“Why do I feel invisible? Why do I feel like no one ever really sees me?” Lucy asked with a hint of desperate loneliness. I remember our first meeting vividly, though it was years ago. I was a relatively new counselor, interning at a college counseling center. She was a bright young graduate student – warm, friendly, caring. It was hard to imagine anyone not being drawn to her. And yet, as we began our work together it became clear that she was deeply lonely. Even though she had friends and a seemingly full life, a part of her buried deep down constantly felt invisible.
Since then, I have run into this experience of feeling invisible frequently in my work with women, and it’s an experience I have struggled with myself. Feeling invisible or unseen has nothing to do with how outgoing you are. People who are the life of the party struggle with feeling invisible, as do those who are more reserved. It also has nothing to do with how “visible” you are online. In fact, I sometimes wonder if those who are the most public with their lives feel the most invisible in private.
The feeling of being invisible is a powerful emotion. It can lead to loneliness, self-doubt, and a feeling of helplessness. On the other hand, when you begin to pay attention to the feeling, it can give you a wealth of valuable information about how to heal. Your sense of feeling invisible—when handled with tender care— can lead you down a path toward the meaningful connections with yourself and other people that God wants for you.
In today’s post, I’ll explore why you might be feeling invisible, then touch on how you can begin to open up those parts of your soul to the beautiful experience of being seen. It’s important to note that the current pandemic has magnified many challenging emotions, including a feeling of invisibility. Please be gentle with yourself and be sure to reach out for extra support. You can read my article 7 Ways to Increase Your Support Network and find further resources here.
Why do I feel invisible?
At its root, a feeling of invisibility correlates with loneliness. However, one can still experience the feeling of invisibility while surrounded by close connections with friends or loved ones. You might be disconnected from a part of yourself, which can lead to the feeling internally. In this case, the feeling of invisibility may be a remnant from your past. On the other hand, you might feel invisible as a direct result of the people in your life right now. It’s important to distinguish the root cause of the feeling, so that you can get on the right path toward healing. Here are some possible causes:
If you were neglected as a child by either of your parents, parts of you were never seen. Imagine a young child going through the motions of her day. She goes to school, does her homework, fixes meals, even attempts to make friends, without a caring adult close by providing nurture and guidance. She does the best she can to make it work, but she carries within her a built-in desire to be nurtured and loved. Not knowing what to do with her unmet needs, she buries that longing deep inside. A wound gets created. This kind of wound follows you into adulthood, even after you forge healthy relationships with other people. A part of you is still stuck in the past, where it continues to feels unseen, no matter how hard loving people around you try to break through. While this experience is painful to recognize, the good news is: you can heal.
Another form of trauma, bullying by your peers, can lead to a feeling of invisibility as an adult. You may have buried parts of yourself that you felt were unacceptable to your peers. For example, maybe you were labeled a show-off or a teacher’s pet. Maybe you were targeted for the way you looked or for being different. As a result of this experience, you may have tried to hide parts of who you are or pretended to be someone else. You might have become a chameleon or shape-shifted into someone you thought would be more accepted. There is no shame in this strategy – in fact, it’s an extremely brilliant survival skill that many children adopt. The problem is that the part of you that got buried is a beautiful aspect of your soul. It needs to be brought out into the light, healed, and restored to its God-given place of honor.
If you are surrounded by people who tend toward narcissism—whether a spouse, friend, or loved one—you will likely feel invisible. The experience of being seen requires 3 key ingredients: empathy, curiosity, and an ability to connect to other people as distinct from oneself. People who are narcissistic have a hard time stepping outside of their own reality to “see” other people. Instead, they manipulate their environments always to be about them. If you are surrounded by a spouse, parent, or friend who is completely self-absorbed, your feeling of invisibility may be a good indicator you need to make a change in your primary relationships.
When it comes to addressing any trauma, it’s important to work with a professional to help heal and free the wounded parts of you. A spouse or friend – no matter how well intended – likely won’t have the skills to get to that wounded area.
How do I heal from feeling invisible?
As painful as it is to feel invisible, the fact that you are aware of it is a huge step toward healing. Begin to pay attention to the feeling and walk through the following steps to care for this part of you.
Start getting curious about the feeling and how long it’s been with you. Getting curious helps you clarify when this feeling developed and whether it is from the past or related to a present experience. For example:
- Has it been with you a long time, or is it fairly recent?
- If it’s been with you a long time, what is an early memory of feeling invisible?
- If it’s more recent, when did it start showing up?
Becoming more aware of the feeling as it occurs helps you to differentiate from it. You’ll begin to recognize patterns and become more aware of the messages you tell yourself. Here are some questions to ask yourself to increase awareness:
- When does the feeling of invisibility surface the most?
- Who are you with?
- Where are you?
- What do you tell yourself when you are feeling that way?
- Do you shame or berate yourself?
Surprisingly, many people report feelings of invisibility when they are with other people. In other words, ironically, we tend not to feel invisible when we are alone. As a result, we tend to blame ourselves for the feeling, as if there is something wrong with who we are in relationship to other people. It’s important to become more aware of what you are telling yourself about the feeling of invisibility. Because, the truth is: it’s not your fault.
Every part of you is valuable. Every part of you is seen by the Great Creator who designed you beautifully and wonderfully.
As you become more aware, you can then take steps to understand what helps you feel seen. You can begin to strengthen your connection with yourself, with God, and with other people. You might start by asking yourself these questions:
- When have you felt seen in the past?
- Who helps you feel seen in the present?
- How does it feel to pay attention to yourself in this way?
- Do you feel a sense of God truly seeing you?
- What does it feel like to invite God’s gaze to rest upon you?
You might be surprised by your honest answers to these questions. That’s OK. This is valuable information to gather as you step into deeper healing.
Imagine the part of you that feels invisible as a young child who is cautiously beckoning to you from where she has been sidelined. Would you come look for me? she whispers. Instead of analyzing her or wishing her away, turn toward her. Begin to notice her. That is exactly what she needs. As you gently acknowledge your feeling of invisibility and get curious about it, you are giving yourself exactly the attention you need.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. —Matthew 5:8