“In a nutshell, think of gray rocking as turning your back on someone without actually turning your back and offending them.”
In a previous article for Spirituality & Health, I describe how the gray rock technique helped me disengage from a relationship with a mindfulness/trauma therapist that had turned Machiavellian. Given how effective this technique has been in helping me find calm in other situations as well, I contacted Angie Fadel, founder of Soul Care, for a chat about how she uses this technique in her practice. While going gray rock didn’t originate with her, she’s found gray rocking to be a very helpful tool in working with her clients who need to deal with difficult people.
What Is the Gray Rock Method?
Fadel describes gray rocking as creating an invisible boundary that protects you from people who exhibit narcissistic behaviors and won’t take no for an answer. “By making yourself as boring as a gray rock, they will move on. Narcissists thrive on being the center of attention, and will quickly lose interest when you do not give them the drama and attention they crave.” Gray rock can be particularly helpful when you are uncomfortable verbalizing boundaries, as you can use this technique without having to say something that can make you feel uncomfortable.
Going Gray Rock
In a nutshell, think of gray rocking as turning your back on someone without actually turning your back and offending them. For example, say you’re in a one-sided relationship where you initiate all of your connections, and then when you do connect, the other person dominates all the conversations. Here, you simply stop calling this person.
Similarly, if you’re at a party with somebody who triggers you, don’t make any effort to connect with them. Instead, make yourself as boring as possible. Don’t tell interesting stories that draw this person in, flatter them, or make yourself the center of attention. If they suggest you two should grab coffee sometime, just answer, “Yeah, we should.” Then leave it at that. Fadel stresses this doesn’t mean you can’t have fun at a party. Rather, when you encounter that specific person who exhibits narcissistic behaviors, you then switch into boring mode.
Fadel acknowledges there are some events where going rock will not work. “I can be the best gray rocker, and sometimes it’s still not going to work in my favor to be in the same space as this person. Choosing not to go to an event is a form of gray rocking.”
Dealing With Emotions That Arise When Going Gray Rock
When you are around someone who has harmed you in some way, it’s natural that your cortisol levels will go up. Fadel recommends going someplace like the bathroom where you can lock the door and be alone until you calm down. Another option is to cross your arms across your chest. Then tap your arm with your hands from left to right 25 times. If this particular exercise doesn’t work for you, then find any repetitive physical movement that will calm you down.
Then after the event, Fadel offers this counsel. “Feel pride in your belly that you just faced off with this person who is a potential threat or has been a threat to you. Then just breathe into it, letting it leave your body.” Consider journaling your experience or processing this event with a therapist.
Fadel finds her clients often need to overcome this notion prevalent in American culture where we’re taught that civility isn’t enough. “We’re taught we have to be nice even though being nice sometimes goes against our better judgment.” When you feel these emotions arising, ask yourself, “Why do I care so much about being involved in this particular thing?” Remind yourself that you’re not the savior who can fix everything.
Over time, you will find these intense emotions dissipating. You no longer care what they’re doing and you can shine where you’re supposed to shine. Furthermore, you’ll learn to sniff out people with narcissistic tendencies very quickly. As Fadel notes, “These people are no longer in my life.”
When Gray Rock Is Not Advisable
Be mindful that going gray rock is not advisable in those situations where someone can turn violent. See a therapist for advice on how to handle those scenarios.
Also, Fadel stresses that gray rock does not mean you remain silent when you see injustices. She will continue to speak up on behalf of those whom she feels are marginalized.
“Gray rock should be thought of as a short-term solution to protect ourselves when we have to deal with those people who trigger us.” If you’re in a situation like a marriage or a job that you can’t leave, then going gray rock can help you survive until you develop enough resources where you can exit.
Want to know more? Learn more about dealing with difficult people and handling difficult relationships using gray rocking technique.