Help me understand and process these really icky feelings
May 20, 2014 9:48 PM   Subscribe

While walking my dog a few nights ago, a man approached me to ask for directions. When I (stupidly) got close to his window, I realized he was naked waist-down and masturbating. I am now feeling disgusted, angry, and frightened to a degree that seems incommensurate with the actual level of threat/violation I experienced. Can you help me understand what I'm feeling, and why I'm feeling it so strongly, so that I can move the heck on and get some sleep?!

Once I realized wht was happening, I called out to my boyfriend (who was walking a little further down the street) and ran. My boyfriend (being clearly smarter than me) attempted to follow the van and get his plates, but the guy was too fast and the block too short. The Cops were called, but there is obviously little they can do without better info than "generic white guy in generic white van".
I'm feeling VERY angry about this incident, both at myself for my incredibly non-clear-headedness during the incident, and at the man for thinking that he could manipulate me for his own pleasure. I'm also feeling incredibly disgusted by the whole thing and CANNOT stop obsessing about it, or seeing the image of him in my head. I'm unable to sleep at night, and having difficulty focusing at work. I'm scared of stupid things, and jumpy as hell.
All these feelings are very unusual for me, and while I accept that they are all valid to some extent, the degree to which I am feeling them seems really unreasonable (the entire incident lasted mere seconds, I was not touched or threatened, and a witness and ally was mere feet away from me the entire time). I have no history of sexual assault or abuse/trauma of any kind. I can't find a way to articulate/understand WHY I'm feeling what I'm feeling, and why it is feeling so overwhelming. I know I'm angry/disgusted/scared, but I cannot put words to WHAT it is that makes me feel those things. Why should such a minor incident have such a big effect?
Can you help me identify what is going on inside my head? If you've experienced something similar, can you help me with ways to snap out of the constant slo-mo replay in my head? You are not my therapist, but could you pretend to be for just a minute?
posted by Dorinda to Human Relations (35 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh, I'd consider that more than a minor violation. I'm sorry this happened to you.

I would suggest trying to ease up on the judgement of yourself, of how you "should" feel about this, or should have reacted in that moment. You're not the one who did something wrong.
posted by Asparagus at 10:01 PM on May 20, 2014 [18 favorites]

This is a normal post-traumatic response. Whether he was unpantsed or tried to grab your purse or called you names or was hurt and in need of assistance, you experienced a heightened adrenaline response and the primal survival bits of your brain are reluctant to just drop it because it's trying to keep you safe from a threat that might recur.

And it may be that you feel weird about feeling weird because as prey, we have an urge to hide our shock/wounds so it doesn't draw more predators. Same instinct that makes us get up and pretend nothing happened when we trip, even when we're injured.

The flashbacks and second-guessing should diminish within 5 days or so of the event, but you can try short-circuiting them with a word or phrase or breathing exercises. Try to get some exercise, good sleep, and adequate hydration. It may be enough to know that this is your brain/body doing a thing that is supposed to be helpful but feels crappy.

If you're still having a lot of disruptive thoughts or feelings a week or two after, find a therapist. There are protocols for recent trauma that become less effective the longer you let it go.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:05 PM on May 20, 2014 [65 favorites]

Someone made you part of a sexual situation that you did not consent to be part of. In doing so, they asserted power over you and ignored your rights as a person in a big way. That's a shitty thing to have happen, and I'm sorry it happened to you.

At least for me, the cycle of obsessive thinking goes as follows: I don't want to think of myself as being *powerless* over situations where someone might take advantage of me. On the other hand, if I think of events as though I was in control of them, I feel like I was stupid and screwed up by failing to protect myself. So I think about the event over and over and over, trying to get a handle on what correct behavior would have been and worrying about whether I did something wrong.

Perhaps if you can accept that this was not your fault, and consciously try to set the thoughts aside when they recur, that will help.

