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Internalized Perceptions and Expectations

Last night my neighbor came to my door at 8:30, just as it was getting dark and time to round up the cats, and asked me to help jump start his truck with my car. I figured it would be a 15-minute misadventure at the most, and I was “just” watching TV.

I stepped outside and got my jumper cables from my trunk. “Jeff” asked me which side my battery is on. I thought I knew, but wanted to look to be sure. I popped the hood latch and went to open the hood from the front, and discovered that I couldn’t lift it. My hood is very heavy, but I can usually lift it myself. Last night, though, my left arm said no. It’s held together with a rod and 8 screws, and when it says no, I have no choice but to listen. Jeff came over and lifted the hood, verifying that the battery was on the driver’s side.

Jeff has a truck and a car, both of which look less than roadworthy. The car doesn’t run at all. The truck wheezes along on life support provided by his neighbors’ car batteries (often mine). The car was parked next to the truck, and Jeff had to move the car out of the way in order for me to get my car close enough for the cables to reach. He asked if I could help him push the car.

Now, not only do I have 3 healed spinal fractures, but I spent $40 at the chiropractor’s that very afternoon. There was no way I was going to help push that car. I explained that I couldn’t; he was on his own there. Lights were on in 3 neighboring homes, all of which housed at least one burly male. I did not feel obligated in any way to try to help push. Jeff did not knock on any of their doors; he pushed the car by himself. I stood and watched, completely comfortable with declining to help. It dawned on me as I stood there that there was a reason he knocked on my door and not the others—I’m the one he counts on for help, because he sees me as an easy mark. I reached anxiously in my pocket for the phone I left in the house, wanting to check the time.

Jeff said there was enough room for me to drive over some tall grass to get near his truck. It’s August and we live in the woods. I said I wasn’t going to drive over that tall, dry grass and potentially start a fire. Jeff shoved his car back another 3 feet so I could pull into a proper parking space. We got the cars hooked up and I started Kimmie (my blue Hyundai). It was the most action she’d seen in a while, as I ride my bike almost everywhere.

Jeff tried to start the truck but it didn’t turn over. He wanted me to idle for a few minutes to “charge” his battery. I don’t think it works that way; I could be wrong, but I sat there miserably making small talk until he was ready to try again. This went on for several attempts, and I watched my gas gauge with a sinking feeling.

While Jeff was trying to start the truck, I realized I was in the middle of a very busy evening, my work day far from over. I had been taking a break, watching a 45-minute TV episode in 15-minute increments, because I was having an intense pain night and didn’t want to take an extra pill, so I was taking breaks when it felt like I was going to have a spasm. Yet when Jeff knocked on my door, I perceived myself through the lens of his impression, that I was sitting watching TV. I think we do that a lot—adjust our view of ourselves in light of how others see us.

I didn’t have time to be sitting outside in his dark driveway, jumping his pickup. I should have said sorry, I’m busy, but I was embarrassed because I was watching TV and appeared not to be busy. Explaining myself would taken as much time as I figured just jumping his truck would take. (Ultimately we were unsuccessful; the truck never started and I said I had to get on with my night.)

Because I don’t appear to work as hard as my other neighbors, I feel obligated to rise to the occasion when someone needs help. I’m a naturally helpful person, but if I think I’m being taken advantage of, I definitely am, because I’m always the last person to see the pattern.

The issue here that’s relevant to this audience is that I tried to adapt to someone else’s expectation—someone who doesn’t understand my issues. I didn’t even do it consciously—it was a completely automatic process that I only recently picked up on.

I think of another example, when I’m volunteering for my local animal shelter, at events with lots of other volunteers. I take breaks, but I go back to work before I’m ready and end up hurting myself because I’m so afraid of looking like I’m not doing my part.

From now on, I’m going to remember what it felt like to watch Jeff push his car, and summon that feeling back again when I need to protect my body. How about you? When have you tried too hard to look like you weren’t slacking, and paid the price for it?

Internalized Perceptions and Expectations

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2019). Internalized Perceptions and Expectations. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 13, 2020, from


Last updated: 4 Sep 2019
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