such as managing visitation rights or arranging celebratory gatherings for different milestones (e.g., birthdays, graduations). If the manipulative partner attempts to start a fight or get a rise out of the other parent, it is advisable that the grey rock technique is used in the form of bland agreements, nods, and emotionless silence.
In another situation that involves adult children:
It may come a time where a child has to visit the home of the manipulative parent—whether it be to handle family affairs, to visit for the holidays, or to participate in events for another type of arranged visit.
During that time together, it is very possible that the manipulative parents will try to goad or provoke their children, carrying out their anger with behavior that may be particularly pointed, especially if they feel that they have lost control over their children’s lives.
A Quick Note to Therapists: you may find that many of your clients feel stuck in abusive or unhealthy households or relationships, and are just looking for a way to get by until they can safely create a new arrangement for themselves (and possibly their children). In these cases, grey rocking is especially useful for helping make day-to-day life less stressful, painful, or challenging.
The fact of the matter is that many individuals who grew up in challenging households households have used the grey rock method without knowing there was a name for it. Behaving in a flat, emotionless manner can be a natural defense mechanism for those living with angry or manipulative family members. But what is equally important is that the person knows how to effectively use the grey rock technique. Take this time to talk more with your clients about the benefits and versatility of grey rocking as a means of handling toxic relationships.
What are the Drawbacks of the Grey Rock Method?
It is important to understand that the grey rock technique is usually not a sustainable, long-term solution.
Instead, the grey rock method is a tool that individuals can use on an as-needed basis, especially in situations where interacting with the manipulative person is simply unavoidable.
A much better solution for victims of abuse, stalking, and relationship violence is to get support in ending relationships completely and achieving “no contact,” whether through a new living arrangement, a restraining order, or professional help and involvement.
As it relates to drawbacks, the first, and perhaps most important thing to remember is that individuals who use the grey rock technique risk provoking abuse even as they are trying to protect themselves. Narcissists and other manipulative individuals who thrive on conflict may become frustrated when they find others “going grey rock” on them.
Individuals who use the grey rock technique often report having to walk a difficult line when using it -- their very lack of response may become the object of insults and attention, which can then lead to escalated verbal and/or physical abuse.
A second potential drawback is keeping silent about the reasoning behind one’s actions, especially in situations where explaining the decision to go grey rock appears to be the best solution for kindling the abuser’s anger. In general, it is not recommended that individuals tell their abusers they are “going grey rock.” Doing so may inadvertently provoke pointed abuse.
There’s also a psychological risk inherent in grey rocking. By its very nature, the grey rock technique causes an individual to disconnect from, or push down, their natural emotional responses and feelings. Over time, an individual who is “going grey rock” can struggle with disconnection from their emotions and even their identities.
In already thorny relationships, going grey rock may make it still more difficult to process feelings, responses, and events. Indeed, individuals who use the grey rock technique may focus on a task at hand, stare at a point in the distance, or mentally envision themselves in an entirely different place or time. These strategies can make difficult, painful moments easier. But they are also forms of dissociation that, if sustained, can lead to negative mental health effects. Therapists who discuss the grey rock technique caution to be aware of these consequences.
The Grey Rock Technique for Therapists
Therapists and counselors have a range of strategies available to help them give the best possible guidance to their clients. And clients themselves will have already employed an array of coping mechanisms, private techniques, and day-to-day strategies for getting by, especially when they are in long-term, unavoidable relationships with manipulative individuals.
The grey rock technique is a method that may be brought up on either side. While it may be effective in short-term, necessary situations, the risks of using the grey rock technique often--or as a “default mode”--add upon the significant emotional taxation of interacting with an abusive or narcissistic individual. Anyone who considers the grey rock technique should be aware of the benefits and the costs of the strategy for coping with difficult situations and relationships over the long term.