The Client Who Wants to Remain Invisible

Several readers responding to my recent post about a client who felt invisible have asked me to discuss the opposite experience — the person who fears being seen and desperately wants to remain invisible. It’s a very different issue, with roots in profound shame.

I find it useful to think about the person who fears being seen as the opposite of a narcissist: narcissistic personalities want very much to be looked at and admired — for their appearance, accomplishments, possessions, etc. — but they unconsciously fear being truly seen. In my forthcoming book, I talk about this clamoring for attention as a sort of reaction formation: the unconscious fear of being seen becomes the conscious desire to be looked at. With the person who longs to remain invisible, that dread of being truly seen may instead be conscious, but it shares the same root: a fear of being exposed and despised.

In psychotherapy, even though this person wants help, she fears that if the therapist truly sees her, then that therapist will reject her with contempt or revulsion. Unconsciously, and sometimes consciously, they feel ugly and defective inside, or displace that feeling onto their appearance. They believe that they are essentially unlovable; the only hope they have of getting something that they need is to keep themselves hidden from view because nobody who knew the “truth” would willingly give them anything.

You sometimes see this dynamic in people who grew up with narcissistic parents. As children, they felt that the only way they could get what they needed was to take care of their parents’ needs first, in the sad hope that the parents would then grow enough to be able to function as such. That was certainly my case, and I’ve seen it in other situations where the person had to subsume his or her own needs/feelings to those of the parents. In other words, in order to get what you need, you have to keep those needs out of sight; in order to get the love and attention that every child craves, you have to appear selfless — that is, without a self and hence invisible.

This fear of being seen and found to be defective is often reinforced by a savage and perfectionistic superego that fuels a profound level of self-hatred. As discussed in my post on the most common defenses against shame, the primary defense is the creation of an idealized false self meant to deny the feelings of inner ugliness and defect. Narcissists strive to convince themselves that they actually are that ideal self; they crave the admiration and envy of others in order to confirm that belief. The person who wants to remain invisible instead feels persecuted by that ideal self-image, constantly compared to it and found wanting, so they instead try to keep their true selves hidden and out of sight.

On a practical level, psychotherapy with such individuals can be challenging because they keep important information hidden from the therapist for long periods. Sometimes they may feel safe enough to tell their therapist about the fear of opening up, but often they simply talk about issues and feelings other than the most important ones. From the therapist’s point of view, it may feel as if the work lacks a kind of vitality; he or she may feel at a distance from the client and that it’s very difficult to get close. Dreams may offer a way in. Often I have to rely on my intuition; if the person hasn’t old me so already, I might say something along the lines of: “It feels like you’re afraid to really open up to me, as if it’s dangerous to let me see you fully and so you have to keep yourself hidden.” In any event, you have to be patient and not press too hard. It takes a long time for a person struggling with this kind of shame to develop trust enough to reveal themselves.

In writing this post, I was reminded of the character of Charlotte Vale in one of my favorite old movies Now, Voyager (1942). Crippled by a profound sense of inferiority and ugliness, she shuns any kind of attention and wants very much to remain invisible. She lives under the domination of an autocratic mother who lacks all maternal qualities, expecting Charlotte to conform to her every whim. Mother Vale has effectively eradicated Charlotte’s sense of self. With the help of kindly Dr. Jaquith, Charlotte escapes her tyrannical mother and develops a genuine sense of self and self-esteem. She finds a kind of healing when she bonds with a young girl very much like her former self, providing the kind of loving acceptance she had always craved as a child. Sentimental, perhaps, but a wonderful movie and a moving portrait of a woman who longs to remain invisible but finds her way into the light.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. I was so happy to read your last blog post because it resonates with so many things I’ve thought about as a parent and a writer and a beginning therapist. It was very encouraging. I also wanted to ask if you’d ever read anything by Tove Jansson? She’s a Finnish author and she’s best known as the author of the moomin books. She has a short story in Tales from Moominvalley about an invisible child who is invisible because she’s been emotionally abused. Moominmamma is able to love her back into wholeness. It’s a wonderful story (all of the moomin stories are wonderful) and I think you would like it. Here’s an excerpt from it:
    “You all know, don’t you, that if people are frightened very often, they sometimes become invisible,” Too-ticky said and swallowed a small egg mushroom that looked like a little snowball. “Well. This Ninny was frightened the wrong way by a lady who had taken care of her without really liking her. I’ve met this lady, and she was horrid. Not the angry sort, you know, which would have been understandable. No, she was the icily ironical kind.”

