Feeling invisible is not pleasant and can also be a painful experience. When we are in an awkward situation, invisibility gives us super power. In fact, in some circumstances, going unnoticed can even avoid a conflict or get us out of danger.
But when others ignore us, ignore our ideas and trample our feelings, we feel diminished and alone. As psychiatrist Donald Winnicott said, "Being in hiding can be fun, but not being sought out is a disaster."
Over time, the feeling of invisibility can become chronic, making us feel rejected and insignificant. We may begin to feel we are not up to it, as if we don't care in the slightest. The feeling of invisibility can end up eroding self-confidence.
The main reasons why we can feel invisible
Social rejection, whether accidental or intentional, can fuel the feeling of invisibility. Prejudice, for example, contributes to making people feel invisible when some groups openly ignore their ideas and violate their rights.
A person can feel invisible even when they do not receive emotional confirmation in difficult times. The absence of empathy in others prevents her from connecting emotionally, which makes her feel alone and isolated, as if she doesn't exist.
We can also feel invisible and belittled when others do not recognize our basic assertive rights. If they do not treat us with respect, but instead try to impose their will and their decisions on us, we may feel useless.
This sense of invisibility also manifests itself when our opinions are not taken into consideration and we are deprived of the right to express our dissent. We can also feel ignored when others relegate our needs to the background, so that they remain permanently unsatisfied.
In short, we feel invisible when the people around us do not validate our identity, but ignore it, putting us aside and excluding us from important decisions.
When the problem is not the others
Sometimes we may feel invisible because we have suffered from a history of childhood emotional neglect. If our parents paid little attention to us and didn't meet our emotional needs, the feeling of insignificance and rejection is likely to accompany us into adult life.
We generally become hypersensitive to situations of rejection because they automatically return us to our childhood. These experiences can distort our perception of reality and make us feel invisible when we actually count for others.
In these cases we can refer to four situations in which one feels invisible:
1. The absolute "nothing". We can feel absolutely invisible when the people most important to us, like our partner or our children, act as if we don't exist. Usually it is because they are too overwhelmed with their own problems, but they can also be too self-centered or manipulative people who use indifference as a punishment and a means of control.
2. Partial blindness. In these cases we are not completely invisible, we receive attention, but it is residual or superficial attention. We can feel this way, for example, when we talk to someone, but they don't listen to us and after a while they don't remember anything about the conversation. We can also feel invisible when we interact with people who don't understand us or have no interest in knowing how we are.
3. Self-protective invisibility. Sometimes invisibility can be "good". In the oceans, for example, the fish that live in the deepest areas do not need to be invisible because it is all dark there, while those that live on the surface emit dazzling flashes of light so that their predators mistake them for reflections. On the contrary, animals living in intermediate waters, the pelagic zone, do not have these possibilities. That is why most of the invisible fish live there. Invisibility helps them survive in a sea of predators.
4. Invisibility to protect others. We don't always try to make ourselves invisible to protect ourselves, sometimes we do it to protect others. For example, in dysfunctional families or where adults have serious problems, children may try to go unnoticed so as not to be an additional burden. If we feel that the best we can do is become invisible, we relegate our needs to the background and try to minimize ourselves.
In other cases, feeling invisible can be the result of unrealistic expectations. Narcissistic people, for example, who require extreme attention, may feel invisible when they are not receiving it. But that doesn't mean they're not important to others, just that sometimes they take a back seat, as it should be.
The consequences of feeling invisible
• Difficulty connecting with others. When we feel invisible, we can develop defense mechanisms that make us think we don't need anything or anyone. We try to address vulnerability by hiding some needs that are not being met. This can lead us to close in on ourselves, unable to establish deep emotional connections with others.
• Neglecting ourselves emotionally. By dint of feeling invisible, we can come to think that our needs are not important. Indeed, victims of abuse and neglect learn to ignore their most basic emotions and needs. We keep everything inside and don't express what we want, which ends up weighing on us.
• Don't set healthy limits. Sometimes, after years of invisibility, when a person finally sees us, we can feel so special that we will do everything to keep that attention. This can put us in a situation of emotional dependence because we may be willing to tolerate too much and fall into abusive relationships.
• Compensatory behaviors. In some cases, invisibility can lead to compensatory behaviors that help us get the attention and affection we need. In fact, it's common in dissociative identity disorder, which strengthens the more attention we get from the people who are important to us.
In any case, it is important to keep in mind that all, to a greater or lesser extent, need validation. We can stop being invisible by resorting to more assertive behaviors and reaffirming our identity.