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Last Updated on October 24, 2022 by Randy Withers, LCMHC
We all have to deal with difficult people. For the most part, they are just an irritant.
But some people go beyond that.
Some people are manipulative, abusive, and toxic. People like this thrive on conflict and drama and they will use you to get them. Behaviors like these are often a sign of narcissism and other forms of psychopathy.
Setting boundaries with these people is critical. Most of the time it’s best to just walk away.
Unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Like it or not, there are times when you have to interact with narcissists and other toxic personalities.
Fortunately, you can protect your personal space with a technique called “The Gray Rock Method.”
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What is the Gray Rock Method?
The Gray Rock Method was designed to use in situations where you are forced to deal with people you would normally not want to be around. An annoying co-worker, for example, or a manipulative ex-spouse.
According to Dr. Ove Heradstveit, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, the Gray Rock Method is when you purposely make yourself uninteresting and unresponsive.
The point of “gray rocking” someone is to deny narcissists the attention they crave. If done correctly, you become no more enticing than a dull, gray rock. Thus, the name.
When you use The Gray Rock Method, you remove the “fun” of toying with you. Narcissists bore easily when they don’t get a reaction. They tend to move on in search of more appealing targets.
Erin Hendrickson, LPC notes that The Gray Rock method can be an effective tool for those learning how to implement and maintain firm, healthy boundaries with those individuals who are narcissists, or those with narcissistic tendencies.
“It is often a method I suggest using for my clients who have left a relationship with a narcissist and still have to endure SOME communication due to co-parenting requirements,” she says.
Ideally, the hard and firm ‘no contact’ recommendation for those leaving a partner with narcissistic traits, but may not be an option when having to co-parent.
Five Ways to Use the Gray Rock Method
It’s important to note there isn’t much research to support (or disprove) the usefulness of The Gray Rock Method. Results can vary wildly, so always be careful.
It’s probably best to speak with your therapist first before you do. He or she can provide additional insight into whether it is an appropriate strategy to consider. If you don’t have one, you can search for online providers here.
Having said that, let’s talk about the different ways to use The Gray rock Method on narcissists and other toxic people.
1. Don’t Reveal Your Strategy
First of all, it’s important that you don’t tell the person that you’re “Gray Rocking” them. If you tell them what you’re doing, you give them the incentive to take it up a notch.
The Gray Rock Method is kind of like Fight Club. And the first rule of Fight Club is you never talk about Fight Club.
The same thing goes for The Gray Rock Method. Never admit to Gray Rocking. Doing so defeats the purpose.
2. Keep It Short And Sweet
Toxic people thrive on chaos. Don’t feed them with your words and actions.
Limit your interactions with narcissists in particular and try to be as bland as possible. You can do this by speaking in a neutral tone of voice and make your responses short and sweet.
Use “yes”, “no”, and “I don’t know” without further elaboration. Responding with “uh-huh” or “mmm” works, too.
Sometimes, things get complicated. Sometimes you don’t have a choice. If you have to work on a project with a coworker or raise a child with a toxic ex-spouse, it takes a bit more finesse.
In these cases, respond briefly when you have to talk to them. Don’t include unnecessary details. End the conversation as soon as possible.
Work-related questions from a toxic co-worker should be handled matter-of-factly. Share only the information needed. No opinions. No emotion.
Co-parenting with a narcissist requires a similar strategy. Keep discussions limited to childcare, visitation, and logistical matters. Try to communicate on the phone or by texting. Limit face-face interactions.
3. Talk About Boring Things (When You Have to Talk at All)
Sometimes just saying “eh”, “mmhmm”, etc. just isn’t enough.
The toxic person can’t find out that you’re trying to Gray Rock them. If all they get are short, non-answers on a constant basis, they may suspect you are acting differently on purpose.
Let them think the problem is with you. Maybe you’re just naturally dull and unengaged. Be the opposite of what you would be on a promising first date.
Of course, not talking to them is the best option.
But when that isn’t possible, talk about boring things only. Bland subject matter with bland answers is the way to go. Stay away from hot-button topics. The weather is always good for that.
Finally, don’t ask the toxic person anything. Questions invite further interaction and betray interest.
