Grey Rocking: The Calm Response to Toxic Behavior

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The Calm Response to Toxic Behavior

You might encounter people who are out to cause chaos in your life – they want you to feel bad about yourself or to see how much they can get away with. These people purposely push your buttons, and there’s usually not a lot you can do except walk away from the conversation or interaction altogether.

Unfortunately, it’s not always possible to walk away. A narcissist can be your co-worker who you have to get a project done with or an abusive spouse who you have to interact with for your children’s sake. Despite their toxic behaviors that affect your mental well being, you can’t cut these people out of your life completely.

A person with narcissistic personality disorder craves admiration and has a strong sense of entitlement. They have an exaggerated sense of self-importance, and it’s usually combined with a lack of empathy for others. 

People who are narcissistic (or just plain toxic) have three primary defense mechanisms: denial, distortion, and projection. 

  • Denial is when they don’t accept that something happened. 
  • Distortion occurs when they shape a situation to be more favorable for themselves, or blame someone else for the problem. 
  • Projection is when they put their own negative qualities onto you. 

Splitting is another defense mechanism, but this is also common among people with antisocial personality disorder. This happens when they see you as either bad or good, with no exceptions. Every action you take is labelled as right away and used to judge you. 

When faced with such personalities, minus the option of cutting all contact, grey rocking and therapy can help.

What Is the Grey Rock Method?

Grey rocking is the idea that you can appear boring and uninteresting to toxic people in order to prevent them from pushing your buttons and eliciting a negative reaction. 

You stay silent, calm, emotionless, or even go on autopilot. Don’t defend against what bothers you, don’t attack the person back, and ignore their behavior. 

In turn (and completely contrary to their expectations), they will find you boring and lose interest. They won’t have an excuse to attack you, because you’re not going to give them the reaction they were looking for.

While this may seem unrealistic at first glance, it’s really about learning how to set boundaries and respond to difficult people in a new way. 

Like most new habits, greyrocking takes time and practice to learn

Here are 7 tips to keep in mind if you’re considering this technique:

Grey Rocking Requires Planning Beforehand

It’s natural to have an extreme reaction when someone catches you off guard or brings up something that is sensitive to you. Unless you are prepared, it’s easy to get caught up in the drama—this is exactly what a narcissist hopes for. 

When you plan, you are in control of your behavior and know what responses will be expected from you. You can think through each situation beforehand and decide which type of responses would be appropriate for that occasion and this can make it much easier to deal with toxic people.

It’s important to note that grey rocking is not the same as ignoring someone. You’ll interact and respond with them—just not in the way they want you to. 

Know When to Use It, and When Not To 

The grey rock technique is ideal when you’re trying to maintain a functional relationship with a narcissistic person. You don’t like the person, or how they make you feel, but for important reasons, you have to see them from time to time. 

However, this technique isn’t always appropriate to use without safety planning, and you should be able to identify such occasions. 

Because a narcissist thrives on drama, they won’t react well when you refuse to give them an extreme response. If it’s possible that their reaction will harm you, it’s best not to put yourself in that position. Furthermore, some toxic behaviors like stalking are best dealt with by reporting to the authorities. 

Keep All Interactions Short and to the Point

When you’re talking to a narcissist, they’ll constantly try to get information from you. They are trying to find something that they can use against you later on so their attacks will be more effective. 

There is a reason why these kinds of people tend to ask the same questions over and over again – they’re hoping for a different answer. They want you to slip up and make a mistake, that way they can get what they want out of the situation.

When someone is continually harassing you with questions or information requests, it’s best to stick to short replies and try to end the conversation quickly. This may not always be possible if you’re in an important work meeting or other business scenario but even then, it’s a good idea for your own sanity and wellbeing.

If you find yourself having to talk with them, one good tactic is to give short responses without further elaboration. “Mmm”, “uh-huh” or a matter of fact answer works best — this will throw them off their game because they can’t use such responses to their advantage. This move also gives you the advantage of being able to control the direction of the conversation. 

Put Them on a Restricted Information Diet

If you do end up giving them information it’s best to give only the bare minimum that is necessary. For instance, if someone asks about your day and normally you would answer, “It was okay, I did xyz…,” grey rocking at this point might require just replying with “fine”. 

Similar tactics can be used for any kind of question they may have about where you go or what you are doing.

Disengage and Disconnect

At times, simply walking away from a toxic person isn’t possible. It could be because they are in your work environment or it could be because there aren’t any other options — maybe the person is a relative who has been placed in your care temporarily.

Since eye contact is one of the strongest non-verbal cues that facilitates communication, disengage by not looking at them while they speak. This also removes emotion from the interaction. 

It may be beneficial to put all of your energy into something else, even if you’re at home or work with nothing to do — anything that will keep your mind busy and distracted from the situation at hand. 

Diverting your attention away from the situation doesn’t mean it still isn’t there — just that you are no longer participating in it. You can also remove yourself physically by leaving rooms and getting up out of chairs when they try to corner you. 

Don’t Reveal Your Grey Rock Strategy

Don’t tell the person that you’re grey rocking them. Doing so defeats the purpose — they will likely think of other ways to inflict emotional abuse. You don’t have to divulge the reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing. 

Be Careful Not To Lose Yourself While Using the Grey Rock Method

One downside of the grey rock strategy is that it can make you lose connection to your feelings, wants, and needs. Because it involves suppressing your thoughts and feelings, it can cause you to become alienated from your real self. Eventually, you might become depressed and withdraw from other healthy relationships. 

Looking after your mental health is important when dealing with a manipulative person. If you chose to use grey-rocking, try these self-care tips to ensure you don’t lose yourself in the process:

  • practice positive self-talk
  • create alone time where you do an activity you enjoy
  • create a quiet space that you can go to when you’re feeling overwhelmed
  • talk to someone you trust about what’s happening
  • seek support from a therapist on Calmerry

The Bottom Line

Dealing with toxic people can be emotionally draining and walking away is often the best option. However, if you have to see them for other reasons, the grey rock method can be helpful. While practicing this method, create time for self-care to ensure that you’re not losing sight of your needs and wants.