17 (More) Realistic Ways to Break Anyone Down

feature image via shutterstock

Last year I wrote an advice piece on realistic ways to break anyone down. I asked readers to come on a new journey with me, one that veered from the traditional path of demoralization and lead us onto ground that wove between embarrassment, vulnerability, and endearment. It was an exercise in nuance. Because it’s not life’s extremes that allow us to properly humanize people, it’s life’s equalizers. Nature. Travel. Air mattresses.

With Angela Bassett in mind as the powerful, beautiful, and intimidating presence I was meant to break down, I crafted 17 stunning examples from which readers could build upon and use at their discretion. Obviously, many people’s lives were changed forever. I want to continue to change lives.

So, with that in mind, and on this one year anniversary, rather than imagining someone naked as a means of taking things to zero, instead, imagine them:

1. Doing that duck and dodge from the path of wasp.

2. Casually easing into a jacuzzi but then underestimating how low the seat is and then sort of buoying up knees first.

3. At the exact moment they realize they’ve gone too far in a split.

4. Overhand throwing something with their non-dominant hand.

5. Doing that tip toe dance-walk down an aisle when a bus lunges forward.

6. Going to check the mail but then seeing the postal worker pull up, and so then just stopping next to and half-face looking out the window until they’re gone.

7. Slowly spinning their rolling desk chair to its lowest possible seat level in a private moment.

8. Sticking their head out the window of a moving car to let the wind hit their face but taking on too much wind and having to quickly bail.

9. Doing a pencil dive.

10. Holding their breath for the entire length of a bridge but not telling anybody.

11. Concentrating on opening their miniature peanuts packet and biscotti on an airplane for snack time.

12. Sitting down for a peaceful moment in the sun with their eyes closed and as soon as they go to take in a big breath having a car blow past them while honking the horn.

13. Shaking out their comforter while making their bed and in doing so launching their phone at the wall.

14. Making a wish at 11:11 while whispering, “Eleven-eleven.”

15. Being made to say the phrase, “Hey guys, I’m here at fashion week” into a camera.

16. Singing along to “Life is a Highway” in its entirety without realizing it.

17. Having a child’s giant backpack hit them the moment they feel moved by a painting.

Like last time, as we proceed in the comments, remember the severity or levity of your hypotheticals might feed the power a person has over you. Tread carefully, and let’s have fun. Until next year, friends.

Before you go! Autostraddle runs on the reader support of our AF+ Members. If this article meant something to you today — if it informed you or made you smile or feel seen, will you consider joining AF and supporting the people who make this queer media site possible?

Join AF+!


Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 208 articles for us.


  1. That last one made me laugh so hard. I’m going to use it when I testify at the legislature for Nebraska’s employment nondiscrimination bill later this month :)

  2. This is my favorite thing in the internet. I’m making a second poster. Number 13 is Life.

    …see someone holding the door open for them but they’re still too far and have to walk/jog to the door

    …putting a coat on and losing their shirt sleeve inside the coat sleeve

  • this is so amazing. but also tbh it makes me terrified of you bc how am i supposed to ever feel on equal footing with you???????

  • “It was an exercise in nuance.” They were stunning examples, and lives were changed. Could you just do a series of humble and modest reflections on how moving and powerful your previous posts were? Last year…Last week…whatever

  • Panicking that they can’t find their phone while talking on the phone.

    Being in a hurry while having a piece of tape stuck to their finger and becoming increasingly irate as they try to remove the piece of tape.

    Reclining in a chair that suddenly makes a fart-like noise and then shifting around for several moments trying to recreate the noise so everyone knows it was just the chair and they didn’t actually fart.

  • Their GPS keeps recalculating on a lag and they take the wrong highway entrance and end up in a traffic jam going in the opposite direction of their destination *devilish emoji*

  • Great sequel list. These are such a true service to humanity. But I miss the verbal gaffes along the lines of “my apologize”, in this version. Someone help me think of some!

    • Most of the ones that come to mind for me (as life examples) are phone-related.

      For instance, when I was a kid and someone would call just as you were about to say prayer, so upon answering the phone you mistakenly say, “Heavenly Father” instead of hello.

      Or when a salesperson tells you to enjoy whatever they just sold to you, and you automatically respond “you too”. (I think AT&T recently had a commercial like that, though, so the bloom may be gone).

      Or when you mostly speak to your family on the phone, so on that rare business phone call you accidentally tell someone you love them as you hang up.

      • Was on a date the other night and she tells me to “have a nice walk home” and I said “you too!” (she had driven her car).

    • i, too, miss my apologize, and i fear it will never be topped. have 100% said love you to a bank teller before

      • This weekend my friend and I were sharing a taxi home. When my friend got out she said “bye I love you!” to me. And the driver said “okay bye I love you too”.

  • Ded.
    Seeing the concentration face that’s made right before pulling a really difficult brick out of Jenga.

  • You know what really ruins the illusion that you are a teacher who has her shit together? When you want to throw away the thing in your left hand, but you throw away the thing in your right hand instead. Twice. In one week.

    • Oh hi, I’m a teacher who locks herself out of her office at least once a month and often comes home to find the milk or whatever neatly tucked away in the glasses cupboard. And then there was the one morning when I was in a rush while trying to feed both myself and the cat, and you can guess which bowl the cat food ended up in.

    • Or when you go to sit in a chair thinking it’s the larger “teacher chair” but it’s actually the toddler chair that’s about 12 inches off the ground.

  • Leaving a coworker’s office and walking halfway into the door frame.

    Putting their hair in a ponytail but just as they’re finishing the hair tie snaps and they have to find a new one and start over.

    Eating sushi in public and covering their mouth with their hand to try to conceal how overfull their mouth is.

  • Comments are closed.