“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
For Further Reading:
Can I pray negative thoughts away?
The Effects of Toxic Parents and 5 Steps to Healing
Sandy Powers says
This is amazing. I love reading everything you write, But tho I THOUGHT maybe this was an area that wasn’t too big an issue in my life, I actually got emotional, wanting to cry as I read the symptoms and possible causes of feeling invisible. Memories began flooding my mind of feeling totally invisible and ashamed!! By my parents, by mean girls that bullied me in one neighborhood I lived in, even by good friends I always felt on the outside looking in.
I’ve made alot of progress in not shaming troubled parts of me, and in nurturing those wounded parts , so that is the most helpful step in dealing with this – after just recognizing that it is a deeply buried problem!
Thank you so much for addressing this!
Alison Cook says
Thank you for sharing this insight, Sandy. I’m so grateful that you are finding relief for these precious parts of your soul. It’s such life-changing work. Sending prayers for the ongoing work of tending your soul.
Thank you for this! It has been most helpful to recognize the part of me who worked hard for straight A’s in college and as I completed grad school. Graduating with highest points available was not even recognized. I felt invisible when men were granted the honors of grad speeches. I felt invisible when my grades came in and my husband didn’t celebrate with me, instead he blamed me for his inability to complete his MA.
Recognizing the hurting part of me, (I worked hard to complete my masters in spite of not completing my undergrad,) has begun giving me insight into my relationship. I realize I “froze” unable to use the experience & biblical leadership training I gained, as I felt it had been counted worthless.
Now to re-learn the art of resume writing and use the degree I worked so hard for.
Sibongile Ncetani says
Hello Grace, so happy for you and you have achieved. It’s not easy to be a wife and mon who studies and we need all the support we can get. And honestly I will say at times it feels like the people who should be giving it to us especially our spouses are not capable.
I hope Alison can speak to this when she has time, how to get support from your spouse whom you have supported.
Cheering you own Sis🕊
Alison Cook says
Great thoughts, Sibongile. Your heart, mind, spirit are beautiful. This is a great idea for a blog post topic – I’ll work on it!
Alison Cook says
Oh Grace, I am so sorry for this experience. I want to honor that talented part of you that worked so hard. It makes sense that the pain of feeling so unrecognized and unvalidated might have sent other parts of you into freeze mode. I pray that each of these parts of you can receive the love, care, and healing they need to help you shine your gifts brightly into this world. Your voice is needed.
I so needed this! I am currently seeking a therapist out for internal family systems due to the neglect and abuse I had as a child. I’m 46 and only started admitting at 40 that something did happen to me and that my family basically acted like I didn’t exist. Now it all makes sense. Thank you!
Alison Cook says
I’m so grateful you have this awareness, Christina. I pray that your journey toward healing will bring much fruit as you shine the light inside your soul—as well as out to the world.
Such a timely message for me. I feel as though God is literally putting me on the fast track to wholeness and this article has brought some clarity for me. I can’t wait to really spend some time doing the exercises you are suggesting. And to confirm I was raised by a mother w BPD traits, I’m currently divorcing a narcissist, I’ve lost two close friends and yet I can feel God sending down the bucket into the pit and saying “get in. I’m taking you outta here!!” Thank you for your continued helpful articles. This one is the my favorite so far. Blessings to you
Alison Cook says
I love that image, Jean. May that God-directed bucket bring every part of you into much freedom and joy as you heal. Grateful this helped.
Lori Coppinger says
Thank you Alison, Great timing. I am halfway through a Level 1 IFS training and and had an intense exile weekend recently definitely feeling invisible and your words with the help of the Lord and a therapist allowed me to be curious. I’ve discovered a voice my parts previously felt too shameful and vulnerable to express in front of colleagues. I was able to send an email to a group yesterday giving that part a voice and and letting the healing begin. Thank you for the beautiful words you share. Blessings.
Alison Cook says
Hi Lori – it’s great to hear from you and so glad you are working your way through L1! So grateful you were able to give voice to this part of you and pray for much continued healing.
Barbara Masters says
This was very enlightening. Now I understand all of the feelings I have. .. I know mine started with childhood bullying. Information sure feel when I am trying to talk to somebody I am not being paid attention at all. I am seeing I have always ler the devil rule my mind and to convince me I was a mistake to God. I now know this isn’t true. Been going to church and doing alot of bible study classes
Kelly Garbe says
Thank-you for this blogpost. It helped me realize that there are moments I feel ‘invisible’ but it’s not a dominant experience. The post helped sort this and encouraged me to stay curious. I was very moved by the timely question, would you come look for me? As a psychotherapist and enneagram 2 I do this for others well but struggle in this myself. I appreciate your offerings Alison!
Renee Devoe says
I had a week long healing crisis at the beginning of November. When I came out the other side of it, I knew what I needed to do. Like it was something I’ve always known. I started journaling, doing affirmations, doing shadow work, listening to podcasts and learning about the moon and how it definitely does impact is in huge ways. I was on an amazing self discover and inner child healing road. I can’t say it’s been easy. But that’s not why I’m writing this comment. Lately I have been feeling very invisible to my husband. I was feeling like I wasn’t good enough, like my feelings didn’t matter, like I wasn’t getting the affection I felt I needed. I was having thoughts about him being unfaithful. Not my normal thoughts. So I did stop to think that this isn’t me. Like whose beliefs are these? Whose feelings are these? Why is this shadow here?. Well I know now after reading your article. I didn’t know why I would even have them because I’ve never really felt invisible before. Then I read about narcissistic people. I had a ten year relationship with one, I’m which we share two girls. I’m still healing from that one, but it doesn’t stem solely from this. Let me be clear tho my husband is NOT narcissistic.. I can’t stress this enough. I do have a spectacular skill at making a very negative environment, which stems from my inner young adult.. the one who got with my ex and stayed not knowing how detrimental it would be. My mother felt this way with my father, who is also very narcissistic, which I didn’t even realize until recently. She felt invisible, and I have a huge mother wound that I’m still working on.
May all you women find the peace you need. You all are beautiful souls and you ALL