Breaking Down the Grey Rock Method

Published on: 24 Aug 2022
Clinically Reviewed by Bisma Anwar, LMHC
woman sitting and ignoring male partner

The grey rock technique, also referred to as “grey rocking,” is a strategy for dealing with toxic figures in your life, including people with narcissistic personality disorder.

On a hike or walking on the beach, it’s easy to overlook a grey rock. There are grey rocks everywhere, and there’s nothing about these rocks that’s engaging or interesting. When you’re trying to keep an emotional distance from a person in your life (whether that’s a family member or authority figure) who’s manipulative or abusive, it can be helpful to make yourself seem as neutral and boring as a grey rock. 

How Does the Grey Rock Method Work?

People with narcissistic personality disorder crave attention and making themselves appear like a grey rock is a way to deprive them of the reactions that they’re seeking. The tactic includes limiting emotional responses, avoiding eye contact, and removing yourself from situations whenever it’s possible to do so.

The theory is that when a toxic person sees you as a boring, uninteresting, grey rock, they may eventually lose interest. Over time, they might learn that they can’t get emotional reactions or engagement from you. If you’re dealing with a toxic person in your life and you’re looking for a way out of the relationship, read on to learn more about how grey rocking works and to hear tips on how you can try it.

Is the Grey Rock Method Effective?

While there’s no official research on the effectiveness of grey rocking, some studies on online behavior suggest that people with narcissistic personality disorder have a tendency to engage in attention-seeking behavior. If a narcissistic person can’t get the attention they want from you, there’s a good chance that they’ll move on and look elsewhere.

The ultimate goal of the grey rock technique is to cause a toxic person to lose interest in you. While you may not be able to completely cut off narcissistic or abusive people in your life, this might be a way to limit the harm that their behavior inflicts on your life.

“The grey rock method is a technique to deal with individuals who are toxic and unhealthy in one’s life. It’s a useful technique to disengage with individuals who cause a lot of stress and instability. It is quite effective but is something that should be implemented sparingly. It’s not intended for use all the time with everyone.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Risks of the Grey Rock Method

While the grey rock method can be a way to protect yourself from narcissistic abuse, it does have the potential to backfire. In some cases, the person that you grey rock may become frustrated by the lack of attention, which can cause their behavior to escalate in an attempt to manipulate you into an emotional response.

In addition, some research suggests that suppressing your emotions can be damaging to your own emotional well-being. When you grey rock someone, you have to conceal or disconnect yourself from your feelings. Over time, this might make it difficult to express your feelings and connect with other people in your life, too.

While the grey rock technique can be effective in the short-term, it isn’t something that you should try to do on a long-term basis. If this method doesn’t work for you, you should try to find other ways to deal with the toxic people in your life.

“This method is a great tool in dealing with difficult individuals in one’s life. However, the more it’s implemented, the more a disconnect can happen. This method requires one to shut off their emotions. If implemented too often, dissociation and a disconnect to self can occur.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

7 Tips/Techniques for Grey Rocking

The following tips have been found to be effective, useful, and important if you’re considering grey rocking someone. 

1. Know when to be a grey rock

It’s not always possible to avoid toxic people. If you have a narcissistic family member or co-worker, you may still need to deal with them from time to time. The grey rocking technique can help you manage those limited interactions. Grey rocking can also be effective when you’re ending a relationship with someone.

However, you shouldn’t try to use the grey rock method if you’re fearful for your safety. Take steps to protect yourself and do your best to completely remove the person from your life.

2. Don’t let them know what you’re doing

One thing research has told us about narcissistic tendencies is that manipulative behaviors and narcissism go hand in hand. If a person with narcissistic personality disorder knows they’re being grey rocked, they may try to use this against you. You don’t have to explain what or why you’re doing this. Once you start disengaging, you should avoid acknowledging your change in behavior.

3. Limit interactions

The grey rocking technique can take an emotional toll, which is why you should try to make your interactions as brief as possible. When you respond to a question, try to give a yes or no answer. If possible, avoid interacting with them in person so that it’s easier for you to end a conversation.

4. Stay neutral

Manipulative behavior is one trait of a narcissistic person. Even if the toxic person tries to push your buttons, you should do your best not to show any emotion. Instead of saying what you feel or giving in to their emotional manipulation, give flat or factual responses to questions. If you’re asked to comment on something, you could respond with “I haven’t noticed” or “I don’t have an opinion.” Do your best to minimize any body language and avoid eye contact whenever possible.

5. Try grounding techniques

It can be very difficult to disengage from your emotions, especially when someone is trying to provoke you. Grounding techniques like breathing exercises can help you to stay calm and neutral in these situations. Focusing on your breathing can also distract you from a toxic person’s words or behaviors.

6. Leave out personal details

A manipulative person will try to use personal information against you or gaslight you. That’s why you should try to leave out any personal details or emotions when you speak with anyone who you suspect has narcissistic tendencies. The less interesting you seem, and the less the person knows about your life, the more effective grey rocking will be.

7. Take care of yourself

Grey rocking can work, but it can also be difficult. This is why it’s important to make sure that you pay attention to your own needs throughout this process. Even when you’re hiding your emotions, you should make sure you’re still expressing your feelings to the other people in your life. You may want to work with a therapist who can provide you with advice or support.

“Be selective about the people and situations when using this technique. It’s not meant for every unhealthy relationship, but ones where distance can be achieved.”

Talkspace therapist Minkyung Chung, MS, LMHC

Finding Support as You Navigate Someone With NPD

If someone in your life shows symptoms of narcissistic personality disorder, it’s important to protect yourself. In addition to using methods like the grey rock technique to limit your interactions, you should make sure that you have enough support in your life. If you can cut that person out of your life entirely, all the better. You may have scars from the experience, however, you can start healing from narcissistic abuse.

Friends and family can be a valuable source of support, but professional help like online therapy can also be an effective tool. Not only can a therapist help you learn how to set boundaries with a narcissist or toxic person, but they can also help you process your emotions and deal with the aftermath of narcissistic behaviors. When you have help and support, you can minimize the impact that toxic behavior has on your emotional well-being.

If you think the benefits of a therapist would be helpful, but you don’t know where to start, you might consider online therapy. Talkspace offers convenient, accessible, and affordable online therapy that can help you address issues like narcissistic behavior and hone skills like the grey rock technique.

Sources:

1. Nathan DeWall C, Buffardi L, Bonser I, Keith Campbell W. Narcissism and implicit attention seeking: Evidence from linguistic analyses of social networking and online presentation. Pers Individ Dif. 2011;51(1):57-62. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2011.03.011. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0191886911001310. Accessed June 30, 2022. 

2. Patel J, Patel P. Consequences of Repression of Emotion: Physical Health, Mental Health and General Well Being. International Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research. 2019;1(3):16-21. doi:10.14302/issn.2574-612x.ijpr-18-2564. https://openaccesspub.org/ijpr/article/999. Accessed June 30, 2022. 

3. Day N, Townsend M, Grenyer B. Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline Personal Disord Emot Dysregul. 2020;7(1). doi:10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8. https://bpded.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8. Accessed June 30, 2022. 

Talkspace articles are written by experienced mental health-wellness contributors; they are grounded in scientific research and evidence-based practices. Articles are extensively reviewed by our team of clinical experts (therapists and psychiatrists of various specialties) to ensure content is accurate and on par with current industry standards.

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