When was the last time you felt really “seen?” When you felt recognized and known by another? I’m asking because just last night I had this very experience at my monthly women’s group, and it is still reverberating in my body.
It came about because one of the women suggested an ice breaker especially intended to help us “see” one another more fully. The exercise was to share three things about ourselves, with increasing levels of depth. Mind you, our group of 10 women is relatively new, and was convened by one mutual friend; most of us had never met before starting the group. So, when she wrapped up explaining the ice breaker, there was a collective “hmmm,” as each of us contemplated what we wanted (or were willing) to share. “I’m not going first,” was my initial response.
What unfolded was deep. And it was vulnerable and real. My third and deepest share was about a distressing childhood experience at the age of seven. At the time, nobody in my family of seven noticed my distress. Though I was too embarrassed to confide in my parents, I’m certain that I behaved differently and exhibited signs of “being off.” Yet, no one saw; no one noticed. And I did not make myself seen.
So even though my childhood was blessed in many ways, I fell into a pattern of withholding my struggles and emotions. They were not seen, or at least not acknowledged, in my family of origin. I was, however, very emotionally open with my friends (and clearly still am:).
What was noticed and lauded in my family, however, were my accomplishments – straight A’s, awards, and getting skinny when I took up jogging at age 12. My dad was unabashedly proud of my accomplishments, and I reveled in his adoration. This formalized a very conscious effort to excel at things, as that guaranteed being seen. I continued to use excelling as my way to be seen and acknowledged into my early adulthood.
My friends in the women’s group also shared how significant childhood experiences shaped adult behaviors. They spoke of real-time but “unseen” emotional challenges, and the experience of not belonging, be it geographically or existentially. So much for the superficial stuff! There were a few tears, a few wows and a whole lot of love and support. Judgment was wonderfully absent. And everyone could relate to at least one other person’s sharing. Though it was vulnerable, the sharing deepened our group. And, we were each most definitely seen.
I’m keen to share the key take-aways from this powerful experience:
- We all go through life and are challenged in some form or another. It is part of being human.
- There’s a good chance that others have faced a similar challenge to yours. Though your experience is/was unique, there can be comfort in knowing, “I’m not the only one who feels this way or has experienced this.”
- Deep sharing is vulnerable, and liberating. Though it can feel easier to keep our struggles quietly locked away, that also deprives us of the support, intimacy, and of course being seen, which can accompany safe sharing.
- Women in midlife are amazing. Most of us are wiser, more self-aware, less judgmental, and less concerned about what other’s think of us. That is partly what makes sharing with other midlife women so much easier and fulfilling than in earlier decades.
So, I leave you with my opening question: When was the last time you felt really seen? Or, consider the most recent time you felt “unseen?” And, for the sake of embracing your middle and your power, what would you like to disclose that could help you to be seen? Consider taking baby steps and sharing a defining experience with a trusted friend or two. You never know what could unfold.