There is nothing you should have done differently. It is normal and natural to respond to requests for help. You were fine. The person in this situation who did something wrong is not you.
posted by shattersock at 10:12 PM on May 20, 2014 [6 favorites]

While your physical safety may have been intact, this person's action was clearly appallingly sick, and I feel that such obscene boundary-violation and reminder of the sick fucks in the world all around us would shake up any sane person. At least, that's how I would be thinking about it. Like dear god, there are sick fucks in the world and one of them was RIGHT THERE BESIDE ME TARGETING HIS SICK FUCKERY MY DIRECTION. I don't really see the "minor" in that. I think your response is utterly normal.
posted by celtalitha at 10:16 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

You don't need to have been physically injured or threatened to feel violated. That's what he did. He did something shocking and inappropriate without your consent. I don't think you should be angry with yourself for this, it is not your fault - not what happened, and not how you reacted.

Your reaction was completely consistent with the way your brain is wired: fight or flight. Your brain decided flight was the best option. That's fine! It worked! The situation is over, you weren't hurt, everything is good.

It sounds like what you are doing now is torturing yourself with what you should have done (in your non-reptilian brain). Meanwhile part of your brain is still checking that everything is okay. It's entirely possible that this is how your brain reinforces certain situations as dangerous, so that next time you recognise them even sooner. I don't know, I am not an expert in how the brain works.

So my non-expert advice: if you're not happy with how you reacted and wish you had done something differently, when you have those recurring thoughts about the situation, instead of getting upset, try to just acknowledge the feeling and remind yourself gently, "Yes, that was scary but it's okay now. If this happens again, I will XXXXX." If you are actually okay with how you reacted, it's even simpler: just calmly and gently tell yourself, "yes, that was scary but it's okay now".

I agree that if you are still having trouble sleeping/focusing after another week or so, to the same degree that you are now with no improvement, then yes, please see someone. But I think a certain amount of replaying is normal.
posted by Athanassiel at 10:17 PM on May 20, 2014

People who calmly and clearheadedly violate social norms are terrifying. It's so unpredictable. If you got in a shouting match and it escalated and the other person slapped you, that would be upsetting but not bizarrely out of nowhere. Flashers are so upsetting partly because of their refusal to follow social scripts, and part of the thrill for them is violating norms and forcing others to be upset by that violation.

It's sensible to be frightened by people who behave in unpredictable ways (like a guy raving to himself whole walking down the street ... Probably harmlessly crazy, but you get uneasy because how do you know?) ... And this guy wasn't just being benignly unpredictable, he was aggressively using that unpredictableness as a weapon against you. Not to be all evo-psych about it, but the smart gregarious primates DO find unpredictably threatening behavior extra-threatening, because you can't de-escalate a conflict with someone who isn't following normal rules for engagement. This is truly scary for monkeys like us and your upset is entirely reasonable and understandable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:33 PM on May 20, 2014 [34 favorites]

I have had several such incidents happen to me, especially when I was much younger. Your reaction seems perfectly normal: as others have pointed out, this was a severe breach of boundaries that forced you into a sexual context without your consent, so your sense of having been violated is perfectly valid.

In this case, as was also true for some of my incidents, the exacerbating factors were that: a) it took place (presumably) in your own neighborhood, an area where you had always felt safe and able to carry out normal activities like walking your dog without having to be on high alert for danger. Even though nothing "serious" happened, this man essential robbed you of your feeling of security, which is profoundly destabilizing. Also, b) he took advantage of your neighborly kindness and general willingness to help a fellow human who expressed a need for assistance. Your default setting of trust has been thrown off, and you say you now feel "stupid" for assuming it was an innocuous situation, when in fact there was no tangible reason you should have felt otherwise, given the circumstances.

As a result, a situation that was previously comfortable and relaxing is now tainted with fear, uncertainty, mistrust, and anger. These feelings will eventually fade, whether on their own or as a result of talking through them with friends and/or a therapist, but you have every right to be upset. In the meantime, try to be easier on yourself: I'm sure that many times your helpfulness has been sincerely needed and met with gratitude. Much better to maintain that willingness to assume the best (in the absence of other cues) than allow this one incident to lead you to a generalized cynical view of the world and others. Easier said than done, of course, and it really can go away.

