When dealing with manipulative or narcissistic people in your life, the best option is to cut contact and leave. But what if that isn't possible?
The reality is, not everyone can escape a toxic relationship – especially when it involves co-workers, in-laws or a co-parent. That's why relationship and mental health experts are recommending an alternative in setting boundaries with these people, and it's called the "gray rock method."
Also known as graywalling or gray rocking, this strategy involves being as disengaged and unresponsive as possible. The goal is to keep your responses limited in order to make the person you are communicating with lose interest in you.
"It's when somebody tries to make themselves as boring and nonreactive as possible to decrease the amount of provoking or emotional reactions," says Deborah Ashway, a licensed mental health counselor in North Carolina. "Because when somebody doesn't give the manipulator the responses they want, they're no longer able to push their buttons."
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'Gray rocking': How does it work?
Gray rocking is one of many communication techniques when dealing with narcissism and manipulation. Some examples include avoiding eye contact, maintaining a flat tone in your communication, or responding with simple answers like "yes," "no," or "I didn't know that."
"The first step is to visualize yourself as a gray rock," says Holly Richmond, a licensed marriage and family therapist. "You're this immovable, impenetrable force who is disinterested. If they ask you a question, say yes or no and don't give details about your life or admit you're practicing this gray rock method."
Richmond says she recommends gray rocking over yelling or defending yourself, which are likely to provoke the narcissist's damaging behavior.
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"Any kind of attention, even negative, is good for a narcissist and they will take that over no attention at all," Richmond says. "The gray rock method works because it's the most minimal amount you can possibly offer and they'll get bored or lose interest in manipulating you."
However, those who are co-parenting after separation may want to opt for a slight variation of gray rocking called yellow rocking, which involves "the infusion of a little more emotion in communication," according to Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and author of "Should I Stay or Should I Go?"
"You can't be a complete robot in front of your kid, so yellow rocking infuses a bit more emotion into the communication that goes beyond the flatness of gray rocking," Durvasula says. "For example, instead of just saying yes, no, you say, 'Oh wow, I didn't know. Thank you so much.'"
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When gray rocking becomes dangerous
While experts say gray rocking is effective in the long run, it may do more harm than good, and not everyone can stomach it.
"This method could aggravate them more, because they're not getting the reaction they're used to," Ashway warns. "They may feel their power slipping or their control over you waning, and as a result, they might double down on the manipulation tactics they used to provoke a reaction out of you."
But Durvasula says it's important to protect yourself from toxic people, and suggests victims remember the acronym D.E.E.P.: Don't defend. Don't engage. Don't explain. Don't personalize.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 'Gray rocking': The communication technique to repel narcissists