It is difficult to deal with a narcissist when you are a grown, independent, fully functioning adult. The children of narcissists have an especially difficult burden, for they lack the knowledge, power, and resources to deal with their narcissistic parents without becoming their victims. Whether cast into the role of Scapegoat or Golden Child, the Narcissist's Child never truly receives that to which all children are entitled: a parent's unconditional love. Start by reading the 46 memories--it all began there.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Feeling Invisible

This is one of the hardest posts I have ever written. It is the reason I have written only one post in the last month…because I have been struggling with this one. I keep shying away from it…I open the page and write a few words and then find something to distract myself. I procrastinate opening the page…I feel ambivalent about writing it…I simultaneously want to write it and don’t want to. Avoidance keys in big here…I am avoiding it emotionally, even though the mature adult in me makes me keep coming back to it, like a parent saying to a reluctant kid “do your homework!”. All this tells me that this is an issue I, personally, have not yet resolved.

When I was a kid my NM used to tell me “Children should be seen and not heard,” “Silence is golden,” and that I should only “speak when spoken to.” I quickly learned that the safest place for me to be was in my room, doing something she would approve of if she happened to look in on me…something not messy, like reading a book or doing homework. If I was playing with my toys on the bedroom floor, I would be told to “clean up this mess,” even if I was still playing with the items (assuming this was before she decided to “clean my closet” while I was at school one day and give the majority of my toys to the Goodwill). It was not until I was in high school and living with my father that I learned this was not a natural state of affairs: my stepmother became very angry with me for retreating to my room after I finished the after-dinner clean up. She found it very anti-social of me whereas I was doing my darndest to be on my best behaviour, which I defined as being “out of sight and out of mind,” as I had learned from NM was the proper way to behave.

But I wasn’t just invisible physically, disappearing into solitude when my household chores were done. I felt invisible on a deeper, more fundamental level, unheard, unseen, as if nothing I thought, said, or felt was taken into account by others. I was emotionally isolated, feeling disconnected from everyone else. My feelings or desires were seldom elicited and even on the rare occasion when they were, I do not recall them ever being taken into account: if decisions were made that were in sync with my wishes, it was coincidental, not by design. People talked over the top of me, behaved as if I was not in the room, would not allow me to finish articulating a thought without either interrupting me or changing the subject mid-sentence. It was as if I was the only one who knew I was there and felt or thought anything.

In later years, I married a malignant narcissist and his behaviour exacerbated my feelings of tenuousness and invisibility. The child of an immature, self-interested mother who nagged and harangued her weak, unassertive husband endlessly while wrapped in her martyr’s cloak, he was ambivalent about his father: on the one hand he despised him for meekly submitting to his mother’s constant demands, on the other hand, he identified with his father and was outraged on his father’s behalf. It took several years of marriage to this man to come to the realization that I did not exist in his world, that I was simply a female body upon which he projected his mother and interacted with me as if I were she, while he behaved as he believed his father should have.

This was absolutely dehumanizing. Just as, when I was a child and I was unacknowledged as anything other than an extension of my mother (and a nuisance when I asserted myself as anything else), that which was me did not exist. He saw me as his mother…even though she and I were as different as chalk and cheese…with a different face. He and I once had a row over…well, I didn’t know what it was over: he came home from work angry and I assumed something had happened at work (something was always happening at work to tick him off) but it turned out he was angry with me. As it happened, on his commute home he had held a conversation in his head with me, and the responses he attributed to me were things his conservative mother would have said, not the kinds of things that would come out of my uber-liberal mouth. By the time he got home, he was angry with me because of him attributing his mother’s attitudes to me. Somewhere in all of this, the beliefs and values and attitudes and feelings that were mine went completely unacknowledged. Why? Because to him, the person who was me was never acknowledged, did not exist. I was a convenient blank upon which to superimpose the persona of his mother.

