The Gray Rock Method for Emotional Abuse Victims
There’s a method to his madness.
If you’re in a relationship with an emotionally abusive person, you’ve probably made it your mission to understand how he works. You know his history, his hurts, and his habits. Like every toxic person, he has patterns. The way he uses “I love you” to mean “You have to forgive and forget.” That familiar smirk when he’s crushing you with his words. His eyebrow raise. The back of his head when he walks out the door…again.
A manipulative person uses the same emotional abuse tactics over and over. Life with them is a dirty wash cycle on repeat. And no matter how much you try to reinvent yourself, shrinking and giving in to their demands, working to hit the moving target of their approval, there’s no winning.
Because it’s all a game to an emotionally abusive person. And he perfected his strategy long before you ever knew his emotional abuse was all on purpose or before you realized that you, shockingly, really are part of the problem.
Yes, dear. You are part of the problem. But not in the way he says.
See, you’re trying to build a relationship with him when you’re only a player in his game. There is no relationship. Only a game played by some seriously jacked-up rules. A game you have a 0% chance of winning because the other player thrives off causing chaos and pain.
Still, if you’re like most people, you’ve exhausted yourself trying to find an answer—THE ANSWER—to this endless cycle of crazy-making. Maybe you even left, got divorced, started a new life, but his sick shenanigans never ended. So it’s time for you to get strategic as well…with the Gray Rock Method.
This IS the answer—a “game” of your own making, and you don’t need to be a toxic person to play (and win) it. Prepare yourself. If you use it, it’s going to rock your world. 😉
What Is the Gray Rock Method?
The Gray Rock Method is a mental model, pulling together everything you know about your emotional abuser and setting you free from it at the same time. (I use models all the time in Flying Free and Flying Higher because they’re so powerful at changing our thinking and happiness—our entire lives). In this case, The Gray Rock Method is an effective way to:
- Understand and react to your emotional abuser in order to protect yourself and your mental health (almost like a suit of armor for your brain)
- Stop manipulative conversations in their slacks (because who can go anywhere without pants on?)
- Emotionally distance yourself (like social distancing but way more fun)
- And end the mind games before they start (yassssss)
A blogger named Skylar (a pseudonym) first coined the name “Gray Rock” in 2012. She’d been in a relationship with a psychopath for 25 years. Her emotional abuser wouldn’t let up, even after she left. A random stranger at a sushi bar listened to her story and told her “be boring.” That 8-letter piece of advice changed everything for her. So she told anybody who would listen about it and gave her strategy the best name possible—a boring one.
I mean, think about it. Rocks. We walk past them all the time. If they aren’t sparkly or brightly colored, we ignore them. They’re BORING. Especially gray rocks. This is a great analogy for how our abusers operate and how we can respond so that they ignore us as well. Since we can’t change them, we have to change the game. And it starts with patterns of thought and behavior.
The patterns you’ve recognized in your abusive relationship show that:
- Your emotional abuser likes drama. He gets off on making you upset, putting you on the defensive, making you feel unstable, getting you to question reality (gaslighting)—the works.
- When you react emotionally, everything escalates. Even if the words are different, you repeat the same conversation, with the same results.
- There is no way to out-argue, out-logic, or otherwise appeal to an emotionally abusive person’s sense of right and wrong, compassion, love for you (hah!), decency, the promise of a good relationship, treats, or biblical standards. A toxic person is going to keep playing this game because he loves it, and it works. And because you’re such a great player too.
With this equation in play, the only chance you have to change the game is to be as boring as possible—to be a gray rock.
This doesn’t mean becoming smaller or less shiny as a person in general. It just means you don’t get big and shiny around HIM. You don’t engage. You don’t try to prove to a fool that he’s a fool (thereby becoming a fool yourself). If he’s handing out bombs, so to speak, you don’t take them. You walk away.
You don’t try to prove, disprove, appease, please, win, or lose. You simply don’t play his game, only your own. You do as little as possible and say as little as possible. You’re a rock after all. Rocks don’t do much. Because they are so freaking boring.
Does this sound too simplistic? Maybe a little silly? Then, let me show you the Gray Rock Method in action.
Example of the Gray Rock Method in a Toxic Relationship
Remember that an emotionally abusive person is like a spoiled child. He uses manipulative behavior to get a reaction from you. It’s so predictable, like the rising sun, only much crappier and not pretty at all.
An example of a typical conversation with an emotionally abusive person (let’s call him The Giant) and his victim (we’ll call her Matilda) goes something like this:
Ding-a-ling. Matilda gets a phone call from The Giant.
Giant: “Did you put a lock on your office door at the house?”
Matilda (heart in her chest): “Yes, I had to do that because you’ve been scaring me lately. I know you probably don’t like it, but I don’t feel safe around you. I tried so many times to talk to you about it, but you wouldn’t listen.”
