When people sulk they usually feel angry, sometimes furious and they want to punish. They think they have the power to inflict damage through silence.
But sulking actually reflects a very different reality. People sulk when they feel powerless. They sulk because they believe they lack the skills to talk, solve problems and influence outcomes.
These people usually learnt as children that their words fell on deaf ears. No matter how much they verbally protested, cried, pleaded for help, or tried to talk they were ignored, and things remained unchanged.
From that point, these people gave up on trying to come forward and talk things through reasonably and sensitively. Sulking was adopted instead because it at least gave some expression to the ‘rage’ within and it sometimes made others ‘chase’ to see what was wrong.
Once we grow up though, and remove ourselves from our childhood environment, we encounter other people from different backgrounds who have different (and often much better) skills in communication.
Sulking is no match for more sophisticated skills. This is because when we sulk, we cannot be our own best advocates. We simply cannot properly promote our own interests and subtle arguments as we have just effectively ‘gagged’ ourselves.
Sulking just ‘stalls’ conflicts and results in dreadful stalemate and lose-lose outcomes.
At the time, sulking might subjectively feel like we are winning, inflicting pain and blocking our partner. The trouble is, if our partner has much better communication skills they will eventually run out of goodwill and leave us for someone with better skills.
Yet, the solution is really very simple if we are willing to do it.
Next time you disagree, instead of shutting down, come forward, stay open and friendly and try to put your best and most comprehensive verbal case forward to support your position.
You can stay open and friendly simply because there is nothing to fear. I’ll repeat that: THERE IS NOTHING TO FEAR.
No one can force you to do what you are not willing to do. There is no gun to your head. You have as much right to hold your view as anyone else does. While you may have been using a strategy from childhood, you are no longer a child. You CAN influence outcomes, if your case is good enough.
While you may have been sulking for some years or even decades rather than learning to come forward to talk issues through, it won’t take long at all to get good at discussion if you are willing to try.
For example, we all have highly rational brains, so we all know immediately if an argument is sound, logical, robust or flawed. Talk things through and decide which case has the most merit and solves the most problems for BOTH parties. Always seek these win-win, co-operative solutions. This way you NEVER lose.
Also, be very willing to critique your own position. If your case is sufficiently robust then keep it – if it is not, then happily drop it and adopt a more robust view. Be proud of the fact that you are so open-minded, willing to reflect, change and move forward.
Always try to solve the underlying distress beneath conflicts. To help you with this, instead of talking about how angry, frustrated or annoyed you feel, go deeper (under the anger or fury) and reveal what is upsetting you, distressing you or making you feel bereft. Use these sorts of words. Then talk about why you feel so distressed and what you could both do that might help you to feel better.