On the occasions that happened when I was young, I also felt a disproportionate sense of shame, as though I'd somehow brought them on myself--a feeling that was exacerbated when I was berated by authority figures for having been so "careless" about answering a stranger's seemingly sincere questions. I wish I'd sought help to work through those feelings and gain a more objective perspective rather than internalize them at the time, so please do what you can to keep that from happening to you.

I'm really sorry you had to experience this.
posted by Superplin at 10:51 PM on May 20, 2014 [2 favorites]

Things are going to continue happening in your head for much longer than you want, and it is possible that there will be an irrational residue left afterwards, like perhaps an emotional reaction to white men in vans, or a disinclination to walk your dog. Because you'll know where it came from, and when it started, you'll be able to deal with it.

In my own case, it took about six weeks.
posted by the Real Dan at 10:59 PM on May 20, 2014 [1 favorite]

A stranger deliberately spat on me on the street once, completely unprovoked, and I thought about it for days. There was no way it could have hurt me (the spit hit only my backpack, and it was gross but I'm not phobic about saliva, it was clearly not the opening salvo in an act of violence) but it unsettled me hugely. Very disproportionately.

Eyebrows McGee has it - people who intentionally and calmly violate social norms are scary as hell. And when the violation includes a sexual component, it's just that much more complicated. Your response is pretty normal, in my book, and it's understandable that you had some trouble processing what was happening until it was over. I'm sorry this happened to you and I hope you recover your equilibrium soon.
posted by gingerest at 11:21 PM on May 20, 2014 [4 favorites]

You have received an emotional trauma, and these are some of the defense mechanisms your brain is using. Vaillant did some research on it, wiki link. He's famous for the Grant Study, which is also well worth reading about.

If I were to summarize: there are 4 levels of "defenses" that people use in response to trauma, in increasing levels of maturity and effectiveness. The trauma creatives a reaction: channeling the reaction is the defense mechanism. Not only do people utilize higher level defense mechanisms as they grow older and more mature, but it also occurs on a local scale (you may utilize a lower level defense in the immediate aftermath, and then as you stabilize you will transition to a higher level, more effective defense)

In particular, under Level 2 defenses there is "fantasy" which is the tendency to retreat to fantasy in order to resolve inner and outer conflicts. I'm not saying that's what you're doing, but the replaying of events in your head is a natural lead up to that: you're probably revisiting the scene of the crime and figuring what you could have done differently, punishing yourself for not thinking quick enough to get his number, wishing he could be brought to justice, etc.

Under level 3 defenses there is "displacement" which is the shifting of impulses to another target: your brain is still keyed up in a hyper-vigilant and defensive mode and will be for awhile, and as an outlet for that energy it's being expended in the form of fear at random times and at random things.

Valliant's work in the Grant Study concluded that some participants were able to employ the most powerful defenses (Level 4) more often and sooner: in particular, "humour" is a commonly used one. A person, could sometimes, over time, tap the energy from an incident and channel it in a positive way, as an amusing story like a comedian. A lot of comedy is very dark. Not always possible, not for all situations, but that's just an example.

I (a guy) was assaulted by 4 gangsters who robbed me in a dark alley outside my apartment: for the next few days I felt deep fear, was unable to sleep, to the point I dreaded even walking on the same footpath where I was attacked. I moved out a few days later. A week later I felt well enough to try turn it into an amusing / shocking story. It's stuck that way since: there's a saying that you can never remember the original incident in its original form. All you're doing is remembering the last time you remembered the incident, and it's an iterative process. This is what defense mechanisms are about: by repeatedly revisiting the event, you're shaping how it's going to be integrated in your life. Through fantasy, you're going to be more prepared the next time the same thing happens (I know I was!). Through displacement, you could possibly be a more vigilant person where others are careless. And through humour, well, you may have one more funny story to relate to friends about the crazies on the streets.

