DEAR AMY A year ago, I attended a sports event with three other men, one of whom I had never met. As we chatted, waiting for the game to start, this stranger commented on my appearance in a degrading and humiliating way. I was absolutely stunned by this unprovoked, out-of-the-blue verbal attack. My response was to high-five this jerk as though his comment was clever and not offensive. To this day I am haunted by the memory of this interaction, not so much by his words but by my submissive reaction. All too often I find myself rehearsing the many ways I could have (and should have) responded. Our paths will never cross again, and I don't seek revenge; I just want to stop thinking about it. Can you give me advice as to how?
Haunted in Carolina
DEAR HAUNTED You are in the throes of a cycle of rumination, where you replay this unsettling event in your mind, always coming to the same conclusion: "I am humiliated." Your goals now should be to face the reality of what happened, acknowledge and address its effect on you, and change the pattern moving forward.
Write down a detailed account of what happened that day, how it made you feel and why you think it made you feel that way. Writing about this could lead to unexpected insight.
Next, you must forgive yourself. You shouldn't place your behavior on the same level as the person who offended you.
Moving forward, when you find yourself ruminating, you must consciously change your mental tape from one of feeling shame and rehearsing different outcomes to feeling compassion and forgiveness toward yourself.
Finally, take the insight you have gained and turn it outward to express empathy and compassion for all of the boys and men who have to tolerate tormentors as a way to simply get by. You are definitely not alone.