What it means to be seen


Often in my life I have been told that I am not letting myself be seen. This is something I hadn’t even considered until a few years ago, around the time I started practicing Forrest Yoga. Even in a pose I would look down, refusing to be open and seen. I spent most of my life learning how to be invisible by fitting in and not making too much fuss, but this doesn’t work anymore. It was a survival tool, but not one for thriving.

Being seen can mean so many different things and because it hasn’t been natural to me, I don’t think I really ever understood what it meant. Being centre of attention never appealed to me, although I admire people who can do that. The problem with being or not being seen, is that even if you hide you still crave the recognition of your existence. Hiding does not mean you don’t want to be seen, it is much more complex than that. Hiding is wanting to bee seen in a particular way, to not be vulnerable to judgement. Hiding is safety, it is a fear of being seen, followed by a need to be seen, to be acknowledged.

So what does being seen mean? I have been pondering this for a few years and I think I’m only now coming to place of knowing what to do about it, or at least, how to experiment with it. It is not attention seeking, that’s for sure, that’s something else. It is simply put, being seen for who you are, not for who you want the world to see you. That means your flaws AND your talents, and to not build a camp in either one for too long. It is daring to make mistakes and acknowledge them. It is daring to show your talents and be proud of them. And I guess it lies in the showing, not the telling people about them. Being seen is a doing thing, it seems to me…

Another way in which this has emerged for me, is being seen in a physical way. I come from a culture where women are obsessed with their looks, and women are harshly judged by their weight, clothing, age etc., by both men and women. Growing up I wanted to avoid falling into the trap of physical self-obsession, and instead hid my femininity and sexuality, focusing on intellect alone. Now I’m searching my way back, trying to figure out how to show my body and self, without feeling embarrassment and shame. Part of doing that is healing my relationship with myself on all levels, and as a woman in a society that is obsessed with physical perfection, it is scary. Not because my body isn’t “good enough”, it is, but because I can’t control how people will respond.

Some of the helpful questions I find myself asking before posting online (and this is a whole other level of being seen, sometimes it’s easier to be seen online rather than in person) are: who am I doing this for? Is it for the likes or is it for me? Why am I stopping myself from doing this? And before sharing personal experiences, I always bring to mind Brene Brown’s formula for sharing shame. Has this person or these people earned the right to hear my truth/pain etc? Am I offloading or am I sharing? And these are just the starting questions to consider, but nonetheless useful.

Often, when we let ourselves be seen we realise that the response is kinder and more loving than we expect. And also, those who love you, have seen you already, and they love it!