In my last post, I mentioned feeling invisible sometimes. How and why does this happen?
To start with, I am the youngest of three in my nuclear family (five, including the siblings I didn’t grow up with). Apart from my mother and I, everyone else was a Leo: strong, bossy personalities. Being the youngest meant that I often wasn’t old enough to engage in the many serious conversations my family had concerning my mother’s precarious health, my father’s emotional abuse, my parents’ failing marriage, and so on. As a result, I grew up the kid in the room listening to the adults – a quiet observer.
Growing older, I would add my two cents when I could, but by this time a dynamic had been established that was difficult to undo. I would always be the youngest, least experienced, least knowledgeable. It’s not that my opinions or demands weren’t respected, they just didn’t carry the same weight.
On top of that, my father’s emotional abuse drummed into my young, developing mind that I should just sit there and not talk back. After all, what can a child say to a raging adult man? Not much. The few times I did try to speak up, I was shot down so forcefully to make me quake with fear. Thus developed the habit of accepting and even internalizing bad behavior.
Later in life, I would also (except for a brief period) be the unmarried, predominantly single, and childless member of my family. I don’t care what anyone says, but people who are unmarried and childless are not taken as seriously as people who are married and have children. Full stop.
It’s not surprising then that I get along with strong personality people, and that strong personality people get along with me. The problem is that, inevitably, these personality types act as if their lives, issues, and dilemmas are more important than mine, as if I’m there to simply listen, as if I’m not actually there.
I can’t tell you how many times people have gotten into my car, or entered my house, or showed up at some agreed upon meeting and just started talking about themselves, as if picking up a conversation that we were (not) just having. If they ask me how I’m doing, it’s only perfunctory, not a genuine inquiry into my well being. Because as soon as I answer, the conversation turns back to the other person.
When I do bring up my own issues it tends to feel like an imposition, and I rush through it, aware that the other person only has a finite amount of attention to spend on subjects that don’t revolve around them.
Then there are people who feel as if they can behave in any way around me – I guess they feel that comfortable. But they’re wholly unaware of how uncomfortable I am with their behavior, and of little to anything outside of themselves.
I don’t blame anyone for these situations. If anything, I blame myself.
The fact is around certain people, I revert to being a passive person who tries to avoid conflict at all costs. This doesn’t mean that I never talk about myself, or behave loudly, or make bold statements. But when faced with a stronger personality, I retreat.
When someone is loud, I am quiet. When someone continually talks about themselves, I listen. Sometimes I play a silent game where I wait to see how long it takes the other person to notice that I haven’t said one word. Believe it or not, some people just keep on talking.
I tell myself, it’s not worth saying anything because that’s just who they are, and they’re never going to change. When I have tried to set boundaries, or point out bad behavior, people usually become defensive, or they’ll say they hear me and then forget the next time we’re together. So, there’s no point in bringing it up.
Except years of not saying anything, not standing up for myself, not telling people to shut up and listen for a change, has caused a well of emotions to build up. I’m at the point now of avoiding certain people because I just can’t take it anymore, I won’t take it anymore, and I don’t have the energy to confront them.
Instead, I choose the company of people who do see me, who do listen, who do notice things and pay attention, who reciprocate, who are aware enough to have genuine conversations.
By the way, the flip side of all of this is that the ability to be silent, retreat into the background, and just listen and observe, can be a very useful skill – especially if you’re a writer. When people just go on and on, I take mental notes. I notice more than they ever will, more than I’d like to, frankly.
This is what makes me a good writer. And a good director.
And, I hope, a good friend.
This is also what I meant by using my “writing voice” more often.
I don’t know why, but I can write things that are difficult to say out loud. Writing helps me organize my thoughts and fortifies my soul. So, I will keep going.
PlHave you ever felt, or do you ever feel invisible?