Good luck!
posted by xdvesper at 11:41 PM on May 20, 2014 [20 favorites]

In my experience, the fastest way to clear negative emotions like anger, sick-to-your-stomach fear/stress, etc. from your system is vigorous exercise like running or hitting/kicking a heavy bag. It's a neurochemical thing.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:43 AM on May 21, 2014

I think the violation of trust might have something to do with your feelings. You did a perfectly normal thing: offer to help a stranger with directions. He used something good about you against you.

I've dealt with physically aggressive men in the gay world (mostly unexpected groping hands in bars or clubs) and usually that just rolls off me. But there was one time I took a call from an acquaintance, and I thought I was helping him with a problem for all of five minutes before I realized he was just acting out a sex fantasy.

And that was the one of the few times I felt nauseous, angry at myself, and honestly violated. It was the deviousness, the manipulation, that triggered it.

I don't know if there's a way to "snap out" of the constant replay. Understanding the triggers (which you're trying to do here) and accepting that your actions and reactions are perfectly normal will help.
posted by kanewai at 1:02 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think sexually-based violations hit us a little harder than usual because sex is SUCH a personal thing for us. So I don't at all think that you being shaken up to the extent you have been is at all a sign of weakness or anything, if that's what you're feeling, or a sign that you're overly-sensitive or anything like that. I had a similar sexually-based violation where I didn't get "hurt" - a super-scary obscene phone call where the guy threatened to break into my apartment and "rape and mutilate" me - and it took a little longer to get over that than the typical call from a jerkoff too. And I also second-guessed how I handled things initially, until I realized he'd manipulated the situation to put me at ease so I WOULD behave just that way.

And it sounds like this guy did too. You had every reason to believe this was just a guy asking for directions and you did what EVERY person would do in such a case; he was the one who went off-script. And it makes total sense to be upset about that still.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 1:43 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

"incredibly non-clear-headedness"

Being taken for a fool feels a bit weird for a while, but it'll pass. How do I know? Because this happened to me in the past:
It was night and not many people on public transport. I was sitting somewhere towards the end of the bus that night, flipping through a magazine I had picked up for that ride as a stranger sat down next to me. I wondered for a split second why he would sit down next to me if the entire bus was practically empty, maybe only one or two other people where there. He had so many seats to choose from. For some reason I didn't follow that thought, I didn't feel threatened, I kept reading on. Where this lapse of judgement came from I don't know. I would say I am alert and quick on my feet, but alas, not in that moment. About 20 minutes later something registered. What were this odd hand motions? Was he jerking off next to me??? I lifted my magazine and you bet he had his tiny weiner in his hand all that damn time while I was reading! As I raised from my seat to go alert the bus driver, the guy fled without a word. Conveniently, the bus had just stopped. Luckily no bodily fluids were involved, but it still made me feel a bit icky and dirty that night.

Thinking of better ways to deal with situations like this helped me to feel more in control after that incident. I reexamined how to assert my boundaries and how to react to violations. Having a script in my head made me feel stronger. But the most important thing to realize was that it wasn't my fault. He crossed the line because he's a sad little fucker.
posted by travelwithcats at 3:13 AM on May 21, 2014

But you were threatened. What you experienced is threatening. When people involve you in their sexual gratification without your consent, you are absolutely right to go into high-alert mode with everything that "fight or flight" response entails.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:35 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm feeling VERY angry about this incident, both at myself for my incredibly non-clear-headedness during the incident

You walked up innocently to a man holding his dick out -- it is an absolutely freakish thing to encounter. Feeling non-clearheaded seems right on, to me, and probably for the best because there's no reason to think that we should start taking things like that in stride, or shrugging them off as if they are nothing -- it wasn't nothing, it was a violation and he tricked you to do it. It's okay to get knocked sideways by that.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:48 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Did you report it to the police?
Guys like that always end up getting caught. And when they do, the more people the police can get as witnesses, the more likely he will face a real punishment.

I agree with many of the suggestions above for helping to get over the trauma - but one thing no one has mentioned, do what you can to nail this jerk. Do it for yourself, and for his future victims.

