The Need to be Seen. God. What a burden! What an albatross around the neck of the person who feels it and for the relationship where the need to be seen is manifesting its ugly fruits–neediness, resentment, hurt, anger, despair.
Like most maladaptive beliefs and resulting behaviors, the person who believe s/he needs to be seen is running a childhood pattern that is no longer required for survival but feels like it is. It feels like life or death because as infants, not being seen can result in literal death. As we mature, the need to be seen manifests as the need to know we are okay as people (and ultimately that we are lovable), and we look for this validation in the mirror of the adults and significant figures around us. Dorothy Corkille Briggs, in her book Your Child’s Self Esteem, says,
Every child seeks a self picture as capable and strong. And behavior matches the self-image.
I’m no psychologist, but even though we were seen enough to survive infant-hood, perhaps it is those of us who, perceiving we weren’t adequately validated for being lovable, capable and strong as children, continue to slaver after those feelings long into adulthood. If there’s no break in that pattern and no awareness of the striving, we can search in vain for this feeling all our lives.
Here’s your invitation to break free.
At a core level, we want to like ourselves, to see ourselves as capable and strong, as loving, honest, thoughtful, smart… the list goes on. We think we need others to see us the way we want to be seen so that we can validate that those things are actually true about us. And even into old age, it can still feel like life or death.
Wanting to be seen is merely the ego/identity seeking validation of itself through others’ words and actions.
Show me you fear me so that I can feel strong. Show me love so that I can feel lovable.
Here’s what ISN’T the answer to this puzzle: Simply know that you are strong. Know that you are lovable. Don’t need validation from someone else. That’s the bullshit answer and doesn’t work.
Why? Because you aren’t always strong. You aren’t always thoughtful, smart, loving…whatever it is you’re looking to see yourself as. And deep down, you know that. You have all kinds of evidence of times you were thoughtless, dumb, full of hate–whatever the opposite of the trait you want to feel. So there’s a denial there, a lie we’re trying to believe about ourselves that doesn’t quite sit right.
Sure, lots of times we are loving and smart etc. etc. But if I can find even one instance of when I wasn’t, then repeating a mantra to convince myself of those beliefs doesn’t quite ring true. My mind will bring up evidence to the contrary as soon as I say the positive thing. It does the same when I say the negative thing. Notice this: say to yourself “I am hateful”. See how the mind fights with that? See how it comes up with reasons why that’s not true? Now say to yourself, “I am loving”. Notice how the mind may now bring up evidence that shows you times when you weren’t at all loving. I can certainly say that I’m sometimes loving and sometimes not, and that would be true. But can I love myself (most people’s ultimate goal–more to come on that) if I know sometimes I’m vindictive and stupid, weak and unoriginal?? Most cannot because they have been taught that only positive traits are worthy of love, although we have this inkling that we’re worthy and we want to be loved unconditionally, so we look for someone else to show us that.
Most people enter into romantic relationships because they want to be seen, and they think that’s a good and valid reason to be there.
They want someone who knows them really well, sees both the easygoing person and anxious one, the loving person and the unloving one, the fun person and the not so fun person… and still loves them through thick and thin. But this is just another level of needing someone else to validate a belief we want to hold about ourselves, namely, I’m lovable whether or not I’m the things I want to believe about myself. It’s another kind of neediness, of needing another to see us as lovable so that we can feel that we’re lovable.
Whenever we look to hold a belief about ourselves by finding evidence of its truth outside of us, we are in the clutches of a lie. We are not actually at the Truth at all, because the Truth is not a belief.
But while just saying, Ok then, I don’t need outside validation, I just need to see myself as lovable is closer to the truth, it isn’t true either. It’s just looking for validation from the self rather than another.
Here’s the Real Truth of it: the self that’s looking for validation, looking to be seen, does not exist. Trying to “love yourself” is like trying to, Sound of Music-style, catch a wave and pin it down.
I’ve watched the need to be seen slowly poison relationships and eat away at my own. The need to make a point, because I’ve identified myself with the point and if you don’t see that point, you don’t see ME: it’s crap. And it’s poisonous crap that’s particularly deadly in an intimate relationship, including the one I think I have with myself.
Rid yourself of the unachievable goal of loving yourself. There is no self to love.
But how will I ever be free of the need to be seen? If I’m the vast majority of people and have not had parents or significant people in my life who reminded me that my value is not to be found in accomplishment or character but instead is bound in the inherent worth of being an expression in form of the I AM that is everything, I will feel this need to reassure my ego character, my identity, that I am lovable and good (or the flip side of the coin, reach for someone to prove me wrong and show me I’m lovable no matter what by being unloveable and bad). Most people live in this ego self and unconsciously and endlessly repeat the futile search for or in defense of the fatally flawed aim of self-love. Look, everyone can do what they want to, but basing one’s life on a fiction doesn’t seem fun to me and is quintessentially missing the point.
As an aside, no one CAN ever see you as you really are in a literal way as no one sees anything as it is; we see it through our filtering system, the brain. As Byron Katie says, “no two people have ever actually met”.
Here’s the key to the cage (and the key to every perceived problem, really): The ego self (and thus, a “problem”) requires the illusion of past and future to exist. Without the illusion of past or future the illusion of ego/self cannot exist, “problems” disappear and we experience the freedom and the peace of infinite love that we ARE. Without past or future, we notice the form–the person–is walking. The form is eating. The form is taking the dog for a walk. Feeding the baby. Arguing. Telling the truth. We find that we are in joy watching all of this unfold without effort. We find who we really are.
But it’s not so easy. When we’re engrossed in an agenda to be seen or validated, we are invoking past and future, collecting energies in our poor, ever-loyal form, willing a dream of misperception to cloud the lives we could be aware of living in total freedom.
While of course I’d never say stay in a relationship or anything else that doesn’t feel right to you, many of us leave, over and over or stay, over and over, in an attempt to finally, finally be seen as we are, when who we really are doesn’t know the meaning of any of that. We’re just, very simply, Here. It’s possible to be Here, in all of our relationships, in an experience of joy rather than lack, in love with all of it.
We’re so practiced in the illusion of self, however, that just the realization of the truth of No Self (and thus no need to be seen) is usually not enough. To remain in this present moment, in freedom, we must practice–noticing when we call up the past or the future, noticing the thoughts we believe (whether “positive” or “negative”), noticing the desire to get caught in dramatic moments, noticing the feeling of needing to be seen or heard.
Meditation is the best way I know to begin to notice the habits of the mind and to call them into question and thus free ourselves, thread by thread, of the painful world of belief. Living meditatively supports the surfacing of the awareness of Truth more and more often, allowing misperceptions to dissipate. Decreasing distractions, pulling the cord on habits that numb us out, being in nature, aligning our rhythms with those of nature (of our true natures) all support true awareness.
To sit in awareness of the freedom that is and was always mine and to be in relationships simply because I love to, not because I think I need something from anyone, including to be seen (doesn’t it sound ridiculous now??): that’s heaven in form.
Live your life as you love to do, no matter how you perceive to be seen in all of your relationships, including the fiction of the one you have with your own self, and you’ll be free, free, free.