If they keep trying to get a reaction, remember to detach yourself. Avoid “taking the bait”. This means ignoring accusations, anger, and tantrums.
4. Feed Them A Strict Information Diet
Knowledge is power, so don’t share any information about yourself. Anything you feed a narcissist is ammunition for them to use against you.
Don’t discuss your past. Don’t share your opinions. Avoid telling them about your personal life. Anything you tell them could be used against you later.
By restricting their access to knowledge, you protect yourself from further toxicity.
Whenever possible, avoid eye contact. It will help you manage your emotions when fending off their attempts.
Looking at something else is a helpful way to draw their attention away from you.
If you are at work, focus on your computer screen or your notebook while they talk to you. At home, check that dinner you have in the oven. In the car, fiddle with the radio station. Start googling things on your phone.
If there’s nothing for you to focus your attention on, turn your thoughts inward. Recall a pleasant memory. Remember your last vacation. Or think about someone you actually enjoy talking to.
Just don’t engage. That’s what they want.
Does the Gray Rock Method work?
This is the $64,000 question. Does The Gray Rock Method get results?
Hendrickson thinks it has some useful applications. “The Gray Rock Method can be a useful tool to maintain boundaries with a narcissist,” Hendrickson said. “Using it sends the message of ‘I see you, I heard you, but I am choosing not to engage with you emotionally.'”
She adds one caveat though: “Consistency is KEY. Any inconsistency will start the whole process over again. You’re basically re-training the narcissist that there is no benefit or reward for trying to cause conflict. If you can stay strong, the Gray Rock method can help decrease the amount of conflict with the narcissist in our life.”
It’s fair to say that the Gray Rock Method works… sometimes. As Dr. Heradstveit also points out, the Gray Rock Method is helpful when applied in the correct context. That is, when your motive is to keep another person from investing in you emotionally, and when there are good reasons to keep this from happening.
It is, however a poor method in many other types of relationships. You certainly don’t want to use this strategy with someone you are currently in a relationship with. It will make you appear aloof and passive-aggressive.
It’s also not a good idea to “gray rock” someone who gets violent. People like this don’t need an excuse to be abusive. They can find a way to get upset whether you are trying to ignore them or not. Narcissistic rage is a real thing, so exercise caution.
It’s best to avoid abusive people entirely.
People who thrive on drama may get frustrated when don’t get a response. This could cause them to escalate their behaviors in an attempt to get a response.
It should also be noted that Gray Rock is not a long-term solution. The best use of this method is to employ it when necessary. It’s particularly helpful in fleeting situations. A creepy guy hits on you in Starbucks. That sort of thing.
As always, the best way to deal with a manipulative person is to sever contact with them. This is not always possible, so Gray Rocking is a helpful “second best” option.
What to do when the Gray Rock Method doesn’t work?
There are a couple of different options, depending on whether you have to interact with the toxic person or not. No matter what, make sure you are safe. It’s also important to seek therapy for guidance and support.
If there is no reason to maintain contact with the person you are “Gray Rocking,” you should just cut them out of your life completely. Block their phone number. Block them on social media. Remove any other way they can get in touch with you. Never speak to them again.
If this person is harmless, that may be all you need to do. However, if they are abusive, or you fear for your safety, then seek help. Get a restraining order, hire an attorney, or involve law enforcement.
If you feel like the Gray Rock method is not working, there are a couple of things to remember:
- If the toxic person gets upset, then Gray Rock is actually working.
They may just be ramping up their behavior to get a response from you. In this case, you may only need to wait it out. It may take longer, but they will eventually get bored.
- You may not be able to cut contact permanently, but temporarily removing yourself from the situation if often the next best option.
And again, if this person is dangerous, seek help. This is critical.
And as always, whether the Gray Rock Method is successful, please seek therapy when you need it. It’s important to have someone to talk to who can help guide you through these situations.
