Baiting - A provocative act used to solicit an angry, aggressive or emotional response from another individual.
It’s an unfortunate thing that not everyone wants to relate in loving and harmonious ways - just as athletes crave competition and have a tenacious drive to win, some people seek interpersonal conflict. For these people, identifying and defeating an enemy is a tactic they use to feel better about themselves.
Not every conflict involves two willing participants. A gazelle, for example, isn’t a willing participant in a contest with a lion. In the same way, many interpersonal conflicts involve one willing participant and one non-willing participant.
Conflicts often arise when one of the parties in a relationship is not satisfied with the status quo. They want a change, and have concluded that conflict is the most effective way to get what they want.
Why use bait? Why not just start a fight directly?
Baiting is a classic military tactic. From Hannibal and Napoleon through to modern day armies, some form of baiting has been used in many successful military campaigns. Typically, the goal is to lure an enemy into attacking a weak-looking force in the front, while a secondary, larger, hidden force flanks the enemy to ambush them from the sides and the rear, where they are more vulnerable. Boxers and Martial Arts experts also use versions of this kind of maneuver to gain an unexpected advantage.
Baiting is also standard operating procedure in fishing and hunting. In this case, the lure is something attractive, and the dynamics are the same: fish attacks bait, hook catches fish.
Baiting works the same way in personal conflicts. While you are off-balance defending yourself from a surprise attack, you are being skillfully outmaneuvered by someone who is trying to gain the upper hand.
Examples of Baiting:
- Your spouse suddenly, without cause, accuses you of having an affair.
- A former spouse sends an email to the children's school accusing you of child neglect.
- You arrive home to discover that a family member has deliberately damaged some of your property.
- Your boyfriend or girlfriend flirts with someone in front of you. On the way home, they claim that you are terrible in bed.
What it feels like:
When we fight, we switch to using some of the lower, more primitive regions of our brain which are geared towards survival and the “fight or flight” responses. Mental resources are drawn away from higher reasoning towards more basic reactionary thoughts. Our adrenaline kicks in and our heart rate and breathing rate increase, in preparation for sudden physical activity. Our bodies and brains change to adapt to the situation - we are less the thinker and more the warrior. This transition helps explain why people will often do and say things in times of conflict which they would never do in ordinary circumstances. It also explains why people sometimes later regret actions taken “in the heat of the moment”.
When you are being baited by someone who wants to pick a fight with you, you have reduced control over these instinctive physical and mental responses. You are tuned to react quickly. Your powers of reasoning will be diminished. You will find it harder to assess the risks and rewards of multiple avenues of action. You may feel sudden anger, have thoughts of vengeance, or feel a surge of energy to do - something - fast!
Learning to Cope with Baiting:
Just as you experience a physiological response whenever a conflict arises, so does the person who is provoking you. Their powers of reasoning usually take a back seat. Long, thoughtful, deep and meaningful conversations are probably best left for a time when cooler heads prevail.
What NOT to do:
- Don't take the bait!
- Don't argue with a person or appeal to their sense of reason or logic while they are baiting you. They want a fight!
- Don't retaliate and fall into a trap.
What TO do:
- Learn to recognize baiting for what it is.
- Remember that the bait you can see often has nothing to do with what the other person really wants.
- Look around and behind you. See the big picture, and decide whether this is a fight that you can win, or one that is worth having.
- Remember that what the person is feeling is temporary and they will probably feel different in a few days or a few hours.
- If falsely accused,politely, briefly and calmly state the truth ONE TIME ONLY.
- End the conversation and exit the room by taking a time-out.
- Get support - describe what has happened to someone who understands your situation and can help you come up with a reasoned, effective plan of how to deal with it.