    “What’s ironical,” Moomintroll asked.

    “Well, imagine that you slip on a rotten mushroom and sit down on the basket of newly picked ones,” Too-ticky said. “The natural thing for your mother would be to be angry. But no, she isn’t. Instead she says, very coldly: ‘I understand that’s your idea of a graceful dance, but I’d thank you not to do it in people’s food.’ Something like that.”

    “How unpleasant,” Moomintroll said.

    “Yes, isn’t it,” replied Too-ticky. “This was the way this lady used to talk. She was ironic all day long every day and finally the kid started to turn pale and fade around the edges, and less and less was seen of her. Last Friday one couldn’t catch sight of her at all. The lady gave her away to me and said she really couldn’t take care of relatives she couldn’t even see.”

    “And what did you do to the lady?” My asked with bulging eyes. “Did you bash her head?”

    “That’s no use with the ironic sort,” Too-ticky said. “I took Ninny home with me, of course. And now I’ve brought her here for you to make her visible again.”

    1. Wonderful quote! Thanks for sharing it here. I love the way she depicts the coldness, shaming and indifference that can lead a child to become invisible.

  2. I have devoured your posts since I discovered the blog last October, and this one really resonates with me. You are so articulate in your discussion of the way a basic sense of shame manifests.

    I am especially grateful for this particular post. It helps me to understand why my therapist and I spend so much time “talking about talking”. I’m very thankful that he is so patient with what must seem like an endless battery of tests to ascertain whether he can be trusted to “hear it all”. For me, there is a very powerful desire to be truly seen and accepted (loved, even?), but a much stronger fear of rejection overrides that desire, resulting in only very limited discussion in the sessions of the deeper issues that led me to seek psychotherapy.

    I hope that you will write more about this type of patient in the future. Thank you again for sharing your insights in the blog. It has been a wonderful supplement to my therapy.

  3. Hello Dr. Burgo,

    Something I wrote a couple of years ago during therapy I thought was relevant to recent discussions. I am a person that grew up being and feeling invisible but also longing for attention. It has made me incredibly vulnerable in many ways. I have to watch myself. I am suspicious of most people but tend to over idealize the few who I think can “really see me”. It is so painful to long for something so badly (love), knowing it can never fully be realized (like it should have been in childhood). I think therapy helps but I recently took a break from my own therapy because I think I came up against a huge wall of “I’m never going to let you fully see me because I will only be disappointed at how little you can actually give and it will never fill the endless need so I would just rather keep having the unfulfilled need.” Or something like that. I also ran out of money.


    Sometimes you talk
    Sometimes you sit
    And watch, and wait
    So still and intense

    I see you over there
    But I can’t see you
    I can’t look at you for very long
    It really does hurt

    I think I am trying to tell you something
    But it never comes out right
    It wants to be the truth

    I try to hear what you are saying
    Above the yelling in my mind
    I get about half

    I do everything you tell me to do
    And it helps sometimes

    I used to have a daydream of my family being made to sit in a room with me
    They would be bound and gagged
    And I would tell them EVERYTHING I was feeling, and thinking
    Even if I was mad
    I would tell the truth

    And they couldn’t say or do anything to me

    And now there you are
    Listening and looking and silent and waiting

    And I won’t be known

    Thanks for your blog, please keep writing!

      1. I find the imagery of gagging my Father and telling him how I really feel; helpful. I wish my sister could literally do that.
        I am going to do some work soon in psychotherapy and will have to explain how I am a difficult patient because I find it excruciatingly embarassing to expose who I am. I see myself as wearing a beautiful garment that on the inside is lined with dirty rags (my past family). I am my my descendents with all of the sordid revelations. Therapy can be devastating. I used the Art Gallery to ground my feelings after sessions. There is a feeling of intense panic over my revelations to the therapist. A disorientation of time and place. It truly is difficult to heal when a mask necessitated one to be in existence with other people around. I am afraid to tell others who I am. I am shame.

        1. I think revealing oneself to other people who feel a similar way can be liberating. It’s important to let oneself be known, but you need to be careful about who you let see underneath that beautiful garment.

