Every Tuesday, my post features a theme from my upcoming novel, “Don’t Try to Find Me” (available July 8.) Today, I’m writing about how feeling invisible can cause people to seek validation in all the wrong places. This is especially true for teenagers and young adults, but even for older people, there’s a desire to be noticed. And when we feel overlooked and underappreciated, it can bring up many negative feelings and self-destructive impulses.
Social media is about being looked at, being liked, receiving instantaneous momentary validation. Sure, that weighs most heavily on younger people who are just discovering themselves, but if adults are honest, we’ve all done things like put up a post and then watch, deflated, as no one “likes” it. Which can feel like no one liking us. It can feel like no one’s seeing us at all.
We might have tools to handle this. Among them: Logging out of Instagram, Facebook, etc. Getting on with our day. Receiving validation from other sources.
But sometimes the sense that we’re just not important to other people persists. Maybe that feeling is affirmed because we’re in unhealthy relationships. A partner doesn’t listen when we speak. We feel neglected or ignored.
Those feelings can cause people to turn outward. They might seek validation from online communities. Sometimes this is a positive experience, and they find the connection they’re seeking. They feel a sense of belonging.
Sometimes, though, it leads to other people feeding on the perceived weakness. They might write attacking comments. Or worse, predators might sense prey.
Or people can turn inward, shutting themselves off even further from others, believing the world is cruel. They might engage in self-harming behaviors, seeking release and escape.
Before reaching this point, it’s important to ask yourself: Why am I having the initial feelings? Why am I so disconnected from the people in my immediate circle? So disconnected from myself? Am I afraid to show my true self, afraid of being misunderstood or even mocked? Are my attempts at self-protection leaving me isolated?
There are also questions about whether you’re really being overlooked as much as you think you are. It could be a misperception fueled by low self-esteem. If possible, talk to a person you trust about this to see if you might be skewing reality.
Then it’s time to work on how you see yourself. What are you proud of? Are there areas in which you feel accomplished? If you don’t feel worthy of notice now, how do you take steps to become the kind of person you would admire? Look around and see who you respect and admire. What can you learn from them?
Discard people’s opinions if you don’t actually respect the source. Sometimes we let people drag us down even when we don’t like or respect them. Why give them that power?
They say seeing is believing. Maybe you have to believe in yourself in order to be seen.
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