Invisible In The Eyes Of Others / The Curse Of Invisibility
I've been reflecting on this a lot recently. I've been seeing quite a few people who came with complaints about their anxiety but with probing, revealed that it's much more than that. The broader picture is about their relationship with people and how anxiety is part of the equation. It can be summed up like this:
"People don't take me seriously."
"They write me off."
""It's like they don't want to know me."
"It's like I'm invisible or something!"
"I'm always on the back foot with everyone!"
This is often said with frustration edged with hopelessness and laced with powerlessness. It's not that these people have not tried to make themselves more visible.
However, their attempts to make themselves seen, heard or known usually ends badly. They might come across as passive-aggressive or plain aggressive, plaintive and tentative sounding or expressing themselves in such a roundabout manner that they would need a GPS to find their original message.
No marks for guessing how other people would react to these attempts. Suffice to say that it can become so discouraging that these invisible people stop trying to interact with others. However, this doesn't stop their longing to connect and be sincerely known.
Some of them share their fantasies with me - for instance, on how they would imagine going about secretly and silently doing good things for others and then leave quietly. Their absence would leave such an impact that people would FINALLY appreciate them. They would also really resonate with storylines or movies with similar themes. Next to this hope is also a deep anger, accumulated through years of not being heard and overlooked, dying to roar and rend.
It's really quite sad to hear. I've previously talked about losing the sense of self. In a way, this is also losing the sense of self. You sense of self is lost to other people, and you are not known. Eventually, not being known would affect how you feel in yourself because you don't get any feedback from others. It's like being stranded on a desert island and suddenly you have this revolutionary idea but no one so share it with. Soon, you might begin to doubt whether the idea was ever any good, and whether you've even had that idea or just dreamt it.
SO WHAT HAPPENED?
It's really a broad feeling with different complex qualities that stops our voice. Somewhere along the line, these invisible people had learnt fear due to various experiences. The fear or anxiety is about being put down, being punished, being attacked (including being judged, evaluated, criticised, scolded, belittled, bullied, shamed, gaslighted and so on).
More painfully, they might fear being abandoned or rejected if they raised their voices. Excruciatingly, they might have learnt to fear being hurt or endangered because they showed themselves.
And sometimes, they might have be made to fear their own emotions. If they are repeatedly hammered with the message and subtext (by tone of voice, looks of contempt, a put-upon sigh, an eye-roll) that their emotions are dangerous or disgusting or unworthy or troublesome or might hurt others, then they seed has been planted.
As a result, the anxiety starts to whisper: Be over-cautious! Hide! Don't show yourself!
Sometimes, it grabs a hold of your throat and squeezes it shut. Sometimes, it pulls your body inwards and directs your gaze to the ground. Some people even manage to retract their physical presence so-much-so that others can hardly feel them being around!
Because anxiety happened.
WAIT, THERE'S MORE
Low self-worth or low self-esteem stops our voices as well. I've always felt that low self-worth is about not having a complete sense of yourself (see my previous posts and Sam's post about cutting off emotions).
What's leftover of our sense of self would definitely FEEL less than others. It's not like we deliberately set out to compare ourselves down vis-a-vis others whom we assume to be more complete within themselves. The engine's already been running for a while now.
The low self-worth might whisper: You're not worth much! People won't want to hear you! You've got nothing worthy to contribute! Don't make a bigger fool of yourself than you already are!
I remember one time in primary school when my English teacher was getting us to solve a word problem. I knew I had the answer, but the whispers held my hand back. Instead, I told my classmate next to me to say my answer. I gave my answer to him. He got wonderful praise for my answer because it was really rather clever as answers went.
So, all we need is a generous helping of low self-worth combined with lots of deep anxiety/ anxieties to render us invisible. We need no cloaks of invisibility or concealment incantations.
The way to becoming seen, to my mind, involves a few things:
1) Regain yourself and feel more solid inside. We do this by exploring and resolving the anxiety and low self-esteem, and developing self-compassion for these emotional parts of ourselves. The more we reclaim the disparate parts of ourselves, the stronger we would start to become.
There's a neat form of Focusing called Inner Relations Focusing that really helps transform anxiety and low self-worth. More on this below...
2) Taking gradually bigger risks with people in speaking up and showing yourself. This might involve for instance, showing the more dangerous emotions or entering into some kind of conflict, and to take it in that just because you expressed the so-called dangerous emotions or fight with someone, that they would not be destroyed by you or would not abandon you.
3) Gathering an appreciative audience - people who are kind and who get you, to take risks with first.
So there you have it, the deceptively simple recipe to undo the invisibility spell.
AN INNER RELATIONS FOCUSING PRACTICE
*First, imagine and treat whatever physical sense/ feeling of an emotion as a separate entity/ person. I sometimes tell my clients to think of whatever feeling that comes up as a "Mini-Me".
A) Set-up: Focusing on your whole pattern of invisibility, what does it put you in mind of? When? With whom? What stories can you recall about your experiences?
B) Body-sense: What comes into your body when you imagine speaking up with no reservations?
Take a moment to notice how it feels like. This might be the anxiety or low self-worth becoming physically present. These are two "Mini-Me's".
C) Inner Relating: Now, how would you treat a small creature that is scared or wounded? Usually with tenderness, kindness and patience, no? Would you also make space for it to come close to you (like you would a wild cat)? Would you perhaps feel compassion towards it (you empathize with it and have the longing to make it feel better)?
In your awareness, imagine doing the same with your two (or more) "Mini-Me's". You might also convey in your own way the notion that you're not seeking to change or force these "Mini-Me's" to become different. You're just trying to get to know them, from their points-of-view.
Notice what happens to the physical sense of these "Mini-Me's"?
D) Their Story: From this Inner Relating, what do you sense is the crux of your "Mini-Me's" concerns? Allow your mind to flow freely and curiously, while also taking time to be nurturing and compassionate to these "Mini-Me's". Take in what they might reveal to you. It could be thoughts, memories, fantasies, mental pictures, anything.
E) Needs: Now ask these "Mini-Me's" what they needed to feel a little bit more ok, given the information that has come from them? Again, wait and nurture these emotional parts. You might also ask them: What's missing that keeps you coming back in this way? What small steps can I take to move towards being ok?
Note the answers that come up, and also notice as they come up how the physical sense of the "Mini-Me's" have shifted.
Now, it is through this process of repeated Inner Relations Focusing that allows our anxiety and low self-worth to release and transform. It would also really help if you took actions based on what comes up in E), and apply it with an appreciative audience in a risk-taking manner. This actualises the deep emotional needs contained within your invisible-making anxiety and low self-worth.