Have you ever had the feeling that you just didn’t matter? Maybe a time you expressed your opinion and felt dismissed or un-important? How about volunteering your time for an event and not receiving a thank you for your time? Or how about when you were at that party and saw the guy you liked, and how he looked passed you at your taller, prettier best friend? Oh, that’s the worst!
All of us have had the feeling of being unseen before. It’s like, “I swear I’m here in living form, but no one seems to notice or care.”
I was once a part of a church group in which I was un-seen. Looking back, I’m rather embarrassed I stayed as long as I did, but learning the hard way is my MO. Year after year, I volunteered my time, I hosted events, and started prayer meetings for the group’s members. Damn, I was a good Christian! But I always had this sinking feeling that I was just being tolerated- like a bizarre circus side show act that garnered curiosity and queer glances.
I never truly belonged to the group because I was not truly seen as valuable. True belonging is impossible without being truly seen.
To be seen is to be valued, recognized as a worthwhile individual; to be identified as uniquely separate with personal rights, needs and interests equal to others; to be noticed, counted, and taken interest in. Significance has less to do with performance and behavior, and more to do with inherent human value. It is being seen as human only- not more or less than.
Are you truly seen in your relationships? Do you feel valuable and equal? Do you respect yourself in your relationships by speaking up for your needs, following through with boundaries, and believing yourself to be equal? Let’s explore some examples.
A young couple marry. The husband’s job takes them across country to start their life together. The wife is unable to find work in her field and becomes depressed. The husband sees the professional sacrifice she has made to be with him, and offers to quit his job and move to another area where she can find acceptable work. She, in turn feels that her needs are seen as important. She appreciates his gesture so much that she determines to stick it out where she is, so that he can continue his career path. Because she feels seen, valued and cared for, she has the strength to continue her sacrifice with contentment. She reinvents herself professionally, and they decide together to heavily invest in her new business start up. Her unique needs are seen, prioritized and resourced. She feels seen as a valuable person.
Way back when I was breaking my neck trying to be seen in the group who just didn’t see me, I didn’t know that I was guilty of not seeing myself. How could they see me as valuable when I didn’t see myself that way? How could I matter to them if I was acting as if I didn’t matter to myself?
Another example of being seen is when a mother sees her child as a valuable person, separate from herself, she is able to see and meet her child’s specific needs. If the child is struggling with her parents’ divorce, and acting out at school, the mother sees her child’s pain as separate from her own, and is able to address it by asking for help from the school counselor, meeting with the teacher, or talking it through with the child. The mother communicates to her child, “I see you. You are important to me, I care that you are hurting. I’m here for you.” Instead of drowning in her own pain, the mother sees her child as important enough to temporarily set her own needs aside, and meet the needs of her child. How many times have divorced mothers dried their eyes before the afternoon school bus arrives so they can give their happiest and healthiest selves to their children?
Sometimes this happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. You may remember growing up with such mental illness, dysfunction, or chemical abuse in your family, that you and your needs were largely ignored.
Don’t ignore yourself anymore. Don’t treat yourself and your needs un-important anymore. If you start treating yourself as important, one of two things will happen: 1) the people around you will learn how too, or 2)the people around you will drop off and you will begin to attract new, healthier people. Either way, you win.
What ways have you learned to make yourself important? What advice could you give others?