The Giant: “That’s ridiculous. I haven’t done anything scary. What in the world are you talking about? You’re going to lock your own husband out of a part of his house? Are you kidding me?”
Matilda (pleading, starting to cry): “I can’t get any work done when you’re home. When I lock the door, you bust it open. You even took the door handle off one time. No matter what I say or do, you get angry. I just want peace. Can’t we live in peace with each other? Please?”
The Giant: “Who said I’m angry? I’m a reasonable person. I’m not the enemy here. You’re the one who put a lock on the door. You’re taking over. You’re shutting me out. You say you want a good marriage, but good wives don’t lock their husbands out. You treat me like a criminal, like a man who belongs in jail. I’ve never laid a hand on you.”
Matilda (nearly shrieking): “When you rage and criticize and make me feel like I’m not even safe in my own home, you ARE hurting me. No matter what I say, you find a way to make it my fault. I’ve tried for years to get you to see. I’m so sick of your denial.”
The Giant: “MY DENIAL? What about YOURS?”
Ladies and gentlemen, they’re off! You already know the results of this race. Why? Because Matilda was sparkly and shiny. She was showing up in full color, and The Giant LOVES that! He had a grand old time playing with Matilda. It will take her several hours or days to recover from that conversation, if she even does, before they jump on their crazy horses again.
Let’s do this scene over, now with The Giant (same name, but different ass—I mean person) and Penelope. Penelope is an expert at the Gray Rock Method. Watch and learn, baby.
An example of the Gray Rock Method in a manipulative conversation:
Ring, ring. Penelope gets a phone call from The Giant.
The Giant: “Did you put a lock on your office door at the house?”
Penelope (in the most boring but not rude voice possible): “Yes.”
The Giant: “Why?”
Penelope (lame tone of voice): “I wanted to.”
The Giant (louder): “Why?”
Penelope: “Oh, I like locks.”
The Giant: “Well I don’t want you to have a lock on your door. Take it off.”
The Giant (angry breathing): ….
Penelope (yoga breath): ….
The Giant: “So are you going to take it off?”
The Giant: “I just told you I don’t want you to have a lock on your office door. I don’t know where you get off thinking you have a right to lock me out of a room in my own ^$#@-ing home. Why aren’t you going to take it off?”
Penelope (funeral director tone): “I want a lock on my office door.”
The Giant (practically exploding): “You are a paranoid, angry, controlling little b&%$#.”
Penelope (like she’s ordering an A/C filter): “Was there anything else?”
The Giant: “I don’t know how you can live with yourself. You’re a sick, bitter, twisted woman. You need serious mental help.”
Penelope (as if she’s paying a bill): “Okay. Goodbye.”
Later that day, the Giant comes home. Penelope is in her office behind the locked door, peacefully eating her dinner and watching her favorite Netflix series. The Giant scoffs loudly and whines about the extra food she left out. He stomps around the house and slams a few doors.
Penelope either doesn’t hear or doesn’t respond. She is full and happy and maybe even laughing at the sitcom characters. The Giant ass…I mean Giant…gives up and goes to bed.
BOOM! That’s how the gray rock method works.
Why the Gray Rock Method Works for Narcissistic Abuse
What worked in that example? It’s easy to pinpoint a few things, but because this wasn’t a video, it’s probably helpful to outline all the Gray Rock Method strategies she used that, together, are like a giant double brake for the two-ton bus of manipulative conversations with emotionally abusive people.
- A simple catchphrase. In this case: “Okay.” It allows her to acknowledge that she heard and understood what was said, but nothing more. She isn’t saying she agrees or making any promises. It’s a way to say nothing with one word. Gosh, so boring.
- A monotone voice. She isn’t rude or sarcastic (cause those don’t go over well, and she doesn’t need to defend herself or make him see what an ass he is being). She doesn’t let emotion seep in; there’s no edge to her voice. She may even take a breath before speaking to reset her tone. BOR-ING.
- One-word answers. Beyond “okay,” Penelope gives as little information as possible for the Giant to use as ammo. He’s not safe so he gets no treats. The conversation peters out because she won’t lob his tennis ball back across the net. WE’RE SQUIRMING WITH BOREDOM HERE!
- No body language. If she’s with him in person, she keeps her facial expressions boring as well. Her body language dull. No animation and often no eye contact. No sparks coming out of her eyes. She might even scratch her arm or adjust her shirt. If “unconcern” were a smell, she would stink to high heaven. There is no indication that she was annoyed or moved in any way by his ridiculous rant.
She was a gray rock. Not the flat kind you can at least skip over water. The kind that sits alone doing nothing like the cheese in The Farmer in the Dell. And an abusive person will immediately lose interest when you don’t react. They want a supply of drama. They want to know they have power over you. They want to know you care. They want attention. But you are giving them nothing.
