How can I help my partner feel better after a random assault?
May 29, 2012 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Some random jerk threatened my partner in public a few days ago and he's still pretty shaken, and can't stop thinking about it. What resources can I offer to help him cope?

We were grocery shopping this weekend, in separate parts of the store, and a middle-aged man (who looked like an overgrown frat boy, and may or may not have been drunk) assumed classic shoulders-and-arms-up threatening bully pose and rushed directly at my partner, shouting. My partner moved a safe distance away and shouted back, something along the lines of "What is wrong with you?" This jerk is a total stranger to both of us and my partner had done nothing to incite him. When the guy caught me taking a picture of him (just in case) as he was leaving the store he and his friend laughed and he said he was "just trying to have some fun." Then while we were walking through the parking lot to our car he tried to cut us off in his giant black SUV. We both shouted back at him and I took a picture of his car, though I didn't get the license plate.

I'm used to brushing off random harassment like this, but this is the first time something like this has happened to my partner and he's having a hard time shaking it off. He says he can't stop thinking about it, and is very concerned about running into the guy again. What can we do to help him recover from this?

We've talked about going to the police (the jerk's behavior constitutes simple assault without battery where we are), but he doesn't think it'll be useful or help him feel better. He's generally averse to therapy, though it's something I think he'd consider if this continues to affect him any more severely. Do you have any other suggestions for helping him stop replaying this in his head and feeling better about how to handle it if we happen to run into the jerk again?
posted by rhiannonstone to Health & Fitness (18 answers total)
Best answer: I think you should submit it to the police as it may help show a pattern of conduct and behavior that could strengthen someone else's case. A guy like this... makes enemies.

Other than that, time. After any surprising or traumatic event, it takes time to get over that fight or flight response and it can surprise you where the adrenaline will come rushing back. He did everything right.

You might see if there are self-defense or martial arts classes that he could take. Might help him get a little control over his feelings. And his feelings are totally normal -- when other people behave outside social norms and threaten us, we respond in kind.
posted by amanda at 12:34 PM on May 29, 2012 [8 favorites]

Best answer: a very similar thing happened to my husband. i just kept assuring him that the guy was a jerk, obviously full of anger, and that my husband didn't do anything to invite the treatment and did everything right in keeping us safe directly after the encounter.
posted by nadawi at 12:40 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hmm ... I'm sorry this happened to your partner but other than reassuring him that the guy was just being a jerk, I don't think there's much more you can do here. The guy didn't hit him, he was just being an ass.

I don't want to sound callous because being the subject of any type of harassment is awful but the fact is, assholes exist and always will. As adults, we just have to figure out ways to deal with them. I've been black and female all my life and most recently, half of an interracial relationship. Wanna talk harassment??

I've come up with great comeback lines and have learned to look like I can kick someone's ass (I can't and I really need to stop doing this because one day, someone's gonna sock me.) The suggestion for self-defense classes might make your partner feel more empowered. If he continues to see the harasser around town or in the same business, he might let the management know that he's being harassed. If they are good business owners, they won't want bullies in their establishment.

The long and short of it is, overgrown frat boys in SUVs reproduce little urchins who grow up to be like them. Counter it with being unfailingly kind to everyone ... until they give you reason not to be. Best to your partner. I hope he feels better and for the SUV dude? I hope gas goes up to $10 a gallon this summer.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Could you talk to the grocery store about their surveillance camera footage? If you have a receipt or transaction record, they'll be able to find it pretty easily (if they even keep the footage -- once when I asked a store to review their footage to see if I'd left a valuable item in the store, it turned out that every day their camera tapes over the footage from the day before. Handy!).
posted by hermitosis at 12:56 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, I would communicate this to the police, even if your partner is uninterested in persuading them to investigate. Passing on the same information to the store's management is a good idea.

If you see the guy again, you should call the cops immediately. Beyond that, I can't give you much help in dealing with the (highly unlikely) event that you see him again: my default response to aggressive people is to escalate the situation until they back down, but it sounds like your partner has already (and correctly) determined that such a response is unproductive here.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 1:06 PM on May 29, 2012

this is the first time something like this has happened to my partner

Wow! I can see how it would be very hard for him to deal with this if he's somehow escaped normal asshole behavior till now. The important thing to remember when people do stuff like this is that they are to be pitied. A possibly drunk middle-aged dude-bro harassing strangers in a grocery store? Can you get more pathetic? As for seeing him again, I'm almost certain if you saw him again he wouldn't remember you. I don't how many people these guys cut off and threaten in a day or a week, but it must be lots. Guys like this only see/think of themselves. If you see him again, just move away. And then either feel sad for him or laugh at him, or both, because he's a clown.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 1:08 PM on May 29, 2012

Best answer: I think support is the primary thing you can give him, since the time part will take care of itself.

