While narcissistic personality disorder was officially recognised as a mental health disorder in 1980, it’s only in the last few years that it has become more widely known. This increased awareness isn’t limited to narcissistic personality disorder either, with a tactic commonly used by narcissists called ‘gaslighting’ — which means making some question their own reality — also entering the mainstream vernacular.
What’s lesser-known, though, is how to handle narcissists or manipulative people — but one way to manage it is by adopting the grey rock method. Ahead, Nancy Sokarno, psychologist at digital mental health platform Lysn, explains how the method works, when you should and shouldn’t try it, and the risks involved in it.
But first, why can narcissists and manipulative people be so hard to interact with? “Most narcissists have the trait that they will often lie or exaggerate compulsively in order to bolster themselves up or glorify themselves,” Sokarno says.
“Part of this is if anyone questions them, they will continue to make up lies so they aren’t caught out (often to the extreme, where they will start to believe their own lies). This fact in itself can make them a difficult person to deal with because they lack accountability and hence are unwilling to rectify or make any changes to their behaviour.”
On top of this, while they may come across as full of self-confidence, deep down they are actually really insecure, Sokarno notes. This means that they have a hard time accepting their own failures and, in turn, don’t like to admit when they are wrong.
“[This is] another trait that makes them tricky to deal with,” she says. “Then, pair that with the fact that oftentimes narcissists or toxic people aren’t even aware of their own behaviour or how it is having a negative effect on you. Therefore, they’re unlikely to be the first to apologise or admit when they’re wrong.”
What Is the Grey Rock Method?
In a nutshell, the grey rock method is a way of dealing with a narcissist or toxic person that involves deterring their behaviour by acting as unresponsive as possible when interacting with them, Sokarno explains.
“The term ‘grey rock’ is meant to signify boredom or disinterest and this is how you would respond to a toxic person — with a boring or uninterested response. This can mean avoiding showing much emotion in interactions or focussing on body language such as avoiding eye contact or, alternatively, keeping responses short and sharp.”
The idea is that by using grey rock method tactics, you are not fuelling a narcissist’s or toxic person’s need and so they will lose interest, and it may help minimise their toxic behaviour as they can’t attain the power from your reactivity, Sokarno says.
When Should You or Shouldn’t You Try It?
Sokarno points out that there isn’t scientific evidence to back up this method — despite its anecdotal success.
“My recommendation is to tread with caution if considering this method,” she says. “It’s not something I would recommend, given that many people aren’t experts at dealing with these types of people and, as such, there can be risks involved or things can backfire.”
Rather than using the grey rock method, Sokarno suggests you try other things like limiting your time spent with a narcissistic or toxic person or putting some boundaries in place for yourself. Please be aware that the nature of a narcissist is unpredictable, so above all else, ensure you are safe.
What Are the Risks of the Grey Rock Method?
There are unfortunately several risks depending on the individual and the circumstances at play, Sokarno notes.
“The key risk is escalated behaviour where the perpetrator can become angry or abusive in response to your lack of response,” she says. “There can also be risks involved in further impacting psychological effects, whether that is on the perpetrator or the victim — both cases we want to avoid.”
It can also be emotionally overwhelming for a person to have to force themselves to act this way which can have further effects on wellbeing, she says. Again, she stresses your safety is paramount and the situation you may find yourself in can be toxic and unpredictable. She suggests you seek out professional help as soon as possible.