How to overcome visibility fears after childhood trauma

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

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.

Often when we shy away from visibility, we're unaware how past trauma may have impacted this choice. Click To Tweet

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.

Avoid 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. Click To Tweet

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.

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