“Don’t hide yourself. Stand up, keep your head high, and show them what you got!” ~Joe Mari Fadrigalan
Sometime in high school I started to disappear. If I think back to the source of my disappearance, it was probably in sixth grade, the year all of my girlfriends ostracized me from sleepovers, parties, and general friendliness.
I was resilient, made some new friends, and forgave the old, but I kind of stopped trusting people. And when you don’t trust people, you can’t be yourself around them. So I decided to disappear.
I remember becoming ghost-like. I remember it being a choice. A conscious choice.
I decided to slouch in my desk and cover my eyes. I decided to silence my voice when an opinion was provoked. I decided to avoid eye contact. I decided to skip parties, stop making efforts with people who made no efforts with me, and hold my breath until graduation day.
And this is what I learned: people let you disappear.
I don’t think I expected to be saved, but no one crawled into my hole, grabbed my hand, and pulled me out.
If you want to disappear, you will. You’ll meet someone five or six times and they will never seem to remember meeting you. You’ll walk down streets and people will bump right into you. You’ll be looked through and talked over.
The world does not carve out a space for the voiceless. They do not roll out a red carpet and invite the invisible to parade through.
This is the great lesson of life: you get what you ask for. If you want to disappear, you got it. If you want to be seen and heard, you can have that too.
Disappearing is much easier, I have to say. It doesn’t take much energy to shut up and fade away. What’s much more challenging is acknowledging to yourself that you’re worthy of being here and facing the pain that’s required of being seen.
Here are some of the ways we hide:
1. We don’t give our opinion because it’s different from what other people are saying.
2. We avoid eye contact or look away once initial eye contact is made.
3. We speak very softly and timidly.
4. We slouch and hunch over in an effort to shrink ourselves down.
5. We wait for other people to initiate.
6. In conversation we don’t offer up anything about our lives, our feelings, our interests, our thoughts.
7. We decline invitations to parties, to dinners, to coffee, to anything new.
8. We tell ourselves stories about people so we don’t have to like them and, inevitably, let them in.
9. We don’t tell the truth to others.
10. We don’t tell the truth to ourselves.
I was waiting to live. Waiting to feel okay in my skin. Waiting to find people I could trust and open up. Waiting to live the life I wanted for myself.
This was a dangerous lesson in my life. It taught me that it was okay to hide, that it was okay to shrink myself down to a barely audible whisper. Hiding became a habitual coping mechanism.
When I moved to LA in my late twenties, I realized that no one knew me. I had some amazing people in my life who lived all over the country, but this was my new home—and no one knew me.
Around this time I began to heal myself through mentorship and breathwork.
I learned to value myself, to recognize my inherent worth, and I became more open. I took risks: I maintained eye contact with strangers, I smiled, I gave out information about myself without it being requested of me, I asked people out for coffee, I had presence, I was vibrating at a higher frequency.
And guess what started to happen? People were seeing me. At cafes people looked me in the eye, and we made small talk, sometimes real talk. Neighbors learned my name. People remembered me.
We all need to be seen. It’s part of what makes us human. When we don’t allow ourselves to be seen, we diminish our importance in this world. We undervalue ourselves. We hold ourselves back from greatness. We stifle our contributions. And it just plain doesn’t feel good.
A life of joy is one in which we feel comfortable showing who we really are to the world. It means accepting the fact that we’re going to stumble over our words sometimes, be misunderstood sometimes, and even be disliked sometimes.
But even in those moments we will still love ourselves first. We will allow the pain of others to be their pain and not our own. We will do our best to continue to give love to those who need it most, even when the remnants of their rejections sting.
When we shrink ourselves down we diminish our light. We literally become invisible. People look right through us, walk around us, and forget our existence because we have allowed ourselves to disappear.
There is light that vibrates through each of us. When we love ourselves we are illuminated, and we can’t help but be seen. People flock to light.
Hiding in a dark shell of a body is not a life. It’s a holding room. It’s the place where you’re choosing to find safe harbor until the storm passes. But the more you hide, the more difficult it is to come out. Everything feels like a violent storm.
We avoid our own lives and, in doing so, relinquish our right to living a truly happy one.
There are some really uncomfortable things we have to encounter in this life. We are all wounded. The only way to get to the other side of any pain is to walk through it.
Sometimes you have to walk really slowly, and sometimes you have to sit in the pain and feel it deeply.
Sometimes you have to let yourself be humiliated, heartbroken, and defeated in order to walk through the other side resilient, lighter, and wiser.
The only way to shed the burden of our pain is to face into it and feel the love buried deep beneath. And we need you to walk through the fire. Because the truth is that we need to see you as much as you need to be seen.
If you’re hiding right now, please come out. We’re all here, waiting to meet you.
Man with bag on head image via Shutterstock
About Michelle D'Avella
Michelle D’Avella is an author, Breathwork teacher and mentor. Her memoir, The Bright Side of a Broken Heart is available here. Download her FREE guide to heal your heart and follow her on Instagram for daily doses of inspiration.