If you come from a background of childhood abuse and neglect, visibility might seem harder for you than for others. It’s more than a matter of introvert vs. extrovert tendencies, or simply getting over yourself.
For someone who grew up with unmet childhood needs, visibility can feel dangerous. There are good reasons why some of us feel like we might die if the spotlight shines on us.
But, first, what is visibility? We hear a lot about online visibility, a marketing strategy to make sure you become known for what you’re selling or talking about.
Visibility also means speaking up at meetings, or taking credit for things at work. Or allowing yourself to be seen and known for who you are, not a false self you’ve created for approval.
Often when we shy away from visibility, we’re unaware how past trauma may have impacted this choice. We’ve blocked out the inciting incident that made us shy away from the spotlight in the first place.
We’ve convinced ourselves we don’t want to stand out because of our introversion. Or that we’re more comfortable behind the scenes. While these may be true, almost everybody has a desire to be seen and known, even if only by an intimate few.
How to overcome visibility fears
1. Discover your inciting incident.
What’s your inciting incident? If you think back far enough, you might find something you’d put out of your mind that made you decide attention was risky. After that, you avoided it at all cost.
I used to work hard to blend into the background. When I won a public speaking contest at school, turning down the opportunity to compete at a regional level seemed like a no-brainer.
As an adult, I struggled to reconcile the need to increase my visibility with deep fears around receiving attention. Then, I read a book called Claim Your Power by Mastin Kipp that helped me understand why the spotlight had always made me feel unsafe.
I recalled a time aged two or three, clamoring for my mother’s attention as she talked on the phone. Without warning, she reached out and slapped me hard across the face, then returned to her conversation.
This might seem innocuous to some, but the event imprinted me with the notion that seeking attention would result in pain and abandonment. After that, I began hiding instead of showing up. I stopped asking for help and tended to my own needs the best I could.
It’s important to acknowledge the underlying reason you avoid visibility to start overcoming your fears. Whether it’s one inciting incident like mine, or repeated instances of bullying, understanding why you avoid attention is key to changing.
2. Go deep
Is it really true that you prefer to stay in the shadows? Or is that a story you’ve been telling yourself to avoid having to put yourself out there?
Our fears can be convincing and make us feel as though they represent our true desires. I told myself for years I wasn’t afraid of public speaking; I simply didn’t like it.
But once I finally took the baby steps and got the support to start showing up that way, I began to enjoy it. When I started speaking up at meetings instead of typing into the chat, I found I liked being seen and given credit for my thoughts and opinions.
I believe almost all of us want to be seen and recognized for what we offer. It’s not modest to fade into the background. You’re depriving the world of gifts only you have to share.
3. Take baby steps
Avoid the common advice around visibility and public speaking that says little more than “just do it”. These are not trauma-informed methods and can do more harm than good.
If you keep throwing yourself out there in a way that makes you feel unsafe, you’ll never stop feeling like you’re not good enough. You may, in fact, compound those feelings.
It’s important to prioritize your own safety and well-being while increasing your visibility. Notice I said “safety” and not “comfort”. We may never feel completely comfortable with public speaking, but you can get to the point where you enjoy it and feel proud of your courage to get out there.
4. Seek support
Whether from a trauma-informed coach or counselor, we need help to overcome fears that have impacted us all our lives. Beware of mainstream methods that advise you to keep exposing yourself in FB Lives regardless of how you feel inside.
Instead, be gentle with yourself and seek out support systems for your frayed nervous system. Speak to Inspire offers a wholistic approach to public speaking coaching, for example. And Ashley Beaudin coaches creative entrepreneurs to overcome visibility issues in a self-supportive way.
One of the key tools when reparenting yourself involves developing strong boundaries. When you’ve been raised to cater to everyone else’s needs, setting boundaries is far more difficult than it sounds.
Having poor boundaries has been our brain’s way of keeping us safe by people-pleasing. That’s because as children If we could keep our parents happy we escaped punishment, and received their “love”.
So we carry that equation of people pleasing = safety into our adulthood and end up abandoning ourselves completely.
One thing that may surprise you about setting boundaries is the consequences. And these consequences will feed into all the fears you have around people not liking you and how scary that is.
Reparenting the inner critic
Another key component of reparenting is taming the inner critic. Most of us who grew up with unmet childhood needs have a harsh inner critic that we inherited from our parents.
If our parents never taught us that we’re loved for who we are and not what we do, we believe our value lies in our accomplishments or what we do for others.
So any time we’re not perfect we berate ourselves. We protect ourselves by refusing to follow through on our goals and dreams.
This is the self-sabotage of procrastination and shiny object syndrome. Our subconscious mind tells us that if we don’t follow through on a project or goal, no one can say we failed.
That’s why the common self-help advice that more willpower will solve self-sabotage, misses the mark for people who’ve been through childhood trauma.
In fact, you have more willpower and strength than the average person but you’ve put it into survival instead of moving yourself forward. This keeps you stuck, and traps you in a frustrating cycle of letting yourself down and holding yourself back.
Imagine how far you could go if you replaced that inner critic with an inner self-advocate. Someone who’s on your side instead of against you.
Rather than reacting to threats and perceived danger, you’ll start designing and creating your desired life. You’ll become aligned with your values, goals, and dreams and move toward fulfilling your highest potential.
Change is possible
Maybe you’ve had therapy and self-help that hasn’t worked because it wasn’t trauma-informed. And that intensifies the inner critic because you feel you’ve tried everything and beat yourself up because you feel unfixable.
But change is possible. Years ago, I was self-loathing, people pleasing, emotionally dysregulated, and had a relentless inner critic. My self care regime consisted of drinking to numb my feelings because everything felt so bad.
