Toxic, abusive or narcissistic people love to play games, gain control and manipulate people.
If you are in a partnership or any kind of relationship with someone who has strong narcissistic traits or are very controlling they will want to secure narcissistic supply or keep that control, all to get attention from you – think of the emotional intelligence of a toddler here, any attention is good. This could be anything, a facial expression showing your emotions, rowing, explaining yourself, expressing pity or guilt for example. This just keeps the drama going and plays into their hands, encouraging more bad behaviour and leaving you exhausted and confused.
If you have to be in the company of a toxic, abusive or narcissistic person then the advice would always be to disengage – now. Head for the hills. But sometimes you have to be around them and when you are, this can help you avoid falling prey to their attempts to draw you into turmoil and drama.
Becoming a grey rock means that they can’t use their standard manipulation tactics. There’s not the emotional reaction they’re used to.
It means that you can save emotional energy and pain as you’re not engaging in frustrating, high conflict, abusive or pointless conversations.
This is a really simple technique but if you do it properly and consistently it can have a profound effect
You make yourself as uninteresting and boring as you can – as boring as a large, grey rock. Unreactive and a poor energy source.
If you can do this you will become a poor source of narcissistic supply and they will move off in search of other attention surprisingly quickly.
This is how you do it, but it may seem socially rude at first and not at all how you would normally be with people. But you are not in a normal situation so just go with it and give it a try.
- If you have to see them face to face make no eye contact at all.
- If you have to speak to them make your tone of voice very flat and uninteresting, a little like a robot. Slow your speech down so that it sounds boring and unemotional.
- Use bland, monosyllabic responses ‘Uh-hu’, ‘Hmmm’ etc.
- Try to keep your facial expressions bland and neutral. No eye rolling, eyebrows raised, looks of surprise or frowning. Nothing that would give away how you are feeling.
- When speaking or writing to the narcissist use as few words as possible. Answers should be monosyllabic – yes/no with no explanations, elaborations or justifications
- Avoid being conversational. No chit chat.
- Try to avoid questions which would open up a conversation or discussion. Instead tell them what they should do. So instead of ‘What time are you dropping the children off?’ use ‘Drop the children home at 6 p.m’.
- Stay in the car when you drop your children off at their house.
- Sit at the other end of the table for family meals.
- Ask to move desk away from them at work.
Most importantly, do not give away any emotion. Not even the merest suggestion of irritation, frustration, guilt, sadness, aggression, happiness etc. If you allow even a chink through this armour you’re opening yourself up to further unproductive and possiblly damaging communications. Become like a robot around them.
Most of all avoid interacting with them as much as possible.
The key to the grey rock technique is consistency. They will try to goad you into reacting emotionally once they sense that their supply from you is drying up and, as this is probably not the normal way you would communicate, it can be hard to do at first. But the quicker you are able to master this, the faster the narcissist will leave you alone.
But a word of warning, this may be hard to do as it goes against all your social learning and if respect and manners are high values of yours you may find it particularly hard.
And it may further frustrate and infuriate the narcissist so be wary of any escalation of the abuse and make sure that first and foremost you’re keeping yourself safe. If you think this escalation could go too far, remove yourself from the situation and get help.
It’s also very important to understand that this is a short term strategy to cope where having to interact with the narcissist is unavoidable.
It would be far better to not have that contact in the first place by walking away or ending the relationship.
I wouldn’t recommend you tell your abuser that you are ‘going grey rock’ this is likely to trigger further anger and abuse.
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.
When you are using this technique you are also supressing and disconnecting from your emotions, and this may make it difficult to process feelings, responses and events. So it’s important to understand that this is only a here and now response and that supressing your emotions can lead to longer term mental health problems.
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
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 co-workers who regularly attempt to start workplace fights or drama
- Relationships that involve unavoidable interactions with manipulative siblings, step-parents, in-laws, or other family members or relatives (for example, family gatherings)
My divorce brought me to my knees at times and I was afraid it would break me. But I was lucky, I had my training behind me, many tools to use and a fantastic support network. I’m in a very good place now, more resilient and happier than I ever thought possible, but there are some things I wish I’d known beforehand that would have saved me heartache, stress, time and, very importantly, money. And I want to share my learnings and hindsight with you, to help you navigate your divorce or break up and recover as quickly and painlessly as possible. Please get in touch if you would like help to make sense of what you’re going through or have gone through so that you can move on and love your life.