At the end of the day, no matter how different we are, we're also all really the same.
We all have human needs. We all have areas that we feel different or insecure in.
We all have struggles.
We all have triumphs.
We all want to feel seen, heard, accepted, and connected.
Yet, understanding and harmony in relationships can be elusive for so many of us well-meaning yet unknowingly (or even knowingly) disconnected humans - even if we’re “connected” online in every way possible.
Side note: Like, you have all the TikToks and Instagrams and Twitters (did I say that right? ;) ), and you comment and sometimes get meaningful one-off conversations with folx and you follow your friend’s evolving lives so you can see pics of their kids or divorce (whatevs, no judgement here), but if you still feel lonely more often than not and spend a lot of time in numbing behaviors, you might be disconnected.
Listen to one example of numbing out of many: If You Don’t Deal with Your Feelings, They Deal with You
Have no fear.
With a little bit of self awareness, patience, and gumption, we can leverage our shared humanity to better give and receive respect, acceptance, growth, and connection.
The connection points lie in where our human identities overlap. When we can see parts of ourselves in another person, even if some parts are different, we can then start to better understand the areas that are different and grow our bonds in a healthy way for all involved.
This is how to relate to people you’re similar to and it's also how to relate to people you have nothing in common with.
In other words, it’s absolutely possible to relate to humans completely different than you simply because we’re human. Doing that makes our world a better place for everyone.
Feeling seen means you feel recognized and accepted for who you are by another person.
The person doing the seeing may feel like a kindred spirit because they simply understand you or what you’re going through with little to no explanation.
Sometimes, you can feel seen after giving a lengthier explanation as well, and someone reached an understanding because they truly listened and acknowledged your point of view or a part of you that you think is difficult to understand.
I think of it as being acknowledged by another person, whether that person is your parent, child, friend, partner, coworker, boss, or even a stranger.
Our innate need as humans to be seen is evident in how our culture thrives on likes and follows on social media - and how it gives us a quick dopamine boost in our brains.
While any quick fix doesn’t actually satiate our true need of real connection, it can fool us into thinking it has.
(That’s not to say we can’t make real connections online, but that’s different and a story for a different day…)
That's why we must know what it means to truly be seen - so we can seek the real deal and stop spending precious energy on quick fixes.
Feeling seen can come about in a variety of ways.
(Oh look, it’s me and my honey right here, seeing you!)
Being Seen through Creating
Yes, it can come from being online. But it can also come from creating art, creating music, writing poetry, even cooking from the heart, or telling your story in a variety of creative ways. In other words, being seen can come from people consuming that which you make or create.
That’s because creating requires you to explore pieces of your soul and inner self and then make it available for consumption - public or private consumption, that is. So, when someone consumes what you’ve created, they’ve truly seen a piece of your authentic self.
It goes both ways too - when you consume a creation from the heart, you get to see part of the creator.
Being Seen through Relationships
Feeling seen can also come about from:
Healthy, close, interpersonal relationships free of manipulation and abuse dynamics, but that also have healthy boundaries
Short-lived, more temporary encounters and meetings
People you don't like or who don’t like you
Let’s dive deeper.
When you give a person space to be themselves, you get to see parts of them many do not. Just as when someone truly gives you space to be yourself, you can flourish and blossom and be seen and accepted.
To have these types of healthy relationships, you must spend quality time and effort nurturing them.
Related: Connecting through Communication and Quality Time to Grow in Love
Other times, even if you just meet someone you instantly click with and it feels like they see all of you, you still have to nurture that connection for it to last and so you can grow and evolve as people together.
Easier said than done, right? For starters, we’re all so busy that the time can be hard to come by.
Secondly, to meet people and form bonds, you have to put yourself out there.
Not every person is going to like you, and you're not going to like every person. I say “like," but what I really mean is resonate. Every person you come across is not meant to be on your path with you and vice versa.
This may show up as not agreeing with life choices someone made, how they see life, where they’re at in their healing process (because we're all constantly healing from something), or how they treat you and how you treat them. It could even begin with a cultural misunderstanding.
Regardless of these differences, if you open your mind and accept that person the way they are, you can still respect them and see their gifts and humanity.
But maybe you can’t see them because you sense they’re not being authentic. Or what if you’re not being authentic?