This was a perfect example, but it’s important to remember that gray rocking requires practice. You probably won’t get it on the first try, but it will get easier with time.
Try to view the “failures” (the times he riles you up and you’re kicking yourself later because you knew better than to take the bait) as “education” instead. Even awareness of how to do better is a win, then practice, then mastery. You’re learning and that’s great!
Using the Gray Rock Method for Toxic People’s Friends
The Gray Rock Method isn’t just for use with an emotionally abusive spouse or partner. You can use it with any toxic or manipulative person, even as a one-off. In fact, that’s one of the benefits. This mental model doesn’t just help with recurring issues; it also empowers you to deal with asshats on the fly.
One example is the toxic person’s supporters. The Giant’s supporters are friends with or family members of your Giant. It’s like a toddler party in the sandbox. They’re all looking for the purty little rocks. If your Giant says to the others, “Come over here! I’ve got me a real humdinger of a Jezebel on my hands!” They’ll all come a-runnin’ to have a look-see.
Go gray. Go completely gray. Here’s how it might look:
Giant Supporter: “I hear you are not submitting to your giant. Have you examined your sinful heart lately?”
Gray Rocker: “Yes, sir. I repent in dust and ashes. What a piece of human trash I am. I’m the luckiest little lady to have such a heaping great man in my life. Have I mentioned how well-endowed he is?”
Just kidding!!! That’s not the Gray Rock Method. That’s sweet sarcasm, and it feels SO GOOD to use it. Don’t they deserve some syrupy sarcasm because they’re behaving moronically? Maybe, but it accomplishes nothing. It’s sparkly. Mmmmm…it’s actually fireworks, in a passive-aggressive way. (I love those kinds of fireworks, but this is about gray rocking it. So save the fireworks for when you’re out with your girlfriends later on swapping game stories and strategies.)
Let’s try that again using the Gray Rock Method:
Giant Supporter: “I hear you are not submitting to your giant. Have you examined your sinful heart lately?”
Gray Rocker: “Sure.”
Giant Supporter: “What do you mean, ‘sure’?”
Gray Rocker: “Sure, that’s something I’m always working on—becoming a better person.”
Giant Supporter: “You’d better. Otherwise, you’ll be in direct disobedience to God, and you may need to be church disciplined.”
Gray Rocker: “Okay.”
What can they say? Not a whole lot. You’re too boring. You’re not arguing. You’re not having a cow or even a baby chipmunk. You’re not defending yourself.
And nobody can do anything with that (except be amazed and/or horrified). Meanwhile, you can prance off into the sunset like a unicorn.
What If the Gray Rock Method Doesn’t Work?
Like most powerful things, the Gray Rock Method comes with a few disclaimers.
If you’ve been a pretty, sparkly little gem for a very long time, your giant might not believe that you’re now a gray rock. It’s a big change, and as someone who doesn’t know how to change, they’ll find it unbelievable. They might try to push you. And throw you. And kick you. (I mean this figuratively—if you are literally getting kicked around, please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)).
They will persist in trying to get you to sparkle for quite a while. In fact, they might never stop trying. But the drama they cause will still be lessened because you opted out. So even if the Gray Rock Method doesn’t stop them from trying to abuse you (though it very often does), you’ll still have jumped off the psychotic merry-go-round. It’s so empowering. It gives you room to breathe and heal and think and, eventually, to thrive.
Another thing: If you think the Gray Rock Method sounds like dissociation (when you break from reality and numb out), which Skylar mentions in an article she wrote, then have no fear. The Gray Rock Method is actually you planting yourself fully IN reality for the first time, and you don’t have to dissociate to use it. It’s not a way to avoid the truth or escape the pain. It’s not an unhealthy coping mechanism.
The Gray Rock Method is a way to finally use the whole truth of your experience (and the abuser’s intent, behavior, and sickness) to navigate reality wisely. It’s freedom and power—for your good.
Finally, gray rocking is a way to start finding yourself as you detach from your abuser, and it also works great when you’re dealing with an ex. But if you’re still in the same home as your emotional abuser, there’s a chance using it will make him escalate in order to keep you under his thumb. If you notice that happening, do what you need to do to get yourself and any precious littles to safety.
I’ve used the Gray Rock Method and seen it used countless times by other victims. This simple little game—being as boring as possible—is so effective, so simple, and such a game changer.
And the funny thing is, it doesn’t just change the game, it changes anyone who uses it. It’s a huge switch from one identity—the victim—to another—the survivor.
There is power in a little gray rock.
Go be one.
P.S. If you don’t live with a giant and you don’t know any giants, then you won’t be able to play this game. You need a giant to play. Otherwise, you can just be your sparkly self, flying free. HUGS!