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How to Use 'Grey Rock' With Narcissists

Updated on April 12, 2018
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The Little Shaman is a spiritual counselor, hypnotherapist, and a specialist in Cluster B personality disorders.

Grey rock is a technique for dealing with narcissistic people when you cannot go NO CONTACT. The name comes from picturing someone having an argument with a grey rock. How would a grey rock react? It wouldn't. It wouldn't get annoyed, it wouldn't get upset, it wouldn't get angry, it would not react at all. When you use the grey rock method, you channel the strength and featureless nature of the grey rock so that you do not react to the narcissist.

When you're dealing with a pathologically narcissistic person, you often find yourself becoming very upset. You may defend, explain, argue, reason, insult, scream, holler, cry and more due to the narcissistic person's blatant provocation, deliberate baiting and refusal to listen. The conflict escalates and goes around and around, with nothing ever being resolved or even addressed.

The thing is, this is what they want. They don't want anything to be resolved or addressed, especially because so often the conflict is about something they've done wrong. Even if it isn't, most narcissistic people thrive on conflict and drama. They don't seem to feel alive unless there are some emotional fireworks happening and they seem to take every opportunity they can to create them. They will move the goal posts, make strawman arguments, accuse, attack, muddy the waters, throw red herrings, misunderstand, misinterpret, distract, sidetrack, derail and anything else they can do until the conversation is hopelessly broken and unable to proceed. The other person is frustrated, exhausted and upset. The narcissist has gotten what they wanted - whatever that may be - and is usually pretty satisfied with themselves.

Now, though it may be the narcissist who is the instigator a lot of the time, this is not a dance for one person. You are contributing to it as well. Yes, it's true that you may be just defending yourself but it's also true that it doesn't really matter. They take any reaction as a victory. When you react emotionally, they've won. That's why you see that smirky look on their face, no matter how angry or upset they claim to be. Because they got what they wanted. They won because you took the bait. The rest of it is just gravy.

It's the emotional equivalent of an obnoxious little kid trying to stir up trouble because they're bored or angry. They have no idea how much it hurts you and wouldn't care even if they did know. You don't matter. You're there to serve their needs and that's all. If they're angry, you're supposed to be the punching bag. If they're bored, you're supposed to be the entertainment. That's it. There are some narcissistic people farther down the spectrum who have more malignant motives, but for most of them, this is as far as it goes. Your feelings are not the motivation because they have not even occurred to the narcissistic person at all. Even if the narcissist can acknowledge being hurtful on a surface level, it means nothing to them on an emotional level. Which is to say it means nothing to them at all.

This is the pathologically narcissistic person's power over you: the ability to control you through your emotions. The way to stop this from happening is to take purposeful and intentional control of your emotions. It isn't easy, so let's not pretend that it is. But it works if it's done correctly. And just to clarify, people sometimes give up on the grey rock method because they say it does not make the narcissist stop being abusive. Well, nothing is going to do that, and that's not what grey rock is for. It's so that you can step back from the situation and stop feeding into it. It's to stop yourself from getting upset so you can give yourself some peace. The grey rock method cannot make narcissistic people stop being combative and abusive. This is what narcissists are, so instead of giving up control of your emotions and how the situation affects you, give up the idea that you can somehow control other people or their behavior because you can't. They will do what they want to do for their own reasons, and it really doesn't matter whether it's fair or whether you think you deserve it. This is just how it is.

Dealing with narcissists forces people to engage others on a realistic basis, rather than through an idealized notion of how things are supposed to be. Yes, of course, in a perfect world everything would be fair and just and right. But the world is not perfect and neither are the people in it. If we are going to make it through life with any sense of sanity at all, we have to accept that. We don't have to like it, nor do we have to condone it, but we have to realize that there are some things we cannot change. All we can really do is decide how things that are out of our control are going to affect us. Many people have given up control of their emotions and through this, they have given control over themselves to other people. They have placed the responsibility for their feelings in the hands of other people. This ultimately means they've made other people responsible for their safety, their peace and their happiness. These things are far too precious to be in the control of other people. Take control over them and put the responsibility back in your own hands.