Why does that show up? Why do you end up not liking a person? Is it that they irritate you? Or is it that you’re preemptively rejecting so you’re not the one who ends up rejected?
Fear of rejection, of not being enough, of not being accepted, drives a lot of our failed attempts at connection as humans. Where does that come from?
The Role of Broken Relationships
At times, knowing what something isn’t helps us define what it is. Therefore, broken relationships have a place in being seen as they teach us what being seen is not. They teach us what it feels like to not be seen, supported, loved, and connected. They teach us what it feels like to be misunderstood or mistreated.
When you’re unhealed from the trauma of a broken relationship, it can be hard to see this as a gift, but it is. That’s not to say you should strive for a ton of broken relationships. I’m saying, when they’re unavoidable, there is a silver lining.
When you’re healed from the trauma of a broken relationship, you can more easily see the lesson of it and be grateful for that knowledge, growth, expansion, and the role that person played in your life.
There are seemingly limitless reasons a relationship would break down and dissolve.
And when they do, we experience horrible pain from rejection. And that pain can make us hesitate to become close to others out of fear of experiencing the loss again or out of fear of repeating the same mistakes.
Once you know what that feels like, you can actively avoid causing those feelings in others, and as you work to do that, you’ll see more of who people truly are, whether they’re close to you or merely acquaintances.
Once you’re healed from a broken relationship, you can also work to heal your fear of rejection. Depending on what you've been through in life, your fear of rejection could also be synonymous with a fear of abandonment.
Being seen, whether through creating, storytelling, or nurturing close, interpersonal relationships, means at some point you have to put yourself out there.
You have to be willing to be seen in whatever way resonates with you.
Anytime you present yourself to another human being, or put yourself “out there” in any form, you run the risk of rejection or judgement.
Ugh, no fun, am I right?
On the flip side, you also have a chance of a reward so great, it can lead to personal growth, fulfillment, and satisfaction - it can lead to a magical life, honestly, once you get in the flow of just spewing love no matter what.
So, just because you fear being rejected doesn’t mean you can’t take measures to mitigate that fear and the pain that comes with rejection to start seeing positive results.
Here are ways to mitigate the pain that comes with rejection:
Know that you matter and have value that is independent of any judgement or opinion of anyone else in existence.
Seriously, this is huge.
You do matter as a human being just for existing. It doesn’t matter what you do, who you are, what you contribute, how much money you make, who you love, what color you are, where you’re from, how productive you are, or for any other reason.
If you truly believe this deep within your soul, when rejection comes you will understand that it has nothing to do with your worth and value as a person. It has everything to do with the person doing the rejecting, where they’re at in their own life, what their needs are, and whether or not all those moving parts and pieces line up with where you are at this moment in time.
And if the rejection is ugly and unnecessarily hurtful rather than amicable and pleasant (as pleasant as a rejection can be), having a solid foundation of self worth also ensures you know that it’s about the rejector, not you.
This bring us to…
Remember that it's about the other person, not you.
Any judgement made by a human being - and I feel confident with this major generalization - is typically a reflection of the person doing the judging rather than the person being judged.
That's not to say the judgement did or didn’t come in the best interest of the person doing the judging, because they have a right to determine if boundaries should be set in their best interest, even if that means not accepting you and what you have to offer in their lives.
However, that judgement has nothing to do with your worth and value as a human, even if you made a mistake and even if you didn’t. It has everything to do with where the other person is at, what they’re feeling, what they’ve been through, and their ability to have a healthy dynamic with you or support you being your true self. The same goes for you when you reject someone.
For example, perhaps what brings you joy, like learning to play guitar at age 50 instead of focusing on a career you hate, triggers jealousy or a fear of loss or lack in them or vice versa.
It’s up to the person doing the judging to work through those emotions so they can find joy. Perhaps they can’t effectively do that with you. That still doesn't say anything about your worth and value.
Look at rejection as a blessing.
“Whoa - what in the world is this chick talking about?” I hear you thinking.
Hear me out.
I’m not talking about #blessed. I’m talking about if it’s not meant for you, it needs to go away so the things that are meant for you have the space to show up.
This may sound a little woo-woo, but it's true.
It's a big world with lots of promise. What is yours is out there and it wants to find you.
Maybe what’s yours is something you borrow for a limited period of time and then it has to go away so you can move on to the next stepping stone in your life. And maybe what's yours is yours to keep forever.
