Lost and Found: 5 Ways to Overcome The Pain of Invisibility

Values, Self Worth, Feeling invisible

It is joy to be hidden, but disaster not to be found”.

Donald Winnicott

“She’s super shy,” Serena said. She’d met Pearl a few times, at the Richardsons’, but hadn’t yet heard her say a word. “She probably just doesn’t know how to make friends.”

“It’s more than that,” Lexie mused. “It’s like she’s trying not to be seen. Like she wants to hide in plain sight.”

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng


The experience of ‘hiding’ and ‘being found’ begins in childhood, with the age-old game of hide and seek. The game often ends with squeals of delight when a young child is discovered – but what happens when the game is long over, and you are never found. Or when you’re left feeling that you don’t deserve to be found.

One thing I often hear from my clients is that they feel ‘seen’ by me. This means a great deal to them as, despite their considerable success, these entrepreneurs and business leaders often feel ‘invisible’. For them invisibility means not being seen for who they really are, or for what they truly care about. To ‘fit in’ these people create a false-self, the person they believe deserves to be found leaving their true self hiding in plain sight.

Feeling invisible is a painful experience. It’s often related to the belief that we are ‘not enough’ as we are, or that we are an imposter: the constant fear someone in authority will tap us on the shoulder and say they made a mistake hiring, promoting, or just being friends with us. How do we give ourselves the gift of being found, or of being enough? Buddhist psychotherapist Mark Epstein believes that being found requires we let go of ‘doing’ – our neurotic ambition that sees our self-worth inextricably linked to our achievements – and focus instead on ‘being’. The sometimes difficult, painful self-awareness of the hurts and slights we have suffered and the need to face and own them.

Donald Winnicott, a London pediatrician and psychoanalyst defined the difference between doing and being in terms of having a ‘False’ or a ’True’ self. If we have a false self we want to fit-in, to be accepted at any cost. A good way to think about the ‘False’ self is to use the story of Procrustes. In Greek mythology Procrustes was an inn keeper with a difference. He boasted that his beds would perfectly match the size and shape of any guest. What Procrustes didn’t volunteer was the method by which his “one-size-fits-all” was achieved; namely, as soon as a guest lay down, Procrustes went to work, stretching him on a rack if he was too short for the bed and chopping off his legs if he was too long. While we may not actually check ourselves into Procrustes inn, our fear of being found (out) or of not being enough drives us to painfully stretch or censor parts of ourselves. What’s more, we are often unaware we are hiding our true selves and living out someone else’s expectations. On the other hand, our true self is vital, creative and visible. We unapologetically and unselfconsciously embrace all sides of ourselves; we don’t need to use precious energy hiding or fitting in.


You might be thinking, ‘why wouldn’t all of us choose to have a true self?’ The problem for a number of people is they don’t have the confidence, self-awareness or ego strength to make that positive choice.


5 Ways To Find Yourself


1. Discover your values


As hard as it might be to accept, hiding behind a false self is a choice. By discovering what you value you will have a greater capacity to make choices more in line with your true self next time you feel ‘less than’ or like an imposter. Psychologists call certain types of situations that challenge our values ‘choice points’. For example, imagine you are in a meeting and someone interrupts or constantly talks over you. Or perhaps it’s an out-of-work-situation and you’re feeling exposed and alone. When these kinds of situations happen you can choose to sit quietly and be ignored, continuing to feel isolated and vulnerable, or you can make a different decision, one that is more in keeping with the type of person you want to be and who is living his or her values. Here’s an exclusive link to an excerpt from a course I have created that will help you start identifying your values, and a roadmap to making healthier choices.


2. Switch it up


Small changes matter. One of the things people do who want to hide out is to make sure they don’t wear anything that calls attention to themselves or hints at their individuality. I once had a client who made the decision to switch from dark colored outfits to more colorful, expressive choices in order to feel more in touch with her true self. It was a small change but a huge win for her growing sense of self confidence and personal expression. What small, incremental changes could you start to move into the spotlight?


3. Affirm yourself


This isn’t a hallmark moment, it’s an opportunity to remind yourself of what you and the world are missing by hiding out. Think about your values, strengths or beliefs. You will have a number of these. Spend some time putting these words into a phrase of statement. Some examples of ‘authentic’ affirmation’s are illustrated in the statements that some adult survivors of American Foster Care System came up with:

  • “I am evidence change is possible”
  • “Can’t give up”
  • “ I have the power to say no”
  • “I choose life”
  • “I choose grace”
  • “A dominant spirit”


4. Crash a boundary

One other behavior utilized by people who want to avoid being ‘seen’ is to censor parts of themselves. Typically, censorship happens whenever they go to work, school or hang-out with friends or family. They may have a great sense of humor or a deep knowledge of a particular topic, but these attributes are kept under wraps. One way to begin to be seen (and heard) is to crash a few of these self-imposed boundaries. What parts of yourself do you keep hidden or censor? How might you make a hard decision to crash through this boundary? It might be wearing something you love but feel too visible in; it could be sharing a belief or point of view with friends or family that you feel may be contentious. Or it could simply be the act of showing up


5. Find a therapist


Seriously. A compassionate, gifted practitioner can help you discover how to access your true self. For some, myself included it can be a painful but ultimately life changing decision. Here’s a case study that captures beautifully the transition from living with a false self to owning a true self. Sharon was a 44-year-old who was suffering with, “intense feelings of hopelessness, meaninglessness and emotional depletion”. She had learnt that to survive in her family of origin she needed to create a compliant, False Self. As an adult she had an extraordinary need for control, was highly self-sufficient and had little need for approval from others. On the face of it these seem like very positive attributes. However, Sharon was also, “Generally unrealistic about her abilities, feeling superhuman in her ability to handle anything, while at the same time feeling helpless and incompetent.” No amount of self-help books would help Sharon. She needed the stability and skills of a psychotherapist to penetrate the shell of her false self and help her true self emerge.


Taking the time to ‘find’ yourself means you can let go of the constant feeling that you are a round peg having to fit in a square hole. It takes courage to feel you deserve to be found and that you are worth being ‘seen’, but it’s easier than living a life hidden behind the curtain of your false self.

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