How familiar are you with the phrase “children are best seen and not heard”? Were you me as a child, if it wasn’t said it was implied every day. I learned very early that my place was to be seen and to remain silent. Repeatedly, my experiences reinforced that understanding of who I was – one who was part of the crowd but not one of significance. The phrase itself adds so much ambiguity to life. To be seen is a fundamental need as a human but the second part of that phrase contradicts itself. It indicates that a child is an object to be dominated and controlled instead of a person who deserves value. Not being seen and not being heard go hand in hand which can lead to an underlying sense of not being valued and as a result, it can send waves of disruptions throughout the remainder of life.
Children are people and people need to be seen and heard. Taking the voice away from a child takes away their power to rule over themselves. It causes a codependency on authority instead of teaching a child how to express and control their own feelings and behaviors. As the child grows so does the disconnect between being seen, heard and valued.
Have you ever felt that you’ll be damned for someone to look at you and not take notice of who you are? Internally, have you ever felt like the kid in the classroom who has their hand held high because you know the answer, but still you don’t get picked? What begins to happen? What feelings do you begin to experience? Restlessness? A sense of becoming withdrawn? A feeling that it just doesn’t really matter? Or a feeling of, “Oh HELL NO! I will be acknowledged!” that begins a dialogue where you’re talking louder and more rapidly trying to out talk the other?
But what are we doing in this situation? Are we taking the place of the one from our childhood who would put us in our place? Or is the little kid in us still trying to be seen maybe for the first time or the one-hundredth time? Ultimately the answer is, we’re just trying to be seen and valued. And that’s not a bad thing; there are just different ways to go about achieving the same result.
Sometimes I look right at a person and see them. I see that their mouths are moving. But I just don’t hear a word they are saying. They make a passioned point. They’re very animated. They look like they are very adamant about what they are trying to convey. But I have no clue as to what they are saying. It’s like they’re speaking in a foreign language. I know what this feels like because I’ve had that reflected right back at me through the eyes of others. I know what I’m saying. I’m reaching out to get them engaged. But there is this invisible cone of silence that surrounds them. They can only hear what is being said in their mind. I sometimes walk away frustrated at them but truthfully more so at myself. It’s back to the drawing board trying to figure out how to get them to hear me. I know that it must be them because it can’t be me.
Our styles of communication are deeply curated by so many factors ranging from our childhood, our current emotional state and our lack of a universal language translator device. I grew up on Science Fiction – Star Trek®, Dr. Who® and “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe” and lived my life as a closeted geek. By default, I learned that communicating was just a thing that happened. Everybody from various worlds could so easily be heard and understood. And I would think to myself that if they could do that, so could I. I knew factually that the devices from my fiction were just that, fictitious. Yet, time and time again, I would communicate my needs only not to be heard. Or even worst yet, I thought that I was heard just to discover the next day that language barrier had been rebuilt. It left me frustrated, wounded and wanting to retreat to my fortress of solitude (did I mention I was a geek?)
It was safe in my fortress. I never had to let anyone in for any length of time that I didn’t want to let close to me. I knew that when I spoke inside my fortress, I was heard if by no one else then by me. My words had impact. My thoughts meant something. And I didn’t have to explain myself. But often, what I really wanted was to have others share with my exact feelings in those moments. I wanted others to value my insight, experience and knowledge but I was afraid. I began to question myself, “What if what I’m saying isn’t right?” “What if when I say something someone laughs at me?” or worst yet, “What if I respond and my response is questioned; did that mean I was wrong?” How could I convey what I meant, felt and wanted to express so I would be heard?
It took a few years…okay, so it took a lot of years, a lot of relationships and a good dose of therapy for me understand that I had to learn the “speak” of the other person. It’s not as easy as saying “The sky is blue” and know that the other person understands the richness of blue that I see. I had to learn what to say, what words to pick, so that the other person would know my meaning. Conversely, the other person had to learn my “speak” if they wanted to have more than just a surface conversation with me. Now I’m not saying that this has to be achieved with everyone that we interact with, rather, this is a unique tool that can lead to deeper, richer and more satisfying relationships with those that we choose to allow to step inside the fortresses we have built over time to protect our inner most treasured possessions…our hearts and our feelings.
