When you find yourself in any situation where you feel invisible, ask yourself what has happened, and what you are really feeling: left out at social gatherings like parties or family get-togethers? Not paid attention to when you speak, or having your opinions discounted? Isolated because of your age? Excluded by your married friends because you are alone? Ignored for gender reasons, particularly if you are a woman?
These are different kinds of invisibility, so try not to let them blend into each other. Only when you understand what you’re feeling, can you find a solution. Here are a few steps that may help.
Step 1: Take responsibility. It’s too easy to blame others, and that never works. Even the people who are closest to you aren’t responsible for how you feel. By taking responsibility, you can completely turn your perspective around. “My kids never call anymore” can be turned into “I’m glad my kids don’t feel burdened by me.”
Step 2: Look at your situation objectively. Most of us get wrapped up in our own emotions, and when you feel resentful, alone or anxious, you are too vulnerable to do what you need to do. Try looking at your situation as if it’s not happening to you but to a friend who has asked you for advice.
Step 3: First, sit down with a pencil and paper and make a list of situations where you feel invisible. At parties? At home? With friends? At restaurants? With younger people? With couples? With your family? At work? Now make three columns. The first column will include things you really want to change. The second will include things you want to change but feel slightly less urgent about. The third is the place for things that it would be nice to change but that aren’t crucial or don’t need to be addressed right this second. Now, insert each of the situations into the proper column.
Step 4: Wait a day or two, and then return to your list to check if you still agree with the priorities you set down. It also helps, at this point, to consult a confidant. Don’t pick a friend or family member who will try to dismiss your problem and tell you that everything’s fine. (They will secretly think you are trying to guilt-trip them). Also, avoid people who are in the habit of telling others what they want to hear. The best choice is someone who has experienced the same situation that you are in and has successfully found a solution.
Step 5: Make an action plan for each of your columns. This is necessary even if column #3 doesn’t feel like a pressing issue. The point of this step is to exercise your imagination. The more ideas you can devise, the freer you can be from getting stuck. Write down as many creative solutions as you can think of. Take your time. There’s no deadline, and you can return to this step over a few days, if that’s what it takes. Feel free to brainstorm with other people, making sure that they realize your intention isn’t to lean on them, but to arrive at your own independent solution.
Here are a few examples that may help jump-start the process. For instance:
Symptom: Neglected at parties.
Solutions: Simple behavioral changes are usually what’s needed, as follows:
Come prepared with topics, such as the most recent news stories.
Keep standing: Sitting down means that you are avoiding contact. Use a tried-and-true tactic: Walk up to someone, introduce yourself and ask them what they do for a living.
Eavesdrop on conversations, and if you hear one that’s interesting, walk up and say, “What you’re talking about really interests me. Can I join you?” Move from room to room, looking around with an interested gaze. When you meet someone’s eyes, smile. If they smile back, walk up and engage. If you feel sorry for yourself as the evening goes on, leave. You have better ways to fill your time, and parties aren’t for you.
Symptom: Not paid attention to by family.
Solutions: A little analysis is needed here. This symptom is frequently a variation of familiarity breeds neglect. You have allowed yourself to be put into a box. Other family members react in one of two ways: They leave you in your box because it’s the easiest thing to do, or they leave you in your box because they assume you like being there. If you complain about feeling neglected, then complaining becomes your box.
The solution is to approach someone in your family whom you trust, tell them how left out you feel and ask how you are viewed by the family. In other words, discover which box you have been placed in. Once you have a reasonable answer, you can begin to change their perception. If you are seen, for example, as quiet, accepting, unobtrusive and useful only when others need something from you, turn the tables. Start talking, speak up for yourself and ask others to help you for a change.
Symptom: Friends no longer seem close.
Solutions: Friendships start to fray for two reasons: The first is that you and your friend are no longer in the same place. One or the other has moved on, which happens. The second is that a hidden grievance has been simmering and eventually created a rupture.
Both of these things can be corrected, but it takes both of you to do that. So you need to have a candid discussion. Choose a comfortable time and place. Don’t bring up your hurt or resentful feelings while you are having them. Once you sit down, state the problem clearly and then immediately ask for feedback: “I don’t think we’re as close as we used to be. How do you feel?” That’s an intimate question, and the other person will usually be startled. But you will be fine as long as you avoid the big turnoffs that kill an honest discussion, which are (1) making a speech right off the bat (2) blaming the other person (3) whining or acting victimized and, (4) showing that you don’t actually care about your friend’s point of view.
You must avoid these mistakes, and if your friend resorts to these discussion-killers, walk away as soon as you are able. You’ve tapped into some kind of resentment or defensiveness that is blocking a solution. But, don’t give up. Returning tactfully to the issue will often work, because your friend has had time to think.
Your aim is to establish whether the two of you are moving apart, or if there is an unresolved issue. Once this has been determined, and you both agree, that’s enough progress for one meeting. Now go home and decide if you want to get on the same page and move in a new direction together, or if the underlying issue can be worked through. I’ve only described the start of how to renew a flagging friendship, but it’s these initial steps that are the most important.
Feeling invisible is a condition you can change with time, effort and creativity. You deserve to be noticed, cared for and valued. All you need to do is to learn the tactics that make these expectations become a reality.