The problem with this is that when you are not acknowledged, when you cannot see yourself mirrored in others, when they do not reflect back to you, like answering your questions or laughing at your jokes or responding to your greetings in an appropriate way, if your sense of self is not immensely secure, you begin to lose it. Jack’s anger at me, based on his fantasy conversation, was wholly inappropriate and so to snarl at me with that anger when I said “Hi, babe, how was your day?” was not only wholly inappropriate, it negated my very existence and focussed instead on the projection of his mother on onto me. To ignore my existence or, as my NM did, my achievements in school, by refusing to attend the choir concerts in which I was a featured soloist, failing to attend my high school academic awards ceremonies, even my high school graduation, is to act like the person does not exist, as if she were invisible. And if you get enough of that kind of treatment from the significant people in your life, you begin to feel invisible, too…you begin to wonder if there is really anything to see, since nobody else seems to see it.

It goes deeper than that, even. Have you ever said something in a group of people and nobody even acknowledged you spoke? Have you ever asked a question and the person to whom it is directed acts as if you were not even in the room? Have you ever been in a group and what you have to say is not ignored so much as it is not even heard? Absent strong self-esteem, such experiences can make you feel disconnected, unbalanced…as if you exist only at their pleasure and the rest of the time you don’t. It makes you feel unimportant, devalued, diminished, invisible, shunned.

Shunning is “…the act of social rejection... Social rejection is when a person or group deliberately avoids association with, and habitually keeps away from an individual or group. This can be a formal decision by a group, or a less formal group action which will spread to all members of the group as a form of solidarity. It is a sanction against association… Targets of shunning can include …anyone the group perceives as a threat or source of conflict. Social rejection has been established to cause psychological damage and has been categorized as torture.

“Shunning is often used as a pejorative term to describe any organizationally mandated disassociation, and has acquired a connotation of abuse and relational aggression. This is due to the sometimes extreme damage caused by its disruption to normal relationships between individuals, such as friendships and family relations. Disruption of established relationships certainly causes pain, which [may] be an intended, coercive consequence. This pain, especially when seen as unjustly inflicted, can have secondary general psychological effects on self-worth and self-confidence, trust and trustworthiness, and can, as with other types of trauma, impair psychological function.

“Shunning often involves implicit or explicit shame for a member who commits acts seen as wrong by the group or its leadership. Such shame may not be psychologically damaging if the membership is voluntary and the rules of behavior were clear before the person joined. However, if the rules are arbitrary, if the group membership is seen as essential for personal security, safety, or health, or if the application of the rules is inconsistent, such shame can be highly destructive. This can be especially damaging if perceptions are attacked or controlled, or various tools of psychological pressure applied. Extremes of this cross over the line into psychological torture and can be permanently scarring.

“A key detrimental effect of some of the practices associated with shunning relate to their effect on relationships, especially family relationships. At its extremes, the practices may destroy marriages, break up families, and separate children and their parents. The effect of shunning can be very dramatic or even devastating on the shunned, as it can damage or destroy the shunned member's closest familial, spousal, social, emotional, and economic bonds.

“Shunning contains aspects of what is known as relational aggression in psychological literature… Extreme shunning may cause traumas to the shunned (and to their dependents) similar to what is studied in the psychology of torture.”

A key word in this explanation of shunning is “rejection.” Ignoring someone, treating them as if they do not exist, is a passive aggressive form of rejection. In very young children, this is perceived as being life threatening: if their primary care giver does not acknowledge their existence, they cannot be entirely sure that their survival needs will be met. If the passive rejection is habitual, is it any wonder the child becomes habitually anxious with respect to his survival and even questions his existence? When you don’t seem to exist to another person, when you are acknowledged in only the most necessary ways…and when that acknowledgement often includes a negative or critical component…a child’s self perception is inevitably damaged. Such children may become shy, withdrawn, fearful. But not always…

“… sometimes the Invisible Child can hide behind an effective façade of the bubbly center-of-attention favorite friend. In private the Invisible Child puts the mask away feeling more unseen and unknown than before. The Invisible Child often feels alienated from society and from what they refer to as ‘normal’ people. It is difficult to claim the physical body, to make opinions known and to voice feelings. Thus, the poser becomes the preferred method for surviving in a social world. The Invisible Child becomes masterful at creating an image that others find acceptable and to behave in a way that others approve of in order to be seen. This only engenders feelings of inadequacy and self-rejection…”  The best analogy I can think of for this is the Invisible Man: it is not until he puts on clothes that he is visible to others, and even then, he is not visible, only his clothes; when an Invisible Child put on a mask, assumes a public persona, the Invisible Child is still not seen, even though the faux personality may attract both attention and even admiration.

