What is Grey Rocking? How to Deal with Toxic People and Narcissists

by Brenna Holeman

Over the past few years I’ve become increasingly more interested in relationships and why they do (or don’t) work. Along the way I’ve read a lot about dealing with those who show narcissistic tendencies and emotionally abusive behaviour, and then discovered the best way to deal with such people whenever we have to interact with them: grey rocking. So what is grey rocking, and how can it help you deal with the toxic people in your life?

In this article, I’ll explain what grey rocking is, when you should or shouldn’t use it, and how it can help you effectively protect yourself from people in your life who have a tendency to bring you down.

We may not always be able to avoid toxic or emotionally abusive people in our lives, but grey rocking can certainly help us deal with them.

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What is Grey Rocking and How Do You Use It?

Grey rocking is a tactic that you can consciously and deliberately use in order to deflect a toxic person’s behaviour during short term or brief encounters. With regular grey rocking, you can hopefully avoid confrontation.

Imagine a grey rock. It sits there, unbothered, unresponsive. It’s just a rock. With practice, this is how you can become with the toxic person in your life. As emotionally abusive people feed off of our energy and often seek confrontation and drama, the less you give that person, the less they can do with it.

Grey rocking is a way to protect yourself from added emotional abuse by avoiding detail in conversation as well as avoiding showing any emotion when interacting with the toxic person. You also want to avoid any unnecessary contact or sharing any personal information. Essentially, you want to become as uninteresting and as boring as possible to the person.

Does it sound difficult, or maybe even dramatic in itself? Yes, but it does indeed work. By keeping conversations extremely short and to the point, and by never allowing your emotions to rise up to the surface in front of the narcissist/toxic person, you can avoid unnecessary arguments and confrontations.

If it helps, you can even think of yourself as being within that grey rock, using its hard outer surface as a shield from the toxic person in your life. You can either become the rock or use it as an emotional barrier.

How to Identify Toxic People and/or Narcissists in Your Life

I don’t want to delve into this topic too much, because I believe it could be an article on its own. But the easiest way to identify toxic people in your life is by asking yourself one simple question: does this person make me feel good when I interact with them?

One of the best books I’ve read about toxic behaviour is called Psychopath Free: Recovering from Emotionally Abusive Relationships with Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Other Toxic People by Jackson MacKenzie. I highly recommend reading this book; it was completely eye-opening (and also terrifying, in that I could relate so much). Some of the identifiers that he uses include gaslighting, a lack of empathy, pathological lying and excuses, an unusual number of “crazy” people in their past, always playing the the victim, constantly comparing you to others, and, my favourite, “you find yourself explaining the basic elements of human respect to a full-grown man or woman”.

Toxic people can come in all forms, including exes, parents, coworkers, neighbours, and more. What grey rocking does is help us effectively interact with people we can’t avoid; maybe we coparent with them, maybe we work with them, or maybe we have to see them at every family dinner.

But because narcissists and toxic people can wear us down so much, this constant exposure to them can start to lead to anxiety, depression, and fear of seeing them again. It’s difficult to live a happy, calm life when you are constantly afraid of what the next interaction may bring, especially if it’s on a regular basis (i.e. coparenting or working together).

Enter: grey rocking.

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How to Grey Rock Someone

In theory, grey rocking sounds easy. All you have to do is not say very much, and how difficult is that?

Well, if you’ve had experience with someone who has toxic or narcissistic qualities, you know that grey rocking is much easier said than done, especially if that person knows how to push your buttons.

A tactic that I like to use is to mentally prepare yourself before interacting with the person you’d like to grey rock. Perhaps you know you’ll definitely see them at work that day, or that they’ll be at that big family gathering. Give yourself a pep talk beforehand and remind yourself that you’re going to implement the grey rock technique when you interact with them.

If you do interact with that person, keep your sentences as short as possible. Try to exit the conversation as quickly as you can. Try not to ask them any unnecessary questions; stick to only the absolute essentials of the conversation. That can be very difficult to do, especially if you are naturally a social and/or empathetic person… it’s very difficult not to ask someone about their weekend, about how they’re feeling, etc. But the key to grey rocking is to give the other person as little as possible to find conflict in, and to protect yourself as much as you can.

While you’re having the conversation with the person, you may also want to repeat the words “grey rock” to yourself to remind yourself to stay as strong and resilient as possible. Remember: they want you to react. They thrive off of your reactions and feed off of the drama. Don’t let them have it.

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Tips for Grey Rocking Someone

  • do not tell the person that you are actively grey rocking them (this would defeat the purpose!)
  • give short, concise answers, whether that is in person or over text
  • do not ask the person anything unless it is absolutely necessary (even “How are you?” can be enough fuel for a toxic person’s fire)
  • avoid showing any emotion in front of the person
  • try to leave the conversation as soon as possible
  • if the conversation escalates, try to remain calm. If they start up their emotionally abusive behaviour, it is within your right to walk away or not respond. Remember: they want you to react.
  • make sure to have an outlet, i.e. someone you can trust. After an encounter with the toxic person in your life, ask your trusted person if you can vent a little bit and work through some of the emotions you’re feeling.
  • repeat positive affirmations to yourself before any interaction with the person you’re grey rocking (i.e. “I will not react, whatever they say. I am a grey rock. They want me to react and I will not.”)
  • journalling can be a healthy way to work through your emotions and let out some of your frustrations
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Reactions to Grey Rocking

It is possible that the person you’re trying to grey rock will have a negative reaction to this tactic. After all, you’re not engaging with them or giving them what they want: drama. Often the person you’re grey rocking will start to try different tactics of getting a reaction out of you, including asking for your help, getting angry, or even – perhaps the most frustrating tactic of all – suddenly acting very kind toward you.

If you’re reading this article and looking to grey rock someone, chances are you’ve already seen how quickly this person can change their emotions, try to manipulate you, and so on. Even if they seem to be genuinely nice to you, remember their past behaviours and tread very carefully. Emotionally abusive people will often treat you nicely so that you let your guard down, which is when the toxic behaviour can start all over again.

It’s important to be consistent with your grey rocking; while the person you’re grey rocking will most likely be frustrated at first, eventually they will get bored of your behaviour and look for the drama they crave elsewhere.

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When Not to Grey Rock

Grey rocking is a good short-term solution to protect yourself from someone who is causing a lot of stress in your life. That being said, keeping your emotions inside is both difficult and draining, so it’s important to have another outlet. Try to find a trusted friend, family member, or therapist who can help you work through the emotions you’re dealing with as you navigate this tricky relationship in your life.

Again, grey rocking works for short term solutions, i.e. the occasional family dinner, coparenting drop offs, or running into a coworker in a hallway. If you are experiencing prolonged emotional abuse from someone who is a constant in your life, such as spouse, I would highly recommend speaking to a therapist or other trusted person in your life on how to proceed. Trying to grey rock someone for days, weeks, or months on end would be physically and emotionally exhausting.

Photo by Paola Chaaya on Unsplash

In conclusion, grey rocking is a good way to protect yourself from brief but necessary interactions with a toxic person in your life. It can be difficult to get the hang of at first, but walking away from a conversation knowing you didn’t react or show emotion becomes a very freeing, empowering feeling.

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