We have all played a game with a toddler where we hide our face behind our hands and then peek out. Then we say “Peek-a-boo, I see you”, to the surprise and delight of the small child. There are smiles on the faces of both adult and child. The perception of a young child is that if they cannot see your face then you are not there at all. When they can again ‘see’ your face, then you are truly there with them. I see you is an important part of being human.
I see you
As adults, most of us had an experience of feeling hidden or overlooked. We all know what it’s like to not be seen. One experience for me is very clear. About 10 years ago, after I had left my marriage, an acquaintance said to me “I see you Bronwyn”.
Those words were incredibly important because I felt unseen by my church community. I had broken the mores of this community by leaving my husband. I was hurting and in unknown territory and I felt invisible to the people who had been my support network for so many years. To be told that I was seen touched me deeply. These simple words, “I see you”, made me feel real again. I was no longer overlooked. I was no longer invisible.
Following the divorce, I made a variety of decisions. These decisions impacted those close to me. I felt they were the best decisions I could make at the time. However, they had ramifications that I was unaware of and did not anticipate. As time passed and those close to me told me how they felt as a consequence of those decisions, I found myself in a place of, again, not being ‘seen’. These people could not yet see past their own pain to be able to consider why I made the decisions that I did. I felt again that I was not ‘seen’.
See and be seen
Ii is important to truly be seen by those who are important in our lives. Each of us values really being ‘seen’ – acknowledged, valued, and heard. It is also rather dehumanising to be physically in someone’s presence, physically seen, but who we are is overlooked or disregarded.
These experiences of being overlooked, of not being seen, not only happen in families and community groups. They also happen on a wider scale. People can be ‘unseen’ in nations and between people groups. I discovered this through working with refugees and asylum seekers. The pixelated faces of asylum seekers are splashed across the TV screens, purportedly to protect identity. However, this blurring of faces also has the effect of making this group of people ‘unseen’. Here is a group of people who are different to the mainstream community. The opportunity of working with asylum seekers and refugees allowed me to ‘see’ them. I was able to let them know in many ways, “I see you”.
See past the differences
Difference can be judged in so many ways – race and ethnicity, language, faith or world view, ability or disability, gender and gender preference, breaking of taboos or societal norms. When we perceive others to be different to us in some way – by any standard of judgement – the temptation is to attribute negative characteristics to those who are different to us. This can happen regardless of whether those qualities or distinctives are true for that group or person or not. Sometimes, when difference impacts us on a personal level, we are unable to see someone else because their actions have hurt us.
When we don’t ‘see’ others, then we don’t have to treat them as people like ourselves. In Australia’s history, white people did not ‘see’ Aboriginal people. Indigenous Australians were classified as flora and fauna up until the 1960s and so not even considered people. Sadly, this scenario is all too common, and occurs across the globe between ethnicities, cultures and ideologies. The Hazara and Karen peoples are persecuted in their own countries. There is the traditional antipathy between Chinese and Japanese cultures. Faiths and ideologies separate, such as in the Christian/Muslim divide in the Crusades and the current ISIS vs the West.
Closer to home, we can experience this sense of being ‘unseen’ in the workplace. This happens when we are overlooked for promotion, when our opinions, suggestions and ideas are disregarded because, for whatever reason, we are not seen as having anything of value to add. But, how often do we choose not to see co-workers, to overlook them, to disregard their opinions or suggestions because they are different to our own?
See because we love – ourselves and others
We all know a version of the maxim “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This idea can be expressed as “Love others as you love yourself” or even “See others as you want others to see you”. Could it be that is the inability to actually ‘see’ ourselves as valuable that makes it difficult for us to show ourselves care and compassion. And if we can’t ‘see’ and therefore love ourselves, how much harder is it to see and love others?
“I see you” – beautiful words that told me that I was not hidden, overlooked or unacknowledged.
When we are seen, we are known. When we are known, we are loved.
This awareness of the importance of seeing and being seen is critical for emotional health and growth. To explore more in a free Discovery Session, leave your details below.