Can the Grey Rock Method Protect You From Toxic Behavior?

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The grey rock method is a technique used to help manage narcissistic and toxic behavior. The idea is that when a narcissist tries to provoke you, you disengage and remain as boring and neutral as a grey rock. Narcissistic people tend to feed off of their victims’ reactions and crave attention. By employing the grey rock method, you are cutting off their “narcissistic supply,” and creating a strong boundary.

Let’s take a more in-depth look at the grey rock method, including why it’s done, how to do it, and any pitfalls that might come up along the way.

How the Grey Rock Method is Used

The grey rock method can be used when you are dealing with a person who has narcissistic tendencies such as manipulation, abusiveness, and gaslighting, or has a toxic personality.

People who have narcissistic personality traits or who have narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) tend to be very difficult to communicate with. They lack empathy, so they are unable to see your point-of-view, and have little regard for your emotional well being. Their main goal is their own gratification, and they will use any means possible to achieve this. This usually means that interacting with a narcissist involves being manipulated, unheard—and quite often— emotionally abused.

A 2020 study looked at what it’s like to be in a relationship with a narcissist. The study researchers interviewed people who’d had current or previous romantic relationships with narcissists and people who had narcissistic family members. Researchers asked participants to describe their communications with the narcissists in their lives.

Study participants described interacting with narcissists in the following ways:

  • They described the narcissists in their lives as requiring constant attention, along with a need to be admired and loved.
  • Narcissists were described as arrogant, easily jealous, and tending toward rage.
  • Narcissists exhibited a need to feel important, to have their self-worth validated, and to play the role of “victim” in the relationship.
  • Narcissists tended to have no empathy toward the person they were in a relationship with and were often exploitative, manipulative, and attention-seeking.

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Clearly, being in a relationship with a narcissist can be untenable; at times, it can lead to both emotional and physical abuse. But many of us have to deal with narcissistic people whether we want to or not—for example, at work or if the co-parent of our child is a narcissist and we need to stay in contact to arrange childcare and visitations.

This is where a technique like grey rocking may be helpful. It’s a way to create boundaries in our interactions with narcissists. It’s thought to be a method for decreasing the narcissists’ interest in manipulating the person they are interacting with, and decreasing their tendency to use the relationship as a means to compensate for their own lack of self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy.

What Are Examples of the Grey Rock Technique?

So how exactly do you use the grey rock method? It depends to some extent on your relationship with the narcissist in your life, and what the particular circumstances of the interaction are.

Above all else, your goal is not to react to what is being said in an overtly emotional way. This doesn’t mean that you won’t have an emotional reaction—just that you will try your best not to react with or share this. The idea is that you don’t respond reactively or try to match the narcissist’s often angry, accusatory tone; instead, you remain neutral and keep the interaction brief.

Here are some ideas for how to achieve this:

  • If you are speaking directly to the person, keep your voice low, limit your facial expressions, and respond in simple sentences of only a few words
  • If the person continue to barrage you, have a few prepared statements ready, such as “I am not going to respond to that”
  • Keep your interactions as short as possible
  • Do not argue back and cut off interaction if the tone of the narcissist becomes combative
  • Whenever possible, choose electronic communications, such as text or email; even in these situations, keep reactions brief and to the point
  • Don’t answer texts or email immediately; consider using blocking or “do not disturb” methods so that you are not inundated by electronic communications from this person

Is the Grey Rock Method Effective?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any studies about the effectiveness of the grey rock method. But it’s a method frequently recommended by therapists for dealing with individuals who exhibit toxic behavior such as manipulation, gaslighting, and emotional abuse.

The grey rock method is similar to a behavioral modification technique called extinction. According to a 2015 study published in Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, the extinction method of behavior modification is based on the idea that challenging and unwelcome behaviors often decrease in potency and regularity when the behavior is not reinforced or responded to.

Grey Rocking vs. Stonewalling

You may be wondering if grey rocking is the same as stonewalling. They are actually quite different. While both grey rocking and stonewalling involve a level of emotional detachment, in grey rocking, you are making a conscious choice to detach emotionally when you are in the presence of a narcissist.

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.

Potential Dangers of the Grey Rock Method

Many people find the grey rock method effective for dealing with toxic behavior. However, it’s possible that using this method with someone who is emotionally or physically abusive could have negative consequences.

Escalation is a phenomenon that happens when abuse in a relationship becomes worse and more extreme, in increments or all at once. Sometimes this can happen if you assert your independence in the relationship, which is how grey rocking may be perceived. It’s not your fault when escalation happens, but it’s important to do what you need to do to remain safe.

If the Grey Rock Method Isn't Working

If you've tried the technique and the grey rock method isn't having any impact on your interactions with a narcissist, there are some additional steps you can take:

  • Take yourself out of the situation: If grey rocking isn't helping, you may need to remove yourself from interactions with this person entirely and establish no contact.
  • Involve outside support or the authorities: If harassment or escalation has become too extreme, you may need to reach out to someone for support, and/or involve legal authorities for your own safety.
  • Seek therapy or mental health support: A mental health professional is always a good option when you need additional, or ongoing help in especially challenging situations with a narcissist.
  • Create a safety plan: When a toxic person is exhibiting signs of violence you should have a plan in place to keep yourself out of harms way. This could mean having a clear way to leave the location if a situation escalates, and having a place to stay. Talk to a certified professional or counselor when planning.

If you are experiencing escalating abuse, help is available. Please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (1-800-799-7233), which offers confidential support and help from trained domestic violence advocates.

If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What does a narcissist do when you grey rock?

    Each narcissist will react differently to this method. Most will express pushback when you first employ this method and they may try to provoke you further. But eventually, they will usually give up and stop trying to use you as a means to get their “narcissistic fix.”

  • What is the yellow rock method?

    The yellow rock method, which was created by divorce coach Tina Swithin, founder of One Mom's Battle, is basically the same as the grey rock method, where you meet toxic behavior with a neutral, emotion-free response. But the yellow rock method employs a few more “niceties” and politeness along the way, as an attempt to appease the narcissist in small ways as you simultaneously employ clear boundaries with them.

7 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Judge J. Keep on (grey) rockin’ me baby: creative and imaginative approaches to dealing with narcissists. Inside Out: The Irish Journal for Humanistic and Integrative Psychotherapists (IAHIP). 2022;96:48-54.

  2. Mitra P, Fluyau D. Narcissistic Personality Disorder. StatPearls Publishing.

  3. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Types of Abuse.

  4. Day NJS, Townsend ML, Grenyer BFS. Living with pathological narcissism: a qualitative study. Borderline Personality Disorder and Emotion Dysregulation. 2020;7(19). doi:10.1186/s40479-020-00132-8

  5. National Domestic Violence Hotline. Escalation.

  6. Todd TP, Vurbic D, Bouton ME. Behavioral and neurobiological mechanisms of extinction in Pavlovian and instrumental learning. Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. 2014;108:52-64. doi:10.1016/j.nlm.2013.08.012

  7. One Mom's Battle. Implementing Yellow Rock Communication When Co-Parenting With a Narcissist.

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a health and parenting writer, lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mom to two awesome sons.