By Zawn Villines, Medical News Today
In practicing the gray rock tactic, a person threatened with abuse becomes so unengaging that the abuser loses interest, but advocates warn it's not a solution to the bigger problem
(Lea este artículo en español o desplácese hacia abajo para obtener más información.)
To “gray rock” a person involves giving short, straightforward responses and hiding emotional reactions to behavior or verbal queues. The objective behind this technique is to minimize the gratification that abusive people, especially those with narcissistic tendencies, get from the reactions of their victims. Less satisfaction may equal a quicker end to the interaction.
The gray rock technique is often used by family members who live with abusive relatives, employees who deal with problematic coworkers and mental health practitioners who treat people with narcissistic personality disorder (NPD). Chronic verbal abuse is a form of attention-seeking, a manipulation to get a specific reaction to bolster a low sense of self.
The idea behind gray rocking is that it will, in theory, cut off a person’s “narcissistic supply” and cause them to lose interest in their target.
Gray rocking may look like:
- Giving short, noncommittal or one-word answers
- Keeping interactions brief
- Avoid arguments no matter what is said
- Protecting personal or sensitive information
- Showing no emotion or vulnerability
- Waiting long periods before responding to texts, or conversely, ending phone calls quickly.
The specific approach may vary depending on the situation.
The gray rock method vs. social withdrawal
People experiencing abuse sometimes withdraw from others, an intentional method of self-preservation. Gray rocking is distinct from withdrawal because it's a temporary coping behavior.
People may withdraw from friends and family due to feelings of shame, isolation or a sense that nobody will believe them. They may also withdraw if they feel loyal to the perpetrator and do not want to hear negative criticism about that person.
Gray rocking only applies to the relationship with the abuser. If a person becomes withdrawn more generally, it may be a sign of distress. Please ask if the person is really okay and be ready to help.
Deflecting emotional abuse
People use the gray rock method to reduce emotional abuse. Emotional abuse includes a range of beahviors:
- Intentional humiliation in public and/or private
- Attempts to control the targeted person's behavior, location or activities
- Isolating the targeted person from friends or family
- Gaslighting, causing the targeted person to question reality.
No published research has assessed gray rocking, whether it reduces abuse or the ways in which it affects the behavior abusive people. As a result, there's no evidence to know if it works reliably or safely.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that people who use the technique may be better able to detach from abusive individuals. Gray rocking may also give abusive individuals fewer opportunities to exploit others.
How and when to use the gray rock method
Gray rocking is not a long-term solution to abuse, particularly for people who live with the perpetrator. It may temporarily deflect abusive behavior until the targeted person can exit the situation.
In situations where the targeted person is not under the control of the abuser, setting boundaries and thinking ahead will help. For example, a woman who knows her mother will insult her weight may avoid discussing clothing or appearance. A man whose ex-partner often ridicules his wage-earning may bypass discussions about his job or salary. A co-worker whose colleague humiliates her performance may ask to be assigned to a different project or request to work with someone else.
What to do if the gray rock method doesn't work
Gray rocking isn't the only method for coping with emotional abuse. Other, more positive techniques include:
- Self-care through positive self-talk and daily affirmations
- Carving out time for oneself in a safe space
- Seeking support from a therapist.
When reaching for support from friends or other trusted people in person or online, allow them to validate your concerns and situation. Online social media groups, formal face-to-face support group or relatives living away from the abusive person are helpful options.
However, it's very important to protect privacy by deleting online search histories on computers and phones and avoiding calls or texts about the abuser on shared devices.
Safety planning is critical
The only way to guarantee an end to abuse is to avoid all contact with the abuser. People experiencing abuse should seek professional help and, if possible, develop a plan to safely leave the relationship.
Developing a safety plan can help the targeted person leave an abusive situation or relationship whether immediately or at some planned time in the future. Safety plans can also reduce the risk of serious harm when a person must stay.
Some important aspects to consider for targeted people living with an abusive person:
- Locking away potential weapons
- Avoiding clothes or accessories that could be used as weapons, such as scarves or jewelry
- Meeting privately with a lawyer and/or financial planner
- Assembling a “go-bag” of essentials to grab and run
- Finding a new place to live.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline offers an interactive safety planning tool.
Legal assistance can provide direction
Legal options depend on the targeted person's location and their relationship to the perpetrator. A family law attorney can give advice about rights and will be able to help with creating a restraining order to prohibit contact. If cost is an issue, there are several zero-to-low cost options in Colorado:
- Legal Aid Foundation of Colorado
- Denver Bar Association Pro Bono Legal Assistance
- Colorado Legal Services
Nationally, there are organizations focused on women's safety and empowerment:
- Women's Law Center maintains an email hotline to discuss options and provide referrals
- National Network to End Domestic Violence can help with developing a safety plan, finding safe housing and other services
- Military OneSource for family members with a relative on active duty provides a search function to find a local Domestic Abuse Victim Advocate.
Finally, the National Domestic Violence Hotline offers anyone 24/7 support via phone, text or chat.
When to seek assistance
It's important to get support to leave an abusive situation safely. Anyone who experiences mental distress due to the behavior of another will find counseling and/or peer support groups very helpful.
Anyone who needs advice or support can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline 24/7 via phone, chat or text. La gente de esta organización habla español también. Más información aquí y teléfono, chat y texto.
Many other resources are available in the Moodfuel News Resource Guide, including helplines, programs and support groups all listed by self-identification.