Do You Want The Low-Down On Sulking?

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by Annie Kaszina on March 7, 2017

Do You Want The Low-Down On Sulking?

Do you recognise a sulker when you come up against one?  I certainly did not.  That was why I remained married to one for two decades.  Plus, I was used to sulkers – my parents were spectacular sulkers.  In fact, sulking seemed like quite normal behavior in the context of my family

Naturally, I came across sulkers at school.   Even I knew that children sulk –  since young children are helpful enough to explain,  “I’m not talking to you because…”

Still, the knowledge that children sulk only served to mislead me. I imagined that children sulked but adults did not. Somewhere along the line – if you were lucky – you shed childhood, like a skin, and became as wise and perfect as my parents . ( My parents never stopped reminding us chlldren of their grown-up status, and superior wisdom.)

Why would an adult sulk?

Why would an adult sulk?

What need could  these god-like beings possibly  have to sulk?

As it turns out, adults – that is, some adults – have precisely the same need to sulk as children.  They sulk because sulking serves their purpose very effectively.  Sulking serves their purpose because  they may be chronological adults, but they are still emotional children.  “

Older” doesn’t always mean “more mature”.

Talking of” older” but not more “mature”, the wasband was older than me.  Not hugely, but he never failed to remind me of his superior knowledge and experience.

Certainly the wasband did not lack authority. He was a successful professional with a big brain (and a much, MUCH bigger ego).  He was also a champion sulker – but only at home.  Just like my parents, he used sulking to,

  • Control my behaviour.
  • Keep my attention firmly fixed on him. (It can take a lot of time and intelligence to work out what a sulker’s real grievance is.)

The very first time my bright, successful husband embarked on a 3 day sulk, the immediate trigger was my failure to pair his socks for him. Even he must have realized how pathetic he would have sounded if he had said to me, “I’m not talking to you because you’re not a proper wife. You haven’t paired my socks.”  Instead, he instigated The Silent Treatment.

Of course, the wasband could have come out said, “You cannot say, or do X!” But had he done so, he would have risked,

  1. Rebellion
  2. Looking ridiculous – and petty.

After all, I was a feisty, independent woman – on the surface, anyway. 

The power of sulking

When well executed, sulking can be quite an elegant, controlling behavior.  It serves to make the victim of the crime,

  1. Work overtime to try and guess the nature of their crime.
  2. Feel rejected, isolated and worthless.

The use of suspense

Sulkers are masters of suspense. They create it. You suffer with it.

Although not generally known for his politeness, when  the wasband sulked, he was curiously polite – for him.  Sulking allowed him to build up a nice head of steam which he would later unleash in a torrent of emotional abuse.

While the wasband sulked, he would craft the hurtful things he intended to say later. In his own horrible way he was a master of suspense. Sulking allows the sulker to ratchet up the tension for their victim.

Whenever I asked him what was wrong, he’d limit himself to saying: “Nothing”, or, at best, “It’s nothing”. He would utter those words in a very meaningful tone of voice.  That tone let me know that, in his own good time, he would cite chapter and verse at me. (Like all emotional abusers, he had a talent for chapter and verse.) I could never guess what crimes and misdemeanours he would come up with.

All I knew was that when that “nothing” changed to something(s), I really would NOT want to hear what he had to say. There would be a lot of it, it would be very painful to hear, and there would be no getting away from it.  He often stopped me getting to sleep, or woke me up, if necessary.

While I waited, with growing anxiety, for the storm to break, I would try to carry on as normal, in the vain hope that things would go back to what counted in our house as normal.  Of course, they did not. I’d continue to prepare wonderful meals for him. He would sit and eat in stony silence. I would ask him

“Did you like that (meal that I have just spent 2 hours cooking in the vain hope that I can jolly you out of your silence)*?”

“It was fine, thank you.” he’d reply, in a tone that suggested that I may not have been poisoning him with food, but I was poisoning his life in other ways. The “thank you” was meant to show that he, at least, was without fault.


Sulking is a very effective form of crazy-making.

During his sulking periods, the wasband would only ever speak when spoken to, using as few superficially polite words as he could manage, and wearing his Reproachful Face. That silence served to let me know he was withholding emotional connection because of my awfulness.

His stating that “Nothing” was wrong stood as a nice piece of crazy-making. This was a man who ADORED the sound of his own voice. He kept a wife to talk at. Only a major event could stop him sounding forth.

In his desire to deliver as brutal a rejection as possible, the wasband very pointedly avoided all physical connection, from touching my hand, to even sharing a *bed.  He acted as if I had an exclusion zone around me.  In fact, he was not above sleeping on a floor – fuelled by quite a lot of the contents of our alcohol cabinet.

Even at the time, I was dimly aware (dimly being the operative word) that sleeping on the floor was crazy behavior. Sleeping on a hard floor doesn’t float most people’s boat. He did so not because he was drunk but he drank because he was making some kind of crazy point.

Needless to say, a couple of nights on a floor did little to improve his mood. So, when he had a full head of steam, he would choose his moment and then blow.  (Even when he took himself to the spare room, and slept in a bed, a couple of nights’ sulking still enabled him to build up a quality head of steam.)

The pay-off

Usually, he would start to let off that head of steam by telling me what a terrible mistake he’d made in marrying me – although, sometimes, he’d start right in by announcing that he was divorcing me.

He’d tell me how lucky I was to have him. (Well, I was, wasn’t I? Not everyone can find a man who’s so full of rage that he’d be willing to go off and nurse that rage on a hard floor, rather than talk about things like a rational adult).

He’d work through all of my faults, going right back to the beginning of our history together. I’m not sure how the words ‘fatally flawed’ escaped his attention, but that was more or less how he saw me. And he’d get his pay-off.  He would have the fun (and the ego-boost) of watching me breaking my heart over him, and begging him not to leave, begging him to love me, again.

Sulking sucks.  It is a powerful technique that abusers use, quite deliberately, to keep you feeling powerless and needy. It works so well because it acts to rub salt in the wounds of low self-worth. Sulking also serves to remind the victim of the sulk that there is only one possible supply of love.

Sulking is actually a very attention-seeking. Behaviour. The sulker pretends to ignore you in order to monopolize all of your attention.  In an ideal world, you would leave a sulker to their own devices – permanently, if necessary. In reality, that can be a big ask because the sulker knows exactly how to push your buttons.

The solution to the problem of sulking lies in healing the old wounds that make you vulnerable to a sulker. Once you do that, the sulker loses all of their power over you.

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