  4. I can relate to so many things in this post. My father spent my early teen years dying of cancer, and my adolescent needs seemed to be small and trite compared to the suffering he was going through, so I made myself as invisible as possible so as not to be a problem for him or for my mother, whose own anxiety and depression made her unable to focus on my needs. Becoming visible to my therapist has been an excruciatingly painful and slow process, as I am convinced that every bit of myself I uncover will be despised. Dreams have been the most vital part of our work, I think- I’ve had countless vivid dreams in which I am invisible to her, ignored, laughed at by her children. I have recently begun having dreams in which we are sitting face to face and talking, although some detail in the dream always prevents me from seeing or hearing what she is saying. Thank you for writing about this!

    1. I agree about the dreams — they’re sometimes all we have to go on. And I think becoming visible is almost always painful and slow.

  5. I am another “devour-er” who finds your writings a very useful adjunct to my own therapy, winding down now after 3.5 years.

    This article really hit home for me. I have learned that part of my struggle is that a very important part of myself, a moderately imparing birth injury, is invisible to others on casual inspection. And, I was raised with the attitude that it was not a problem (ie, keep it invisible) despite having major surgery/body cast and physical therapy at age 6. But it is NOT invisible to me and never was. Growing up though, there was not room to discuss it/my feelings and to do so would evoke angry/denying parental responses (and 30 years later still does). In therapy I have spent a LOT of hours wrestling with the co-existing impulses to keep it invisible and managing the terrible shame that arose when I attempted to talk about it and seek medical care for it (after a 25 year hiatus). There is this ying-yang of wanting attention from my therapist (help me/see me/validate that this issue and that my feelings are “real”) and at the same time, being highly aware of pushing him away (stay invisible) as I would not want to be considered “attention seeking.” I have many layers of defenses that have been peeled back: the perfectionistic part, a highly active and mean self critic, some self hatred and a sense of being an imposter. Yet, I am active in my community and my profession and really LIKE (but am also ashamed of liking) attention for a job well done. T says I expend excessive energy making sure that I do not step out of bounds and look too attention seeking due to my concerns about this…and that my strict protectors would likely NEVER let this actually happen.

    So my question–you wrote:

    “Narcissists strive to convince themselves that they actually are that ideal self; they crave the admiration and envy of others in order to confirm that belief. The person who wants to remain invisible instead feels persecuted by that ideal self-image, constantly compared to it and found wanting, so they instead try to keep their true selves hidden and out of sight.”

    Before therapy, I did want to convince myself that I was this ideal self and I did thrive on the admiration (not envy) of others or my accomplishments. But that admiration was not always available nor consistant which led to feeling so very empty and emotionless at times. At the same time, I did feel persecuted by that ideal perfectionistic self that I could not live up to. (In fact, it was a professional lawsuit that broke the camel’s back and led me to therapy–the perfectionist could not manage that one!) And I did keep the true self largely hidden as I learned that this part needed to stay hidden in order to be socially acceptable/loved.

    Now after a lot of work and tears I enjoy a more internal locus of self esteem, am much more attuned to my own body and in touch with my “4th dimension” much more consistantly, I am able to let the radiance of that true self out more of the time.

    But your words leave me wondering –can someone have a “narcissist part”–if they like attention for a job well done AND an invisible/vulnerable part that needs a lot of trust and compassion to be allowed out–
    Does that make them (ME!) a “narcissist”? After all, don’t narcissists become that way BECAUSE they have invisible parts that are deeply shaming?
    I know it is all a spectrum–what determines whether one becomes a narcissit with their protective defenses or whether one chooses the invisability cloak?

    Thank you for sharing your insights–enjoy them a lot and look forward to reading more and your book as I transition out of therapy…….

    1. Well, I certainly have a narcissistic part. I think that all of us who have struggled with shame carry residues of it for life, and so the pull toward narcissistic defenses is always there when shame arises. But wanting to be appreciated by others — that is, to belong and have a sense of value within our own group — isn’t narcissistic. It’s an ordinary human need.

      I think that it’s the degree of shame that determines how much one turns toward narcissistic defenses. The more profound the shame, the more entrenched the defense against it.

