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Commentary: When to pretend you're an Olympian

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The actual Olympics aside, Real Simple magazine’s March issue has an intriguing idea for recovering from embarrassing moments in Jennifer King Lindley’s provocative article, “Nothing to see here!”

A sidebar to Lindley’s article by Andra Chantim offers advice from still another writer, comedienne Jane Borden, author of I Totally Meant to Do That. If you accidentally wave at someone you don’t know, for instance, just say, “Whoops! You weren’t waving at me…." Then ask sincerely, “How are your parents?”

Or, she says, if you trip, just thrust your arms overhead as if you were accepting a medal or trophy and pretend you are just landing that way purposely.

Not everyone might be able to carry that off, but having a repertoire of comebacks can help, because then the vulnerability is tempered. Not all adults recover from embarrassment easily, and a tendency to feel that way may even be a family trait.

But actually rehearsing a few moves ahead of time prompts the mind to think and feel differently next time and to use these strategies when needed.

One reason, according to Lindley: Adults may still be attached to coping strategies like avoidance or worry that didn’t work when they were teenagers, either. Lindley suggests substituting these methods:

  • Confront the incident head-on.
  • Stop playing the “tape” of it over and over.
  • Realize that no one is thinking about you very much but you.
  • Model brave behavior.
  • Share your story.

Of course, not everyone is always funny or brave, and it is important to know that danger is definitely different from embarrassment. Letting matters slide like water off a duck’s back may sometimes duck the real issue.

In the event of bullying, for instance, the bully is always the person who must be charged with stopping. Active bystanders may also step up and take a part in removing a bully from the scene or assist the victim.

But even with these “givens,” garden-variety embarrassment is so universal that Lindley mentions book after book about dealing with it. Try these:

I Can’t Believe I Just Did That: How Embarrassment Can Wreak Havoc in Your Life and What You Can Do to Conquer It (David Allyn)

The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit (Therese J. Borchard)

Pride and Joy: A Guide to Understanding Your Child’s Emotions and Solving Family Problems (Kenneth Barish, Ph.D.)

Bloom: Helping Children Blossom (Lynne Kenney, Psy.D.)

Linda Chalmer Zemel lives in Western New York and teaches at SUNY Buffalo State College. She is the author of the new children’s picture book, Cousins, available on and Her novel, Witch Hunt, is a Kindle book on Amazon. In it, a young widow moves from Buffalo to Salem only to find that her newly purchased condo was built on land that once belonged to a wrongly accused witch.

Contact Linda at



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