by Dr. Lorin Bradbury
Question: In your article, “Is pouting a symptom of depression?” you mentioned how to deal with someone who pouts and sulks, but I would like your help, if possible, in understanding what to do when you are the one pouting and sulking. The internet and literature are filled with ways to deal with someone pouting but almost no effort is directed at those who have this flaw and want to become better. In my personal case, I find it very difficult to stop pouting when something that displeases me happens, and this is naturally having a toll on my relationship. I would love to know how I can stop this uncontrollable reaction from my part.
Answer: As you noted there is little in the literature on the causes of pouting and what you can do to address your need to pout when you don’t get your way. So, I will attempt to shed some light on possible causes of pouting, what pouting is, and what you can do about it.
Since I don’t know you, I have little to work with as far as family history or experiences you may have had throughout your lifespan. Because I don’t know you, what I say here concerning causes of pouting may or may not apply to your situation. But I will do my best to provide you with some insight into possible cause.
There is some possibility you were rewarded for bad behavior as a child. What I mean by that is you found that by throwing a tantrum or pouting as a child, someone (parent, grandparent, caretaker) gave in to your pouting and tantrums to make you feel better. It is possible this significant person or persons were unwilling to allow you to experience the discomfort of having to delay gratification.
I see this frequently when parents are too busy to parent, or they feel guilty because they have been gone all day and want to please their children. In the process of trying to make their children pleasant, they create children that are not pleasant.
The second thing that I would like to address is what pouting is. Pouting is a control technique. You referred to your pouting as uncontrollable. Recognize that you are much more in control than you may believe. When you attribute your moods to events around you, you are surrendering that which belongs to you (the ability to control your reaction) to an event, or to someone else. Typically, this is a learned behavior, possibly going back to childhood. But now you are an adult, and it will be important that you control your moods, rather than controlling other people.
You stated, “I find it very difficult to stop pouting when something that displeases me happens.” Notice your words. You are expecting life to revolve around you. Since when is it everyone else’s responsibility to please you? No doubt this will take a toll on your current, or any future relationships.
I believe you are on the verge of an epiphany. The very fact that you recognize that you have a problem is the beginning of a new life. It will not be easy, and it will, no doubt, be fraught by failures and you will move forward in a halting manner. But nonetheless, if you will stay with it, you will move forward and you can become a much more pleasant person to be around.
Since you cannot find literature specifically on how to overcome pouting and sulking, I would suggest that you turn to literature on verbal abuse. I believe you will find a number of books available on the topic. Even silence can be a form of verbal abuse. Recognize that just as telling someone off or berating someone is verbal abuse, so is giving the silent treatment or withdrawing.
Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]