Most of us grew up thinking that invisibility was a superpower possessed only by superheroes. Even as adults, when we play the game with our friends asking each other which superpower we’d most like to possess, invisibility always makes the rotation, especially if we’re thinking about all the ways we feel nagged by others or burdened by responsibilities.

But beneath our playfulness and imagination is a more painful interpretation of this idea of invisibility. Think for a second about a moment when you didn’t feel seen by others… when the thought crossed your mind that at that moment, no one was thinking of you, or worrying about you, or cared at all about what happened to you. A moment when you felt utterly alone, but wanted real badly the company of others. Think about a period in your life when you craved someone to understand who you really were, and what you were really feeling… but looked around or through your list of phone numbers, and had no one to do this for you.

For so many young people, feeling invisible isn’t a sensation that fills them with wonder… feeling invisible is a sensation that is crushing beyond words.

Feeling misunderstood compels young people to act in ways that people understand and draws attention… but isn’t really who they are.

Feeling invisible drives young people to think “why bother, no one sees me anyway”… and then to act recklessly because in their worlds, there’s nothing to lose.

Feeling alone forces young people to seek others who might claim to see them more honestly, and might not be good for them… because the need to feel like they exist is that strong.

Feeling unseen stirs paralysis… inhibiting any effort that might improve their lives because to them, no one seems interested anyway.

I see weight of invisibility everyday on the faces of my students. In the words they speak… and in the words they don’t speak. And I see the influence of invisibility every day in their risky behaviors and apathy.

But here’s the thing… I see the kids who are struggling with feeling unseen because it is my job to see, and because I never forget how painful it feels to wonder if anyone cares enough to look… and if I had no other responsibility given my title as “counselor”, seeing young people, and I mean fearlessly seeing them for who they really are and not who we think they are or should be, would be more than enough to inspire them to be more invested in their lives.

Which is why it confuses me so that we have so many young people struggling as profoundly as we do… because all they really need, after their plates are filled with food, their backs are clothed and their heads are covered by a roof… is for the adults in their small, but significant lives, to look at them… without a need to see anything other than what is real for that child.

Because then it’s easy. Once we know the true need… we can go ahead and meet it.

  1. staci manikas-eyler says:

    As a teacher of so many, I completely agree. I often look into the eyes of my 5 year old son, hear the voice of my 84 yr old father, and share the burdens of my husband only to realize that we all at some point need to be understood. What I feel seems to be misunderstood is that we are still individuals if we allow a connection of unity through common conversation. Often, my college students behave as though they don’t belong in college because they are not at a, “university”. It is after they notice that their perceptions and achievements are recognized by me or by their peers. Sometimes that is done by a silly comment or a serious remark. We play a lot with words and ideas here at home with Theodore and William, as well as the classroom. Ive even thought about bringing the boys to the classroom so they can enjoy the feeling of acceptance and difference. I completely understand and feel strongly about being heard and not always feeling invisible. Of course, I am a mom and there are times when I would love to borrow Diana’s invisible jet and golden lasso tho…lol gotta go boys are calling…

    • Rockman says:

      Given the speed with which we are all living, and the burdens and responsibilities where all carrying, it’s all too common to assume we paid “enough” attention. Seeing someone, whether they’re 5, 40, or 84, or whether they’re truly happy inside or feeling completely alone and overwhelmed, requires so much more than listening with our ears and looking with our eyes. And thinking that we understand someone else does not ensure that the other feels understood by us. We’re all getting way too good at putting on shows or appearing one way… when we’re really feeling another. And yeah Staci, an invisible jet when things get too chaotic, or a golden lasso of truth when we fear the kids in our lives feel like they need to hide who they are, would be most welcome tools. Keep answering those calls, your kids are lucky to have you ready, willing and able…

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