Rejection is what you feel when it's time for what you’ve borrowed to move on - whether it be a relationship, a job opportunity, a subscriber on your email list (hello Internet entrepreneurs like me!), a home, or even a vegetable garden that you just can’t keep alive anymore.
The Universe has a way of working out what’s for your highest good if you're open to it. If you keep chasing what’s not meant for you, you end up with even more heartache and trauma to process.
That is absolutely your choice to make though. We all go through making good and bad choices as humans.
Realize that you can't control other people.
If you put yourself out there, you’ve done your part. Whereas, if you don’t put yourself out there, you’ve chosen to close yourself off to opportunity for connection and understanding. But if you’ve opened yourself up for opportunity, you’ve proactively embraced what you do have control over, which you can be proud of.
Remember, you have no control over the actions and reactions of others. Knowing this is the first step to letting go of an outcome. If you’ve done your part, and you’ve done your absolute best, the rest is out of your hands.
That’s freeing. If you can’t control it, it’s not your responsibility.
And if you know you can’t control it, then that enables you to set your expectations accordingly.
Having reasonable expectations helps temper disappointment and discouragement when a situation goes differently than what you’d hoped for.
It’s still okay to hope for exactly what you want by the way - that’s separate from having reasonable expectations.
Humans are social creatures.
Truly being seen helps satiate our human need to connect with others. When we connect with other humans in this way, we feel valued and can easily remember that we are a part of something much bigger than our individual selves - we're a part of the human race; humanity as one living organism.
Listen to Brandi discuss further on the Dimed Out podcast with Mal Foster: Season 2, Episode 6 - Brandi Fleck (Human Amplified)
When we feel valued, we can more easily interact with our external worlds in a healthy way. We can heal wounds.
We feel stronger and like we’re able to achieve more.
We feel like a contributor who’s doing good things (regardless of if the contribution is just being yourself).
When you’re not seen, or you perceive that you’re not seen, you can feel invisible. Feeling invisible leads to isolation and loneliness, which leads to poor mental health and becoming unmotivated.
Support systems are essential to healing and progress. And while our self worth shouldn’t be derived from external validation, external validation can provide motivation, which drives action.
For instance, studies show that for millennials and younger generations, building on the generation Y lead in a technology-normalized life, acknowledgment and praise (ways of being seen) were some of the highest motivators at work.
Related: I’m a Fan of Millennials and You Should Be Too - Preparing for Generational Change That’s in Motion
Here are my best tips for making someone you care about feel seen. I practice these in my everyday life as well as when I’m conducting podcast or blog interviews with the brave people who share their incredible personal stories, which can be a sensitive endeavor.
Tips for Connecting In Person
Interpersonal relationships can be so fun to navigate and explore - after all, these are what make our lives worth living. Yes, there are other amazing things about life, but at the end of day, it’s our connections that can last beyond physical life and that help us grow and fully experience the give and take that is a natural design of our Earthly existence.
When you’re in person with a new acquaintance or even a friend or partner or family member you’ve known for years (even your whole life), you can rely on verbal and non-verbal queues to let other people know you see them.
Be aware of your body language and use warm, inviting body language and facial expressions to let a person know you see them. This can be difficult if you’re introverted, self-described as socially awkward, or have social anxiety, but practice makes perfect! If you make it weird, don't worry bout it. See the 4 Ways to Stop Being Afraid of Rejection section above :).
Use the appropriate amount of eye contact when you’re talking, depending on the culture you’re interacting with. In other words, adapt to the culture of the other person. And if you don’t know how to do that, Google it or, if appropriate, ask what would make that person the most comfortable.
Show interest in a person’s life by brining up a significant detail they mentioned in a past conversation to show you care and want to know how it’s going.
Show interest in how a person does a certain thing. For example, if you see your husband folding towels differently than you were taught, instead of asking him to do it your way (the “better” way), first ask him why he folds it the way he does. Maybe he has a story of a time he spent doing laundry with his late grandma. And wow, merely folding towels became a moment of deep connection for you that brings you closer rather than drove you apart.
Show interest in a person’s culture. If offered, try various foods or customs they'd get excited for you to experience.
Acknowledge a person’s achievements, talents, skills, contributions. This is so easy to do becuase not only does it make the other person feel highly valued, but another person’s achievements, talents, skills, contributions, and/or successes don’t take anything away from you - acknowledgement of theirs does not cancel out yours.