It's important for people to remember that the sort of adrenaline spike that accompanies an incident like that is a) physiologically normal b) a fairly rare and thus disturbing experience for most people in modern society. The persistence of the response is neurologically important, lest he forget too soon about the [jaguar/fire/rival tribesperson] threat and end up as dinner. His systems are definitely verified to be firing normally now.

And also, it's not about him. Unhinged people are going to be unhinged, and he may be forced to witness it occasionally. A lot of people suffer the unwitnessed aggressions of unhinged people; maybe it would help your husband to donate time or money to an organization that helps those victims?
posted by Lyn Never at 1:10 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Remind him that this guy didn't go his entire life and then pick that day, in that place, to single out the perfect victim this one time and behave like this. This guy, he does this several times a day, several days a week, and he doesn't remember his victims. Odds are good that, at some point in the past, a license plate was obtained or the police actually arrested and booked him for assault, so I would still reach out to the police with the pictures, date/time and a brief description of the assault, and let them use it against the guy when he's caught (because sooner or later he will be, and it likely won't be the first time.)
posted by davejay at 1:58 PM on May 29, 2012 [7 favorites]

Thought of something concrete you could do -- get him a professional massage. I had a traumatic event earlier this year and I found that a massage really helped me to re-center. Stress, no matter the source, is felt in our bodies. A good massage can really help.
posted by amanda at 2:04 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Nthing that it's totally healthy and normal to be shook up after something like that - an additional reason to consider a self-defense class is that the physical activity can help channel some of the tension/fear/desire to respond (being civilized often means being frustrated in exactly this sort of situation; he's fighting some really important biological processes when he chooses to back down.)

And file a report for sure. This guy may already have a record - this impulsive and aggressive behavior, in a grown-up person, is usually habitual, and I'd be not at all surprised to learn the police already know exactly who he is.
posted by SMPA at 2:42 PM on May 29, 2012

It sounds to me like your partner needs some help dealing with fear. The fact that he's so shook up about this is a clue that there's more to deal with than just this one incident.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:10 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

One other thing...I was going to post an afterthought because I felt the need to say that I wasn't meaning to minimize the incident. But actually, I guess that what I am doing(!). It was a stupid *hole thing for the guy to do. He has his own issues, obviously. But this wasn't that big of a trauma that any man in today's society shouldn't be able to forget in a few hours. Which brings me around again to maybe thinking about seeking some help for your partner in dealing with fears. Maybe I should just say I truly wasn't meaning it in a 'snarky' kind of way at all. People living with fears, usually from some actual trauma in their past, are sometimes only identified when others see an overreaction. In my opinion, it's not best to be an enabler to the overreaction which just puts off the real issue.

Good luck to you both.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:22 PM on May 29, 2012

Drop $40 on a copy of Convict Conditioning as a gift for him.

Broad shoulders, a strong back, and thick arms do wonders for the self-confidence, and a fair bit to ward off potential predators. And if a predator can't be warded off... a bully often will back off if he gets his nose broken while charging in. Hell, a man who stands his ground is often enough to ward off that kinda shit. Because predators key in on weakness.

I'm thinking your man gives off the vibe "I will not stand my ground if you charge at me".

This may sound all regressive and non-enlightened, but your man got PUNKED in front of his woman by another guy. He was scared off by a bully who laughed laughed at him while driving away.

All while you, his romantic partner, was watching.

That's a blow to the self-esteem and a cock-shriveling embarrassment on a primal level. Not an enlightened point of view, I know. But it's pretty much the truth.

CC as a program comes from a world where men with little to no tools have to get strong enough to fend off the most sociopathic predators society has. That requires brute strength and agility. I've been doing the program for a while now, and I'm never loading another plate on a barbell or laying down on another weight bench.

He doesn't need to be comforted and told it's okay, the big, bad, scary bully won't come and laugh at him anymore, especially not by his romantic partner. That's the surest way to noodle-dick and self-doubt.

He wants to get over it, he needs to man-up.

He needs to do some push-ups, legs-raises, and squats. He needs to get physically powerful and FEEL IT IN HIS BODY so that the next time someone decides to run up on him, your man will look them in the eye, stand his ground, and convey the message
"Do you REALLY wanna dance, motherfucker? Because my woman is present and I WILL NOT PUT UP WITH YOUR BULLSHIT around her, savvy?"A wise-person once said "Rudeness is the weak man's imitation of strength". If your man develops great physical strength, he will be able to afford the luxury of self-confidence, courtesy, manners, and a cool head in the face of bullying trogs.

