What is the Gray Rock Method?

Take a moment to imagine a small gray rock sitting in the palm of your hand. It's quiet, smooth and otherwise unremarkable.

Are you bored already? If so, that's exactly the point.

Most people will eventually lose interest in a dull piece of granite. So there's a theory circulating online that if you adopt the qualities of a stone, becoming impassive and bland, then you will repel the argumentative, antagonistic people in your life who crave conflict.

It's called the “grey rock” method, and over the last decade it has spread across social media, including among TikTok influencers, who have shared strategies for channeling their inner rock. It also came up in a recent episode of the reality show “Vanderpump Rules,” when a cast member, Ariana Madix, said that using the technique helped her avoid toxic interactions with her ex-boyfriend, Tom Sandoval, who he had been unfaithful to her.

The goal of the gray rock technique is to disengage without breaking contact, said Ramani Durvasula, a clinical psychologist and author of “It's Not You: Identifying and Healing from Narcissistic People.” People who choose gray rock remain neutral, keep their interactions “light and simple” and avoid sharing information that could potentially be turned against them, he added.

But although some psychologists say the method is useful in certain circumstances, it is not always the right solution.

There is no official set of rules for gray rock. The method has not been studied, nor does it derive from evidence-based psychological practice.

But, in general, you can think of gray rocking as a form of emotional disengagement, Dr. Durvasula said.

Antagonistic people usually seek confrontation, he added, and gray rocking can be a way to keep the peace and avoid “getting in the mud with them.”

It's especially effective in written communication, such as texting, as a way to avoid long, meandering messages, he said. The strategy can also be useful at work, he added, where concise communication is often appreciated.

There are many variations of the gray swing. A communications coach on TikTok demonstrated various ways to avoid being “overly cold or awkward,” a process she calls “soft gray rocking.” For example, she said, if someone asks you how your job search is going, instead of explaining how difficult it was you can talk about the different networking events you've attended.

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, conversations can get heated. If the person you are interacting with remains disrespectful, dishonest or manipulative, then it may be best to cut off contact, Dr. Durvasula said. But not everyone can do this immediately, especially if the relationship involves a close family member or spouse.

Tina Swithin, founder of One Mom's Battle, a website and online community for people who are divorcing someone with narcissistic tendencies, recommends the “yellow rock” technique, particularly when coparenting.

Unlike the gray rock, which is “cool to the touch and a little aloof,” the yellow rock “has a friendly air,” she wrote in her guide for parents navigating the family justice system.

According to Ms. Swithin, a person using the yellow rock technique might say, “Even if I don't agree with you, you have every right to feel the way you feel.” Or: “I hope we can both take some time away from this topic to regroup, since we are not going in a positive or productive direction. Let's revisit it next week.

Although Dr. Durvasula advises clients in her private practice on how to best use the technique — and has even given away gray rocks at book signings — she didn't learn the method in school. Rather, gray rocking appears to have been created outside the realm of psychology. As far as she remembers, Dr. Durvasula had come across the terminology online, more than a decade ago, she said.

One of the first references appears on the Love Fraud website, run by Donna Andersen.

Ms Andersen said she created Love Fraud in 2005 to warn others about scammers and psychopaths after she said her then-husband had stolen a quarter of a million dollars and was having numerous affairs.

In 2012, a member of his online community, who chose to remain anonymous, wrote an essay titled “The Gray Rock Method for Dealing with Psychopaths.” If breaking contact is impossible, the wise man advises, an escape strategy is to give boring and monotonous answers during a conversation.

“Psychopaths are addicted to drama and can't stand to be bored,” the writer continued.

Lara Fielding, a behavioral psychologist in St. Helena, California, and author of “Mastering Adulthood,” warns against using the gray rocker for long periods of time.

“I would call it a distress tolerance technique,” ​​he said, best reserved for when you're in crisis mode. Sometimes, she added, “you do what you have to do so you don't make the situation worse.”

But, over time, gray rocking can become ineffective, he added, “because you're isolating yourself from your authentic feelings, essentially denying your own needs.”

If you decide to do it, he said, ask yourself three questions: First, is it effective? Secondly, how long can I do this before it harms me? And third: Am I working on fixing the problem if I have to do it very often?

In some cases, the person you're rocking may become irritated that you don't talk to them as you normally would, leading to more tension, Dr. Durvasula said.

If you want to maintain this relationship, the VAR method, which stands for Validate, Assert, and Reinforce, can potentially help establish boundaries and de-escalate the situation.

Dr. Fielding offered these examples:

Validation: “I see this upsets you.”

He states: “At the same time, this discussion is stressing me out a bit. So could we take a break and get back to it?

Reinforce: “If we can take a little break or if you could lower your voice a little, I will be able to hear you better.”

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