I have a life-long habit of going unnoticed, even to myself. I am so busy getting things done, I rarely ever make time to acknowledge my own accomplishments. It struck me the other day, just how much I am managing while also making space in my life to grieve my past and heal from trauma. I felt a rare sense of pride, and then another wave of sadness, as feeling proud of who I am in spite (and because) of abuse is so fleeting. You see, when I feel proud of myself, I also feel how lonely it is to be standing in this empty space, unseen, unheard, and unacknowledged by others.
Sometimes, I hide on purpose. As someone who has survived narcissists, a spotlight on me means I am an easy target for abusers. It makes me feel uncomfortable, not because I don’t want to be noticed, but because I fear retaliation for taking up space. As a form of self-protection, I tend to blend into the background, making sure everything runs smoothly. I am so good at this it is common for others to just assume the details take care of themselves, and sometimes even take credit for what I have accomplished. Events are planned and executed. Bills get paid. Food appears and gets prepared. Details get managed. Another calendar date gets checked, the sun rises and sets, and life goes on. Somehow, it all gets done. Also somehow, I work myself into a corner where I feel sad, alone, and exhausted.
Sometimes, I don’t mean to be invisible. It just happens. More often than not, I long to be noticed. I long for my deeds to be recognized as the gift they are. Unlike my narcissistic abusers, I don’t need heaps of praise, just some praise. I need to know that I matter. I need to know that people think about me as much as I am thinking about them. I long to be the recipient of well-laid plans designed to care for me. I long for someone to go out of their way for me in the way that I do for them.
Add to this the unhealthy expectation that, as a Christian woman, I feel a cultural pressure to “serve” others without asking for anything in return. If I am to take care of my own needs or fail to put all others first, I am not only selfish, I am disappointing to God. While this is a gross misinterpretation of scripture, it is a common sentiment, especially among conservative Christian culture. As a Christian, I have long struggled with the difference between what Christianity actually teaches and the false bastardization of these ideas via American culture. This feeling of expectation is no exception. It’s another heavy brick in this sack I carry.
In the past, I downplayed my accomplishments, even the big ones. I think I did this for a couple of reasons. One is that oftentimes there was a narcissist in my life who was also downplaying them. Another is that I didn’t want to be like the narcissist, who overplayed their accomplishments. But also, I think I downplayed them because I didn’t want to disappoint myself when no one else noticed.
As an abused person, I have made my invisibility my own fault. I have internalized that I probably trained people to relate to me in this way. I am not one to demand attention from others, and the more I get to know myself, I doubt I will ever be the kind of person that ever places those kinds of demands on people. But I can be more aware. I can ask for more. I can at least pause now and then to recognize and appreciate all that I am, even if no one else does.
I now know that even though I may feel like I am standing in an empty room, I can no longer abandon myself. I must take time to notice and appreciate who I am and what I am doing, even if the only voice I hear saying “good job” is my own.