The British national character is mapped almost exactly on to the hostile people that are dealt with here. Are you aware of this? I discovered it recently, lagging behind followers of therapy and those trying to survive the holidays. It is called grey rocking. It could be called the "up to a point, Lord Copper" approach to neutralising aggressors.

If you smiled blandly in the face of someone you violently dislike, if you did a flat, or if you gave the sketchiest details when they asked what you were up to.

It is said that the removal of an emotional response from someone who feeds off disharmony is supposed to make them retreat. You put them in an unbearable limbo if you cut off their oxygen. The theory is that through sheer force of blandness, you can transform yourself from a victim to a Grey Rock. You don't give them anything, but be perfectly pleasant until they find a new target.

The power rush can be overwhelming for people who grew up in an era before these kinds of discussions were common. I would hazard that most people over 40 were not raised to identifyboundaries orgaslighting or red flags. It is useful and legitimate. It stops guiltily picking up the phone when someone rings at 7am or 11pm and gives them 40 minutes to talk. It allows us to dispatch harassers more quickly. It is possible to act badly and still feel in the right with access to justifications about boundaries.

I am not the first one to think about this. One of the first results if you type "grey rock method" into a search engine is "Is grey rocking abuse?" It is a form of withdrawal that can be emotional damaging. Is the person I am thinking of doing this to actually be a good person? Is it permissible for me to take a break from a friendship if that person threatens my wellbeing or I can't be bothered? Is it greyrocking or is it something else?

The bigger question is why, if you are grey rocking, why keep someone close to you? Bland evasion does not seek to fix a relationship, but to recognize that it is un fixable and offer shelter. A school of therapy would say that this is a skimmed-milk version of dealing with a problem.

I know it's used. It is possible to hold a toxic parent at arm's length for a long time. It may be a useful dodge when dealing with peripheral relatives that are too small to be excommunicated. It is possible to get to the other side of Christmas by paddling around difficult people for a long time.

The good news is that we are doing it without trying. I think grey rocking is harder for Americans to pull off than it is for people of a different cultural background. It's the legitimisation we've been waiting for, for those of us who are happy for things to go unacknowledged.

Yes, right? That's right, Hmm. It's right. Wow.

Emma Brockes is a writer.