      1. I’ve just discovered you via Psychology Today…and found what i’ve read so far very interesting. I do need to respond to this tho – whilst I understand what you’ve said, I don’t agree with it. “But wanting to be appreciated by others — that is, to belong and have a sense of value within our own group — isn’t narcissistic. It’s an ordinary human need.” I’ll digress a little here – a bit about myself – yes I’ve had issues, but guilt based and not shame based – however I live with my partner who was raised by narcissists and is deeply entrenched in shame – I’m going to try and get him to read some of the responses here – I’m sure they will deeply resonate with him. But back to what you’ve said – I don’t agree that needing to belong and have a sense of value is a need – well not in the context that this has to come from another human. From my own experience I have deconstructed my belief system and found something far greater, I have discovered my own sense of value and an inner knowing that I belong. From my newly discovered sense of perspective and worldview I can see that many people do not get to a place I’ve got to……but I do think that ALL people, narcissists, psychopaths, shamed people can all get there if they really want to. I’m not saying this to “put you in your place”, but because you are doing your own self work, helping others at the same time and also because you are passing your learnings on to help others – I suppose what I’m trying to say is don’t underestimate your abilities to acheive something that may appear to be unacheivable. I don’t “beLIEve” but I do know that you can take this further, however that is dependent on you lowering your own defences and taking more risks, taking more steps to face those hidden and unconscious fears. It’s brilliant that you’ve got this far and shared it with others – far more than I’ve done – but I think you can take it further, if you really want to and really look for it. I just went looking for the truth – it wasn’t what I expected but it has certainly changed my life for the better.

  6. Reminds me of a fine person/client from years ago who felt great risk, conflict and vulnerability in finally revealing their political leanings to their therapy group, which included several members of opposite affiliation. There’s sure no accounting for personal taste, and no one in the group had any negative reactions whatsoever. It took great courage to share that information,
    and the results were quite positive. I’ve often found Interpersonal Group Therapy especially helpful in experientially repairing even severe shame and fear of shame. bd

  7. Why would a therapist ask the question “Who are you protecting?” to a client like this especially one that has many defenses?

      1. I’m guessing that he wanted me to say myself so that we could get into a discussion about why I’m protecting myself and how these defenses are no longer needed.

  8. Thanks for the post, cute ending, though I was hoping to read more on the therapy part and real-world examples of people who made significant progress.

    I have an issue with patience and not pressing too hard on the part of the therapist. I understand that in general they have to be cautious. But sometimes I think it’s necessary to attack an issue from different fronts with different words and strategies, because sometimes the client just doesn’t understand what the therapist is talking about, even though they keep using simple, everyday language.

    For example, at some point in my therapy, I was asked something along the lines of “aren’t you interested in knowing who you really are?” to which I responded, a bit embarrassed, “no, I don’t care about that” in a way that also meant “aw f*** off I don’t want to talk about that.”

    I think I understand the concept better now. And indeed it turned out that I denied, over/underestimated or just forgot a lot of facts about me, which had an influence in many of the issues I was having.

    But back then, that idea of “true self” really sounded like irrelevant new-age/self-help bullshit to me. Anyway I didn’t know what to say that the therapist hadn’t already heard, I couldn’t even imagine what else could be said, and I thought I knew myself well enough so nothing really new or different was to be discovered.

    To go past that I had to go through group therapy (supervised by the same therapist) where both of us learned/understood a lot of things about me, career counseling (where the counselor, also a therapist, was pretty quick to rediscover a few traits I totally forgot about), and a lot of reading and introspection.

    So it’s not just a matter of trust, but also of understanding what to look for and where. While I now suppose the therapist was just being cautious, at the time I was very frustrated by the feeling of circling around some issues for too long without any clue about what to look for. I was getting angry at the therapist for not helping, and I was tempted to drop out (again) with the final conclusion “okay, these therapies just don’t work for me” (meaning: I must be too damaged even for that).

  9. In previous posts, you’ve talked about “disintegration anxiety.” I’m sure those of us who experience this horrendous thing experience it in different ways, but for me it feels like I’m about to not only completely and utterly lose my mind, but that I am about to literally cease to exist. It’s as if the “me” who I’ve known all my life is slipping away into some kind of abyss of despair, hopelessness and insanity….all without any clear, apparent reason why I feel this way.

    The “threat” of being seen triggers this in me. And for me, being seen encompasses being and feeling truly known and truly loved, as well as the request that I truly love and know another person, like a potential partner.

