Were you the “invisible child” in your family growing up? Were you compliant and affable? Did you aim to please? Were you overlooked and ignored? Did your parents take your good nature for granted?
If you grew up as the invisible child in your family, you may struggle as an adult with your need to be seen. You may feel deep inside that you are worthless and fatally flawed. You may hustle for your value each day, jumping through hoops trying to prove your worth.
You may be easily triggered when someone ignores you or doesn’t take your words in to account. When triggered you may have an emotional flashback of confused proportion. You may overly identify with others who also seem to be invalidated. You resonate with their sense of identity, or perhaps stated more appropriately, “lack of identity.”
The feelings of growing up invisible are existential in nature. If you grew up in a family where your needs, wants, and voice were discounted, then you most likely questioned your right to exist. This may not seem obvious at first, but after considering the implications of this concept, you will see that is exactly what is affected in “invisible” children.
If you grew up invisible, you most likely internalized a sense of not having an impact on others, and thus, the world. You don’t have that sense that you matter; period. You don’t matter to your parents. You don’t matter to the world. You are insignificant and inconsequential.
Your identity is not fully developed when you have been raised in such a neglectful manner. With no one “mirroring” your value and specialness, you have a sense of void where your identity belongs. This is akin to a “hole in your heart,” yet more.
With this type of upbringing, your plumb line for life involves others’ needs, wants, and desires, and never your own. You struggle with knowing who you are at the most basic of levels because so much of your early conditioning taught you to only see the other person.
Every one of us responds to mirroring. We mirror each other. You see me and I see you. In the case of the invisible child, no one sees her. She is not mirrored with adoring and accepting eyes. Instead, she is discounted and left feeling empty. Once this conditioning has set in, the invisible child grows up to be an invisible adult and struggles with finding her voice and her place on the planet.
How do you heal from being invisible?
You have to learn how to “claim your space” here on earth. You have to learn to own your right to exist, to breathe, to make mistakes, to have an opinion, to want, to need, to demand.
You also need to develop a sense of anger over the injustice done to you so that you can have the energy to move forward. Anger gives you power. You do not need to live in a state of bitterness and resentment, but feeling anger for the hurt caused to your vulnerable self is important for recovery.
All of these concepts are difficult to grasp. If you are a grown up invisible child, then you have had to traverse through every developmental stage of life without proper validation regarding your worth. You will need to understand your deficits and make a concerted effort to change.
Yes, it is unfair that you have to do all this work to undo the damage created by someone else; but regardless of the fairness of it all, it is the relationship with yourself that is your salvation.
Relationship traumas, such as emotional neglect and the abuse of absence are insidious at best. There are no scars or open wounds, yet the injury to the heart is profound and always underestimated.
In order to heal from this type of interpersonal trauma, you must do a few things. First, you must be willing to take on your inner world. Look within and see your hurt and unappreciated “inner child.” You must see her and know her. Let her know that there is hope for love and connection.
Once you are willing to see and acknowledge your hurt self, you must then be committed to being there for her. Turn toward your hurt self and let her be felt; by you. As you reckon with the pain from your past, by embracing all of your weaknesses and poor choices, you will begin the process of self-acceptance.
One of the problems with being the invisible child is that you believe, falsely, that you have no impact on others. This belief can be changed, but it will require cognitive behavior therapy. I suggest you teach yourself how to take your false beliefs and act in spite of them. For instance, you are most likely convinced that you don’t matter. Rather than living each day as if this belief were a reality, I recommend that you use your imagination (pretend) that you do matter.
In essence, ask yourself, “How would I act if I believed I was loved?” Make your choices from the position of your “healthy self” rather than your “hurt self.” This is akin to “acting as if.”
In order to make decisions from the “healthy self” perspective, you must develop your healthy self. This is the part of you that is strong, nurturing, and protective. Visualize a strong inner self to help you make important decisions. Actually, it is probably best that your healthy self make all decisions.
One way to help yourself with this idea of developing an inner healthy self, or healthy parent, is by using imagery. Drawing can help. Put yourself in a reflective space and visualize an inner healthy adult. Drawing a picture can help. Draw your inner hurt self and then draw a picture of a healthy nurturing parent helping yourself; seeing your hurts.
Whenever you get challenged or stuck in a position of feeling “less than” others, perhaps caused by a trigger, stop and do some imagery. Be there for yourself and use imagery to “grow yourself up” in a healthy way.
Another aspect of healing from being raised as an irrelevant person is to develop “dis-confirming” relationships with others. In other words, develop relationships with others that disconfirm that you are irrelevant and invisible. Pick friendships with people who can “see” you and care about who you are and what you have to say.
You will heal from the experience of not mattering by mattering. Getting a good therapist to help you with this is highly recommended. Also, join a healthy support group. Anything you can do to put yourself in the position of developing healthy, satisfying relationships with others in order to experience yourself connecting to others will undo the damage caused in early childhood. It may not totally provide secure attachment for you, but it’s the next best thing to doing so.
You will heal as you create a new life for yourself. One that is full of self-compassion, safe people, flexibility, and strength. Take your healing process one day and one step at a time.
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