The Curse of Being Invisible

Or How to be Seen and Heard Without Having to Scream and Shout About It

being invisible to others - not heard

Daniel was a quiet man, a clever man, a caring man – but he felt he was invisible.

Daniel was an academic and it often took him days to prepare his beautifully composed and interesting lectures. But when it came to delivering them, his students went to sleep on him or their eyes glazed over, missing the fascinating content in his lectures.

The same happened in social interactions, he saw people’s eyes glaze over, and their concentration drift away. He would often leave these situations with a feeling of emptiness and deep frustration.

being invisible, not heard - they go to sleep when you're talking
Do people go to sleep on you?

Seen But Not Heard

Do you feel like Daniel that you’re being seen but not really heard? That at some level you’re invisible. People go to sleep on you, or they don’t notice you in the way they should. They may like you. You may be the first person they come to when they’re in dire straits, or in need of help, or need something done. But their eyes glaze over when there’s something important YOU need to express….

It is painful to experience not being either seen or heard. You might hear yourself saying – why don’t they see me, I’m here, I’m expressing myself. What I’m saying is valuable, is important.  I have a right to be heard. I listen to THEM – endlessly. Why can’t they listen to me!

People who feel they are invisible also often feel they need to scream and shout in order to be heard. Unfortunate,ly, this can have the opposite effect. Instead of being listened to you find yourself being chastised for being angry. You start getting the wrong kind of attention – the kind of attention you were trying to avoid in the first place. You are criticised for screaming and shouting and making a fuss. Which only deepens your experience of not feeling heard.

Now you have two reasons for not feeling heard! 

In fact you are totally justified in feeling angry – and it’s no wonder you needed to scream and shout. Not being heard over long periods of time can have a very damaging effect.

The Invisible Man

Imagine what it would be like if you were “The Invisible Man” but you had no idea that you were invisible. It was a total mystery to you as to why, nothing you said or did, had any impact. People seem to see you and hear you, but they carry on oblivious of your presence.

Being Invisible - the Invisible Man - not seen, heard or valued
The Invisible Man who has no idea that he is invisible.

And after a while of not being heard, of not being seen, you come to the conclusion that there is something deeply wrong with either the world or you. You decide you might as well be invisible. In fact, it’s better like that.  Better for you and better for everyone else. And so you find a nice place where no-one can see you. You may even find you quite like being there. You may be lonely, but at least you’re not being ignored.

How angry do you think the Invisible Man is, after going through all this?  On a scale of 1-10?

Most people who experience being invisible are totally unaware how deeply angry they are.

How Did You Get To Be Invisible

There are all sorts of reasons of how you came to be invisible.

  • You went through some kind of trauma that made you retreat into your shell.
  • You were told as a child you should be seen and not heard.
  • It’s a cultural thing, i.e. people in your culture are programmed to be quiet and retiring.
  • You are an introvert, and that’s just the way you are.

Most people who experience not being heard, retreat into their shell because at least there they are safe. At least there no one can get to them. They may have fashioned a very beautiful shell to live in, but that’s all that other people can see – the beautiful shell. They can’t see what’s inside.

Why People Don’t Listen

There are all sorts of reason why people don’t listen. Given a chance, most people will switch off.  And while it is very easy to feel angry with those people that don’t hear or don’t listen to you,  however, if you’re in your shell it’s actually very hard for them to hear you, even if they wanted to.

Caribbean Queen Conch Shell
If you’re in your she,ll it’s hard for people to see or hear you

Daniel

Daniel’ was a classic gifted introvert – very intelligent, with a brilliant mind but, like many talented introverts,  he was in his shell and found it hard to communicate verbally with other people what was inside him.

When I met Daniel, he had already begun to wake up. He had discovered he had a gift for poetry. His poems were beautiful and heartfelt. People loved hearing his poems, but he wasn’t getting through to them in the way he could have. He was in his shell and holding himself back.

Doing All The Right Things

Daniel was doing all the right things. He had a powerful voice and fantastic delivery. He was also doing a lot of different kinds of personal growth work, and he had been opening up in all kinds of ways – but that wasn’t helping him when it came to interacting with other people. He was still in his shell and shut off from the outside world.

In fa,ct, Daniel had got to the stage where he couldn’t move forward. He was ship in full sail that unbeknownst to him had run aground, and he was wondering why he wasn’t making progress.

Toy Ship - Painting
Wondering why you aren’t making progress? Has your “ship” run aground?

Being in his shell meant he was beginning to go backwards and losing the confidence that he had worked so hard to get.

I suggested that Daniel joined the Breakthrough Group, and rapidly things began to change. When Daniel came into the course he was aware that he was withholding himself, but he didn’t know how to stop doing that. He wanted to play more in his life and he knew there was a very playful part of himself but like many people he believed he couldn’t play, couldn’t act.

Playing With Gusto

Daniel discovered that he could do all these things. Week by week he learned new tools of expression and week by week he came out of his shell a little more and started to become more and more visible. His whole horizon began to open up. It was inspiring seeing this serious, dignified man playing with such gusto.

Daniel was, in fact, a very creative man, which had remained undeveloped for most of his life. He surprised everyone in the group by creating the most amazing costumes. You may know or have heard about my costume suitcase – jammed full of fabrics, hats, scarves and masks. Now dressing up in coloured fabrics was not the kind of thing that an academic man usually does. Like many people who come on my workshops, Daniel was just a little tentative at first, but gradually over the weeks, he got braver and bolder.

And he had an incredible gift for costuming himself, that everyone marveled at how self-confidence and splendid he looked. Very often we could hardly believe that was really Daniel.

And he began to feel happier. This is one of the bonuses of coming out of your shell, you will be able to access more of the joy that lives inside you. This comes as a natural result of expressing more of who you truly are – rather than the persona you’ve created to survive in the world.

Now there will be no need to scream and shout.

Daniel was grinning from ear to ear. He was expressing his opinions more, speaking instead of remaining silent.

Being Spellbinding

When I was at university, there was a very remarkable lecturer who had the gift of communicating complicated ideas in a very simple way – that made us want to learn. His lectures were simply dazzling, and everyone flocked to them. In fact, we would cancel our plans for going on a long weekend, since his lectures were on a Friday afternoon. No one wanted to miss a single one.

And then there were all the other lecturers. Lecturers who were more like how Daniel used to be. Brilliant, intelligent people who were not very good at communicating their ideas to us. So, as much as we wanted to understand what they were saying, they lost us fairly early on. We scribbled down every word that they said, in the hope that when we read back the notes, we would understand.

The difference between the spell-binding lecturer and all the rest was that there was nothing standing in the way of the communication between him and us. He was therefore able to get over complex ideas to us very easily. He was utterly present in his communication.  So this, in turn, enabled us to be present and awake to what he had to say.

It delights me now watching Daniel read his poems.  He is more like the spellbinding lecturer and less like the “old Daniel”. He is more alive,  more expressive, more animated and no longer in his shell.

He is no longer the deeply serious man who didn’t know how to play. He has become younger, there is more colour in his cheeks, and it is much easier to relate to him. He is more present, less in his head. He smiles more and laughs more. And he is putting himself forward more and more.

He is a ship in full sail, and it looks like nothing will stop him.

Saling boat - PaintingI hope you have enjoyed this article. I am also always delighted to hear from you for any reason so do write to me if you have any questions,  comments or just want to share anything. I’ll answer as soon as I can.

© Claire Schrader 2011

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