    But, at least I can now see this in myself. And, in reading about shame and self-hatred here and in talking about it with my therapist, I am also now seeing just how much shame works as a kind of emotional bunker to keep people out. Remember those World War II concrete fortifications with nothing but the little horizontal slots with which to see and shoot at the enemy? I’m now seeing that this is where I and others live from because of shame and fear of being seen. The good news is that I know that I wasn’t always like this. I hope others can remember a time when they also weren’t so defended, either.

    Thanks for another great article.

    1. You’re lucky that you can remember such a time, because it means the trauma came later. I think when the trauma is ear on, from the outset, the feeling of shame and damage can be so pervasive it engenders a kind of hopelessness.

  10. being invisible. when i go to my therapist i wear shades and have my ear buds in and the music up loud while i sit in the waiting room. the main reason is to be invisible. i do not want anyone to approach me or talk to me. i don’t want people to see me. but once i am in my therapist’s office, off with the shades and ear buds. i am totally different. i tend to be hypomanic but if my therapist pulls on the reins i will slow down and listen. to the world i do want to be invisible. yet on my blog i am very open and honest about my feelings and thoughts. i am a mix of all sides. i feel very safe inside of my blog but other places no so much. is this still shame? i have been in therapy since i was 19. before that i never really spoke to anyone. now i write and have conversations. i don’t know if i fit at all with the invisibility you are writing about but all my most important relationships are with people who live in other countries around the world. my two best friends live in the UK and Australia. Except for the woman i have been living with for over three decades. i did say awhile back on my blog that sometimes i felt invisible. it is all quite confusing. i will bring this up with my therapist this week during our sessions. we meet twice a week. she does see me and i think she is seeing the real me as much as i am able to be that person. J.K. ps. thank you. this was a great post. i have been following you for several years now and you always manage to present posts that give me something to ponder.

    1. Thanks, JK. It’s sounds like your issues with invisibility are more complex than what I’ve outlined here. Maybe you feel most comfortable with a kind of limited visibility, where you have some control over what is seen by others (except for your therapist), without giving them unlimited “visual access.”

  11. Your work focusing on shame is very helpful. I’m still addressing my fear of being seen, feeling without a self and hence invisible–but I desperately want not to remain invisible. I’ve kept myself so hidden I’ve struggled to know who I am, what I feel. Rather than a dread of being truly seen, I’ve been desperate to be seen with compassion for what I’ve truly felt–fear, confusion, anger. It took me awhile to even realize I had these feelings, but when I became aware of them, I felt safe enough and didn’t hesitate to reveal them in therapy. A problem arose because I didn’t have a way to articulate them, only to express them. I figured I was in therapy to get help with these feelings, but more than one therapist seemed to expect I should know how to articulate and talk about them–when I hadn’t even known I had them for most of my life, and hardly had names for them. Indeed, several therapists rejected me with a sense of contempt or revulsion for expressing such feelings.

    I now understand that my version of this issue shares the same root you described: a fear of being despised–and I have this fear because I was despised at times of great vulnerability in early childhood. I know of these instances but don’t remember them: What made clear to me the effect they had on me was that therapists reenacted this despising. I also now understand that many therapists, like my misguided early caretakers, may have come from backgrounds like you bravely describe, having to hide their own needs. Thus my expressing my own needs in such a raw way–the only way available to me at that time–came across to therapists as entitlement. What one called my “primitive emotions” were more than they could bear–and this makes complete sense if their own early needs and emotions were not borne well by their own caretakers.

    1. Sadly, a great many therapists (especially ones who have no grounding in psychodynamic theory) have unresolved issues that get played out in the countertransference. It’s really a shame that a mental health profession ended up replicating your earliest trauma.

  12. “It feels like you’re afraid to really open up to me, as if it’s dangerous to let me see you fully and so you have to keep yourself hidden.”

    Perhaps that’s not as illegitimate of a concern as you make it out to be. Especially if the patient has ever had to experience their therapist apologizing to them after exploding in a frustrated rage.

    I’ll bet that for many ‘invisible’ patients, a consequence of growing up with abuse has directly contributed to picking up behaviors that only serve to generate more abuse from classmates, teachers, co-workers, bosses, or complete strangers. Invisibility might be a sensible alternative to narcissism for someone who is frequently insulted, berated, and abused and is subsequently blamed by the abuser for “making me do this” After all, there may just be truth to that!

