Do you feel seen for who you are?

Earlier this afternoon, I was speaking with one of my group coaching clients about self-knowledge. She said something that stopped me in my tracks: 

“Enlightenment is scary.”

“What do you mean by that?” I asked. 

“What if we don’t like what we find? What if our real truth isn’t ‘acceptable’ or will stand in the way of making money? Sometimes it feels better to not know.” 

I then wrote out an article about self-knowledge, because of course I have all kinds of thoughts about it, but couldn’t bring myself to press publish. It felt wrong somehow. So I took a step back and allowed myself to feel what she was trying to say. 

I suspect that all this talk of head-based knowledge is a distraction from the real, vulnerable heart of the matter: being seen for who we really are. 

Recognition is one of our core needs. Not in a flashy “look at me” way, but in that magical intersection of individuality and belonging. It’s about being seen — truly seen — by another, and when seen, accepted. 

Perhaps this explains the interest in Marina Abramovic’s 2010 performance art, The Artist is Present, where MOMA-museum visitors could sit across from her, seeing and being seen, for as long as they wanted. She never moved or changed expression.

“The overwhelming feeling I had was that you think you can understand a person just by looking at them, but when you look at them over a long period of time, you understand how impossible that is. I felt connected, but I don’t know how far the connection goes.”

Dan Visel, Participant (from the New York Times: Confronting a Stranger, For Art

How far does the connection go? We’re seen by people, sure. We’re seen by our partners, family, co-workers, bosses and friends every day. But are we really seen? It’s a felt sense of pure recognition, through the defenses and the masks, down to the very essence of who we are as an individual human being.

I haven’t felt seen for most of my life. As I grew up, I felt different… and I assumed that the only way I could be seen is by conforming myself to what other people wanted to see. It was an early, intuitive, subconscious process starting with my own family.

When I failed to conform — when I lost friends, relationships and jobs because I was trying to be someone I’m not — I assumed that something within me was flawed. That I was flawed. 

I didn’t want to see myself. I both dreaded and craved being seen by another. 

I hid for a long time… until I reached the point where I knew something had to change. I remember this point well; I was staying on a farm outside L’viv, Ukraine last year. I took a lot of walks in the forest, journaled for hours every day, went inward, and embraced what I found there. I wrote this post called We Find Belonging in our Darkness; I’d never felt simultaneously so vulnerable and strong.  

And in that moment, everything shifted; I began to step into my power. I had to see it to claim it. 

The biggest compliment my clients share with me is that they feel seen. I feel such incredible gratitude that I can serve in this way. 

Thing is, we can’t be truly seen by another until we are willing to see ourselves completely, and embrace whatever we find there. And it’s only from this place of true seeing and deep self-compassion can we see the essence of another. 

Perhaps this practice of seeing self and others truly is the one thing that could change this world. 

PS. If you’d like to be part of a likeminded group where you’ll feel seen — and learn how to see yourself truly —  I hope you’ll join us in the Intentional Rebels program. We’re just a couple days away from shutting the doors; if you’re interested, email me at jen at jenrice.co I’ll add you to the intro call tomorrow, Thursday, at 11 am EST. Or we can set up something 1:1 for Friday. 

It’s my mission to help original minds be seen and valued for their unique gifts. I’m always happy to have a live conversation; you can book a call with me here.

We find belonging in our darkness

My biggest problem is that I look too normal. If you didn’t know me — heck, even if you do — my appearance would lead you to a pile of incorrect assumptions:  that this tall, slender, blue-eyed blonde has always been popular, probably a cheerleader in high school, successful in career and in love, and that I generally get what I want. And when I don’t conform to your expectations – which happens when my mask slips – you might write me off as weird, or a bitch, or entitled, or however else your filter might interpret my usually well-meaning actions. Trust me: I’m pretty familiar with all of them by now.

Let’s just get the big stuff out of the way right up front, shall we? I’m a gay, neuro-diverse (aka Asperger’s or high-functioning autistic), only child, ex-military brat who is never, ever going to fit into mainstream society no matter how hard I try. And oh, how I’ve tried. I learned all the social rules as best as I could, but they’re not instinctive. In my darkest days of trying to be someone I wasn’t, a friend told me, “you’re just not a girl’s girl” to explain why I was gently evicted from that circle of friends. I had no idea what that meant, but knew I simply had to try harder. At what, exactly, I wasn’t sure.