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References and Research
- Gray Rock Method: 6 Tips and Techniques
- Dealing With a Manipulative Person? Gray Rocking May Help
- The Price and Payoff of a Gray Rock Strategy
- The Gray Rock Method is a Mental Model
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What is the grey rock method? To “grey rock” a person involves making all interactions with them as uninteresting and unrewarding as possible. In general, this means giving short, straightforward answers to questions and hiding emotional reactions to the things a person says or does.How do narcissists respond to grey rock? ›
How do narcissists react to grey rock? People who have toxic or narcissistic tendencies react abruptly, stubbornly, and often with aggression if their tactics are not working.What is an example of grey rock for a narcissist? ›
For example, using the grey rock method involves deliberate actions like avoiding eye contact or not showing emotions during a conversation. The idea behind this technique is that toxic people feed on your reaction. A narcissistic coworker, for example, feeds on conflict, drama, and attention.How to go grey rock with a narcissist? ›
The grey rock method is an approach you can use to disarm manipulative behavior. The technique is simple: Rather than let a person's narcissism or toxicity get under your skin, disengage from them. Keep interactions to a minimum, stay as neutral as possible, and remove yourself from the situation fast.What is yellow rock method? ›
The yellow rock method is a spin on the gray rock method. It involves adding some niceties to gray rock communication. Its name comes from the idea that a yellow rock appears friendlier, warmer and more inviting than a gray rock.How do you make a narcissist realize? ›
- Ask Clarifying Questions. A good way to diplomatically call someone's attention to his or her narcissistic behavior is to ask clarifying questions. ...
- Use Humor and Wit. ...
- Separate the Behavior from the Person. ...
- Ask Directly Whether the Individual Is a Narcissist.
A monumental weakness in the narcissist is the failure to look internally and flesh out what needs to be worked on. Then, of course, the next step is to spend time improving. The narcissist sabotages any possibility of looking deep within.What is the hamburger method for narcissists? ›
The hamburger method is a way of communicating that makes receiving criticism easier. The ingredients are compliment, confront, and compliment. Think of as a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Because the narcissistic ego needs regular stroking, this works nearly every time.How to starve a narcissist grey rock method? ›
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.How do you immediately spot a narcissist? ›
They have a sense of entitlement and expect favorable treatment. They take advantage of others to achieve their goals. They lack empathy and don't try to identify with the needs of others. They envy others, or believe others envy them.
Narcissists are attracted to certain types of people. Rather than weak, vulnerable people, they tend to go for the strong-willed and talented. They are also attracted to people who reflect well on themselves.What is the deep method for narcissists? ›
But Durvasula says it's important to protect yourself from toxic people, and suggests victims remember the acronym D.E.E.P.: Don't defend. Don't engage. Don't explain. Don't personalize.How do you take a narcissist to court and win? ›
- Don't get engaged in an argument. ...
- Keep your child away from conflict. ...
- Don't hope for reconciliation. ...
- Keep records of everything. ...
- Get ready to elaborate on Narcissism to the Judge. ...
- Know that Narcissists Have Mental Illness. ...
- Get legal help.
- Physically Distance Yourself. ...
- Establish Your Boundaries. ...
- Stay Calm. ...
- Don't Overreact to the Narcissist's Rage. ...
- Empathize With the Narcissist & Validate Their Viewpoint. ...
- Don't Raise Your Voice. ...
- Take a Break. ...
- Remember This Is Not About You.
On the other hand, stonewalling is an emotional reaction, where you shut down emotionally and give someone the “silent treatment.” Stonewalling is usually considered a kind of emotional manipulation, whereas the grey rock method is a method used to deal with someone who employs emotional manipulation.How do you communicate with a controlling narcissist? ›
- Stay calm and respectful. ...
- Use 'I' statements. ...
- Advocate for yourself. ...
- Enforce boundaries. ...
- Avoid certain phrases. ...
- Remember you're not at fault. ...
- Know that you can't change them. ...
- Rely on a support system.
- Don't say, "It's not about you." ...
- Don't say, "You're not listening." ...
- Don't say, "Ina Garten did not get her lasagna recipe from you." ...
- Don't say, "Do you think it might be your fault?" ...
- Don't say, "You're being a bully." ...
- Don't say, "Stop playing the victim."
- 1. “ ...
- “I Can't Control How You Feel About Me” ...
- “I Hear What You're Saying” ...
- “I'm Sorry You Feel That Way” ...
- “Everything Is Okay” ...
- “We Both Have a Right to Our Own Opinions” ...