    To me, it seems like the patern works something like this: a patient walks into a therapist’s office because they want to change whatever it is that causes everyone around them to “hate” them. The therapist will say something like, “I’m so sorry that your previous treatment didn’t work out the way you would have liked. How tragic!” and then immediately begin attempts to create this incredibly open, intense, dynamic, almost romantic relationship with someone who is ill-equiped to do anything other than to sit quietly and accustomed to try to remain as invisible as possible. The therapist doesn’t get the relationship that they crave in their sessions and as time drags on, the therapist’s patience wears thin and tensions and frustrations mount. Finally, when the patient does open themselves up, the therapist snaps. Afterwards, the patient hears a speech about how therapists themselves are still only human beings with the same flaws that everyone else has. And the patient is shooed away to a different therapist. And whatever flaws in the patient’s behavior that initiated the appointment to the therapist in the first place goes unaddressed.

    I know that therapy is all about the relationship between the patient and therapist and how you have to go through several therapists to find the right fit. And then it’s a long, expensive, painful journey that hopefully leads to self discovery. And that the process takes longer and requires more patience for the invisible patient when things do work out. But to help prevent a disaterous result later down the line, would it be so unethical for a therapist to say to their patient, “X is the reason people treat you poorly. Try Y” well before trust is even close to being established between the therapist and patient?

  13. I am still a regular reader although I rarely comment – but this post did resonate with me. I often fantasize and although I’m getting better at engaging with the real world, I wonder if having a very intense fantasy life that replaces reality at times is a way of maintaining a certain invisibility, as it ensures that I’m only visible to people as they exist as characters in my own head.

    I also find being touched by others still grosses me out – it’s a very intense way of being “seen” by another person, when they hug you or touch you.

    1. I think you’re right, that having a vivid fantasy life is a way of maintaining invisibility. I’m glad to “see” that you’re still a reader and I hope you’re doing well.

      1. Thanks! I am still continually improving. Your blog really helps – I think it’s a great resource not only for people in therapy and people who are finished, but also for those of us who struggle to afford it.

  14. Hi Dr. Burgo-

    This is an area I constantly struggle with. After two years of twice-weekly psychotherapy, I am still terrified of being truly “seen,” but desire to be (on some level). This ambivalence often manifests itself in dream content; symbolized by others taking photos of me in which I am reluctant or embarassed to comply. During therapeutic disclosure of such dreams, I often omit the photographic symbolism because I even feel ashamed of my unconscious desire for “mirroring”. While shame may be a motivating factor, fear of exposure can evoke anger, further facilitating a protective divide. My therapist recently suggested that lying down may be facilitative (something I am not agreeable to, but would like to be). Basically, anything that encourages vulnerability evokes resistance in me. Someone once said that, “No one really comes to therapy to get better,” and I can’t disagree with that sentiment.

    1. I think that most people come to therapy in order to have their pain alleviated. That’s wanting to “get better,” in a way, but most people don’t want to be introduced to the parts of themselves they’re trying to avoid.

      Hang in there. Be brave and try lying down. Challenge yourself to be as honest as you can and don’t omit important details. You’re siding with your defenses and that will get you nowhere.

  15. Hello Dr. Burgo,
    In my experience all of the narcissists I have known all had one thing in common-mothers whose parenting skills were sadly lacking. Is this a coincidence or is this one schema we can blame on the mother? Also, what determines whether a narcissist will be of the grandiose or vulnerable sub-type? Can narcissists ever become authentically empathetic?
    Thank-you for your timely article! I appreciate your feedback!

    1. I think a child who doesn’t receive the needed empathic concern from its caretakers can’t develop empathy for others, so I think you’re probably right about that common background. I don’t know what determines the grandiose/vulnerable subtype, but I do think a narcissist can become truly empathic once he or she confronts the underlying shame. It takes a long time.

  16. I really enjoyed reading this following on from your previous writing about the invisible child. I liked the phrase you used; ‘loving acceptance’ when you referred to the healing that takes place in the film between the main character and another.

    I feel that this is what can get modelled in therapy. When it happened for me and when I was eventually able to begin to let this in it helped me enormously. The knock on effects are that I felt, and feel, more able to recognise it in my relationships with others outside therapy and I feel that I gravitate towards people more now that ‘see’ me and accept me rather than people who, for whatever reason, do not.

