Dying to be Seen, but Afraid to be Seen: Where Insecurity and Invisibility Meet

The quiet ones envy those who are sociable. Not always, but often. They wish for an ease of contact which is not theirs. Too many hunger for understanding, for a kind person to recognize them, accept them; even love them. They are dying to be seen, but afraid to be seen.

Anonymity is the preferred choice. Many escape to the shadows, at least if they can.

Don’t raise your hand, says Mr. Anxiety, even if you have the right answer. Too risky. Your voice might quiver, your hand might shake, and there could be a follow-up question which leaves you speechless.

The insecure ones make a trade. They take the apparent safety of invisibility at the price of being ignored, misunderstood, or quickly forgotten. They leave no mark on the world, hoping to avoid criticism and ostracism. Better to take yourself out of the competition for attention than be told to go away. Of course, you wind up alone, but you persuade yourself this is better than rejection.

Instead of belittlement you opt for the shrubbery, hiding behind the bushes. True, sometimes you get wet when the lawn sprinklers go on. Occasionally a kid throws a ball that hits you or a dog sprays you, but you get used to it.

Group conversations are the worst. When might I jump in? My face will flush. They’ll think I’m an idiot, too boring. I’ll just sit tight or stand and nurse my drink.

Who would have thought a man could dive into his glass, hide behind its opacity? Or imbibe enough to shed his disguise and turn into a more outgoing, confident version of himself?

Once you sober up, you will still be like a person with a fire inside who is afraid of venting a smoke signal. The result? You are consumed from within and your glorious flame is unnoticed.

Mark Twain said, “The man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.” Change two words and the sentence becomes: the man who does not speak has no advantage over the man who cannot speak. Will you be thought of as the latter? Are you already?

Or have you become someone who is told what he thinks, afraid of challenging a rude or wrong idea? You will be outdone by those with half your intellect. They, the half-brained, are kings and queens in the land of the mute.

You remain unknown, even if others think they’ve sized you up. Many believe you are stuck-up because you avoid them. Some say you are kind, several imagine you lack “personality,” others reckon you stupid, a few timid: an easy mark to be pushed around. Most strangers form no opinion. Not one of them will be completely right, know the whole package. You won’t even be seen in full by yourself.

Your attempt to vanish is exhausting. The task is like running a race, trying to escape the eyes of others, but distancing yourself from yourself. If all escape routes close you will grab your throat and squeeze, stifle your emotions and ideas so as not to offend anyone.

Do you wish asphyxiation by your own hands?

I hear you gagging.

Do I know you? Not completely. But I’ve seen you and I might have been you a long time ago.

It wasn’t fun.

It’s not as if everyone else is completely visible. No one is. One might display an eyebrow or an ankle, even a heart: that most precious portion of ourselves when offered as a present. Such a one is trying, practicing, gathering momentum.

A gradual path toward self revelation can grow on you.

In the end, however, if you are seen but unseen, dying to be seen but afraid to be seen, you should realize something: you cannot be both.

You must choose or remain in torment.

The therapist’s door is waiting, but even there you can try to be invisible.

A pity.

Counselors, you understand, don’t do their best work blindfolded.

The top image is a photo of the cover of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. The cover was illustrated by Ludvik Strimpl and the photo taken by Gallica/Sudoc. The image was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

21 thoughts on “Dying to be Seen, but Afraid to be Seen: Where Insecurity and Invisibility Meet

  1. Loved it! A great read!


  2. Anonymity is the preferred choice, you say. There is another way. I hide in broad daylight! It’s impossible to not visually see me. I smile often, laugh and greet everyone. I’m well-liked and know endless people. Yet not one person actually sees me, even though I wish I knew how to let them.

    Liked by 3 people

    • drgeraldstein

      To clarify, it is preferred by those with lots of social anxiety and poor self-esteem. As to knowing how to let people “see” the “real” you, I imagine it is a little bit at a time. You sound way ahead in the game of social interaction than many people. Good luck with the process.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t drink anymore, 4 years ago I went from being a social drinker to some one who can’t even have a sip without physically feeling as though I’ve consumed a whole bottle and gotten into a fight.

    Social gatherings are even more horrific now. While once I’d have had a drink or two, and hidden behind my glass, now I’m a spectacle. “Kat!!! Have a drink!!! Oh yeah right, one won’t hurt! Come on!!!”.

    And even if not, without the social lubricant of a drink or two, my anxieties are just intensified.

    Oh the joys.


    • drgeraldstein

      First, Kat, congratulations on mastering the difficulties of drink. No small thing, either to admit or to alter. You have lots of company among those reformed drinkers who are assaulted to resume alcohol use. What usually happens, as I expect you know, is that one has to shed a few friends who cannot adapt and be supportive of your decision. Hang in there, though. You sound like a person of substance.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have no words. For a writer per se, that’s quite a feat. Well said, you break my heart with this.


  5. drgeraldstein

    My apologies for the heartbreak, but thank you for your praise. I’m grateful.


  6. “Invisible”, but still an accepted part of the group/gathering is much preferable to invisible AND belittled, mocked, criticized, and/or rejected.