I'm told that many women find that (as well as broad shoulders and thick, strong, trog-throttling arms) quite appealing.

Best of luck.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 4:34 PM on May 29, 2012 [5 favorites]

Gah, you don't need to get strong enough to beat this guy up. I actually literally giggled while reading the advice above. If my partner reacted to an incident like the one you describe by trying to develop "broad shoulders and thick, strong, trog-throttling arms," I'd try and get him into therapy post-haste.

The reality is, asshats gonna ass. It was a tangential encounter and the other person definitely came out of it the worse. Get him a massage, reassure him that he did nothing to provoke the attack and that he's not in sixth grade any more, and give it time.
posted by KathrynT at 4:58 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kathryn, I think the point of Pirate's advice was not for OP's husband to bulk up so he can beat bullies up, but that working out will also give him confidence, and confident people aren't targeted by bullies.
posted by InsanePenguin at 5:07 PM on May 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Not dissimilar things happen to me with some regularity. I always stay calm, and on subsequent analysis I believe I've always done as close to the right thing as could have been hoped for in the situation (which is almost never fighting). I guess I'm saying I'm good in these situations and I've had more than my fair share of them.

It's just going to take a while. He'll be playing it over in his head wondering what else he could have done. The thing is that makes it linger is I'm willing to be he'll have doubts about his masculinity that he knows he shouldn't have. A while ago, I laughed in the face of a guy who was trying to verbally bully someone else at a bar, so he punched me in the eye and ran (as bullies do). I didn't swing back or chase him or anything, he's obviously no longer welcome at the establishment, etc. I consider that to be the absolute ideal way that could have gone after he threw the punch. Everyone else seems to have felt the same way since I didn't have to buy my own drinks for a couple of weeks around there. I would still get the feeling for a while that I'd "lost" in some western-macho sense, though, which is a hard thought to vocalize both semantically and emotionally.

I eventually realized that that guy lives in terror. I've still never exchanged words with that guy and his ego was so fragile at that moment that physical violence was the only action he knew to take. That's deep, deep, existential fear at the idea that I, by laughing, could harm him. Having once been 13, I've felt that kind of fear and I can only imagine the anguish that guy must live with. I feel deeply sorry for him.

He wants to get over it, he needs to man-up.

I see what you're getting at, and I'm very capable of handling myself as well but, and I'm sorry if this sounds hokey, but it's much more difficult and effective to man-up with compassion. Holy shit that does sound hokey.
posted by cmoj at 7:20 PM on May 29, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding cmoj. Badasses do ***not*** look or act bad-ass, they have no need to. This was an aging, probably frustrated, jock who has seen better days and knows it in his bones. Facing someone like that down takes a bit of nerve but they slam on the brakes fast if you do.
posted by jet_silver at 7:47 PM on May 29, 2012

I'm thinking your man gives off the vibe "I will not stand my ground if you charge at me".

This may sound all regressive and non-enlightened, but your man got PUNKED in front of his woman by another guy. He was scared off by a bully who laughed laughed at him while driving away.

All while you, his romantic partner, was watching.

That's a blow to the self-esteem and a cock-shriveling embarrassment on a primal level. Not an enlightened point of view, I know. But it's pretty much the truth.

This is complete and unadulterated posturing bullshit.

The police have been to my house at least half a dozen times over things I did standing up for my partner, myself, and a miscellaneous collection of strangers (and my neighbor's dog), and I have been very, very lucky not to have left with them as their guest for an indefinite period-- which would have ruined my life.

Oh, and did I mention how I risked my life? By spitting on a guy who had a gun in his hand because I was angry about the way he had cut me off in traffic? (Among many other incidents over the years.)

And far from being impressed, my partner, the great love of my life, almost left me after I flipped out and caused an enormous scene when some guy drove by us in a deliberately disrespectful way in an alley outside a coffeehouse. I don't think anyone who witnessed that little number through the windows was ever willing to sit at the same table or counter with me again, much less talk to me.

People like the guy who came at your partner can suck you down into their dim, tawdry and desperately hopeless little subworld-- and you'll never get out-- if you're stupid enough respond to them in kind out of that most foolish and easily avoided of human foibles, insecure masculine pride.

If you don't believe me, meet Bernie Goetz, and if that doesn't do the trick, rent Taxi Driver for him and watch it together.
posted by jamjam at 8:09 PM on May 29, 2012 [6 favorites]

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