    I’d read Carl Rogers books and absorbed this on a cognitive level but only when I had experienced it did it truly impact. Something about not just knowing it but living it.

    1. Yes, there’s a big difference between reading it and going through it. Hard to explain to people who haven’t done so.

  17. I think that invisibility gets a bad rap sometimes. I know I’m writing on the blog of a therapist, so I’m swimming against the current here, but. One poster mentioned fantasies (which are not necessarily a bad thing), also, for me, being invisible for many years allowed me to nurture some amazing and very ‘different’ creativity and ideas and strengths. It’s important to remember that visibility often happens in the eyes and on the terms of a mainstream that may simply not be able to accommodate everyone so as to allow them to be truly seen, many gay and transgendered people probably know what I’m talking about. One may not realize it unless one has been there, but invisibility has the potential to be a space of amazing beauty and richness. Certainly there comes a time (for most people, one thinks) when it’s time to present oneself on a social scene, however I wish this could be done without pathologizing what has come before.

  18. hello joseph i just stop by your site and it interest me because i can relate to it and i think i am an invisible. i am under medication for anxiety disorder and depression. i am always in denial of my wants and feelings everytime i am with other people. when i am alone i feel i am back to my true self . i just don’t feel me everytime i am with others that is why i want to be alone. i am so conscious that i don’t want to be looked at.

  19. I’ve been really struggling to open up in therapy because of the shame I feel. I didn’t even know what it was really… I just knew that that I would get a really anxious feeling… Riding a roller coaster. And my body and face would get hot like I was embarrassed. I really felt bad for my therapist because I could see and feel the frustration. My therapist has been very kind and patient with me.
    I did tell about my fear of opening up… And that I’ve NEVER opened up to anyone and I would give it my best shot. Consciously I would tell myself to open up but there was another part of me that would bring on such fear… I would become frozen and couldn’t even talk full sentences.
    After many months of doing this I finally realized what it was when we were talking about why I stay with my spouse. Whenever I walk in a room I don’t feel wanted there (especially in therapy). It’s not logical so I dismiss it; hoping the feeling will just go away. It never does and the result is panic and I can’t open up because I don’t feel safe. It’s funny because in the beginning I was told it feels like that I don’t want to be there… In a sense the feeling was right. But I didn’t feel wanted there and my reaction was to act like I didn’t care, when I really wanted to do was run out of there. Any way, I went home and thought long and hard about the question ” why do I continue to stay with my abusive spouse?” I really didn’t know at that point. I tried to remember the day last time we got back together after a separation. I wished that he would come back. But before that I was anxious and pacing. I thought harder and some how I connected the feeling I had with how I felt every time in therapy… I don’t feel wanted. If he didn’t come back I wouldn’t be wanted or I’d be rejected and for some reason being rejected is almost as bad as death for me. I panic and become Unfunctionally depressed. When he comes back this feeling is alleviated. There a many instances that I now realize that the feeling of being unwanted has affected me in my life…
    The feeling I try to avoid most is the feeling of shame from being unwanted, rejected, or unloved. So I stay invisible to everyone.And I hate that feeling!

    1. There are some experiences that are worse — more painful, more intolerable — than physical abuse, as hard as it may be for outsiders to understand. You did an excellent bit of digging there and you came up with some important insights. I wonder if you can try to bear those feelings of shame well enough to protect yourself from further abuse.

  20. As an ‘invisible’ client – non client; who’s exploring well, lots of ‘areas’, I was wondering – how can I ‘enter’ this like partnership/relationship as I have absolutely no knowledge how to. Obviously, I’ve kept my suspicions (& truths, areas and people) to myself, and the internet (With lots of techie tricks to keep invisible, obvs.) and while I do have a Doc, I haven’t visited him in over two years and generally have not bonded with him to any level of trust. He’s a doc, so he treats infections and the like and that’s that, doors closed. It’s just that, if I want any sort of life more than this ‘survival’ mode – and friends and colleagues are beginning to probe – I’m going to have to cure the past. Almost every memory has been blacked out, but the behavioral damage hasn’t fixed and I don’t know where to start.

    I’ll take that the UK system may be different, but over users on other places have said that going private is an option. I don’t know where to start…

    sorry for rambling on.