  7. drgeraldstein

    If you are invisible, I don’t think you are actually accepted, since the real “you” is unknown to the group. Yes, you can fit in a modest way, in that you presumably avoid the downside you’ve mentioned. In my view, if people don’t know the real you or something close to it, then the strategy, at best, avoids the downside, but has no upside: the understanding, recognition, acceptance, and love I mentioned. The forecast of disaster when uncloaked is often an overestimate of the downside and the capacity to survive some of the inevitable bumps and bruises along the way. All that said, I don’t underestimate the difficulty of changing this for some, but I have treated many people who did change and who were happy they did and more satisfied in their lives. Thanks for your comment, Brewdun.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thanks for another thought-provoking post, Dr. Stein. I agree: “In the end, however, if you are seen but unseen, dying to be seen but afraid to be seen, you should realize something: you cannot be both.”

    Sometime in my adolescence, in spite of my anxieties and insecurities, I decided to become visible and face the consequences. It became even harder when I decided to become a writer and realized that it meant even more exposure. The nightmare I had about such exposure jolted me from a deep sleep.

    To live fully involves taking risks and being rejected.


  9. drgeraldstein

    “To live fully involves taking risks and being rejected.” Thank you for this, Rosaliene. You’ve hit on something essential. We don’t leave life without scars, hidden or not. And, the only way to justify the scars is, as you said, “to live fully” and obtain some part of the upside of life.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I wonder what I’m doing incorrectly. I used to want to be invisible because social anxiety and low self worth. Yet I also increasingly want to be seen yet people like counter persons, shop assistants, new colleagues treat me as though I’m invisible.

    I can be the only person who extends my hand out for a hand shake among my colleagues and be ignored by whoever we’re greeting. Say “excuse me, hello” clearly in front of a cashier who isn’t doing anything and be ignored while someone comes up from behind and seen and is attended to promptly.

    It’s as though I’ve an invisibility cloak.


    • drgeraldstein

      I think someone once said that someone else’s dog or child was a big source of rejection. We might add shop assistants and counter persons to the list. To my mind they are both overwhelmed and themselves invisible. I’ve certainly experienced some of the indifference or inattention you’ve described, but as I’m pretty assertive, I tend not to wait too long for their attention. With respect to these folks, as I’ve written about before in this space, I either try to find a name tag or tell them I’m looking for it and ask their name. This is a high percentage strategy for both having a pleasant conversation and getting noticed, at least for me. I hope this helps and thank you for raising an important concern, both for you and others.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ll try that. Probably better than me awkwardly standing there 🙂 Generally I pay attention to shop assistants and counter persons and others in such roles because I know how invisible they are with tough jobs (I do tech support which involves dealing with upset people in a way)

        Liked by 2 people

  11. Excellent article, Dr. Stein! I can relate to this article as I am an odd mixture of being outwardly friendly, kind, approachable, and engaging, while inwardly feeling awkward and unsure of myself. My preference is to stay on the sidelines and take everything in, but was forced to become outgoing because of my profession. Enjoying your work!


    • Thanks, Nancy. Your adaptation sounds like a necessary one. The best single indicator of introversion/extroversion I’ve discovered is whether you are drained in groups (and therefore introverted) or energized when in groups (therefore extroverted). Of course, most of us are not at either extreme. Take care.


  12. “Words hang on the tip of my tongue,
    until swallowed,
    sound frozen by empty lungs.
    Voice – trapped bird, wings broken.
    Smothering, choking,
    the weight of all left unspoken.”

    If I had come across this article two years ago, I may not have even recognised myself in it, as the instinct to hide, to protect, to go unseen was all I had ever known and the only way I had ever lived. I knew no different and was not aware that there were other ways to live. Thought was not part of the equation, actions were not rationalised. I was driven by an internal sense of danger which needed no explanation to set off warnings, which demanded I keep quite, avoid drawing attention to myself because to do otherwise prompted an all consuming fear, an ingrained sense that to be seen was inherently dangerous.

    But that is a half-life, and even if I never questioned my way of being, I suffered unaware…from the lack of true connection (despite having close friends), from missing out on the sense of wholeness which is imparted by feeling that you, the core of you, tucked away and hidden, is accepted and loved, and from the unbearable longing to be loved, not from a lack of loving people in my life, but because when you are hidden there isn’t a chance for the ‘real’ you, the private you, to be known and to be loved. And I suffered even if I didn’t know why – drowning in a sense of internal isolation, and so I started therapy with the excuse of addressing academic anxiety, but if I am to be honest with myself it was driven by this increasing sense of suffering.

    Two years doesn’t eradicate the voice that says I shouldn’t. I shouldn’t share, I shouldn’t let ‘them’ see. It doesn’t quell the panic which arises the more I open up, the distress I feel when breaking the cardinal rules that have governed my existence. But what it has given me is a glimpse of how life could be lived, it has given me an awareness of how I have been living. It has turned an instinct and an impulse into something that could become a choice, and when I read this article today I recognise it as a challenge…to have the courage to embrace that choice and choose to live differently.

    Thank you (and other decent therapists, particularly my own) for seeing the hidden and hearing the silent, even if it is terrifying to feel so exposed.


    • Lovely prose and touching sentiment. Congratulations on finding the courage to see yourself and fight your way through. Life offers nothing for free, as you know, and any apparent safety that effectively kills the possibility of living honestly and striving for acceptance is only a guarantee of frustration. My best to you and progress along the road we all must travel.


  13. As an once invisible man struggling to see the light and to be seen by it, your words affected me deeply. It is not an easy ride, but it is a very meaningful one. Greetings from Brazil.


    • You are welcome, Luis. Thank you for your good wishes and best wishes from Chicago. For the little bit it is worth, I’m a big fan of the Brazilian national dish, though I’ve never been to your beautiful land. Be well.


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