What to do when you are afraid to be seen

“Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world…risk being seen in all your glory.”          – Jim Carey

Do you have a tendency to hide who you really are so that others can’t judge or criticize you? It takes massive vulnerability to be truly seen, and if you are anything like me, I used to go to exhaustive measures to stay hidden, never realizing that by doing so, I was also preventing any kind of love from entering my life.

For so much of my life I have felt misunderstood. I would constantly question why people didn’t like me or why I didn’t have very many friends.

When I was in high school, popular was not on any list that defined me. I played a sport, took AP classes, had a job, but I didn’t really have friends. I drowned myself in schoolwork, depriving myself of any kind of enjoyment that life could bring because inside I was seriously unhappy. Plus, it was much easier to go to the library and do schoolwork than it was to wonder around the campus alone.

I didn’t fit in with the church-goers whom I was forced to be around when I’d attend seminary every morning. I also didn’t fit in with my teammates who were way too popular to be seen with me. I didn’t fit in with the rebels who were mean and hostile to anyone who wasn’t part of their click. And I didn’t fit in with the smart kids, whose extracurricular activities consisted of SAT training and science projects. I felt alone. And weird. Because nobody seemed to be like me…I was different than everybody else. And I just wanted a friend who got me, understood me, could relate to me. I continued to feel this way as a young adult, but at the peak of my self improvement journey, this is what I realized.

I wasn’t misunderstood. People weren’t mean. I just never let anybody know me. I was seriously timid, afraid of being seen, and terrified of my life being exposed, so I lived my life in a way that left me hidden…all the while feeling sad and frustrated because nobody “got me”.

When we live in a place of sadness or fear, we have a tendency to hide behind our proverbial walls to not be seen, but we also feel shame and frustration for never being understood.

Looking back on my own personal life, I don’t think I ever allowed anyone to see the parts of me that made me who I truly was. You know the parts I’m referring to…the quirky things we do, the stupid stuff that makes us laugh, the things that light us up with anger or excitement, or the stuff really deep that makes us sad. These are the things that make us unique, and when we show these parts of who we are, we make friends who “get us”. Naturally if we are timid and afraid and spend our days hiding from who we are, we don’t open space for others to see us, making true friendships and relationships extremely difficult.

Unfortunately some habits are hard to break. And because I realize that hiding is still a habit of mine that I sometimes revert to when I’m feeling insecure, I wanted to share two things I force myself to do when I notice myself hiding.

  1. Ask questions. When you are around new people, seek to get to know them by genuinely asking questions about who they are, what they are into, what things make them light up, what bothers them. When you start a relationship by showing up for them, you show humanity and understanding for their life. This method also eliminates the dreaded “small talk” conversation that, let’s just be honest and real, nobody actually gives a shit about. Asking questions also helps us to find common ground, a place to say “Oh! Me too!”. And it helps to draw us out of our shells when someone else opens up first. Let’s do less small talk and strive for deep, rich conversations that promote sameness, understanding, and more “I get you’s”.
  2. Learn to talk about yourself. While there are some people who talk about themselves entirely too much, those of us who are insecure or hiding really need a push to talk about ourselves. If this is you, challenge yourself to open up about something that makes you unique. Do you like to garden? Share an experience you had. Do you like to cook? Share a recipe you recently made. Do you love watching football on Sundays? Talk about what happened in the last game. [A side note to parents: I have noticed that many of us parents talk about our kids or the things that our kids enjoy rather than talking about things we enjoy. It is easy to lose your identity in the kids because our lives are so wrapped up in their lives, but try really hard not to make it about the kids. Make it a point to be seen for who you are. Your identity goes well beyond being a parent. Make sure other people can see that.]

If we learn to practice these two things, asking questions and talking about things that light us up, we have the ability to actually change human connection. We move from a place of triviality to meaning. It is only when we make ourselves available to be seen that we can find other like-minded people who become our friends. There is nothing worse than having friends who never get to see the beauty that lies deep beneath the skin. And it is only by exposing ourselves and submitting to vulnerability that we give others the honor to understand and accept us for who we are.

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