Seeing yourself when you are unseen by others

Photo by Natalia Strakhoniuk on

I recently wrapped up an incredible week at a summer research institute. It was transformative and inspiring and it also brought up a LOT of unsettling thoughts and emotions. The theme for the week-long institute was “othering, belonging, and becoming” and right now, I think that topic is more relevant than ever before.

Being “othered” and searching for belonging is likely a life-long process for some people. For others, you may have to intentionally seek out spaces where you feel like you belong, and once you find those spaces/people you hold on tight. So, here are a few questions for you:

  • when was the last time you felt welcomed in a space?
  • how do you know when you belong in a space or with others?
  • when have you felt “othered” and what does that feel like in your body?

The truth is that we all experience belonging in various ways, and when we don’t believe we are being seen by others, it’s important to learn how to see yourself. One of the things I find exhausting is the consistent need to assess my environment and connections. Personally, it is essential that the experiences of belonging and being seen resonate in my body – I need to feel physically and emotionally safe and my nervous system needs to know “ah…it’s okay.”

So, what happens when you don’t believe you are seen by others? Here are a few ways you can remind yourself that you are seen, that you belong, and that you are worthy:

  • think of the context in the situation: who are you around? have you ever felt safe/seen with this person? is it really worth it to listen to any negative messages they verbalize?
  • talk with someone you trust: sometimes, we may see things from one perspective based on our values, past experiences, and beliefs. However, our perspectives may not always align with reality. It’s good to have someone you can trust to share these thoughts and feelings. Talking with a licensed mental health provider is also a great option here. Find a counselor who is safe, culturally sensitive, empathetic, and one who meets your needs so you can talk about what you are experiencing.
  • journal your thoughts and feelings: make note of your strengths, things that are going well/have gone well, and write out a list of support systems. When you think you aren’t being seen, you can refer to your journal to remind yourself of your worth. Sometimes, we just need to be our own cheerleader!
  • set boundaries: if you are surrounded by people or in situations where you don’t feel like you belong, or you don’t feel seen/heard, you can set boundaries to minimize your contact with these people or situations. Boundaries in this case may look like being clear about what you need/feel/experience without giving in to their influence, saying no to opportunities to engage with these people or be in those situations, or limiting your exposure to situations where you are not seen . Another way you might set boundaries, if this is accessible and realistic for you, is to completely remove yourself from the environment (eg., changing a job where you are consistently overlooked or experience racism or discrimination)

Remember, you can always be your own cheerleader and find ways to believe and trust yourself. It is a difficult experience to be “othered” and feel like you don’t belong or you aren’t seen. The reality is that we cannot always depend on others to be sure we are seen, therefore, it’s helpful to find any small ways you can empower yourself.

As you move through this week, especially with all the recent news headlines, think of ways you can feel more connected and attuned with yourself. How can you empower others to see themselves? How can you increase your feelings of belonging?

~ Karisse

“A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, for he or she has a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed.” [Desmond Tutu]

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