When we grow up in an environment where our needs are not seen or heard, we typically don’t even realize something is missing. Sometimes this causes people to compensate by helping and supporting others. It is a clever working of our subconscious. If our needs are not met and who we truly are is not nurtured and developed, we find value and a purpose in meeting others’ needs—and become very good at it. In the moment, helping others can feel satisfying and soothing, but sadness and emptiness develop like a deep cavern inside us over time. It actually puts us in quite a bind. As the cavern grows, we compensate more and more by putting others first, not realizing that this temporary relief is actually causing the pain to grow, not shrink. We are never comfortable depending on or being vulnerable to anyone. We ignore ourselves and determine that our formula of hard work plus pleasing others will bring happiness. Over time, this formula breaks down. We only start to get the “hit” of comfort and love in newer relationships where the receiving people are overwhelmed with gratitude for how helpful we are. The unsettled feeling inside never goes away. We are invisible in our own life. We honestly don’t know how not to be. We develop a way compensating for a loss we didn’t know we had by helping everyone else navigate their lives, all while having no idea how to truly navigate our own.
In case it seems unclear, this is trauma. Those of us who grew up traumatized want nothing more than to be “normal.” We want to have a successful life. The definition of what that means varies according to culture, etc., but I think we can all agree that everyone wants to feel successful. Everyone wants to feel loved—like they belong and are seen for who they truly are. The issue with this form of trauma is the gap in our development. Our ability to form secure attachments and navigate circumstances we cannot control is compromised. We attempt to curate a life we see and dream about without the necessary tools to get there. The human will is so powerful. We will ourselves to a life we want even when we don’t have all the tools to navigate it successfully.
So many of us are walking around this world doing the best we can as invisible people. We don’t even realize how much life we are missing because we don’t know how to show up. We have no idea that ‘showing up for everyone else and never for ourselves’ deteriorates our own souls. If you feel empty, frustrated, and invisible, you are not alone. Getting out of this place can be overwhelming. You have likely curated a life where people know nothing more than how to take advantage of you while you live your invisible life. It will take time and some hard conversations with yourself and others to change. There will be casualties.
I wish I could tell you that all you have to do is start showing up and everyone will celebrate seeing you. This won’t be the case with everyone in your life. It just won’t. The truth is, if you can relate to this post, then you have likely attracted people to you who have compensated for their trauma by taking from others—people who don’t feel like they can do for themselves, so they allow everyone else to do for them. It continues to amaze me how the universe works. We attract what we need. If we are compensating for our loss by being invisible and helping others, then we have people all around us in our life who are compensating for their loss in just the opposite way. This is why it is so complicated to get out of this rut, to show up for yourself. This doesn’t mean you are bad, wrong, or stuck. It simply means change will require some strategy, determination, hard work, and help from someone else. There is no way to do this work alone. There will be people who will surprise you. There will be people who are ready to get healthy with you. They want to stop unhealthy patterns too. Unfortunately, this won’t be the majority of people in your life.
Understanding why this pattern exists starts by removing the shame and judgment for yourself and others. Sure, there will be emotion there to work through. If you are with a spouse who has taken advantage of you your entire marriage, believe me, there is plenty of anger and disappointment to work through. Don’t ever hear me say this is simple, non-emotional work. What I am saying is that you can release shame and judgment. We started the patterns of compensating for needs we didn’t even know we had. We are ready to start meeting our needs and developing the parts of ourselves that didn’t get the chance to grow organically. It’s time to do the work.
My encouragement is to start by taking an inventory of the people in your life. Who is showing up for themselves in a way that is inspiring to you? Who honors and respects you and would like to see more of the real you? Commit to fostering these relationships. Begin by showing up for yourself first. Express your needs to yourself before looking to anyone to do this for you. Discover what you like, what you don’t like, and make space for yourself in ways that feel safe. You cannot do this alone. You will need a therapist or mentor to help guide you because it is terrifying work. Being truly seen and expressing your true self is scary at first. If this is you, the fear of rejection was foundational to your early development. It is no small feat to overcome, but I can tell you as someone in recovery from being ‘invisible,’ it is worth it. That underlying rage and frustration that you are always being taken advantage of goes away. The chronic emptiness starts to fade, and feelings of joy and meaning emerge, bringing stability and peace. Allowing the ones who love you to meet your needs becomes just as powerful and meaningful as meeting their needs. Yes, of course, meeting the needs of others is still important, but it isn’t the driver anymore. Connection, love, and belonging become the drivers, and it is so satisfying.
Join me in recovery and find the depth of life you have always been looking for! I have created a list of questions to prompt you to discover who you are. Enter your email address below and I will email you the PDF that guides you through the initial phase of discovering your true self. If you need further help on where to start, schedule a consultation with me to discuss your specific needs, or reach out to a trusted friend, mentor, or therapist. Don’t let another day go by feeling empty and alone.
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