Handling Difficult Relationships by Going Gray Rock
Want to manage manipulative, triggering, altogether difficult people? Gray rock them.
I was trying to disengage from a relationship with a mindfulness/trauma therapist that had turned Machiavellian. Once I recognized his sociopathy, I knew I needed to disconnect from him. Yet I still had a fiscal obligation to complete a work project with him.
This technique is invaluable. Using it, I keep a respectable distance from people whose manipulative behaviors toward me can easily trigger me. These days, going gray rock has enabled me to deal with those in my inner circles who have been acting out in less than healthy ways toward me during this COVID-19 crisis.
How to Go Gray Rock
To practice this technique, start by imagining a gray rock. There’s nothing special or memorable about this rock. Nothing about the rock catches your eye. No crystal specks glistening in the sun, no unique markings. It’s just there. Boring. Dull. Gray.
When you are with someone whose actions toward you can set you off, become this rock. Imagine you are just there—boring, dull, gray. Be the most uninteresting person you can be. Don’t smile or frown. Let your face be expressionless.
People who manipulate others feed on the drama they get when they are able to generate a strong emotion in others. If they can no longer get the response they seek, they often tire and move on.
Gray Rock Technique Pointers
- Recognize When You Need to Go Gray Rock. In an ideal world, once you recognize a person in your life engages in deceitful behavior, then you diminish your contact with them safely. If necessary, you end the relationship and walk away. Sometimes this strategy is not feasible. You may need to co-parent with them or see them in settings like family gatherings or work. This is where going gray rock can come in handy. With this tool, you can learn how to be present with this person without allowing them to manipulate you.
- Give Them Nothing. The more information about yourself that you give to a deceitful person, the more they can distort this information and use it to try to diminish and discredit you. The easiest way to stop this behavior is to just not give them anything. When they pepper you with questions, simply issue a vague reply using no facial expressions. A simple “uh-huh” will often suffice. If you need to give an answer, simply say “yes,” “no,” or “I don’t know” without offering any additional information.
- Keep Interactions Short. Limit communication to the issue at hand, such as the date that a particular project is due. When possible, communicate via phone or electronically to avoid prolonged conversations.
- Disconnect and Don’t Engage. Avoid establishing the emotional connection that comes from looking into someone’s eyes. Diverting your eyes elsewhere removes any emotions from your brief interaction with this person. Also, by looking elsewhere, you are less likely to get triggered emotionally should they make a disparaging comment about you. Another tactic is to focus inward and think about a pleasant memory while they are talking to you.
- Keep Going Gray Rock to Yourself. Telling a manipulative person that you are using this technique on them will only serve to give them ammunition they can and will use against you. You don’t owe them any explanation regarding why you choose not to engage with them.
- Be Mindful of the Risks of Going Gray Rock. Gray rock is not recommended when confronting those who engage in physical abuse. In those instances, seek out professional help. Also, be aware that dealing with someone on an ongoing basis who twists the facts, creates drama, and, in general, engages in unsavory tactics can wear down your self-esteem. And not expressing your needs over an extended period of time can cause you to lose a sense of yourself. If going gray rock does not stop the abuse and you need to maintain ongoing contact, seek out the help of a therapist.