Do you see me? Do I matter? It seems as if these two simple questions are at the bottom of what everyone is asking, underneath everything they say and do.
These two questions are some of the first we ask non-verbally as children. Life is like a room full of mirrors, and as babies we mirror what we see reflected back to us. More than anything else, babies want to be seen. That is why they develop mental and emotional disabilities in orphanages when they are not touched, held, loved, and seen. That is why children will act out (adults too!) because bad attention is better than no attention at all.
A local therapist noted that everyone is longing to be seen, not just listened to or cared about, but seen. He said it was startling when he discovered that everyone is essentially saying, “Here I am. Do you see me? Please see me as significant.”
I love seeing the faces of my family and friends light up when they see me. That’s what we all long for, I think. It’s a momentary event, but one that tells me that I matter, that they see me, and that they are happy to see me. That’s what all of us want: to see someone’s face light up when we are seen. People who come home from work want loved ones at home to see them, to be glad to see them, to nonverbally tell them that they matter. Because we live in a military area, we see on the news how our dedicated service people come home and love to be met at the pier or airfield by people who welcome them, hug them, show them that they matter, that they see them.
Sometimes if we don’t get seen enough as children, we spend a great deal of our later life longing to be seen, almost demanding to be seen. Remember high school and all the kids who wanted to be seen with the “popular” kids? What constitutes popularity changes from generation to generation, but usually it involves the right clothes, the right look, following a code that is stricter sometimes than military codes. If not seen as part of the popular crowd, kids branched out into other groups so that they could have an identity and be seen. The brains, the nerds, the athletes, the punk rockers…. “Here I am! See me!” they seem to say with their appearance and their actions.
I think there is a correlation between how much a child is seen when he is young and how much he needs to be seen later on in life. There seems to be a security that comes from being seen as a child that enables one to have the strength to get through the trying times in life.
I used to get very annoyed with a person I knew years ago. This person was constantly “at” me. This took the form of interrupting conversations I was having with others, interfering with my work and relationships with others, and constantly calling and dropping by. It became too much for me, and I ended up shying away from the friendship. I see now that what the person was saying to me was “See me. Do I matter?” What I know of this person was that he was never seen as a child. Perhaps today I would handle it differently and be more forthcoming rather than shying away from that person. The experience taught me something, however. When I see behavior like this now in myself and others, I know it’s only behavior that’s saying, “See me. Do I matter?”
Just because we, perhaps, did not get seen as children doesn’t mean that we can’t gain that security for ourselves after childhood. We can gain inner strength through the talents and abilities that we work for and things that we accomplish. I was surprised to find out years ago that there is such a thing as self-esteem that is too high and more dangerous to the individual than self-esteem that is too low, since not everyone in the world will value us just because we breathe. It is for our abilities that we will be valued.
We can also gain inner strength through a spiritual practice of prayer and meditation, which will help us touch the core of ourselves. As we begin to “see” ourselves, we won’t need confirmation from others quite so much. The most loving thing we can do for ourselves is to “see” ourselves and have patience with ourselves when we feel we need outside approval.
And the most loving thing we can do for others is to look at them, truly look, and even nonverbally say, “Ah..there you are. I see you!”