“On Sulking” by Dr. Joseph Berke

Click here to read: “On Sulking” by Dr Joseph Berke.

Sulking is a state of sullen resentment, irritability and negativity manifested by and through extreme inactivity. It is a key to understanding many self destructive phenomena including the refusal to talk, to eat or to thrive. Moreover, in therapy or analysis, sulking often lies behind the negative therapeutic reaction. Most severely, conditions such as paranoia, somatic psychoses, and manic episodes may signify intense, unremitting, unrestrained sulking…

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3 Comments on ““On Sulking” by Dr. Joseph Berke”

  1. Tamar Schwartz Says:

    This is brilliant. So clear, so accessible. It’s very helpful to me in giving me- as an actor- a base of psychological truth upon which to express certain things and behave in certain ways as “Cora”, should the writers ever give me a chance! But far more importantly, the insights you offer to other therapists and students grappling with what must seem often like incomprehensible behaviour from patients are worth their weight in gold. The clarity with which you describe connection between certain behaviours and a sense of ingratitude and envy made absolute sense to me. I’ve experienced this a lot in my life – the envy of others and their subsequent punishment for whatever they perceive I have that they don’t. When I was younger I responded to it by over-compensating with love, gifts – anything to stop being the object of such hatred. It was only when I went into therapy many years ago with the great Pam Smith – whose work I’m sure you know-( I was with her only a short time before she died – she knew she was dying and said she could only see me for six months – she then recommended Margot Waddell and I was with Margot for ten years )- I remember when I was once describing my sense of bafflement and hurt that I had ‘done something wrong’ to a person who was treating me with such ‘sulk’ and contempt she said ‘Have you ever thought of withdrawing your love?” At first, I simply couldn’t comprehend what she meant. It took me a long time to learn to protect myself from possible attacks of this kind. But learn I did! Thank you, thank you Joe for your wisdom, erudition and human kindness. You’re a mensch Joe. A great one. Now get that knee better. I feel honoured to read the paper before it’s published. Not a word of it will pass my lips until it IS published and then I’ll urge EVERYONE I know to read it. with love and many thanks, Annxx

  2. Banu Buyukkal Says:

    Dr. Berke has pointed to a very common interpersonal phenomenon especially in eastern cultures from a much needed perspective. I specifically benefited from the concept of triangulation of sulking and the relationship between narcissism.
    Thank you Dr. Berke

    Banu Büyükkal, MD, Psychoanalyst

  3. Michael L. Ray Says:

    I was surprised and dismayed to learn that this exceptional paper was rejected by two journals (BJP and IJP). I think I know why. First, it didn’t follow the normal approach of citing a lot of literature at the beginning that establishes a context for your paper’s contribution. And second, and more important, you are opening up a new direction with your take on sulking, and that’s always difficult for journal editors . They can deal with normal science (little additions to knowledge within the current scientific paradigm), as Thomas Kuhn put in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions but paradigm shifting ideas (may be an elevation of your work here, since it doesn’t suggest a new paradigm in the larger sense, but who knows) can generate disdain, rejection and even more extreme negative reactions.

    Seems to me that you gave enough context and relevant research (although there is nothing on sulking in the psychoanalytic literature per se, so there wasn’t any literature in the field of the journals to review) at the middle and end of the paper, and that your introductory section defining the concept and its dynamics was necessary. You could have turned the sections around but that would have been inefficient in my opinion.

    I loved the use of Cain and Abel and of Achilles to illustrate the concept and its dynamics. These helped, along with your citations and relevant examples, to flesh out the idea in a rich way. As we know in concept development in science, the more ways of illustrating and measuring the concept, even if some may be imperfect, the better it can be understood and utilized.

    You are creating a new way of looking at a common behavior. Your take on the dynamics, players and conditions of sulking, its effect in every day life and in therapy, and the relation of sulking to narcissism are all classic ways that one defines and explicates a concept that has been neglected and has great potential.

    This paper was profoundly valuable to me. I wish that journals didn’t have this dysfunctional aspect to them, so that new approaches like this could be explored and expanded. What a loss for the development of the concept and its value to many.

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