We all know them. The people who relish in the silent treatment.
It needn’t be anything fight-worthy at all. They can go into the classic sulk state and drive you insane until you give in and beg them to tell you what they’re upset about. And it’s not like they’ll tell you the minute you ask. It’s often when you get this close to giving up that out pours their long and miserable saga of victimhood.
Yes, I’ve suffered through it. And know of endless clients who come to me because they’re ready to pull out all their hair in frustration. They don’t know what to do with their spouse or child or co-worker who’ll never ask for anything, but it won’t stop them from trying to get it in underhand ways. Or they’ll never say they won’t do something, but they still won’t go ahead and do it. Urghhh!
People who sulk go to extreme lengths to avoid taking responsibility for their opinions or actions. But they can make your life miserable through daily invisible resistance, even though you’re often left clueless as to what it’s all about.
To reclaim your sanity, here are 4 must-haves in your toolbox:
What NOT To DO:
DON’T Give In
When you give in, you reward their behavior and you’ll end up getting more of it. What’s even more dangerous is giving in after days (or weeks) of resistance, because you teach them that persistent sulking eventually works. So decide on the stand you’re going to take, and stick with it. You’ll be grateful in the long run!
DON’T Get Mad
Despite being on the verge of insanity, don’t lose your temper. Yes, easy said – but doing so gives them the attention they seek, however negative, and reinforces the behavior. Stay away if that helps, or distract yourself with something positive to balance out the negativity they spread. Remember, positivity rations are best when there’s at least 3 positives to balance the negative, especially for a negative that looms so large…
What To Do Instead:
“How?!” you ask in frustration! Reflecting on why they behave the way they do is a good place to start. Sulkers interact silently because they feel that they cannot voice their needs for fear of rejection. This definitely does not mean that you’ve the devil they’re afraid of. Often it’s learned behavior from early childhood experiences – perhaps caregivers who were overly critical of their needs, or placed unreasonable expectations of angelic behavior.
Encourage Speaking Up
It won’t help to yell out “Speak for God’s sake!”, even though won’t it be nice if it did! The best way to encourage more assertive behavior is to model it. This means being direct in asking for what you want, rather than shutting down yourself. It also means staying away from guilt or other emotional baggage – they likely already have enough of it.
One work of advice – be patient. Old habits die hard, and it’s only by rewarding good behavior that you help them build new neural pathways and thus more well-adjusted ways of behavior.
And if you think it’s a relationship that’s not worth the effort this takes, it might help to simply let it go.