Being seen or being visible is something that a lot of us struggle with, myself included. As some of you may be aware, at We are Vega, we recently launched our YouTube channel, talking about lots of issues to do with mental health and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. Both my daughter and I had our own issues with being seen and we had many discussions around this. Being seen or visible is also something that comes up a lot in my therapy sessions with different clients.
To begin with I had to really confront my own issues, which often sounded like,’I look rubbish’, ‘my hair is all wrong’, ‘I’m too old’, ‘people might not like this’, ‘I’m boring’. The list went on and on as I thought about it. I also realised that I could have replaced any of these with other concerns that I had twenty years ago, and they weren’t in fact the underlying reasons. I was afraid of being harshly judged, criticised, ridiculed, or shamed. When I looked at the likelihood of this actually happening, I realised the chances were minimal as most people I interact with are kind and respectful. I also considered how much I don’t judge people on these things, I admire people for stepping up and putting themselves out there, so why was I concerned that others would be doing the opposite to me? I admire people who can just be themselves and be comfortable in their own natural way, therefore, I concluded that I was probably typical of most people, and that my fears were unfounded.
Why do other people struggle with being visible or seen?
This process isn’t so simple for a lot of my clients however, who have been traumatised and left with deep wounds around being humiliated. For many of these people and their past experiences, the consequences of being noticed or seen was catastrophic and their best defence was to be as quiet and as invisible as possible. For anyone who was bullied at school, their experience of being seen was terrible, as they were often picked on and laughed at. Going unnoticed was usually the best defence in this case.
When people have had experiences like this, it’s not just simply an exercise of reassurance to change it. Being seen can be triggering and it sets off the fight, flight or freeze responses. The work to heal and repair these traumas has to be safe, gentle, and in no way a replication of the initial trauma. When we understand how these things play out and that they are just a part of our survival response, then we also know that it’s going to take some work to repair and change things. For some people, it can feel threatening or uncomfortable to try and notice themselves. Their head may tell them that it’s because they don’t like themselves, or that they can’t stand the way they look. This tells us that we need to begin repairing this relationship to ourselves.
How can we start learning to be okay with being seen?
We can start this process really simply. For example, using what I do in Sensorimotor work, we can try moving our feet in a pattern, and just observing them and feeling them as they move. We can then try creating a different narrative in our head. So, instead of criticism, we say something a little bit softer and more accepting like, ‘I can see my feet moving, and it’s ok’. I also get clients to try and notice how tight their shoulders are, making sure they are wary of any voice that might pop up to say that they are wrong. If it does pop up, then they can just let it pass, and try to just notice how tight their shoulders are and what might help to relieve some of the tension. Sometimes, they might like a supportive hand resting there, they might like to feel a bit of pressure from the hand, or feel like their shoulder is being held. Our shoulders will soon let you know what is working and what isn’t.
When we can start to observe ourselves and not criticise ourselves so much, it enables us to hear the information that we get from our body about what starts to happen when we are seen. Some people will feel themselves disconnect from their environment, their vision might become blurry, or they may start to shrink or go very still, which is the beginning of a freeze response. The key to finding resources which will help us get out of these responses, are going to be things that we do, but no one can see us doing them.
How our body can help us
When we start to disappear in our own unique way, we will have likely become disconnected from our body, therefore, the most effective thing we can do is to stay connected to our body and help it to function and move. We can get connected back to our body using small, simple resources, thing like tensing the muscles in your arms and releasing them can help. Another could be, keeping your toes moving inside your shoes, or tensing and releasing your stomach muscles. Another thing to try could be to gently rub your arms, to try to get the feeling back in them. If you can find something to lean on, you can try pushing yourself against it to help you feel more solid.
It’s just about finding an access point through your body and through your senses. Once you can change that initial response, your body will spontaneously move and work again. This way, instead of it being something that you have no control over, you can actually manage it and stay present. Being noticed isn’t then so terrifying, because you are managing it. It will automatically make you feel less vulnerable and more able to stand your ground. You don’t have to be locked into the shadows of your past, once we understand what’s happening and why, we can do something really positive about it.
I still feel nervous when a video is going out on We are Vega, but also excited. The more we do and the more we put out, the easier it feels and the more confident I feel about doing different things.
The kinder we can be too ourselves and others around us, the easier this process of being seen and being visible will be for everyone.