Report it. Remember his face. And maybe at some point in the future you will have the satisfaction of picking him out of a line up.
posted by Flood at 4:16 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

You didn't do anything stupid!

I'm sorry this happened to you, and there's absolutely nothing unreasonable about your reaction. If it interferes with your life in a prolonged way, please seek help. Therapy with a specific, short-term goal such as "help get these thoughts linked to a specific incident to subside" is some of the best there is.

If it helps: the cops will be extremely interested in this report and will be actively looking for a van that matches the description. They'll be looking for reasons to stop vans like it just to talk to the driver and see if they can find anything weird. Heck, they might have dealt with the guy before and might check to see if he was recently released from prison or anything. I mean of course it might be that nothing comes of it, but it might also be that something does.

Again, I'm sorry this happened to you! Best wishes.
posted by kavasa at 4:35 AM on May 21, 2014

Some years ago, I had an iPod stolen by a kid who had come up to me, seemed OK, we had a conversation, then he snatched it and ran when my guard was down. I made some remark about feeling like an idiot to the cop who came. He said "Stop right there. This kid had a plan to rob you, and he carried it out. You made a judgement call, like we all do many times a day, and you were wrong. It happens to me, it happens to everyone. You did not do anything wrong".

Your situation reminds me of that. You chose to do a minor kindness to a stranger, in good faith: his idea was to exploit that. You chose to exercise your perfect right to enjoy a walk down the public street: he chose to ruin that. You are angry because you should be.
posted by thelonius at 4:36 AM on May 21, 2014 [15 favorites]

First, let me agree with everyone above who has said that this was not a "minor" incident. Just because something happens in a small space of time and without bodily harm does not make it minor. This is a real thing, a big thing, and I'm sorry it happened to you.

I've had similar experiences twice. The first time, in high school, it was almost exactly the same situation: Man drives up in a truck, asks for directions, my best friend and I walk up to offer our help and see that the guy is sitting there buck naked. My first thought I had after the initial wave of disgust: "He clearly wasn't even wearing a shirt. Why didn't I notice that? I'm so stupid. I should have noticed that. I should have known." Guess what? It wasn't my fault.

The second time was a more-intense experience, occurring a year or so after I'd graduated from college. (In other words: I was an adult, and I'd experienced something similar before.) Last train home after a night with friends. I had sort of a weird encounter on the train platform with two men talking to me, tried to brush it of, got on the train. Both men board the train after me, and there's just one other guy on the car, way down at the other end. After one stop or so, I glance up from my book and realize that the guy has his dick out and is sort of flopping it around. I still have two more stops to go, through not the best neighborhoods, and I really don't want to walk those unfamiliar streets at night. I don't trust that the third guy on the train is going to stick his neck out for me, either. So, I stay exactly where I am, pretend I've seen nothing, keep scanning the page in front of me even though I can no longer focus my eyes on the words. I walk home especially fast after getting off the train, making sure I'm not followed. I cried a lot that night, and I never reported the incident. I felt like I'd failed myself in acting the way I did. I was so mad at myself for lacking agency. But you know what? It wasn't my fault. I didn't choose to be treated like that; someone else made that choice for me. My reaction wasn't the problem. Their actions were.

It is perfectly okay, and normal, to feel what you're feeling. You were violated—not physically, but emotionally. This is a trauma. It will get easier. I didn't seek any help when these things happened to me, but I probably should have. (I'm tearing up just writing this, and my hands are shaking a bit. Maybe I still should.) You should consider it, at least; it might help you.

And again: I'm so sorry this happened to you. I'm glad that you're safe from physical, if not emotional, harm. I hope you start to feel better, and get some sleep, soon.
posted by cellar door at 4:49 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Okay, I'm confused - you favorited flood's comment, which mentioned reporting the guy, but in your question it sounded like you DID do that.