“What do you want from me?” I‘d cry to the uncaring world, weeping alone on my living room floor after another unintended social gaffe led to another rejection or another lost job, willing to drain my life blood for this feeling of belonging that seemed so easy for other people. Through decades of repeated traumatic losses, developing and eventually (mostly) recovering from PTSD, I’ve excavated the many reasons behind the fact that I am, and always will be, an outsider. And I’m ok with that.

Nowadays my outsides are a bit more aligned with my insides: I cut my hair, got a tattoo, and love to wear my motorcycle boots. I’ve slowly figured out how to be myself even in the business world. A few years ago I made an agreement with myself: that instead of sacrificing my life to fit into the mainstream world, I’d create my own. I now see that this motivation powered my decision to bolt overseas. And if I can succeed in creating a sense belonging while I’m on this nomad adventure, anyone can.

Why am I telling you all this? I think it’s essential to start normalizing and talking about the less-sexy stuff that makes us human. Over the past 6 months of solitude and reflection, I’ve come to realize that our power dwells in what we’ve hidden in darkness. That whatever we keep secret becomes a festering wound that’s visible in some form or another to everyone but ourselves. And that the only way to heal is to bring these truths and experiences into the light of awareness: to stand in our strength and embrace them, fully and completely: the beautiful lotus in the mud of human existence.

So I’m not writing this for you: I’m writing it for me. This is who I am, and it’s so liberating to set down the mask under the mask: the one everyone wears whether they know it or not.

The closet is not just for gays: it’s for any deviation from the media-defined norm, and let me tell you, it’s pretty damned crowded in here. When I shared with my dad my delighted discovery that I’m very likely on the spectrum – hurray! My entire life now makes sense! — he quickly advised, “don’t tell anyone.” Because that’s exactly what the older generation did: sweep uncomfortable things under the rug and don’t acknowledge it no matter what, even if the walls crumble and the house falls down.

There’s a reason why Brene Brown is so popular; she’s willing to openly talk about topics that no one else will even acknowledge. Much of the world is suffering from the absence of vulnerability. Society trains us to only see, respond to and judge each other’s constructed identities. As long as we all wear our masks, we can laugh, drink and pretend together that the world is as perfect as we make it look, all the while dying inside a little bit every day, thirsty to be seen for who we really are. And when seen, accepted.

The new thing now is Straight Pride: a far-right meme that snowballed into an actual event in Boston this year where a couple hundred straight conservatives marched in parody of Gay Pride. What a hoot. I actually love this idea, but they haven’t quite grasped the real purpose. A Pride parade is about taking out of hiding something deemed as shameful (but really isn’t) and wearing it like armor so it can never be used against you. Here’s what should happen in a real Straight Pride: everyone marches while holding up signs like:

  • “I’m overweight and I’m proud of it.”
  • ”I’m autistic and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m an introvert and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m sensitive and I’m proud of it.”
  • “I’m hairy and proud of it.”

Or maybe we dig deeper into things that might not make us proud, but they make us who we are. They’re those unhappy facts of life that we need to just own already instead of pushing away in horror like a dead rat. Why? Because countless other human beings are struggling with the exact same secret, all suffering in silence, all losing an opportunity for genuine connection and belonging with others who really, truly get it. Which means I’d expect to see Straight Pride signs with whatever is making each person feel so alone in this world:

  • “I’m depressed and can’t get out of bed in the mornings.”
  • “My brother is homeless.”
  • “I have a mental illness.”
  • “I lost my job.”
  • “I’m failing at ____”
  • “I’m HIV positive.”
  • “I was raped.”
  • “I committed a crime and I regret it.”
  • “I drink too much.”

THIS is what Straight Pride — scratch that — what life needs to be about: the deep inner work of owning who we really are and not what our masks lead others to believe. This is what members of the LGBTQ community have been wrestling to the ground. This is the spirit of Pride that I suspect we’d all love to witness: millions of people stepping into their power by paradoxically embracing what society says is weakness. Which means: understanding. Empathy. Inclusion into this big group we call Humanity instead of the ridiculous infighting that’s going on now between opposing groups in the name of a sad, diminished, lower-case-b belonging.

What do you think, dear reader? Are you with me? Don’t leave me hanging… I’d love a comment or like if you think I’m on the right track here.

Photo by Agustin Fernandez on Unsplash