So many of my clients talk about feeling invisible. The issue isn’t that they aren’t showing up in their lives or that they don’t feel seen. The problem is they feel seen not for themselves but for how they SHOULD be performing. Do you agree? Listen and let me know.
Special Note: Listen carefully around the 3-minute mark our cat Gus makes his voice known…he is practicing being visible!!
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Learn more about the characters of Monger, BFF, Biggest Fan and practicing A.S.K.
in the Happier Approach Book.
Here is what I mean when I say practice A.S.K.
Hey, gang. I am so excited to be back and chatting with you guys today about feeling invisible, and this is a trait I’ve seen frequently in my office and something I’ve felt myself. A lot of my clients will say, “I just feel invisible.” A lot of people will say that in the sense of no one sees me, or I can go through my life and no one is paying any attention whether I exist or not. I think of, there’s a song in the musical Chicago called Mr. Cellophane that talks about how people just see right through him. But that isn’t what I’m talking about because the people that I’m talking about have very active lives. They’re very engaged, people respond to them and show up. They’re very powerful in their positions. They’re very active in their communities, but they still, in the depths of their being, feel invisible.
The reason for that is not that they aren’t loved and supported by family members, not that they aren’t seen and appreciated for all they do. It is that their Monger convinces them they have to perform a certain way, and so they can’t show up in their lives just as they are, just for who they are in all their idiosyncrasies, and mistakes, and traits, and being human-nesses. They have to show up as the perfect whatever, so the perfect mother, the perfect sister, the perfect friend, the perfect bridesmaid, the perfect board member, the perfect worker, the perfect boss. Whatever fill in the blank, perfect role, and that’s why they feel invisible because they’re not showing up fully for who they are. They’re showing up as a role, so they never really get to be seen for who they are.
It developed as a defense mechanism. As we’re growing up, we get a lot of attention if we follow the rules and if we do everything right. If we get straight A’s, if we are quiet in school, if we do the right things, we get rewarded, and so growing up we learn how to fit ourselves into the different roles that we play. We morph and change and shift ourselves to make sure we’re pleasing others, and when that happens, we forget who we really are. In essence, we’re like, who we really are doesn’t matter as long as I can keep getting the approval from the outside world. But then at some point, we wake up and we realize, wait a minute, I’m performing all the freakin’ time. I’m constantly scanning the environment, trying to find out what should I be doing next. What do they expect from me next? We do that all the time, and that leaves us feeling exhausted and it leaves us feeling empty because we’re doing all these things for everyone else.
By the time my clients come in to see me, their anxiety is high. They have high functioning anxiety and they get to the point where they just can’t keep pretending anymore. They can’t keep acting like they have it all together, acting like they can fit into these different roles perfectly.
I wanted to talk about this trait because I’ve seen it more and more, but also because I think it is an under-appreciated problem that a lot of us high-functioning people have, that we are so good at reading the environment. We’re so good at walking into a room and reading what needs to be done next that we miss out on what we want to do next. What is it that we feel is most important?
I want to let you guys know, A, it’s normal if you’re feeling this way. I get it. I can relate in so many ways. But also I wanted to talk about how to start unhooking that for you because it’s a process to start unhooking it. Obviously, the first step is to recognize that it’s happening, so to recognize that you’re feeling invisible and then to start recognizing where is that happening. It might be everywhere. It might be at work, it might be with your kids, it might be with your spouse, that you’ve gotten so good at putting on the hat of mother, or the hat of wife, or the hat of daughter, that you forget to ask yourself what is it I really need here?
This has come out for me really strong recently, and this is a personal example I’m going to give, is that I’ve been having some stomach issues and have been dealing with some health problems when it comes to stomach pain. It’s been going on for a couple months, and I’ve been trying to get it figured out, running tests, et cetera, et cetera. But the thing that keeps coming up for me is that I need to be the perfect patient. I need to be a good patient, and a good patient doesn’t make waves. A good patient goes along with what the doctor says. A good patient is agreeable. A good patient is calm.
They keep saying, “We can’t find anything. Everything’s fine. You’re fine.” But I know everything isn’t fine, so that fight, I’ve had to tap into trusting my intuition. I’ve had to tap into my own wisdom to fight for myself to say, “No. I don’t care that I’m not the perfect patient. I don’t care that I’m not playing the role that I think I should be. I’m fighting for myself because this isn’t right that I’m feeling this way. This isn’t okay.”
That has thrust me into this area of really kind of fighting for myself in a way that makes me uncomfortable because I have to get out of the good person role, the good patient role. I’ve really noticed that a lot lately, and what has come up for me around that is the idea that my Monger … Anytime I start to fight, my Monger comes in to be like, “No. Don’t fight. We all know you’re just faking this. This isn’t a real problem. Just be quiet. Sit down quietly and shut up, and it’ll be okay. You can’t be making waves like this.”
Because remember, our Monger is there to make sure we don’t make a mistake, we aren’t too vulnerable, and we don’t stand out. All of those are what I’m doing when I’m standing up for myself when it comes to my health concerns. I’m standing up for myself. I’m being a little vulnerable saying, “I know you can’t find anything, but there’s something there, and I’m demanding more action.” I’m demanding people look at me. I’m not being invisible anymore.
That’s a big example of it, but it also can show up in little ways in your home. That you decide, “You know what? I’m going to take Sunday afternoons off, and I’m going to sit on the couch and watch a movie, and you guys can join me or not, I don’t care, but Sunday afternoons, I get the TV. It’s my time to sit in front of the TV and do a movie.” You’re kind of demanding showing up, and being present, and being fully there.