This pretty accurately describes how I lived most of my life and, to some extent, still live it today. If you were to meet me in person, you would find me friendly, effusive, outgoing, even funny. I am known to be an entertaining storyteller, a thoughtful hostess, and fearlessly assertive. You would never guess that I actually prefer to spend hour upon hour of quiet time alone, that I am “on” when others are around, but I am actually quietly introspective and prefer quiet, solitary pursuits over loud socializing.

Psychologist Joseph Burgo, PhD, writes about a patient who does not wish to terminate therapy, even though he believes she is ready: “Lately, I’ve also been thinking about a parenting style that isn’t overtly abusive but vacant or largely withdrawn instead. In such a case…the person also develops a sense of unreality, as if he were invisible. It’s as if she looked into the mirror of her mother’s face and found no reflection whatsoever…On some level, she’s afraid that without me and my attention, she would cease to exist. As a child, she must have felt that way in the absence of parental involvement: as if she were invisible, a ghost child without physical substance.

I can really relate to this feeling: when I was about 7 years old, my mother drove a very distinctive car…my father had had it painted hot pink for her. I remember walking home from school one day, along a very busy road, and seeing my mother’s car pass me en route home. I jumped up and down and waved and screamed “Mommy! Mommy! I’m here!” but she drove on past. Obviously, she didn’t see me trudging along the bridge, and I was crushed. How could she not see and recognize me? I cried for the next block or so, feeling painfully invisible, but dried my tears and put on my “cheerful, ebullient” look before entering the house…I might only have been 7, but I knew I was not allowed to be sad, hurt, or unhappy about anything in front of her…to do so was to invite punishment.

Many of us carry this invisible feeling with us into adulthood and as a result, many of us see rejection where it does not exist. One of my most formidable tasks of recovery has been to puzzle out when I am being consciously, intentionally ignored and when I am simply being part of the background, like everybody else. I have learned that I tend to insert value judgments where they do not really exist…like when a conversation is going on and my contribution is not acknowledged, I default to “I am not important, what I have to say is not important, they don’t want to hear what I have to say, they act like I’m not here, they don’t like me…” this can escalate mentally and emotionally, to an extreme degree (i.e. “nobody likes me, I am a terrible person nobody likes”) unless I consciously step in and stop that train of thought and remind myself that it is simply a conversation and my contributions are not, at this time, especially relevant to the rest of the group…which is a normal thing for everybody from time to time. Sometimes I have to consciously remind myself that I am not being intentionally marginalized, rejected, or shunned, however much my emotions default to that sad place. And sometimes it is hard…really hard…to force myself to seize reality from the despair my early conditioning foist upon me.

That is not to say that there are not people who deliberately treat us this way, and that has been my big challenge: to differentiate one from the other. My second biggest challenge is, when recognizing someone is marginalizing me, to not fall into that feeling of invisibility but, at the same time, not overreact and become over the top in my response. It is a balancing act that, fortunately, I am not called upon to deal with every day but when I am, it remains a challenge to me. I am particularly called upon to exercise this when out in public and someone steps in front of me in a queue, as if I was not there, or someone steals a parking place that, with turn signals blazing, I intended to take. I am especially provoked when someone makes assumptions about me or my motives, refusing to listen or acknowledge my assertions and preferring to substitute his own perceptions. This happened not too long ago when the spring in the door of my SUV (luxury SUV with super-heavy doors and a heavy duty spring) got away from me and bumped the mirror cowl of the car I was parked beside. I immediately snatched the door back and was examining the mirror for damage when the owner showed up and started screeching at me, accusing me of intentionally damaging her car (it was unscathed), and telling me she paid for the car and I had no right to damage it! I said “It was an accident, the door popped out of my hand,” and she just continued to shriek accusations and abuse right over the top of me. And I felt, simultaneously, invisible and the recipient of an unwarranted public tongue lashing. And so I said, in a voice calculated to be heard over her unending tirade, “It was an accident and your car is unhurt! You don’t have to be such a bitch about it!” and walked away.

