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The Subtle Art of Sulking

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This entry gives no advice on whether sulking is healthy or not, but since it is common human behaviour, it perhaps needs to be looked at in some detail.

Definitions of Sulking

According to Webster's Dictionary, 'to sulk' is 'to be in a sullen mood and tend to shun others'. It goes on to define 'sullen' as 'showing ill-humour, as from dwelling upon a grievance'.

Psychologist John Gray attributes a different style of sulking to each gender, but also acknowledges the potential for role reversal; that a man may quite normally demonstrate feminine characteristics, and vice versa. In the following passages he never refers to this behaviour as sulking, but the similarities are evident.

When a (man) gets upset he never talks about what is bothering him. Instead he becomes very quiet and goes to his private cave to think about his problem, mulling it over to find a solution. He becomes so focussed on solving this problem that he temporarily loses awareness of everything else. Other problems and responsibilities fade into the background.
- John Gray Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Note the similarity to 'dwelling upon a grievance'.

When a woman goes into her 'well' she is consciously sinking into her unconscious self, into darkness and diffused feeling... She may feel hopeless, thinking she is all alone or unsupported.
- John Gray, Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus

Again we see the trait of letting oneself be weighed down by grievances into a sullen state.

Reasons for Sulking

Far be it from anyone to list the infinite reasons one could have to sulk. However, there are some common denominators among all those themes:

  • Feeling put upon or oppressed
  • Feeling ignored
  • Feeling ashamed
  • Feeling embarrassed
  • Feeling in the way

In many of these cases the sulker sulks either to become more or less noticeable, depending on what they think the best solution may be to how they are feeling. With this in mind, we can see how best to go about sulking.

How to Sulk Successfully

Your sulk is therefore designed to make your feelings noticed, or to make yourself invisible, according to personal preference. Remember that the 'public sulk' is not the same as the 'complaint'. A sulk is an act of sullen behaviour and weighted silences, indicative of your tumultuous thought processes.

The private sulk should serve to make you as small a part of the world as possible, in order to have maximum effect. The golden rule is that the only thing noticeable about you should be your absence. Meanwhile, you are somewhere else nursing your pain.

Places for Sulking

When seeking a place to sulk, bear in mind what kind of sulk you are trying out.

The public sulk, should that be your cup of tea, should be a pointed silence. Make sure it is performed before the people who have caused you your pain, lest your sulking fall on unsympathetic ears, and these people feel that they are taking the brunt of something for which they are not responsible. If the people you are sulking at try to talk to you, give them as short an answer as possible, and return to your sulk.

The private sulk requires more thought about the location. Find a place where you feel no one will ever find you, or where you feel you can hold fort, in order to achieve a total sense of security.

The Silver Lining

When all is said and done, remember that the whole world isn't really such an inhospitable place. Sulking should be a temporary release for pent-up emotion, and if people around you are genuinely trying to help, let them succeed.

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