Healthy Mind

You Should Know About the ‘Grey Rock Method’ if You Have To Communicate With a Narcissist

Photo: Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt
Having to deal with a narcissistic person can include being the subject to unfair blame, gaslighting, or a general dismissiveness of your emotions. Of course, these are only a few of the common signs of narcissism, which can also take a number of different forms. Clearly, having to interact with a narcissist can be tough, all too often leading someone to lose their cool and react rather than respond. That's why if you find yourself in a situation where you must communicate with a narcissistic person, the grey rock method is something you might want to have in your emotional-response toolbox.

The grey rock method essentially entails responding to narcissistic, manipulative, or otherwise toxic behavior by hardly engaging at all, à la channeling your best grey rock. “Grey rocking is a method you can use when toxic people are trying to dominate or manipulate you,” says Dr. Marina Harris, PhD, licensed psychologist and relationship expert for the dating app Iris. “The premise is to act like a grey rock: stable, blank, and unresponsive.”

“Grey rocking is a method you can use when toxic people are trying to dominate or manipulate you. The premise is to act like a grey rock: stable, blank, and unresponsive.” —Marina Harris, PhD

The point of the grey rock method is to basically bore the narcissistic person. “Toxic people and narcissists love drama," says Lena Derhally, LPC, a licensed relationship therapist and author of The Facebook Narcissist: How to Identify and Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones From Social Media Narcissism. "They love to instigate, and they want to get an emotional reaction out of whoever they are targeting at the moment. [With the grey rock method], the hope is they will get bored or realize they can’t get any emotional response out of you, and will more or less stop sucking you into their drama.”

While the the grey rock method is an effective strategy for protection against narcissistic behavior, it also stands to directly benefit the person who's using it. That's because it can help you realize you aren’t responsible for ensuring that the narcissistic person is happy all the time. In a relationship where one person skews narcissistic, the other person often feels as if they are “‘on call’ and must ‘fix’ the narcissist’s problems to prevent the narcissist’s wrath,” says psychotherapist Kimberly Perlin, LCSW. “Grey rocking frees the loved one from the on-call-and-fix-it cycle."

Furthermore, feeling as though you must deal with the drama of a narcissistic person can be draining and lead you to feel resentment or anger. Using the grey rock method can serve as a reminder that their need for attention doesn’t have to be a “you" problem. In fact, understanding that their issues are actually independent of anything having to do with you can help you more effectively engage the method.

How to practice the grey rock method

One option is to not really react at all. If this is what you want to do, Dr. Harris suggests avoiding eye contact, saying nothing, and turning away. Or, you can limit your reaction—at least the one you have in front of that person. “Give short and to-the-point responses,” Derhally adds. “Over text messages, that could be a simple emoji or a few-word response…do not get defensive or try to defend yourself—always respond in a flat, calm, emotionless manner.”

Even if implementing the grey rock method is tough, the pros remind that it can be worth it. “You get to uphold your boundaries and keep your self-respect by not engaging in the toxicity,” Dr. Harris says. And Derhally adds that it can help facilitate feelings of empowerment: “It keeps you in control of the relationship dynamic,” she says. “When we feel more in control in a power imbalance in any type of relationship with a narcissist, we feel empowered instead of powerless.”

Also keep in mind that it does not (and likely should not) be the only tool in your coping toolbox. While it can be called upon in the moment for a quick fix, working with a therapist or other mental health-care provider is preferable for a longer-term and more sustainable strategy. And if you feel in danger in any way, extricating yourself from the immediate situation and then relationship in general is key.

If you or someone you love is in an abusive partnership, they can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3244 for help. 

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