So if I mistook you and you hadn't done that, let me second it and say "yes, report him." Because even if they never do catch him, it will be a proactive thing you've done to fight back, and that will go a long way to you taking some of your own power back.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:24 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

My remedy for an intrusive thought that involves a clear visual memory is to neutralize it with another visual memory. As an example, I would experience panic at the memory of a particular expression on a particular person's face, could see it perfectly clearly in my head and this kicked off a host of associations.

For me, the absurd is effective in turning a reaction of fear into the more manageable reaction of contempt.

So I've selected an image that I can also clearly visualize, but which is completely innocuous, and also ridiculous. The first thing that occurred to me when I tried to think of something that would work was a banana. Peel on, slightly spotted, kind of left-on-the-counter-and-forgotten-for-five-days, untempting and harmless. Also, it's not an object I like having around (mildly allergic) so I don't mind the possible reverse association*. I can picture this banana in every perfect detail, and call up the image whenever I want.

I call up the image I'd most like to obliterate, briefly, without poring over the details of it or letting the whole scene play out. Then I cast summon banana visualize my replacement image, and make myself go over it in loving detail. I practice this whenever I can tolerate it. I'm both learning how to stop the triggering image from triggering, and how to neutralize it. Then, when something external makes the image come to mind again, I reach immediately for my image, and trace its details over as many times as I need until the urge to obsessively call up the other stuff passes.

The result, after some months of doing this, is that the image that defined the memory that used to frighten me most is faint, and controllable. Things that used to remind me of this person no longer belong to those memories. If I need to use the exercise, I do, but that's rare anymore. It helped me get through the time I needed in order to make things fade.

*Though this hasn't really happened, other than occasionally thinking "Fuck off, asshole" at supermarket produce displays.
posted by notquitemaryann at 5:28 AM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Sorry for the confusion, Empress Callipygos!
We *did* report the dude, with as much info as we had (which was not much)...I marked flood's comment as an acknowledgement that i appreciate the reassurance that the Police might actually be able to do something. Apologies for the mixed messages!

Thanks, everyone for your thoughtful responses. The neuro/evolutionary response info is really helping me not feel completely insane about my reaction, and all of your personal stories and strategies for dealing with te fallout are incredibly useful. It's incredibly fucked up that so many people have had experiences just like this, but it's reassuring to know that my emotions are not entirely out of line here. I shall try to give myself a little more time to process, and attempt to let go of te unproductive self-judgement.

Thanks, all. Truly.
posted by Dorinda at 5:51 AM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

you didn't do anything wrong, so, no need to beat yourself up over this. weenie wagglers are out there, you see an article in the paper about once a week, yes, they do inevitably get caught. console yourself with the fact that this is as close to a woman as a pathetic freak like that will ever get. some women are prepared to take amusement from such encounters by mocking the guy's endowment. "IS THAT ALL YOU'VE GOT? DID YOUR PARENTS SUE THE MOHEL FOR CUTTING YOUR DICK OFF?"
posted by bruce at 6:35 AM on May 21, 2014

It's incredibly fucked up that so many people have had experiences just like this

Have you browsed through Everyday Harassment? There are so many stories like yours, and so many other kinds of stories -- it might help you feel better (or else help you feel more anger with less self-blame, which is also helpful.)
posted by DarlingBri at 6:45 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

This may sound childish or corny at first, but try giving those repetitive, intrusive memories of the incident a different ending: the next time you think of it, let it play through but at the end, imagine what would have made you feel powerful (yelling at him, which immediately summoned a cop car that happened to be in the area, etc.).
posted by blue suede stockings at 6:54 AM on May 21, 2014

I had issues with a prowler for a while at my home. I called the police and the call handler said to me "remember you're safe inside". Thankfully I am.. house very secure.. she was right.. but saying this to myself repeatedly at night helped take the edge off and settle me down. I worked with men who do what he did.. they are truly a sad, pathetic and deficient bunch... naughty little boys in the bodies of men.
posted by tanktop at 6:57 AM on May 21, 2014

Just wanted to extend another reassurance that you shouldn't be angry with yourself for what you did. It wasn't stupid to approach someone's car who was looking for directions--I probably would have, and I think most people would. Not only that, you weren't alone--maybe you would have had your guard up a bit more if you hadn't been walking with your boyfriend, but you were, and that made you more likely to relax and think nothing of helping someone who asked for it. Please don't blame yourself. You got shafted for doing something simple and decent, and that's all it was.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:08 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I had something like this happen to me several years ago. You can see my response here.

