When You Should ‘Grey Rock’ the Narcissists in Your Life

When You Should ‘Grey Rock’ the Narcissists in Your Life
Photo: fizkes, Shutterstock

Sometimes, when an emotionally manipulative person seeks to cause drama, you might want to offer a response commensurate with their behaviour. Except, you should really consider doing the opposite: Namely, acting like there’s nothing you can offer in terms of engagement, and remain as placid as a lake on a wind-free afternoon.

Genuinely manipulative people, and likewise those with narcissistic personality disorder, drive conflict and chaos. In order to deprive their combative fire of its true life force, consider “grey rocking” them, which, yes, involves acting as if you were as unremarkable as a stone.

What is grey rocking?

Grey rocking involves making oneself as uninteresting as possible in an effort to disengage from potential conflict. This isn’t quite the same as giving the cold shoulder, though it might seem that way at a glance. Emotional stonewalling, after all, is something that’s completely unwarranted when it occurs, while the grey rock method is almost a form of survival.

As the therapist Ellen Biros told Healthline, “This strategy involves becoming the most boring and uninteresting person you can be when interacting with a manipulative person.”

It’s not exactly ignoring the other person, per se, but more like detaching emotionally to such an extent that the manipulative person’s behaviour passes over you. It might not be a necessary practice for most people, but it’s especially applicable to survivors of domestic abuse who have to come into contact with their abusers.

The therapist Shannon Thomas told Insider that acting as boring as a rock deprives the person of the conflict they provoke, or, at least, it suggests that you don’t have exciting chaos to offer.

She explained:

The grey 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.

It sounds simple enough, but “be boring” might not be the most straightforward or discernible instruction, so it helps to acquaint yourself with how to use the grey rock technique.

How to grey rock someone

The key is being noncommittal and disengaged, but without completely ignoring the other person. Vague, one-word answers to most questions should suffice. Eye-contact is discouraged, as you don’t want this person to have any inclination that you’re willing to play the game. In order to stay focused, especially if the person is making repeated attempts to get your attention, try using another activity as a distraction. This can involve staring at your phone or reading a book — basically anything that doesn’t feed the other person’s craving for validation.

Keeping your interactions brief is also a necessity. This is something that more easily applies to people who have to interact with abusers or manipulative ex-partners, for example. The recourse here is to keep interactions short and your responses brief.

Healthline also recommends talking via text as much as possible, if you absolutely have to communicate with the person you’re trying to grey rock, writing:

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.

The grey rock method is a form of damage control, and a worthwhile tactic to try if you ever you feel you need it.

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