How The 'Grey Rock Method' Can Be A Total Savior In Toxic Relationships

Lately, there's been a lot of discussion about red flags and problematic behavior in relationships. We've gradually begun to stand up against obvious red flags like extreme levels of jealousy and possessiveness. We're also starting to recognize subtler ones like extravagant gifting and saying "I love you" too soon. Instead of brushing these behaviors off, we've worked to understand the ulterior motives, called them out, and actively fought against accepting them. Likewise, if you find yourself dealing with subtler forms of manipulation, you might be dealing with a covert narcissist.

As Cory Newman, Ph.D., an expert on narcissistic personality disorder, explained to Prevention, "A narcissist, by definition, is someone with a pervasive pattern of grandiosity, need for admiration, and lack of empathy." As subtle as they may be, there are several ways to know whether someone you love is a narcissist. And once you're certain you're dealing with a narcissist, you can adopt the "grey rock method" to protect yourself in a toxic relationship.

It's a fairly simple method that may seem a bit strange at first, but the grey rock method has been recommended by mental health professionals as a way to protect the abused by diverting the negative effects of a toxic relationship. The premise of this method? Simply be a grey rock. 

What is the grey rock method?

Being a grey rock is simpler than you'd think. As Deborah Ashway, a licensed mental health counselor, informed USA Today, "It's when somebody tries to make themselves as boring and nonreactive as possible to decrease the amount of provoking or emotional reactions." Essentially, you become a rock that doesn't engage with the narcissist to feed into their ego. Lena Derhally, LPC, a licensed relationship therapist, elaborated on how the grey rock method can get you out of toxic situations with Well+Good

She noted, "[Narcissists] 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." This idea is well-suited for times when you cannot avoid certain conversations, such as when co-parenting, disengaging with toxic co-workers who try to drag you into office gossip, blocking out bosses who belittle you, toxic parents and siblings, and instances where you're being gaslit. 

As with any method to deflect negativity, it's important to practice caution to protect yourself. Psychologist W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D. warned Mind Body Green, "For some people, this will make them escalate, so if the abusive person doesn't immediately lose interest, they could use more harmful tactics to engage with you." He recommended closely observing their reaction before continuing. 

There's a right way to practice it

Make conversations as boring and disengaging as possible. When a toxic person tries to talk to you, don't give them anything other than a few non-committal words like "yes," "no," "I don't know," etc. For texting, you can also answer in emojis or short, one-word replies. Try to avoid elaborating on your answers and be as vague as possible. Ignore the instinct to ask them questions about themselves after they've asked you one. If you're using the grey rock method on a boss or a coworker, only answer work-related questions in a precise but minimal manner.

You can also use body language techniques to make yourself seem detached. Avoid eye contact to make them realize you're not interested in the conversation. Make yourself seem busy by looking at your phone or doing some paperwork. Maintain a neutral expression and tone to give the impression that their words don't affect you.

For the grey rock method to work, the narcissist cannot catch wind of what you're doing. Don't drop hints that give it away. They need to be naturally disinterested in you after realizing they're not getting what they want, but if they find out you're using the grey rock method to drive them away, they might seek ways to manipulate you back into their control. They may try to talk you out of it or apologize, but it's only a trick that serves their interests.