There is often resistence to this idea. People sometimes don't realize how to take the power back. Maybe they're scared. Maybe they don't want the responsibility. Whatever the reason, they're eventually going to realize that making other people responsible for your safety results in no safety. Making other people responsible for your peace results in no peace. Making other people responsible for your happiness results in unhappiness. No one is ever going to take care of you the way that you would and instead of getting angry at them or upset for letting you down, you can take care of your needs yourself. This is the big difference between narcissistic people and everybody else. Narcissists cannot do this, but non-narcissistic people can learn how.

So how do you do it? You stop reacting to the baiting, the provocations, the accusing. Again, this is not easy. In fact, it's hard as hell. Your first instinct is to react, to explain, to justify, to prove, to argue, to get upset. You have to deliberately and consciously choose to ignore the impulse to do that. A lot of people ask, "How? How do I do that?" You do it by just not doing it. Just don't explain. Don't justify. Don't try to prove anything. Don't get upset. Just don't do it. And keep not doing it.

Not getting upset can be difficult, especially when someone is trying their hardest to provoke you, but it can be done. Once you start doing it, you realize that it really is a choice and that it was a choice all along. You really do have control over your emotions and your reactions. It helps to understand that the things they are saying to you aren't personal. That's not just some New Age zen BS I'm laying on you, either. It's the absolute truth. They are not even capable of seeing others as people, so how can it possibly be personal? As the saying goes, offense is not given, it is taken. You can refuse delivery, and it makes sense to do so. Everything they are saying to you is for or about themselves. Everything. It literally has nothing to do with you. It can only affect you if you let it, because the only power other people have over you is the power that you have given them.

It's important not to give up on this too quickly, because the urge to react takes time to fade. This is not something that is going to just go away. You are going to feel the urge to react that way for a while. It's a habit. It's how you interact with this person. It's also usually an addiction of sorts to the drama cycle, as well as to the chemicals your body produces when you're upset. And just like quitting any other habit or fighting any other addiction, you have to deliberately choose not to engage in it. The urge to smoke doesn't just go away because you've decided you're not going to smoke anymore. You have to intentionally choose not to do it - over and over and over again.

Let's say you crack your knuckles, or type with only one hand, or hold the ping pong paddle wrong. The impulse to do these things is not just going to disappear because you don't want to do them anymore. You have to deliberately and intentionally force yourself to stop. It's the same thing with reacting. You have to choose not to do it and keep choosing not to do it.

The narcissistic person in your life is probably not going to like this. Many people say things like, "Well, but if I don't agree to do these unreasonable, unfair things, the narcissist will get angry and abuse me." Putting up with abuse to try to avoid more abuse makes no sense. You're not avoiding anything. If you're going to be abused either way - and you will - you might as well do what you can to ease the stress on yourself. The grey rock method helps you do this. It calls intentional and conscious attention to your reactions so that you can control and manage them for your own well-being. Sometimes people get angry at the suggestion that they not defend themselves. They feel it lets the narcissist off scot-free, or that it's backing down. Well, let's ask a question: have you ever gotten through to them? Have you ever convinced them they were wrong about you - or about anything? Has it ever resulted in anything other than an endless argument about nothing? Because if it has, or if you like endless arguments then by all means, go right ahead and keep going. But for those who realize the futility of the situation, grey rock can help you get through the situation with your sanity.

Eventually, your body and mind will stop automatically doing these things and it will not be as hard not to react. The more you exert control over your emotions, the less the narcissist's provocations will bother you. You will come to realize that you don't need to react or defend yourself or explain yourself, especially because it does no good anyway. They're not listening and they don't care. You can take the power back from them and put it where it belongs: with you.

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