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On sulking

My work focuses on human well-being in living our lives, at work, at home and within our-selves. While my blog page gets integrated with my website www.matrixofenquiry.com, I have decided to start off with notes that will eventually find their way to the blog.

Here I write about relationships, of ourselves with us and with others…. where others could be friends, colleagues, spouses, partners, children, siblings, parents, extended family, groups, team members, thinkers, poets, philosophers, critics, commentators, helpers, assistants, bosses, or non-human objects that we have invested enough energy to have personal relationships with such as smart phones, communication apps and the internet, and lastly, our relationship with life.

The first post is ON SULKING 

The first thing that I will begin with is a relationship that we have with ourselves as well as those around us, one that can be very powerful and destructive, and that most of us would have either indulged in and/or experienced in regular interactions.

I have great stories about sulking. I used to be prone to sulking myself. I would feel hurt or unfairly treated and as a result, I would sulk and be mysterious about the reason for it. This mystery about why I was suddenly withdrawn was a way of trapping the offender into feeling bad and then cajoling me out of my sulk. The offender would have to invest in several attempts at bringing me out of the sulk-shell, and when I felt that their efforts were sincere, I could bring myself to forgive them, and then emerge from the sulk. Many times, these sulks were private, in as much as if there were any other spectators, they would not be aware that I was sulking. I would be able to be fine with them but the offender that had hurt me would be very aware that there was damage and that it needed attention.

My sulking career was progressing well until I made a new friend who whistle-blew on my sulking. I was told in no uncertain terms that if I sulked, it would be my responsibility to emerge out of it. At first I found this be not only unpalatable but also considered it an additional injustice done to me, and prolonged my sulk. Over time however, it helped me take responsibility for what and how I was feeling and this became one of the turning points in my emotional life.

My (mis)adventures with sulking had not finished yet though. In one of my residential educational experiences, I had a roomie who would sulk. In fact this statement seems like a gross understatement of what it was that this person used to do. There were times I would get into the room and I would feel a ballooning of negative energy, a sphere-shaped tension ball that would be a gaseous thing that would keep growing and radiating out of this roomie of mine. And it was suffocating, in a very physical way. It was abusive in its impact as it would make me feel emotionally responsible for something I could never control.

Immediately I would begin to wonder what I had done or not done to get this person into this state. It was a debilitating experience. I had the negative vibes with no indication of why it was there, and how to remedy it. Outside the room, this person was chirpy and extremely social with everyone else. Therefore I did even more soul searching for what I might have done/not done. My ignoring the sulk was not easy as it would not go away but grow in strength. Eventually, I found a way to change my room. I had to resign myself to the notion that this sulking pattern was something the person carried with them from their home or early life, and that since the room was their home, I was subjected to a very personal sulk, that I had nothing really to do with.

What I am going to say next might seem extreme but I do believe that the person who is at the receiving end of a sulk, i.e. the sulkee, NEVER really has anything to do with it. The sulk originates in the sulker and in the sulkers’s relationship with themselves. Most of the time, it is a habit from childhood that gets cemented because the emotional issues behind childhood sulking have never been addressed.

Here are some lessons therefore, for the child in us who still sulks, or for our children who are new in the sulking careers.

– Children are limited in their scope of behaviours to show adults that they are hurting or that they have felt unjustly or unfairly treated. Sulking is one of the behaviours that children can demonstrate and it is important to notice what makes children sulk, and to address it so that sulking does not become established as their response.


– It is more important with children to then continue to notice when the unfairness is experienced, and to intervene before a sulk has been brought on. Attending to children’s hurt only when they begin to sulk teaches them that sulking gets them the attention they want.


– Giving in to sulks every now and again is sure to create a great sulker. This is because intermittent reinforcement, which is a technical term for rewarding a behaviour only some of the time, is very good for ensuring that that particular behaviour is learnt well.


– When we sulk, we prevent ourselves from enjoying that which we would ordinarily enjoy, and we give away the responsibility of our joy to the sulkee, when in fact at the same time, we make the sulkee feel incapable of getting things right and prevent them from rescuing us from our sulk. So it is an impossible situation we create.


– When we sulk, we actually want to cause pain to the sulkee. We want them to feel what it feels to be unjustly treated or unfairly treated and therefore we sulk. So sulking is a very unjust and unfair behaviour that we begin to use in an unhelpful way.


How do we get out of here?


The way out of a sulk is pretty much like bursting the sulk balloon. We need to encourage the habit of articulating, giving voice to, giving words to, hurtful feelings. Then we can address it together with the offenders who have hurt us. It also gives the poor offenders a chance to tell us their side of the story, in their words and is therefore great for a relationship. Sulking is a way of cementing conflict and speaking about hurts is a way of cementing the relationship. Conflict is unavoidable in relationships, even if we are bound to nonviolent forms of communication and are able to reframe conflict in other ways.

Are you sulking with someone right now? Get yourself out of it. No one else should have to.

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