Just as a hunter will bait its prey into a trap, human predators bait their ‘prey’ into emotional traps before they strike with an attack. This baiting process has always fascinated me because it is the most consistent element present in all abusive patterns.
Throughout both my professional and personal experience, I’ve met several individuals suffering at the hands of a narcissistic/abusive figure in their life; boyfriends, girlfriends, parents, friends… etc. Their methods vary: some bully, others verbally abuse, others isolate, and some create a devastating cocktail of all of the above, but they all bait first.
At first this strategy confounded me… until I started to consider my own love for debate. Philosophers are notorious for loving a good argument; and to be fair, we’re pretty decent at it because we’re rarely attacking a fact. Rather, philosophers will go after the science supporting a fact, or better, the language used to describe a phenomenon. Open with one of these opportunities and we’ll pounce. By default then, it’s not difficult to catch the attention of a philosopher; simply make a statement that can be challenged, and then wait.
I once noticed a woman though who did nothing in the face of her abuser. Whether they were baiting, pouncing, apologizing, or trying to worm their way back into her life for another cycle of abuse, she opted to do nothing. Her abuser would push and she’d simply respond with “okay” and then walk away.
I asked her why she didn’t choose to stand up for herself and she responded with this: “That would validate their existence. I’m not being physically attacked. If I respond, they’ll engage, so I’ve decided to do nothing”. She had overcome the abusive tactics being used against her. She saw them for what they were and chose not to respond to the bait.
Our ego is essentially a synaptic firing pattern that, because of the attention you give, has repeated itself into developing neuropathways in your brain. These pathways repeat themselves so many times, we start to attach an “I am” to the patterns we create; eventually “my personality” emerges. This can be a very dangerous process as we fall asleep to the stories we tell ourselves about our experiences: “People always choose others over me; I’m always second string”, or “I just seem to bring out the worst in everyone I meet; there must be something wrong with me to cause people to treat me so terribly”. Give those patterns years of attention, and you’ve got a solid neuropathway of despair.
However, awareness without attention allows unhealthy patterns to dissipate. If you’ve ever had a scab that started to itch, you know the best way to make it worse is to give in to that nagging itch, but you’re likely to peel the scab off and start the whole process over again. Attention is your intention in this case. Regardless of how persistently unhealthy patterns try to surface, if we choose to do nothing, and focus rather on the thoughts that bring us joy, we can reprogram our brains. Think of awareness as your reset button; if you can see it, you can stop it. So, the next time you want to change the way your ego treats you, start by doing nothing and observe.