Don’t Take the Bait
Sometimes we leap into anger and fury and resentment in the blink of an eye. Those with trauma and its related hypervigilance and high anxiety struggle with this on an ongoing basis. This column will share some ways to shift your approach, becoming curious rather than furious. Also, some solutions to not “take the bait”.
One concept I have developed over the years that seems useful is my “don’t take the bait“ strategy. Daily we are tempted multiple times to react negatively to what we see or hear. We want to be heard and so we jump to express ourselves with fervor. Then the disagreement, argument, the kerfuffle is on and escalates. Feelings are hurt, relationships damaged, and little changes. We are left exhausted and upset.
What if we started to imagine these comments as bait for a fish, with us being the fish? Now I am not a fisher, but know that fish respond to bait in various ways and that there are many many forms of bait. Some fishers will only use this, others only that form of bait, and will happily debate the efficacy of each choice. That is fine for the fisher, but what about the fish’s response? What if we see ourselves as the fish, with options about bait?
Some fish will grab at the bait and swallow it whole, hook, line, and sinker as the saying goes. They are caught and pulled out of safety i.e. the water, quickly. Most likely to their death.
A few take the bait and don’t swallow it right away. They hold it and sometimes tease the fisher. Some seem to take it and then spit it out, likely feeling quite pleased with themselves “take that fisher, I am too smart for your trick “, or the fish equivalent of that notion.
Often some grab the bait and swim with it for hours until exhaustion on both parts solves the dilemma of who is going to win, the fish or the fisher.
Some circle the bait, taking bits, but not swallowing it, again leaving a frustrated fisher. Some take certain bait today and ignore it the next day.
When set out this way, we see that the real power is with the fish, not the fisher.
Multiple Forms of Bait
The bait comes in multiple forms other than for fish. It can be a comment made online, or in person, or on the phone. The bait may seem like a deliberate obstacle being put forth by an ignorant SOB who is just out to screw you around, or not understand or support you. It may be gossip which is different than sharing useful information. These days it is often a political figure saying something we don’t agree with, i.e. gun laws, and off we go on a rant. That changes little and does not help folks to solve problems
One chap I know was a middle manager in a difficult section at work. Constant griping and grumbling and little action were creating stress and he felt helpless to change the situation and somewhat of a failure as a boss, person, man.
We talked about trying to not take the bait. At first, he was skeptical. As he began to use the notion a little, starting to identify by his body’s reactions, then his urges to respond in anger as signals he was taking whatever bait was being offered.
Making negative generalizations was one of his cues’ I hate XYZ, and they are not to be trusted. Those sorts of thoughts helped him figure out that he was curious, after the fact about the bait. He could start to have some influence on his reactions. Not on the other person directly, but indirectly by changing his bait-taking impulses.
Now folks with high anxiety find this a challenge for sure.
Start by taking note of your physical reactions. Then ground yourself, and identify what was the bait that you swallowed so quickly.
This person went to the dollar store and got a couple of models of fish taking the bait. He put one on his desk at work, one where he kept his keys so he would see it when he left the house. He took a picture of it and used it as his screensaver on his computer, and also put one on the dash of the car.
Over time he was able to identify what bait he was grabbing quickly vs the ones he could spit out.
He created a mantra “don’t take the bait” that he could use anywhere, anytime to himself. Note he did not tell himself not to react, that does not work. He did not tell himself to change his thoughts. He learned to be curious about the kinds of bait he encountered and how he could still be a fish and not take the bait. Obvious ones such as hunger, fatigue, illness, made him more vulnerable. And some of the bait took him to reminders of old miseries and traumas that were still in charge of him, even though he denied it. The more curious he became, the more able he was to identify input as “just bait” and that he could ignore it.
Some will say I am talking about triggers. But triggers seem to imply no choice in reactions, but as this article is saying the fish has several choices about how to respond to any offered bait…
So this week when the word “racist” has been thrown at me, being more watchful for bait has helped me respond by observing my reaction, often a quick and angry one, and to settle myself down, rather than aiding and abetting the bait.
Are We Baiting Other?
Another side of this is learning what we say or do to bait others, but perhaps that will be the next article in this series, Speaking of Normal. These articles began many years ago when I wrote them for the local paper here in Edmonton that was targeted at mostly gay men, but also to the larger community of what is now called “queer”.
So, don’t take the bait and see how things change. A friend used to tell folks she was having a hard time with that she was going to be that person’s new best friend until the problem/issue was solved. She did not take the bait and created good change.
Am I normal? is a question asked of me almost every day. In these days of distress, uncertainty, and confusion, most of the time my response is ‘yes’. In these days of Covid 19, anti-racism and economic problems, little is clear or certain. So many of us are worried, agitated, grumpy, unpredictable in our reactions to ourselves and to others. Some of us thought we would get lots of chores done during this time of isolation and find that after an initial burst of enthusiasm, we don’t have much interest. And when the weather is good, we want to be out and about. But social distancing has imposed limits in many unforeseen ways, so we are limited yet again… and our reactions are pretty normal.