My emotional response was different from yours, and I highly recommend pursuing this with the police and your neighbors as much as you can.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:12 AM on May 21, 2014

I ended up going to the police and checking to see if they had followed up, and they hadn't. I pushed and pushed, got misinformation from different areas of the police, persuaded a cop to look up the driver's license. For some reason he gave me the guy's DOB and address. Anyway, nothing ended up coming of it, but I did feel better.
posted by Stewriffic at 7:15 AM on May 21, 2014

The slo mo replay in your head is your brain trying to process what happened, much like grief or other strong emotions trying to ignore will not work. Instead letting them play out is the brains way of slowly becoming "immune" to them. One method that worked for me was to let the memories play out, but this time work out what you would have done differently. He does x, I should have done y next time I will do y, not in a beating yourself up way because you did nothing wrong, but as a way to take control of the memories and to psychologically prepare myself for next time, not that there has been one, it was more it gave me a feeling of control about a situation where I was out of control..

Also trying to find practical things you can do to make yourself feel more prepared next time. Say I am going to carry pepper spray/take a first aid course/talk to neighbours and organize a neighbourhood watch. what ever it takes. Empowering yourself about a situation where your power was taking from you is important.
posted by wwax at 8:17 AM on May 21, 2014

Can you go back to the area where this happened and check for any video surveillance cameras? You may be able to get this guy's license plate numbers.
posted by rada at 8:52 AM on May 21, 2014

I had a similar experience where a normal looking guy I was passing on the sidewalk suddenly got his dick out and asked me if it was nice. While I hurried myself away, he quite slowly followed me while masterbating. It wasn't physically threatening, if that makes sense - he quite obviously had no plans to catch up with me.

In the week that followed, I had a surprising amount of anger and I was really shocked by how much I was obsessing over it. I felt like it was taking way too long to work through my psyche, but it slowly lost it's power after a few weeks and some talks with a friend. Now I barely give the incident a thought - almost ever. I hope it works out that way for you too.
posted by jenmakes at 9:27 AM on May 21, 2014

I'm sorry this happened to you.

In your place, I think I'd be spurred to act, by telling all my neighbors and even posting signs about the incident on lamp posts. Then, you've alerted others and if the guy returns, he may split the scene rather than try again. My neighborhood has a strong block club and you'd better believe they'd know all about it at once, so everyone would be looking to catch this guy.
posted by Riverine at 9:29 AM on May 21, 2014

I have only skimmed, but I do not think this is here:

One of the things intimidating about this situation is that you were on foot and they were in a car.

I mostly walk everywhere and have for years. People in cars are often assholish to me, like they feel like they can act with impunity. It is kind of stupid because if I were some nutcase with a gun, I could pull it out and shoot them for yelling at me. But in most cases, yeah, they are kind of right: I probably can't do much to them. They can say something ugly and drive off with little fear that I can do anything in response. Meanwhile, I have to worry just how crazy they are and whether or not they might want to run me over.

Also, they can generally ID me better than I can ID them. and I think that plays a role in your feelings here. If you were on foot, you were possibly near home and if he was cruising around in his van for a bit before singling you out, does he maybe know where you live or something? That's kind of what I would wonder. It is a legitimate concern that you do not know if this was completely random or if this is the start of this guy stalking you and coming back for more. I would be trying to figure out if I thought it was a one off thing or something scarier.

So, in short, when you are on foot and someone in a vehicle does something hugely disrespectful, it is scary. If they are that disrespectful, they could potentially run you over and they have other advantages in that situation over you. So pedestrian vs nutcase in a car = scary shit for very legitimate reasons, even when nothing sexual is involved.
posted by Michele in California at 11:32 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

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