“Mama, look at me!” Around the world, children demand to be seen, acknowledged, and celebrated as they express their authentic selves. Over time, they internalize their parents’ warm regard and become their own compassionate witnesses. They continue to reach out to external witnesses as well.
Safety: looking inward and outward
With healthy socialization, children learn to look inward for their own impulses, and outward to see how their actions will affect others. “Yes, you want this toy. You can choose that other toy or wait until Stefan is done with this one.” Both their impulses and others’ needs are affirmed.
Fear: looking only outward
In abusive environments, children learn concealment and fear instead. They soon learn to focus entirely on their surroundings and do what is safe and approved. Their internal impulses are a source of shame rather than affirmation. “Is it bad to want this toy?” An Inner Critic develops to help the child discover and obey the rules.
Around the world, children run to their parents crying – except when their parents are causing their pain. Under the weight of family secrets, children learn to hide their pain, carefully observing how unhurt children act.
Explore your visibility
Take a moment to notice what visibility means to you. What happens when you consider allowing your authentic self to be visible? Breathe into your belly as you sit with any emotions, images, words, and sensations that arise.
Visibility can mean vulnerability, ridicule, injury, and blame.
Perhaps you have a story that always comes to mind, the time you tripped on stage in third grade, or the time you asked for a raise and the boss laughed. Breathe into that story with kindness. Allow it to be present, along with the cringing, shamed self who carries it.
Notice your skills at hiding and avoiding visibility. Honor the choices you have made to guard yourself from exposure. Do you hold yourself erect to conceal your pain? Do you duck away from the limelight at work? Do you make small talk with people, or avoid talking to them at all? Breathe gently into all the ways you know how to hide.
Visibility can mean affirmation, sympathy, succor, and credit.
Perhaps you have another story about the time you taught a class and left the students joyfully alight with understanding, or the time you confided in your friend and she responded with quiet, perfect sympathy. Breathe into that story with kindness. Allow it to be present, along with the poised, confident self who carries it.
Notice your skills at stepping forward and taking risks. Honor the choices you have made to allow your authentic self to shine forth. Do you sometimes allow yourself to flinch? Do you take on the new project and figure it out one step at a time? Do you create art or writing or movement and allow someone else to see? Breathe gently into all the ways you know how to shine.
When you look inward as well as outward, you notice your boundaries more easily. When you are willing to be visible to others, you can express your boundaries and ask others to honor them. When you only look outward in an effort to blend in with everyone else, your boundaries are also invisible to you and others.
Think back to environments where you had to conceal your boundaries. What helped you decide that was the safest action? What are the signs of an environment safe enough to make your boundaries visible? Notice what you feel in your body as you imagine one, and then the other.
Check in again with your reactions to allowing your authentic self to be visible. Notice what happens when you breathe into your belly and give yourself plenty of room to have many different reactions at once.
Visible to yourself
A big part of healing is being willing to be visible to yourself. Rather than a journey to somewhere else, healing is a discovery of what is already here. Moment by moment, you’ll decide how much visibility is just right for you.
In There Is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self-Hate, Cheri Huber explores how to look inside with kindness and allow your authentic self to come forth.