The Importance of Being Seen 

Kirk Pineda, MHC-LP May 17, 2022

What does it actually mean to “feel seen,” and how can we purposefully give others that kind of support?

Throughout the ages, the need to feel seen has been a crucial part of being human. While it might sound simple, being seen entails a cascade of other acknowledgments, such as trust, acceptance, understanding, love, respect, and belonging. When we’re not being seen, we can wind up feeling misunderstood, neglected, and ostracized by others.

What does it mean to be “seen?”

Feeling seen is a state in which a part (or parts) of our identity, emotions, needs, and/or physical presence get fully recognized through various means—such as representation, validation, support, and/or inclusion. The opposite of feeling seen often leaves us feeling invisible, unheard, and neglected.

While it’s not often noticed, feeling seen by others can also be an incredibly empowering experience. The recognition of various parts of our being helps us feel connected to others, less isolated, and more understood. Being seen allows others to help us meet our needs, and vice versa. To varying degrees, being seen helps us know when someone lacks support and helps us solve the world’s most complex issues.

How we make each other invisible

Surprisingly, it’s quite easy for us to hurt one another—thereby leaving others feeling less seen. In everyday conversation, we do this when we misconstrue what is said to us, prevent someone else from expressing themselves, or refuse to take someone else seriously. It can also happen when we don’t ask the people close to us how they’re doing if they need something from us, and/or what’s on their minds.

We live in a world of social media and technology that connects us like never before. On the surface, this is all well and good, but it also generates new forms of alienation. With the paving of every new road that could connect us to someone or something we don’t already know, another path that could potentially make us feel invisible follows. This might come from not receiving enough engagement on our content, infrequent responses from others, or insignificant conversations with others.

When a pattern of feeling unheard, unrecognized, or ignored persists over an extended period, it becomes easy to develop the perspective that your own self doesn’t matter. This leads to negative emotional spirals, challenging thoughts, and a weakening of our self-worth and self-esteem that can be hard to overcome. It can also make it even harder for us to reach out to others for help. In the same vein, it can also taint our view of others and the world around us, believing that it cannot (or worse, will not) be able to meet our needs.

The reparative and restorative benefits of being seen

It can be hard to pinpoint the blame for who or what is responsible for what makes us feel unseen by others. Sometimes people are unsure or unaware of how to best make others feel seen, and our lives may lack the space to hold for others.

What’s important to know is that being seen has a mutually profound, reparative, and informative effect on others. For example, when we begin to ask our loved ones questions about how we can best help them, we reveal that we have clear intentions of helping. We also invite the other person to share what would best help them feel seen. Everyone has various needs or parts of themselves that seek recognition and connection, and this is innately human. In an evolutionary sense, our connection and belonging amongst others has contributed to our survival and persists to this day in ordinary interactions.

Suppose we cannot hold space for others when they need affirmation, attention, or affection. In that case, there is still an opportunity to help those we care about feel seen. We can say things like:

  • “I understand that you need attention right now. Could I just have 30 minutes to recuperate, and then we can talk?”

  • “I hear what you’re saying, and it makes sense. I need some time to think it over, and I’ll get back to you on it. How does tomorrow sound?”

  • “Right now, I’m struggling to find space for the conversation you want to have. Is there another way I can help you feel comfortable for now, and I can let you know later when I feel ready?”

The above examples can help start the conversation in ways that allow both parties to help one another feel seen. 

However, there are also other ways of making others feel seen that go a long way.

Representation in media

In all forms of media and entertainment, representation matters. Having a diverse representation of all walks of life helps people feel connected to causes, trends, cultures, and one another. One example of this is the practice of having more people who are QTPOC, disabled, neurodivergent, and/or plus-sized represented in entertainment and media. When proper representation shines a spotlight on various identities, people become more aware of the breadth and depth of the human experience. On top of this, people who align with represented identities also feel that their identities and life experiences are worth recognition.

Supporting others

On an interpersonal level, one way we can help each other feel seen and understood is through making bids of connection with others. Examples of this include:

  • Offering help
  • Accepting help
  • Asking about others’ day
  • Sharing in others’ joy
  • Caring for others’ upset feelings
  • Paying attention through body language
  • Making a visible effort to make others feel safe enough around you to establish trust

As mentioned before, it is easy to accidentally make each other feel invisible. However, it is also through simple acts of help, emotional support, encouragement, and safe invitation that we can help others feel seen. With friends and family, this could be accomplished through a gesture as simple as a single text message. 

To further increase our feelings of being seen, we can also seek out communities where we feel celebrated and welcomed. Apps like Reddit and Discord host communities for various identities and niches, so one can easily search for others who share similar interests. You can also Google events catering to your own identities, such as QTPOC-specific spaces, meetups, and more. Within apps like Tinder and Bumble, you can specifically seek out friends or expand your network to be around others who share similar interests. Going to therapy also is a safe space for anyone, including those who feel invisible, and can help anyone reclaim their power.

While it may feel simple, the act of practicing these small techniques and seeking to understand one another is all it takes to help others feel like they matter—and that’s something that all of us deserve.

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