Teasing as an Inducer of Violence
Richard Galdston, M.D.
This paper is based upon the observation that teasing is prominent as a mode of relating favored among the 85 families and their 125 children between the ages of one to four years who have been the subjects of a fourteen-year investigation into domestic violence. These families were included in the study on the basis of their demonstrated tendency toward recurrent physical assaults. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of 1923 defines teasing as "to assail playfully or maliciously, to vex with jests, questions or petty annoyances ... to pick into separate fibres."
Detailed study, including a videotaped record, reveals four steps of interpersonal exchange in an episode of teasing: (1) excitement of desire is stimulated by word or sight; (2) incitement to action is elicited by one party, who offers a part of his or her body as bait to be acted upon, to get a "rise" out of the other; (3) provocation is put forth by the one who has been excited and incited to respond: "You asked for it!"; and (4) retaliation is the response: "I'll fix you!" Aggression is discharged as violence or as flight to avoid violence. The cycle of engagement in teasing is concluded
with the disappointment of desire followed by attack or retreat.
Teasing lies midway between threat and bribe on the spectrum of interpersonal manipulation. Because it can be defined only by intent, it is difficult to measure for purposes of comparison. The prominence of teasing among our study group derives from a lack of other modes of relating between these parents and their children. Tenderness is scant. Mutuality of respect conveyed by permission asked and gratitude granted is lacking. Neither requests nor thanks are verbalized. Needs are negotiated as demands ordered or as nonverbal communications acted out with others. Adults teasing each other use children in a special role as go-betweens, as agents carrying behavior back and forth between the mates. In some instances the child gets caught up in the ensuing violence and is used literally as a shield to protect one parent from the blows of the other. Within this context, teasing as relating looms the larger by default.
A mother invited her four-year-old daughter to awaken her sleeping father. When the child did so, the father flew into a rage at the child, who burst into tears. The mother then confronted her husband with their sobbing daughter, saying, "See? Lookit her! That's how you make me feel all the time!"
Between adults, teasing can serve as a proximal stimulus to kindle and ignite violent behavior. Between adults and their children, the teasing experience can have significant con____________________