- “I Can Accept How You Feel” ...
- “I Don't Like How You're Speaking to Me so I Will not Engage”
A narcissist will enter the devalue and discard phase once he/she believes that they truly have you hooked, once you have settled into the relationship. Having just bombarded you with their lovebombing for several weeks or months making you feel as if you are perfect, now they will turn the tables on you completely.How do you terrorize a narcissist? ›
Tease, ridicule, and shame them mercilessly for not trying to figure out right from wrong, instead, pretending to have it all figured out. Stay calm, even friendly, to the person cowering inside their absolute narcissistic fake infallibility cloak. Stay light, even humorous. It's nothing personal.
Disconnect from the narcissist's emotional energy. Be vague and don't argue back: “That's interesting.” “I understand how you feel.” Sometimes no response is very powerful and will upset them. Insist on calm, respectful tone and words. Leave if they become angry.How do you trick a narcissist's mind? ›
- 1 Collect evidence in advance.
- 2 Approach a narcissist when you're calm.
- 3 Reassure them that it's safe to tell the truth.
- 4 Ask for simple “yes” or “no” answers.
- 5 Tell them not to blame anyone or anything else.
- 6 Say they'll lose people's respect if they keep lying.
- Inflated Ego. Those who suffer from narcissism usually seem themselves as superior to others. ...
- Lack of Empathy. ...
- Need for Attention. ...
- Repressed Insecurities. ...
- Few Boundaries.
- Recognize and Acknowledge the Abuse. A relationship with a narcissist often has a façade of normality. ...
- Don't Stoop to Their Level. Narcissists thrive on drama. ...
- Don't React to Their Abusive Tactics. Your reaction is exactly what they want. ...
- Remain Mindful of Your Needs and Emotions.
They're often introverted, sensitive, and prone to experiencing anxiety and shame. They may also struggle to maintain close friendships as they focus heavily on themselves, require attention, and are hyper-sensitive to perceived criticism.What is the #1 word a narcissist Cannot stand? ›
It comes hand-in-hand with this that narcissists hate being criticised or called out. Which is exactly why there's one word in particular narcissistic people cannot stand: "no".What is the number 1 narcissist trait? ›
Believe they are superior to others and can only spend time with or be understood by equally special people. Be critical of and look down on people they feel are not important. Expect special favors and expect other people to do what they want without questioning them. Take advantage of others to get what they want.What would hurt a narcissist the most? ›
The most effective weapon to fend off narcissists is self-love. When you love yourself, it is more difficult for the narcissist to manipulate you and get under your skin. It will hurt them to know that you do not need them, that you are better off without them, and that you love yourself exactly as you are.What are the three S's of narcissism? ›
More specifically though, the Three Faces of Narcissism consist of three variations on the narcissist theme: 1) Prosocial Narcissism (charitable, albeit sublime), 2) Asocial Narcissism (lack of consideration of others), and 3) Antisocial Narcissism (malevolent actions against others).What is the Hoover method narcissist? ›
Hoovering is a manipulation tactic used to “suck” victims back into toxic relationship cycles. Someone who hoovers fears that their target will “get away” from them, so they may engage in love bombing, feigning crises, stalking, or smear campaigns in order to suck up all their target's time, energy, and attention.
Those who live with narcissism may find it difficult to hold positive and negative feelings for someone at the same time. As a result, things may get heated in an argument. You may experience insults, put-downs, and even mocking behaviors, like laughing as you express hurt.What is a narcissists flying monkey? ›
When the narcissist wants to evoke some punishment on a target they dispatch their henchmen (aka flying monkeys) to do their bidding. Unfortunately, this can and often does include abusive behavior such as guilt-tripping, twisting the truth, gaslighting, assaults, threats, and violence.How do you spot a narcissist in 5 minutes? ›
- Notice their physical appearance (Do they dress to impress?) ...
- Pay attention to how they speak (Do they swear and use sexual language?) ...
- Watch how they present themselves (Look for the charm)
- 1 Cut off all contact with the person.
- 2 Be unattainable and focus on your well-being.
- 3 Spend time with your support network.
- 4 Realize that people with NPD can't feel regret.
- 5 Resist the urge to get revenge.