Believe who a person shows you they are rather than projecting onto them who you want them to be. This means you have to separate yourself from what they’re showing you, because they are showing you themselves. This means practicing objectivity. Which brings us to the next tip…
Suspend judgement when a person shows you who they are.
When you see a piece of who they are, try to resist making it about you. When it is time to relate, as in, the conversation reaches an appropriate point for you to stop actively listening and start talking back, you can try relating through an experience you had, but instead of making it about you, tell your side through the lens of trying to understand their experience better.
Simply say, “I see you.” Only say it if you mean it though. It’s a powerful gesture. A stranger did this for me once, and I really did feel seen.
What other tips would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments!
Tips for Connecting Online
When you’re navigating connecting online, there is no tone of your voice available in text, so you must be thoughtful with your words if you want a person to feel seen. Whether or not they misinterpret what you typed will depend on how well they know you or see life from the same vantage point. And even then, miscommunication is easy to come by.
Being kind is a good general rule for helping people feel seen online. Here are some ways to do that:
Remember that the person on the other side of the screen is a real human with real feelings and baggage, and a full story you probably don't have. In other words, humanize them despite the screen between you.
If you enjoy what someone is saying online, tell them. Engaging with their content that you’re consuming helps them keep providing value to you. But they can’t tailor it to you if they don’t know you see them.
If you disagree with what someone is saying online, avoid name calling and low blows.
Instead, try approaching a disagreement with curiosity and education. Ask why they feel the way they do. When or if they respond, you can tell them thank you and respond with what you’ve learned about the topic and post a link or source without arguing.
Know when to listen and stay quiet.
What other tips would you add to the list? Let me know in the comments!
What if someone doesn’t want to be seen?
There will always be people who don’t want to be seen, even though connection is an innate human need. Perhaps they get the need for connection met in other ways. Perhaps their need for connection isn’t met, but they don’t realize they need it. They could even be working through past trauma and baggage that being seen triggers to a painful degree.
Whatever the case may be, you must respect another person’s decision to not be seen.
To put it another way, you can coax a feral cat out of hiding with food, but if that cat doesn’t want to be domesticated, it will run back to hiding. Even if the cat comes out and interacts for a while, upon the first several times you try to feed it, it still reverts back to it's original nature.
“It’s original nature” may be hardened and full of fear because of trauma it’s been through in the alleys - it doesn’t trust humans, for example. It may not like other cats, for example.
But it's only your job to make an offering, give a nice gesture, try your best, but don't force.
Know when enough is enough.
A person will come out of hiding when they’re ready, and only they can decide when that is.
If you take nothing else from this entire article, take this most important point with you:
Start with seeing others first.
Now, let’s explore that in depth.
Reasons Why I Feel Invisible
If you want to be seen, let’s talk about the potential reasons (problems) why you may not be first. Once you understand those reasons, you can address them. Addressing those reasons leads to your desired outcome.
Problem 1: You don’t see other people.
It can be hard to see others first if you’re absolutely desperate for attention - and while we all need attention in one way or another, the amount needed depends on you and is influenced by your personality and your current circumstances. Ultimately, we all have different attention needs.
If your need for attention gets in the way of giving much needed attention to others, they likely won’t see you.
Problem 2: You surround yourself with people who refuse to see you.
Do you suppress your emotions to appease those around you? Do you only show one side of yourself for fear of harsh judgement and criticism? Why?
The reasons I typically see come up when this is the case is you’re either in an abusive and manipulative relationship or relationships or you’re engaging in self sabotage.
The reasons we self sabotage (which we all do, btw) are far ranging. They can span from innocuous procrastination because you’d rather be doing something more fun all the way to unconsciously trying to prove yourself to toxic people because past abuse patterns are playing out in your present life - you’re stuck in a negative cycle that you possibly haven’t recognized yet.
Problem 3: You don’t let yourself be seen.
You may be in hiding for various reasons, including but not limited to:
You feel putting yourself out there and being seen isn’t the “right thing to do" because it's not a humble way of being. For example, you consider being seen bragging or attention seeking and perceive those negatively.
You feel unsafe to be yourself because society or the group you associate with is not accepting of who you are.
You have past trauma to work through, perhaps abuse, neglect, abandonment, or all of the above, which causes you to fear the unknown and getting close to others.
