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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
Special thanks to Erin Hendrickson, LPC, and Dr. Ove Heradstveit, Ph.D. for contributing to this article.
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How To Gray Rock A Narcissist: 5 Simple Techniques That Work? ›
The grey rock method is a strategy for protecting yourself from abusive or toxic friends, partners, co-workers, or family members. This method theorizes that, when dealing with an emotionally abusive, toxic, or narcissistic person, withholding your reactions can put a stop to their behaviors.What is the grey rock strategy for narcissists? ›
The grey rock method is a strategy for protecting yourself from abusive or toxic friends, partners, co-workers, or family members. This method theorizes that, when dealing with an emotionally abusive, toxic, or narcissistic person, withholding your reactions can put a stop to their behaviors.What are grey rock phrases? ›
Grey rocking often involves behaviors like:
Using noncommittal phrases and responses like “eh,” “mhm,” or “uh-huh” Avoiding eye contact. Responding briefly, and without elaboration, to direct questions. Ending or leaving interactions as quickly as is safely possible.
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.What is the narcissist weak spot? ›
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 greatest weapon of a narcissist? ›
A narcissist's greatest weapon may be to turn a person against him or herself. Using four techniques, a narcissist may underhandedly dismantle a person's mental health by attacking from the inside out. A person who is aware of these manipulations may be able to escape before aspects of the self are compromised.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 to trick narcissistic people? ›
- 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.
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.What annoys a narcissist the most? ›
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 are the 5 main habits of a narcissist? ›
- Inflated Ego. Those who suffer from narcissism usually seem themselves as superior to others. ...
- Lack of Empathy. ...
- Need for Attention. ...
- Repressed Insecurities. ...
- Few Boundaries.
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.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 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.Who do narcissists fear the most? ›
Although narcissists act superior, entitled and boastful, underneath their larger-than-life facade lies their greatest fear: That they are ordinary. For narcissists, attention is like oxygen. Narcissists believe only special people get attention.What do narcissists need the most? ›
Narcissists thrive on getting attention, feeling special, and having control. He is an expert at getting an emotional reaction out of you – good or bad – because it makes him feel powerful and better than you.What is valuable to a narcissist? ›
They demand respect, and give none in return. For a narcissist, their needs must always be put first, and they will never reciprocate those feelings for anyone else. The world revolves around them, and everyone who happens to be part of that world should go along with it.What type of narcissist is the smartest? ›
Cerebral narcissists, also known as intellectual narcissists, are individuals who try to fulfill their narcissistic supply through their perceived intelligence. While intellectual narcissists are generally smart, they may present as if they are more educated than they really are.What is the Great Rock method? ›
The grey rock technique, also referred to as “grey rocking,” is a strategy for dealing with toxic behavior from people in your life, including those with narcissistic personality disorder. The grey rock method includes acting uninterested or disengaging with a toxic person to avoid feeding into their tendencies.
How do you respond to an angry narcissist? ›
- 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.What to say to a narcissist to shut them up? ›
- 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”
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.What words not to say to a narcissist? ›
- 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."
- 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.
Narcissists are frightened, fragile people.
Rejection, humiliation, and even the tiniest of defeats can shake them to their core. This leaves narcissists wholly focused on their image.
- Educateyourself. Find out more about the disorder. It can help you understand the narcissist's strengths and weaknesses and learn how to handle them better. ...
- Create boundaries. Be clear about your boundaries. ...
- Speak up for yourself. When you need something, be clear and concise.
- Keep Up The Image. ...
- Sincerely Compliment Them. ...
- Go “No Contact” ...
- Feed Their Ego. ...
- Keep The Fear Alive. ...
- Agree With Them. ...
- Don't Give In. ...
- Remain Calm And Patient.
Drinking alcohol lowers inhibitions and can increase other narcissist behaviors including self-absorption, denial, illusions of grandeur, and destructiveness. These behaviors can lead to poor choices, including drinking and driving or excessive consumption, which can be fatal.
How do you get a narcissist to respect you? ›
- 1 Recognize that narcissists aren't capable of respect.
- 2 Show them that you're high value.
- 3 Be confident and self-assured.
- 4 Respect yourself.
- 5 Treat them with respect.
- 6 Keep emotional distance.
- 7 Maintain your independence.
- 8 Set boundaries with the narcissist.
If you want to cut to a narcissist's emotional core, make them look bad in public. Try challenging their opinions, ignoring their commands, or laughing at their misfortunes and they'll fly into a narcissistic rage.What are the red flags of a narcissist? ›
Red Flags When You're In a Relationship With a Narcissist
Downplays your emotions. Uses manipulative tactics to “win” arguments. Love bombing, especially after a fight. Makes you second-guess yourself constantly.
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 best revenge against a narcissist? ›
- Criticize them.
- Take authority away from them.
- Say “no.”
- Go “no contact.”
- Expose their behavior in public.
- Succeed in areas they want to dominate.
- Make them jealous.
- Trick them into doing you a favor.
Other narcissist "tests" are not at all scientifically validated, such as the so-called narcissist smile test, which claims that you can tell if someone is a narcissist based on how they react if you smile, look them in the eye, and tell them "no" in response to something they ask of you.What is the best question to ask a narcissist? ›
- What's a personal opinion you've had and changed in the past year? This question reveals how humble someone is. ...
- What's the best (or worst) piece of advice you've gotten? ...
- Tell me a story about how luck played a role in your life.
If you remain adamant about the firm boundary that you've set, the gray rock method, it triggers their deeply rooted fears of abandonment and rejection and because they're so emotionally inadequate, they respond with narcissistic rage.What is the best strategy with a narcissist? ›
- Educate yourself about NPD. ...
- Build your self-esteem. ...
- Speak up for yourself. ...
- Set clear boundaries. ...
- Practice skills to keep calm. ...
- Find a support system. ...
- Insist on immediate action, not promises. ...
- Understand that a narcissistic person may need professional help.
Narcissistic silent treatment is when a narcissist ignores and avoids interacting with you to punish, control, or communicate that they are unhappy with you. It's a form of manipulation, and this toxic behavior can negatively impact the victim psychologically and emotionally.
What is the gray rock method narcissist husband? ›
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.Does a narcissist know how much they hurt you? ›
Narcissists don't know they're hurting you. It doesn't even enter their minds. And, if you try to tell them how you feel, they get defensive and make you feel you're wrong again. In fact, they'll even rather “innocently” tell you: “I'm only trying to help you.”What calms a narcissist down? ›
Empathize with Their Feelings
It is extremely soothing to Narcissists when you demonstrate that you understand and empathize with how they feel. But..do not insert anything about how the situation makes you feel, or anything about you at all unless it is an apology.
Rage: Narcissists are insecure and when there is a narcissistic injury to their sense of self, they will rage. This is often done with yelling and insults hurled at the victim. During these rages, the narcissist can be the most damaging in their words.Why silence is powerful with a narcissist? ›
Essentially, the point of the silent treatment is to make the victim feel confused, stressed, guilty, ashamed, not good enough, or unstable enough so that they would do what the manipulator wants.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.What is the narcissist marriage cycle? ›
The narcissistic abuse cycle is a pattern of behavior that is common in relationships where one partner is a narcissist. This cycle can be difficult to break free from, but it is possible with the right help and support. It typically consists of three phases: idealization, devaluation, discarding and hovering.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.