When we meet ourselves in those places that are really deep and often neglected, we have to also reclaim something. And that process means we have to not be innocent to what we are, who we are, the depths of our feelings, and the parts of us that need love the most.Chani Nicholas
One of the most fundamental human needs and desires is to be seen and heard.
We want to be witnessed in our glory, celebrated for our achievements, lauded for what we have created and contributed.
And also, we want our pain to be acknowledged. We want someone to notice when we are hurting, to offer some comfort to us in our times of distress — even if we don’t want to talk about it.
The First Step to Increased Visibility
Of all the steps we might take on the journey to greater visibility, the first step is the hardest:
If you want to be seen by others, you must first see yourself.
This might be obvious, and it’s simple in theory. But practice is a different story.
We may think we see ourselves — for example when we look in the mirror. But looking at yourself in a mirror is similar to hearing yourself speak out loud.
You may have noticed that when you hear yourself speak on a recording, it sounds different from the way you hear it when you hear yourself speak out loud. Similarly, what you see when you look in a mirror is different from what you’d see if you looked at yourself objectively.
What we see in a mirror is a reflection of what we want to see. We can look in the mirror for the positive aspects we want to highlight, or we may see only the things that we don’t like, the things that we believe need improvement.
Like with anything else, we see what we look for.
And the truth is that we often avoid seeing ourselves, in both our highs and our lows.
How We Turn Away From Seeing Ourselves
Refusal to Celebrate: Distorting the Good
As much as we want to be seen in our accomplishments, we often don’t acknowledge them even to ourselves. It’s not just that we don’t promote ourselves to the world; we don’t promote ourselves internally either.
We might give a glossing nod to a big moment, but we quickly pivot to focus on the way we didn’t measure up.
This is a protective mechanism meant to help us stay on the track of improvement, lest we get too comfortable “resting on our laurels” — as if we’d rest on anything.
But our instinct to hone in on self-critique is actually misguided. Studies show that over time self-criticism leads to increased procrastination and worse performance as well as higher levels of depression and anxiety. It’s also infectious: the way we speak to ourselves is also the way we speak to others, leading us to potentially damage important relationships.
Avoiding the Pain: Bypassing Feelings
On the other end of the spectrum, although we have a very human need to be witnessed and supported in moments of pain, we often bypass our deep emotions by deflecting, abstracting, or intellectualizing instead of allowing ourselves to feel what we’re feeling.
My clients might touch on an emotion, but the moment it starts to get painful they pivot to give an intellectual explanation of why the emotion may arise, or start citing psychology studies they’ve read.
This, too, is a protective mechanism. If we don’t know how to process or hold space for deep emotions it can feel unsafe for us to allow ourselves to feel.
When we bypass our pain, we ignore the parts of ourselves that need attention the most. We deny ourselves the healing power of being witnessed by our most powerful ally: ourselves.
We also cut ourselves off from feeling the joy and happiness we seek. If you can’t feel the depths of sorrow, you’ll never experience the heights of joy.