Difficulty being seen is by far one of the most common issues I come across in my work with women.
Often it comes up when the very nature of what the person is trying to do and be in their lives and or work, requires that they be seen.
It is my philosophy that the reason these opportunities, albeit painful, show up, is because we are meant to heal the earlier wounds that kept us hidden.
As a child being seen for me was not safe. In fact it was very dangerous and so I learned to hide, to check out when I needed to, to space out, to stay very still as if I wasn't even there.
I tried hard to lay low so as not to make my mother angry.
With the men I became robotic, checked out, barely breathing.
In school I struggled with the desire in me to be seen. I wanted people to notice me. I wanted people to like me.
I remember being asked to do a dance routine with two other girls, for the school show. I was so happy they picked me. But when it came time to practice and finally get up there, I realized I had little rhythm and I couldn't move to the beat. In fact I couldn't hear the beat. A product of not growing up with music in my home.
During the performance I was completely off. I tried to keep up but I was not in sync. It was still a bit exhilarating and if it wasn't for the comments afterwards, I may have been fine. After the show a few people came up to congratulate the other girls and made comments about the one who couldn't keep up.
I was devastated.
Back to my hiding place I went and I never danced publicly again till I was an adult.
I decided on that day, I just wasn't good at it, that I had some deficit and I would never put myself out there to be humiliated again.
Life taught me to hide over and over again for years and so when life gave me the opportunity to be a teacher in a middle school, I knew I couldn't hide any longer. At the time I didn't really think about it. I had to stand up in front of the room and talk to my 5th and 6th graders. There was no hiding from 30 spunky 10 and 11 year olds, looking at you and waiting for you to lead them. I learned to let them see me and it was a vital part of our student teacher relationship. They didn't judge me, in fact they looked up to me, they wanted to be near me, they wanted to learn. They were kind and showed me that all I really needed to do was be myself.
A few years later I became a lead teacher in writing and had other teachers from around the district come and watch me teach my writing workshop. I quickly learned that I liked the spotlight. I liked being seen, in fact I secretly craved it.
At the time I wasn't thinking about "being seen" but as I reflect back, I know those years of teaching helped me to break through my fears and led me to be very open about my story and my life online, years later. Teaching helped me to come out of my shell.
In 2006, the secrets of my childhood had affected so much of my life. Keeping them locked up caused major denial in my relationships, inability to be there for my daughter and stepdaughter and just a life I didn't want to lead.
In the last two years of my marriage I wrote my memoir as a way of healing and showing myself, the full truth of me. I created a website for survivors in which I publicly told my story. It was huge to be seen in this way, because I just wasn't showing my good side, but the dark and ugly past that I was ashamed of and still so wounded by.
But I did it and pretty soon, I started blogging and sharing my journey.
I eventually left my marriage, became a coach and started my business. Everything about what I decided to do; be a coach, run women's groups, blogging about my life, all required that I "be seen".
Little by little I became better at not retreating too much after a blog post, or totally crashing after a women's group session..but I will say there were many times that I did crash, I did fall back on familiar patterns of going back into my corner.
In the early years each "coming out" was followed by feelings of being exposed and unsafe and needing to hide again for a little while. I didn't know how to manage my energy and I wasn't fully aware of what was going on for me. Eventually it became clear that there needed to be some recovery time after periods of being seen, and there was no shame in that. It was in fact part of my rhythm and how I operated in the world as not only a person who experienced trauma but as introvert as well.
What I've Learned
Being seen and allowing your self to be seen and to even shine is not something you do without fear. Fear will be there, a nervous excitement will be there, a feeling of wanting to retreat afterwards might be there, but if what you want to do requires that you show your SELF, your life and work will be richer because you keep showing up, even if it is hard.
You might second guess yourself: am I shining too much, are people going to perceive me as bragging, will people go away and reject me because I am shining my light and sharing my truth? These are very common fears many of us have when we begin to show ourselves.
We have to make our way around this and one of the ways I have found is to resign yourself to the possibility of being rejected and not liked. It's going to happen. It's the nature of humanity. Some people may dig what you do and how you do it and some people won't. The people who don't are not your people and that's okay. And the truth is, you will be okay, you will be able to handle it. You are capable of standing in your power even in the face of rejection.
For me it has been life changing to find safe spaces where I could be seen. The healing of either the invisibility wound or the not safe wound is often healed through connection. Through being seen and feeling safe. Through the power of being loved even in the broken places.
Another very important aspect is to be aware of the impact you have when you let yourself shine. It is often permission for others to do so as well, to let their own light shine, to share their own gifts with the world.
I am very clear on this and often this pulls me through moments in which I find myself afraid of being rejected. This idea of helping others is a great motivator for me and everything I do in my work. It keeps me going even when I think something isn't working. I am determined to find a way to make it work because when I do, I might be helping to pull someone out of a dark place and that is worth any feelings I might have around being seen.
As a survivor of childhood abuse, I should be shut down, afraid and hiding in that corner because let's face it, life taught me to stay small or else.
But I won't.
I refuse to hide, to be diminished, or to diminish myself.
I work at this daily and sometimes, the part of me that is afraid wins, but for the most part, it is the personal work that I do and the work that I do with other women, that keeps me from hiding in that darn corner. I feel very grateful for that, because it takes me outside of the threat to my "self" and into a realm where it really has little to do with me.
I tell myself...Maybe it's not about you, maybe it's bigger than you..maybe you are a vehicle, an expression of something more and no one else can express it just like you and when you hide it, you deny us all of that pure expression that only you can give.
I really believe that for me, for you, for all of us...