Today, I’m living a life that’s completely authentic and aligned with my values. I love and care for myself and put my needs first in ways that would have felt impossible a few years ago.
I want to offer you what I’ve learned over these past several years about reparenting and how I’ve used it to transform my life. So, I’ve opened enrollment for my course The Self-Parenting Solution.
If you want to finally change your life and feel like other self-help strategies haven’t worked for you, I encourage you to sign up. It’s only $37 until Friday and you’ll get a bonus lesson on how to break free from toxic people.
That’s a mind on high alert for threat, fears making mistakes, and being viewed as foolish. Procrastination becomes a way to delay the inevitable failure we fear.
Addictive behaviors are another avoidance strategy. Rather than feeling your feelings and dealing with them, you drink them away, eat unhealthy comfort foods, or binge watch TV.
Workaholism is the most socially-acceptable of these addictions. Burying yourself in work becomes an excuse to avoid intimacy with family, friends, and self.
Avoidant attachment style
People with avoidant attachment can lose relationships or never find intimacy because they end things whenever conflict arises. Due to past conditioning, they fear conflict as life- or relationship-threatening.
In many cases, they grew up in homes where conflict was forbidden. Perhaps feelings of any kind were eschewed and resulted in withdrawal of love from the caregiver.
This creates a personality in which the child (and later, adult) will avoid the necessary conflicts that increase intimacy. They are unable to support their partner’s emotional needs and will keep relationships superficial or end them.
You might avoid difficult conversations by keeping things on the surface. Instead of saying how you really feel, you act phony to maintain the status quo of the relationship (even though it’s superficial and unfulfilling).
When we use these avoidance strategies, we’re trying to keep pain at bay. But the pain we incur is far worse and longer-lasting. It can lead to an entire life that’s based on nothing more than escape from reality.
So, how to stop avoidance strategies and face conflict head on?
1. Acknowledge your avoidance.
The first step to undoing unhealthy coping strategies is to recognize that we use them. Catch yourself when you go into avoidance instead of facing a conflict or challenge.
What triggers you? Can you slow things down before barreling down the road of avoidance? This is a process that can take years to come to terms with and you will likely need support, but you can begin anytime.
2. Feel your feelings.
Avoidance strategies come from a need to run from perceived pain. When we grew up learning that our feelings were unwanted, we tamp them down in order to survive.
Have you considered the benefits of facing conflict? Did you know that relationships go to the next level as a result of resolving necessary conflict? The couple who never argues is not necessarily healthy, but avoidant.
Personal growth arrives through overcoming conflicts and challenges. Yes, it is painful sometimes to deal with these but it’s a short-lived pain that brings a worthwhile outcome.
Avoidance, however, may keep pain away but produces a deeper kind of hurt. That’s an unlived life or one where you never get to find out who you really are.
Before I started my healing journey, a voice inside my head would whisper, “that’s not for you,” anytime I thought about something I wanted. Feeling unworthy came as naturally to me as breathing.
Whether buying only sale items, or spending time with people who neither inspired nor respected me, I betrayed myself by settling for less than what my heart desired.
This self-saboteur was a remnant from my childhood of unmet needs. I had been parentified into believing the needs of the adults around me took precedence over my own. And so abandoned myself accordingly.
Unmet needs in childhood lead to feeling unworthy of getting what we want as an adult. How? Because we get imprinted with the belief that we don’t matter and don’t deserve to feel fulfilled.
Usually, these limiting beliefs remain unconscious (although that voice in my head sounded audible). Since our subconscious minds dictate the bulk of our results and outcomes, these beliefs keep us stuck.
How do we get out from under these false beliefs of feeling unworthy? How do we change our mindset and begin to believe we deserve to get what we want out of life?
3 ways to stop feeling unworthy
The Bible verse: “you do not have because you do not ask” and the law of attraction both dictate that you get not what you deserve but what you believe you deserve. And have the courage to ask for.
Think of the things you want but don’t yet have. Have you been bold enough to ask for them? Have you spoken your desire out loud to those who could help you achieve or receive it?
Sometimes we’re afraid to ask for what we want because it seems too big. Or we want to protect ourselves from the disappointment of not getting it. But that only ensures more of the same deprivation.
One common example of this among people with unmet childhood needs is to say they want a meaningful relationship instead of marriage. If you want a husband and not a live-in partner, say so.
2. Improve self-image
Positive mantras only work for those who already hold a positive self-image. So, if you’ve wondered why repeating them hasn’t had a lasting impact on you, that’s why.
If you look at other people with less intelligence, creativity, and resources, and wonder why they’re so successful, it’s likely self-image at play. They believe they deserve good things as a result of their positive self-image. You believe the opposite because of your negative one.
In my experience, improving self-image starts with self-kindness. That means treating yourself at least as well as you treat others, especially when you’re not perfect. It means practicing self-forgiveness, and refusing to dwell on your mistakes.
It means setting boundaries around your time and energy. Eliminating frenemies whose thoughts toward you contribute to your inability to get what you want.
It means investing in yourself with coaching or counselling and material things your heart desires. Because you are worth it.
3. Adjust your expectations.
If you’ve grown up with unmet needs, there’s often a disconnect between your true desires and what you expect to receive. Adjust your expectations UP instead.
Expect something better than you’ve got in the past by overriding automatic thoughts with your conscious mind. The self-help classic Psycho-Cyberneticssuggests spending 30 minutes per day envisioning your ideal life to aid the process.
When you shift your expectations, your actions work to create new results that end up transforming your life. Enter the success and fulfillment that have long eluded you. They’re not only for other people to enjoy, after all.