  21. Sometimes the desire to be invisible is a learned coping technique, especially if you’ve experienced sexual abuse or emotional abuse, actually any kind of abuse. That’s the only way to deal with these monsters! Having to endure being sexualized at such a young age for someones gratification–disassociating is often the only way to cope with what is happening when you can’t get away.

    Some people get attention that they don’t want and are not seeking and the only way to cope is to try to stay out of their way, so that you are not their victim–the vessel of their self-hatred. One way to manage is to stay out of their way and try to remain invisible so that you will not be their target just because you exist.

    I tried to defeminize and de-emphasize myself–I wanted caring and connection with other women so desperately, but they cannot give that to you without diminishing you in some way and even then they are such cold, heartless creatures. Your pain is a source of their pleasure, but they hide it pretending to be more caring than what they actually are. I’m thinking about the ugly reality of these people. I got tired of hearing the response to my pain from others to UNDERSTAND these malignant people–to make excuses for these poor, misunderstood creatures–to feel compassion for them when they feel absolutely nothing for us. Why invest so much for so little. How life preserving is that.

    It would be far better to acknowledge all the grief and pain these hateful people create instead of focusing on or being directed to feel empathy and compassion and why they behave as they do.

    Why the hell should I care! Ge them away from me and let them rot in their own cesspool of self-hate, instead of inflicting their misery and malice to others. I would have been far better served if the ones that I turned too for caring and connection would have recognized that and at least made an attempt to understand my pain and focused on my needs for self-protection, if they would have supported that, let alone offered a shred of empathy for why I so desperately needed to self-protect. I never benefited from that type of compassion from others for myself–it was all hard won by me and only ME.

    I have a hard time talking about this without crying–without feeling too vulnerable and angry. No one wanted me to ever talk about my anger. They could only cope with my sadness–that was barely allowed, but tolerated more than anger. I start feeling emotionally flooded when I read this and I’m instantly feeling it all coming back. At one time I felt stronger–that I could detach from this more. I had to suppress anger–suppress all the emotions which were deemed unacceptable. How dare anyone try to dictate my emotions. Let them chase after the Gods of false happiness and drown in the cesspool of their toxic emotions. Yes, I see them clearly and I despise them for what they do to others. Maybe shame, if it prevented them from hurting others isn’t such a bad thing to feel.

  22. I also recall this movie–kind of rare for me to find another person who saw it. I grew-up watching old movies and was captivated by it. I recall the cruel mother and unfortunately I have an intimate knowledge of this type of beast–my sister-in-law, mother-in-law and my own sisters and mother–they all have exhibited these qualities to varying degrees. Both my mother-in-law and sister-in-law, exude this type of behavior, but I’d have to say that of all my sister-in-law is top dog. She takes the cake as it was she who demonstrates these behaviors in far more copious amounts–the excluding and the cruel hostility much more than the others. She uses and manipulates people, but more than that she’s able to convey false sincerity to ensnare the cooperation and complicity of others. Sorry to say that I’m well acquainted with these types as it’s been the women in my life who have topped the scales with the worst forms of cruelty–the one’s who have behaved like the competitive, vindictive narcissists that you speak of. I’m sorry that I had so much exposure to any of them.

    There’s another way to disappear oneself as well–another way to totally negate oneself to earn the love of the narcissist’s in your life. It reminds me of another movie called, Zelig. I didn’t do this–I learned it early on, but tended to stop, except for the empathy part and I know that some people may not understand how empathy could not serve one well, however my husband learned to placate and became a real people-pleaser. He was always so focused on other people to the detriment of the two of us.

    I don’t know if you’ve seen this movie or not, but Zelig was a chameleon–a virtual nondescript enigma who, out of his desire to fit in and be liked, transforms his physical appearance and takes on the characteristics of the strong personalities around him. It’s supposed to be funny and it was, but also when something hits so close to home it’s a mixed bag as it can evoke those painful realizations about the people in your life.

    I don’t wish to overwhelm you with my writing as I know I’m being re-triggered from reading your site and the comments. This is how I cope to reach out and write. It helps to let out all of the poison.

    1. Yes, I know Zelig. I love that movie. Early in my therapy, my analyst used to tell me I was a chameleon — that I tried to become like the people who I wanted to like me.

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