Shouter or Sulker? How Do You Experience Anger?

shouting coupleTry as we might to keep our emotions in check, we invariable get irritated and sometimes succumb to expressions of anger. Just as we are wired from birth with our particular temperaments and personalities, so do we display our individuality in our anger styles. We learn these as children, watching our elders deal with difficult situations. We can usually, for instance, recall Mom’s and Dad’s modes. In fact, we probably knew them well enough to manipulate them to our best advantage, or at least, we learned when to get out of the way!

People are defined by two distinct and diverse anger styles, the shouters and the sulkers. Neither of these terms is completely accurate, for ‘shouters’ don’t always raise their voices, and ‘sulkers’ don’t always pout and retreat in silence, but the terms will work for our discussion, and the descriptions call to mind appropriate pictures of what goes on when the lid blows off.

Shouters appear to fill with anger and then spill over. Words spew, often accompanied with frantic hand gestures and contorted facial features. The language can be uncomplimentary and vivid. Non-shouters, or those targeted by the shouter’s anger, generally retreat into protection mode and try to sort the profanities from the messages. Those messages are often difficult to discern, and it is best to wait for the storm to subside before attempting to have a rational conversation with the shouter.

Sulkers, on the other hand, ‘lose their words’ and are struck dumb with the effort of forming a coherent thought to express. Emotions fill sulkers, choking off their ability to speak. It’s not that they are unwilling to communicate–they feel unable to do so. Sulkers need time, and often solitude, to quiet their emotions and collect their thoughts. They can then return to the scene and discuss the issue rationally. They cannot do this when heightened emotions frighten and silence them. Sulkers’ retreats are often viewed by an irate shouter as running away from the problem; shouters want to settle the issue right now! Sulkers just can’t do that.

How, then, can a shouter live harmoniously with a sulker? Understanding the different expressive styles helps, as does agreement about how to fight constructively. This negotiation must be done when no one is angry. For instance, the sulker would reassure the shouter that they will return to tackle the matter, after a cooling off period.

As to how a sulker lives with a shouter, we view the other side of the coin. The sulker needs to learn not to take the fiery outbursts personally, and optimally allow the shouter a few minutes of venting before taking leave of the scene.

For their part, shouters can agree to monitor name-calling and plate pitching in exchange for an audience that will permit angry expression for a limited period. It’s true that when the sulker returns, calmed and prepared to deal with the argument, the shouter has often moved on to other things and must be brought back to the topic. But all this is workable.

Giving our partners the respect they deserve goes a long way towards resolving the issue at hand. When shouters are granted a few minutes of angry spewing, and sulkers are afforded some time to settle down, both feel validated. This method reduces the escalation of the argument and affords both sides the focus needed to reach resolution.

What about two of one variety? What then?

When there are two shouters involved, there’s lots of noise, then often hot sex.
With two sulkers, we find lots of silence, and feelings of abandonment and futility. Without a plan about when the fighters will reconvene to hash out the problem, they often encounter lack of resolve and distance regarding sex. Indeed, sex becomes apology, often intimate and bonding, but sometimes a substitute for needed verbal communication.

Communication and respect for differences is the key to fighting fairly and respectfully. Good relationships require good communication and acceptance of differences. Anger is healthy and unavoidable. Violence, of course, is not, and we must all draw the line about what sorts of expression are acceptable, and which are not. Still, accepting our opponent’s anger style, and knowing they will accept ours, creates an environment of care and nurture. It takes practice to learn how to build the best of relationships. Fighting styles are just one more piece of the glorious puzzle that we call love.

Saving it “For Good”

We learn early to reserve the use of the best of our things for special occasions, for others. This practice may, however, signal more than meets the eye about how we view ourselves and our world. Let me give you an example.

During the Christmas holidays, I was visiting a friend who lives in a warm climate. She had prepared a festive holiday table, crowned by a centrepiece of pine boughs and red candles. As I prepared to light those candles, she hurried over to tell me that she didn’t actually use the candles but saved them ‘for good’. I asked her how much better she thought it might get than sharing a holiday feast with friends and family. She laughed heartily and admitted that she actually bought the candles new every year anyway. Each season she would unpack the candles, only to find them melted and deformed by the summer heat. Not only did we eat our dinner in the glow of the candles’ light, we were touched by how that simple act had validated the occasion as special.