- 6 Give yourself a chance to grieve the relationship.
Narcissistic rage can be triggered by various situations, such as criticism, perceived rejection, or being ignored. The reaction is often extreme and disproportionate to the event or comment, as the narcissist's fragile ego struggles to cope with the perceived attack on their self-image.Can a judge see through a narcissist? ›
Therefore, a narcissistic spouse will not want to be exposed in front of a judge. When confronted with facts, the person will likely allow their true nature to come out. A judge can see firsthand the combative, abusive, and controlling nature of the narcissistic parent.What does a narcissist rage look like? ›
Examples of narcissistic rage range from intense outbursts and sudden fits of anger, to passive-aggressive acts such as simmering resentment, icy silence, deliberate neglect, or cutting sarcasm.How to detect a narcissist with one question? ›
Analyzing their data, they found that they could reliably identify narcissists simply using the question: “To what extent do you agree with this statement: 'I am a narcissist. ' (Note: The word 'narcissist' means egotistical, self-focused and vain.)”What happens when a narcissist takes antidepressants? ›
They sometimes lead to the Serotonin syndrome, which includes agitation and exacerbates the rage attacks typical of a narcissist. SSRIs do lead at times to delirium and a manic phase and even to psychotic microepisodes.How does one fall for a narcissist? ›
People can fall in love with narcissists just the same way they fall in love with anyone else. They meet, they are attracted to them, the person has qualities that they like, and they feel connected to the person.
They get jealous about everything
They talk a good game, but narcissists actually have very low self-esteem. Low self-worth/confidence/esteem is at the core of a narcissism. This low sense of self naturally makes it extremely easy for them to become jealous – very jealous.
Narcissists often use money as a tool for punishment. They may reward you financially when you do what they want, and then withhold money when they feel vindictive. This can feel unsafe, degrading and confusing.What makes a narcissist crazy? ›
Narcissists love attention, validation, and power. So what drives a narcissist crazy? Simply put, anything that jeopardizes their basic needs for superiority can quickly irritate them. If you want to know how to infuriate a narcissist, you can look no further than giving them nothing.What is the grey rock method in psychology today? ›
The gray rock method. In a nutshell, the gray rock method is a technique in which a person does not respond emotionally to attempts to be manipulated by someone who is controlling or narcissistic. Instead, one acts like a “gray rock”: dull and boring.What is the difference between silent treatment and grey rocking? ›
Grey Rocking vs.
On the other hand, stonewalling is an emotional reaction, where you shut down emotionally and give someone the “silent treatment.” Stonewalling is usually considered a kind of emotional manipulation, whereas the grey rock method is a method used to deal with someone who employs emotional manipulation.
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.How to disarm a narcissist psychology today? ›
- Determine which type you're dealing with. ...
- Acknowledge your annoyance. ...
- Appreciate where the behavior comes from. ...
- Evaluate the context. ...
- Maintain a positive outlook. ...
- Don't let yourself get derailed. ...
- Keep your sense of humor. ...
- Recognize that the person may need help.
Examples of Silent Treatment
They may blame themselves by thinking that they did something wrong, or they may simply feel frustrated that their partner doesnt want to communicate openly with them.
Narcissists may use the silent treatment to communicate they are unhappy with you, to control you, or as a form of punishment. If the narcissist uses the silent treatment to deflect responsibility for something they have done wrong, it can also be a form of narcissistic gaslighting.What a narcissist thinks during silent treatment? ›
The narcissist's goal with the silent treatment is to get you to think you are in the wrong, apologize, and then all blame is on you. They have effectively created a scenario where you have taken the blame while they sit back and wait for you to come to them.
Key Takeaways. Being manipulative, lack of empathy, and excessive preoccupation with one's own needs are a few traits of a narcissistic wife. Narcissistic wives will restrict you from meeting your family and friends and isolate you from the outside world.How do you starve a narcissist? ›
- Starve them of gratitude and reciprocal praise. Don't share anything with them about your life. ...
- Starve them of putting their needs over your own. ...
- Starve them of your self-control. ...
- Starve them of your need to reciprocate. ...
- Starve them of your empathy. ...
- Starve them of your engagement. ...
- Starve them of your openness.
The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.