You're shy and it makes you nervous.
You don’t believe you're worth being seen.
You’re comfortable being seen in your personal life, but have career aspirations that require you to be more public facing, and that’s scary or new to you.
If you’re in hiding, come out when you’re ready. This means, come out of hiding when you feel safe and secure.
Put Yourself Out There
Now, let’s discuss how to address each one of the reasons for why you may feel invisible. Each of these solutions is a way to put yourself out there more - you know, get in front of the crowd andbe yourself.
Solution 1: See other people.
In other words, follow the golden rule: treat people how you want to be treated. You do this by accepting them for who they are, which may require a conscious effort on your part to open your mind more. Embrace that there is more than one or two ways of being, an none of them are wrong.
But why do I have to be the bigger person, you ask? If I don’t feel seen and they don’t feel seen, couldn’t they see me first too?
If by chance you find someone who does decide to be the bigger person first, recognize it and reciprocate. But, odds are, since you're here, you’ll be the one taking the first leap, because you’re the one interested in doing the work.
It's not a perfect solution, as the person you’re seeing may not see you. But, because of your good karma, someone else will, even if you haven’t seen them.
And you have to do it for the right reasons, or it won’t work, but seeing other people is a great starting point to being seen more yourself and is incredibly rewarding and enlightening.
Solution 2: Surround yourself with people who are willing to see you.
It's up to you to determine why you’re in your current situation(s).
If you literally feel like no one in your circle sees you, use that as an indicator to deeply evaluate your motivations and re-evaluate your social circle, even if it includes family.
You’ll need to work through why you’re choosing people who won’t see you and work through those reasons.
For instance, ask yourself why they don't see you. Do you not want them to? Are they so wrapped up in their own lives they don't have time? Do they see you, just not how you want them to see you? Or do you just not recognize them seeing you?
The answers to these types of questions will determine how you can proceed to fix the issue.
The solution will likely require deep self reflection, admitting your own role in the current situation, healing past wounds (with help if needed), and making changes in your life to align it more with what you want. No small feat.
Solution 3: Come out of hiding when you feel safe and secure.
Once you've worked on solution 1 and solution 2 over time with dedication, you’ll likely be in a better social situation where you feel more safe and secure. Or depending on who you authentically are and how accepted that identity is by an evolving and sometimes archaic society, you may need to physically relocate to feel safe and secure.
Only you can determine when that point is. But once you do, express yourself. Be yourself. Be proud.
As with all these solutions listed, being seen starts with you.
Part of this is learning how to bravely stand in your own truth regardless of what others think.
The result: what is aligned with you will stay with you. What isn’t will fall away. And that fall away, while difficult, isn’t actually bad.
You may wonder, what if I never feel safe and secure?
I truly believe you will. Regardless of what you’re able to do to change your external circumstances, you have the ability to center within yourself and find the safety, security, love, and understanding you seek. To do this, get help from those who resonate with you, even a therapist or life coach if needed, and uncover the trauma to heal it.
Now That I Have Attention, What's Next?
You can’t be close to every single person you know, so don't try to be. The connections you do establish and nurture for what they are will ebb and flow naturally with your life and what’s going on in the lives of others.
Choose to nurture the connection with those who do truly see you and accept you for who you are. Be an example for others on how to see them and make them feel seen. Perhaps eventually they’ll take queues from you on what’s working. As more people work on seeing and accepting others, the amount of people we have in our lives who are capable of seeing us will increase too.
Most importantly, enjoy the attention (or being seen). Relate. Savor the lessons and harmonies you get to experience in fulfilling relationships and interactions. Recognize the growth and journey as what it’s all about because there is no destination.
Work at being boldly authentic every day and periodically take stock of the rewards that come with the changes you’re making so you can revel in them and stay motivated.
A healthy connection adds to your overall wellbeing as a human.
Being seen doesn’t have to be scary and it’s not unattainable.
Being seen doesn’t automatically equal rejection, and if rejection does occur from putting yourself out there, it came as a gift to align you more toward what’s meant for you anyways.
What’s meant for you is genuine and fulfilling connection with other humans who want the same.
With patience and a strong knowing and recognition of your own self worth, actively seeing others for who they are with understanding and acceptance and acknowledging what they have to offer as human beings will help nourish your relationships, which will in turn build the lasting connection you’re longing for.