This comment was posted on the Ask Dr. Webb Page of my website. It describes an experience that many can relate to: the feeling of being overlooked.
I have a question about invisibility. I was at a study group and afterwards everyone was chatting with each other except me. I had this overwhelming feeling of being invisible. It brought me almost to tears. Then, just this past Saturday I was standing with my husband and other men when a lady I knew came up, stood right next to me and asked where all the wives were. I said “I’m right here” and she replied “I didn’t see you.” I’m not sure of what to make of this.
Are some people overlooked more than others? Yes.
Is it because they’re less interesting? Less important? Less vivid? No.
So why do so many people feel that they are living life in black and white, while everyone else is living in vivid color? In reality, the cause is as surprising as the experience is painful. You are not overlooked because you are less anything. You are overlooked because you are hiding.
“What! Me? Hiding?” is likely what many of these fine folks would say. They are as surprised as anyone at this explanation.
But it’s true. Some are hiding from everyone else, and some are hiding from themselves. Either way, they find themselves often overlooked.
I have discovered that many people who are hiding this way do not realize that they are doing so. After all, it is not a conscious choice to make oneself unseen. Instead, it is a way of being in the world. And that way of being is set up in childhood, by parents who ignore their child’s emotions and emotional needs.
Childhood Emotional Neglect: A parent’s failure to respond enough to the child’s emotional needs.
Children who grow up this way receive a subtle but powerful message from their parents. The message is, “Your feelings don’t matter.” The child then adapts by pushing his feelings down and away, hiding a vital source of connection, meaning, and richness down and away. As an adult, he finds himself feeling disconnected, alone, and unseen. “Why am I invisible?” he often wonders.
How do the Invisible Ones of this world stand up and make themselves be seen?
Yes, there is a way, and here it is: Search for the lost parts of yourself and reclaim them. Those lost parts are your emotions. So keep these questions in the forefront of your mind every minute of every day:
1. What am I feeling?
2. Why am I feeling it?
3. What is this feeling telling me?
Work on recognizing, understanding, and managing your own emotions. Start to put them into words, and share them with the people you care about. Use them as they were meant to be used: as an anchor, as a guide, as a magnetic field that draws people into your life and fills your life with meaning.
As you welcome back this missing piece of yourself it will, like watercolor paint, fill the spaces in your outline. You will no longer live in black and white. You will see yourself, and you will be seen.
In living color, just like everyone else.
To learn more about Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) and how to bring your emotions to life, see the book Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.