How is it that we so easily deny ourselves kindnesses and pleasures because we underrate the value of the occasion, or our own value? I’ve caught myself buying such tiny treats as scented soaps, and then storing them in the closet for when guests arrive. Upon inventory, I see that I have more delightful bath products than I ever have guests to use them! Why do I hesitate to give myself the pleasure? Why do I feel that it is somehow cheating?

Perhaps we are trained to believe that others are more important than we are. We use the term ‘selfish’ as an insult. Who do we think would look after us better than we would? Isn’t self kindness a signal of high self esteem? Do we not evaluate others at least in part by the care they take of themselves, by their personal presentation, by the confidence they display?

When we feel we are worthwhile individuals, we do indeed take care of ourselves. It is a measure of our self worth to get regular physical and dental examinations, to exercise regularly and eat wisely, to ensure that we are in the best health we can be. We strive to be independent, and yet we so easily slip into the trap of waiting for others to provide us with special little extras. This may well prove to be a need for recognition by others, and that validation is certainly important. Still, we can keep our guard up for those self-abnegating messages that tell us we’re not good enough for the ‘company dishes’ or the flowers for the table.

Treating ourselves well reminds us of our value. The small kindnesses, the special treats we would so freely give others warm our own hearts, too. Thus affirmed, we feel happier, and can spread that joy to others in turn. Remembering the golden rule, do unto others as we would have them do unto us, keeps us honourable in our interactions. An addendum to that old chestnut may well be to do unto ourselves as we would have others do unto us. With both reminders in place, we are sure to enjoy the best of both self care and generosity. Let’s all do something wonderfully special for ourselves today!

After the Fight

– Originally published on

When we are feeling angry, hurt, or estranged, we have less chance for success in our negotiations. Regardless of our fighting styles, we all know that we are less articulate when we are wracked with anger. Yet it is often then that we may blurt out a hurtful comment, intending to sting rather than placate. And then we have to apologize for our comment as well as resolve whatever misdeed initiated the argument in the first place. Why do we do this when we know it is not in our best interest?

Anger is a compelling emotion. We can feel owned by it rather than owning it. Heightened negative emotions tend to decrease our impulse control mechanisms as well, and we easily hear ourselves spitting out invectives we neither mean nor believe to be helpful. When threatened, we either attack or retreat, and we display more primitive behaviour than normal. It is not uncommon to remember a verbal arrow received during an argument even when we can no longer recall the basis of the disagreement. A confession of “but I didn’t mean it” goes only a short distance in healing wounds inflicted by thoughtless name-calling. And of course we tend to remember the shots we received and forget the ones we threw.

Following an argument, we need to take some space to cool off. This is precisely the reasoning behind time-outs for naughty children. When we isolate ourselves and consider all sides of an issue, we are better prepared to devise plans to resolve the distress. he problem is that we often don’t leave early enough in the altercation. One person hisses a sarcastic comment and the other, hurt and angry, feels justified in topping the insult. The volleys begin. By the time we realize the mistake we are making, it is too late to ‘take it back’.

Our wounded feelings after skirmishes beg to be resolved. ‘Making up’ needs to include debriefing (not rehashing) of the argument. We can ask questions about how it began, what it was really about, how we could have resolved it better, what compromises and creative answers could we invent to do it better next time? We can apologize and forgive, and then forget. We can reunite as friends and lovers, committed to each other and to our relationship.

It is not accidental that many couples make love after an argument. In fact, some report that sex is often particularly hot following a fight. We come together in high emotion and convert anger to passion. Good will returns and we experience heightened intimacy. In these moments we revalidate our love for each other.

We can learn together with our mates how to resolve differences without arguments. As couples, we can agree to renegotiate our interpersonal ‘contracts’. We can redesign our relationships to fit us uniquely and renew our commitments to learning how to live together peacefully and harmoniously. We come to realize that in such a supportive and rewarding environment, discord does not flourish.