Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Baiting

“But for every man there exists a bait which he cannot resist swallowing.”
-Friedrich Nietzsche

Natives in Africa capture monkeys by setting up cages and placing bait inside. The bait can be anything a monkey would want, such as food or an unusual object. The monkeys are lured to the cages but are too smart to actually go inside. Instead, they reach through the bars, grab the bait, and try to pull it out. Because the object is too large to go through the bars, the only way the monkey can get away is to drop the bait. But monkeys refuse to let go. They kick and squeal but keep holding on. They stay trapped in bondage because they refuse to let go of the bait.

I'm convinced that there are a lot of marriages that are in bondage (and severe conflict) because one of the problem of baiting. One or both spouses "baits" the other one. I define baiting as a conscious or preconscious attempt to draw an emotional reaction out of someone. The bait is usually words, but it can also be an action (or lack of one).

Baiting is a problem in marriage when the baited spouse consistently takes the bait and a repeatable cycle is formed in their relationship, one that repeats again and again until both people feel powerless to stop it. An example: a wife continually makes accusations about her husband's lack of trustworthiness. She knows it will make him extremely angry and a fight breaks out. Why does she do it? It could be lots of reasons; emotional pain seeking an outlet, a desire for attention (negative attention), a way to stop boredom, revenge, etc. I watch my kids bait Jobina all the time. Trinity will say certain things in a way that almost always will guarantee and emotional response from Jobina and tension ensues. As a waiter I was continually baited by angry customer - ones who would try to get a reaction out of me either for sport or to try to scam free food. I was usually pretty imprevious to it, but I remember one tipsy guest (tipsy before he came in I would add) who baited me and in spite of myself I took it, hook, line and sinker. It only took a few seconds but before I knew it I was engaging in a fruitless "discussion" about the quality of his food and I found myself argueing that what he said couldn't possibly be true. He totally got me and I felt like an idiot.

Sometimes, lets face it, we try to start arguments with people. We bait them and then seem shocked when they reciprocate. "Calm down," we say, "what's gotten into you?" The thing about a good fight is that you need both a baiter and someone to rise to the occasion take the bait offered. The solution: stop baiting or stop reacting to it, do one of these and the cycle is broken. When working with couples in a session I will often draw attention to baiting comments (increasing awareness) and then point out every time the other spouse takes or refuses it. I've seen some expert baiters in my time!

Think about a person who really bugs you lately; are they baiting you and you are jumping up and taking it? You can control your reaction to people. Even if they know the best ways to push your "triggers" and offer you the choicest bait, you have the choice and ability to stop it. People who bait aren't looking for solutions, they are looking for reaction and conflict. Don't give it to them. Refuse to take the bait and you'll feel way better about yourself.

1 comment:

Lifelines said...

Oh, I'm good at taking bait, especially with my kids!