The Emotional Violence of Unhealthy Expectations

Yevette Christy

July 10, 2021

I had just gotten home from a seven day working vacation in Colorado. Although the trip was amazing, I was excited to get home. With my son staying in Colorado for a few additional weeks it was going to be the first time in sixteen months that I would have my home to myself. But things haven’t been working out the way I planned. After taking Dramamine to get through my flight I made it home around 2pm, exhausted. My plan was to shower, unpack and maybe do some more research so I could finish a fifteen-page paper that was due in two days, of which I only had six pages completed. But that didn’t happen; I was too tired to focus. I chalked up my fatigue to the Dramamine, and the emotional toll of my visit with family and friends in Colorado. I rested. The next morning I woke up feeling unmotivated, like really unmotivated; it almost felt like despair. I had no choice but to research and write because the paper was due the next day, but it was a painful process, and the paper was not what it should’ve been. I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale until midnight.

The next morning I made the necessary edits to my paper and submitted it, but I was still feeling unmotivated. Usually I work through moments like this. I know to sit with myself and do the work of discerning which part of me was in need of care, but somehow I had emotionally settled in a much more complex, but unfamiliar place. Before I knew what was happening I had already put on the boxing gloves and starting beating myself up for not being more productive with my time. I wasn’t sure what was happening, and I don’t like to use the word depression lightly, but for someone like me who is ambitious about the plans I have for my life, I was feeling void of energy, and light. I started to tell myself how incapable I was, and that moving to Texas and beginning this degree and non-profit had been a dumb idea. I was telling myself that no one gave a damn about my ideas, and I didn’t have the strength, or the mind to accomplish them anyway. It was bad. I spent the afternoon curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale until midnight.

The next morning, since there was no urgency to get any more class work done, I decided to meditate before I got out of bed. My home was quiet. I sat in the stillness asking God to explain what I was going through—no answer. I got up, feeling good about having had the desire to meditate, and opened the curtains determined to do some simple things around the house just so I wouldn’t spend the entire day watching The Handmaid’s Tale. I made a few necessary calls, and on one of those calls, with a new acquaintance, I dared to mention my struggle. Her response was, “You know, you should watch what you say out loud. You are speaking curses upon yourself. You are confirming where Satan has you and giving him power to keep you right where he wants you.” I said, “Huh? Ok. Well, yeah. I’m gonna go. I got some stuff I gotta do.” It didn’t bother me personally, I have my own belief system, and it doesn’t include remaining quiet when I am hurting, or feeling lost. I think that many people hold their pain, alone, and it can have devastating effects. Kinda like holding our shit, or trying to swallow vomit when the body is obviously trying to purge.

Later that day I went to the grocery store and bought lots of fruit and veggies. That was a good idea. I came home, cut them all up, refrigerated some and then made a really good stir-fry for dinner. Thinking maybe I was dehydrated or something I drank plenty of water, and I also took my vitamins. I still spent the evening, curled up on the couch, silently berating myself, and watching The Handmaid’s Tale, until after midnight.

The next morning I woke up, meditated, did some reading, and sat quietly looking at the tree in the courtyard. I still had my boxing gloves on. I decided to call a friend, someone to be a gentle witness for me because I was being emotionally violent with myself. After listening, she began offering me the grace I could not offer myself. She suggested I was fatigued from my trip, my first year of a doctoral program, and the lingering grief of my mother’s passing. I hadn’t thought of all those things being able to shut me down, but then I added that I was feeling intimidated by my non-profit work as well. I told her that I was feeling incapable, and she repeated to me what I so often say to others, “Don’t try to eat the whole pie at once, just get one forkful at a time.” She told me to make a list of what I needed to do and address each task at my own pace. I felt better. I spent the evening, curled up on the couch, watching The Handmaid’s Tale, until eleven. It was the last episode.

The next morning I woke up and told myself to smile. I meditated, did my devotions, and sat quietly looking at the tree in the courtyard, but the boxing gloves were gone. I still wasn’t feeling myself, but I knew I needed to keep moving. I decided it was smoothie day! I put on my music, and my apron and started cooking down bunches of baby spinach, cutting up ginger, apples, and every other good thing I put in my smoothies. I make enough for ten days and so the process takes some time, and that time is a gift to myself. I wasn’t thinking of anything particular when I received a thought, “Expectations diminish the benefits of grace and gratitude.” I rinsed my hands, turned off my music and sat down to write. Behind my despair was the weight of my expectations.

I have spent years living under the weight of expectations. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I am wanting to earn trust, forgiveness, and respectability. Thinking that if I achieve some good things, some great things, I can somehow redeem the time I’ve wasted, and mop up the tears I’ve caused. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I want to show my children a better way, and change the legacy of poverty, violence, and addiction that was handed down to me. Some expectations I have placed on myself because I’m alive and so many of my sisters died in their addiction, walking the same streets I walked, but succumbing to the violence I was able to escape. I realize there are healthy expectations, I should be striving to change my life, and to leave a different legacy for my children, my family, but not at the expense of my peace—my joy.

Expectations set against this idea of redemption is not okay, and this is hard for me because of the way I have lived my life. I want to fix what I’ve done, but I can’t, and running myself into the ground trying to redeem the time will only frustrate how I am able to love and value myself. Unhealthy expectations lead to emotional violence. I must remember that my dreams are not about what I can achieve, but the unfolding of who I already am.

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