There are a few of techniques that can be used on the path to learning “speak”: #1. Reflective Listening, #2 Active Listening and #3 “I” Statements…and I have to say that #1 is easier than #2 and both are way easier than #3, but all are of equal importance.
Here is the “quick and dirty” of each:
1. Reflective Listening is where the listener repeats back what they have just heard in order to ensure that there is an understanding between each other.
2. Active Listening is the art of listening with all senses. It requires the listener to fully concentrate, understand, respond and then remember what was said.
3. “I” Statements is a statement about the feelings, beliefs or values that puts the spotlight on the person speaking rather than the one who is listening. Any time a statement has the word “you” in it, an innate desire to defend may pop up. Here is a breakdown of an “I” Statement:
a.“I feel…” (Insert a feeling/emotion word);
b.“…when…” (Tell what caused the feeling; just remember to avoid the use of “you”); and,
c.“…I would like…” (Tell what you want to happen instead).
It goes something like this, “I feel angry and scared when I feel I’m compared to others from past relationships. What I would like is to have an opportunity to be accepted for who I am rather than who I’m not.”
To be seen means that we have value. To be heard means that there is a strong and deep connection. Add both of those together and you begin to see a peak of one of life’s many mountains, the need for acceptance. Gone are the days where anyone and everyone got a trophy for just showing up to the game. We like to be recognized but we long for acceptance. Acceptance provides an intrinsic sense of validation for the totality of who we are.
Growing up, I always wanted to please others. Their pleasure meant that I was doing things right. Their pleasure meant that I was a part of them. Their pleasure meant that I was loved. That was, until I came out. I remember so clearly being told, “I love you; I just don’t like that part of you.” I was crushed. I was devastated. All I ever wanted in life was to be accepted. All my life I worked toward that goal weather if it was with my family or my friends. I wanted a life where there were no boundaries when it came to the arms that surrounded me, held me and accepted me, even when I didn’t accept myself.
Why is it that we crave to be accepted? What does it do for us? What hunger does it feed? What purpose does it serve? Some answers seem very easy – “We want to make sure that we fit in” – “If we’re doing the same as everyone else, we must be doing it right and finding a reflection of ourselves in those around us is a form of validation.” But if you examine our “queerness” by the simple definition of the word, it means that we are different from those around us and that knocks out the ideal of feeling validated by those around us. It almost seems like society has set LGBTQIA+ individuals up to fail. Maybe that’s why we want it even more. Isn’t that the reason why we search for kindred souls…someone who has a shared experience?
After dealing with the idea that we must engage in a healthy dose of self-acceptance, only then we can move on to opening the gates to welcoming the acceptance from others; it must be said that those gates are heavily armed and protected. As much as we want to be accepted it’s not an easy task. Too often in life we’ve been burned, wounded and left cold by the words and actions of those that we allowed beyond our gates. The wreckage from those who misused our openness remains a constant reminder to our past actions.
I see our attempts to step from behind our secure walls as a sign of strength regardless how far from behind we step or how many times we make the attempt. The outcome of our process is just that, an outcome. We ascribe the labels of “good” or “bad” to what occurs. That’s what we were taught – you do something, and the result is either good or bad. I have issue with that idea, but that’s for another blog. Right now, I am challenging you to not confine your attempts to the good column or the bad column – just recognize it for what it is; your attempt to become vulnerable in the presence of another. In that moment, what we are saying and hoping that the other will hear is, “Here I am…perfectly imperfect. Do you accept me?”
The process of being exposed is scary, frustrating, infuriating, liberating and calming. Receiving acceptance allows us to breath and just be ourselves. The walls that we built can be dismantled; but only to the degree that we are comfortable taking them down. When combined, all the things that we have done to be seen, heard and accepted can be the most exhilarating experience we have ever felt in our lives up to that point. And in that moment, we can experience such a level of peace with the reassurance that the totality of who we are has been wrapped in the arms of another with no hesitation.