As I said, the first step is showing up and recognizing that you’re feeling invisible. Then the next step is really getting in touch with your feelings. And I know you guys get tired of me saying this, but it is kind of acknowledging what’s coming up, acknowledging those feelings. How does it feel to recognize that I’m invisible? Do I feel scared? Do I feel angry? Do I feel happy that I finally figured out what’s going on? Just going through what is it I’m feeling right now so you notice that this pops up.
And you’re at work, and you notice that your boss asks you to do something that isn’t really in your job description. Instead of being like, “Yeah, sure. No problem,” you start being like, “Wait a minute. This isn’t in my job description. This isn’t something that I need to be doing.” Then you start acknowledging the feeling of, “Wait a minute. I have been taking on way more than my job description for a long time now, and I’m really angry about this.”
Feel that anger. Let it go. Just acknowledge that that anger is there. Ninety seconds to biologically feel that anger, and then slow down and get into your body, and figure out, okay, what am I going to do next? How am I going to start confronting this bit by bit by bit? How am I going to show up to my boss, and how am I going to say to him, “You know, this isn’t really in my job description and I’m not comfortable doing this.” And then, bit by bit by bit, you start taking on those different roles, noticing where you’re not showing up, where you could be more visible, how you are playing it safe and calm and just going along with what everybody else needs.
I guarantee you, preparing you, what will happen as you start noticing how often you play the perfect role, anger will start coming up because you’ll start getting mad about how long you’ve been playing the perfect role. I tell you the anger’s going to be there because I don’t want you to get stuck in the anger. The anger is a perfectly normal response. It’s a feeling. You should feel it, absolutely. We tend to get stuck in anger and then start blaming everybody else for why we are feeling invisible, and that they’ve kept us here, and blah blah blah.
I want to be clear. It isn’t that anyone forced you to be invisible. It isn’t that you forced yourself to be invisible. It is a survival mechanism that you have used to excel in life. It has left you very high functioning. A great way to calm your anxiety is just to concentrate on the other person and to look at them, and figure out what they need, and give it to them. As long as you’re not concentrating on yourself and you’re concentrating on them, your anxiety can go down.
It’s a two-fold problem. On the one hand, we’ve developed this idea of I can please other people by figuring out what it is they need and giving it to them and playing these different roles and remaining invisible. But on the second part, and that’s the part that we tend to miss, is the why are we doing this? Why has this defense mechanism kicked in?
I argue the reason this defense mechanism has kicked in is that we have so much anxiety, and because we have so much high functioning anxiety, the way to calm that is to start concentrating on what everybody else needs and then I don’t need to pay attention to my anxiety.
As you start recognizing, oh my gosh, there I go again. I’m wearing the hat of whatever they want me to wear, and I’m acting how they want me to act, you will start then to recognize, oh, if I start paying attention to myself, I have more anxiety. If I start paying more attention to myself, my Monger gets louder. When I start paying attention to myself, my Monger and my BFF fight more, so then you’re going to need to start pulling that apart and practicing ask and acknowledging what you’re feeling, slowing down and getting into your body, and pulling back to see the big picture. You’re going to need to start recognizing where the anxiety is showing up because you’ve developed this defense mechanism of playing the role for everybody else and being invisible to keep your anxiety at bay.
I think that is why, a lot of times, we hear this, “Don’t be invisible. Speak your needs and show up for yourself,” which is awesome. That’s what we should be doing, so yes. But when we start speaking our needs and showing up for ourselves, the anxiety comes ten-fold, and that’s when we get into trouble because then we jump in, right back into, okay, I can’t handle this anxiety anymore. I’m going to start going back to being invisible and playing a role because that squelches my anxiety and numbs out my Monger. It is, again, back to Mongers, back to BFFs, back to figuring out what that Biggest Fan is saying.
Because the Biggest Fan is going to say,
“Oh sweet pea, this is hard. You’ve got to figure out what you want in this moment, and we’ve got to be calm and collected. How are we going to confront the boss and say, ‘Dude, this is too much work. I can’t do anymore. I need you to help me figure this out because I am well outside of my job description right now and it’s hurting my relationships at home, it’s hurting my relationships at work. I’m struggling.’ We need to be able to figure out how to do that without all the anxiety.”
I guarantee, as you start this process, you’re going to start listening to this podcast and you’ll be like, “Oh my gosh. I totally do this. I totally wear these hats, and I totally feel invisible.” And then the next feeling you’re going to feel is probably anger when you start recognizing, “Oh my gosh, why do I keep doing this? I’m such a loser. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” And then your Monger’s going to kick in, so don’t listen to your Monger. Slow down, practice ask, get into your body, pull back to see the big picture, try to bring in your Biggest Fan, and be like, “Okay. I developed this defense mechanism to squelch my anxiety and it’s not working for me anymore, so I need to start feeling my feelings and trusting what comes up for me because I have the answers within me, I just have to start getting used to saying them without all the anxiety.”
It’s a process. It’s not like you can simply flip a switch and suddenly 30, 40 years of a defense mechanism is going to go away. You need to be intentional about how you handle this, and that is why it’s so important to be kind to yourself and give yourself a little room around learning a new way of doing it in the world. But I wanted to do this podcast to give you a different way of thinking about this invisible thing because I think it’s a problem for a lot of people out there, women and men. We play a role, and we put on a hat, and we pretend like we’ve got everything okay when inside we are just not connected at all to what’s happening in the world around us.
I hope that helps. If you have any questions, please email me, firstname.lastname@example.org. As a reminder, if you like the podcast, please go to iTunes, or Stitcher, or wherever you enjoy listening to podcasts, and please leave a review. That’s the best way to spread the message about this podcast and that it’s helpful to other people.
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