That may not have been the best way to handle it, but I was suddenly visible to her, perhaps for the first time since she opened her mouth. It was not characteristic of me…I am a person who would die before creating a scene in public…but at least I was not paralyzed, standing there silently for her unwarranted public dressing down. My husband was shocked…this was the first time in the 12 years of our acquaintance he has ever seen me speak out in such a manner…usually I apologize if warranted or if not, I ignore the person and complain quietly to him later on. But I am working on not falling into that passive, accepting-of-abuse childhood pattern that was forced upon me in childhood, working on learning how to tell when I am intentionally not being heard/included/acknowledged and when my “invisibility” is just a normal thing for the time and place.

And that has been one of the big realizations: that everybody gets ignored, overlooked, disregarded from time to time, not just me. And they don’t react to it with anger, like Jack would, or a feeling of humiliation, like my husband, or by feeling shunned and invisible, like me. No, they roll with it, wait for another opportunity, and try again. They make themselves known in ways that do not embarrass or attack or offend others, they look for a way to fit into the situation seamlessly…to neither stand out unnecessarily or to be noticed for their reticence. And while I tend to be adept at this in social gatherings…that false persona of mine is very adept in social situations like the office or at parties…it is much harder in one-on-one or very small social groups, like with another 3 or 4 people at dinner.

I don’t feel invisible like I did when I was a kid, but I would be lying if I said I was past that problem at this stage in my life. It was not until I saw a thread on Facebook, however, that I became consciously aware of this, that I still struggle to deal with it, that the feeling of invisibility still creeps over me in some situations and I have yet to master it. I can only be thankful that my NM is long dead and not adding to it with her drama…


  1. Great post. Shunning is also contagious, sometimes conscious and unconscious. One thing that has always struck me as unjust or even cowardly is when people shun victims of bullying, out of fear of secondary association and becoming targets themselves. This is how bullying works. Create fear in those who are not targets, and then further isolate the target. It's a shameful form of behavior, and takes genuine courage to overcome. Bullies are ultimately so small, if people decide not to "bulk" them up through complicity or silence.

  2. re: the Burgo quote about the "unreality" of it all, I remember for years being around my NM and her husband, even both my NP, and feeling that kind of 'unreality.' Like I was a ghost. Sometimes the occasion would be putatively to celebrate one of MY occasions. But I'd just vanish into their mutual narcissism, like I wasn't there at all. It's unbelievably weird and hard to explain to anyone who has not experienced this. It gets down into one's soul, and leaves a vulnerability to feeling dismissed or ignored.

    1. I think that may be part of the difficulty I had in writing this. How do you describe or explain that feeling of disconnectedness so profound that you actually doubt your own existence? And tha vulnerability to feeling dismissed or ignored has not yet been overcome by me, although I must say it has improved dramatically over the years.

      When I was married to my NexH, I remember being surprised at seeing myself in the mirror, I felt so fragile and almost transparent. It is difficult to articulate, but many was the time that I felt nobody could see ME...the me behind the face...and they saw only what they created or believed me to be. I am sure my NM's years-long smear campaign played into that...people saw what she had prepared them to see and they dismissed anything contrary they actually saw as me "acting" and "trying to fool them" (again, NM's perception), so that their perception of me was simply a projection over the reality of me that was never acknowledged.

      It is still difficult to articulate but let me assure you, I totally get what you are saying. I have felt much the same.



    2. Hi V, I know you get it. I used to feel "frozen" inside, around my NP, a weird kind of turning to stone; alternately, there were times that I wanted to scream at them, "I exist." In fact, I've had many many dreams over the years in which I am yelling this at them--I"M HERE. I am a person, I am real. The pathological way they make sure the surface looks normal while nothing really is, becomes absolutely crazy-making. IN me, it created conditions for depression. And the ripple effects, we try to get people to 'see' us for who we really are, then feel weird and inauthentic. I think that this kind of damage cannot be overstated, and its worse precisely because it is almost impossible to describe to others. "But they had a party in your honor!" Yeah, but they acted like I wasn't there. They only talked to each other. They directed minimum affect or attention at me. At, say, my wedding. Jesus. What do you do with this, ya know? How do you describe how they are always "spaced out" or preoccupied during anything having to do with you? (I know you know). I have a major narc wound around this, and am working hard to overcome it, to realize that while there are times when I SHOULD have been the center of my parents' attention (starting from when I was little), the rest of the world doesn't owe me that at all. And it has to be fine. We didn't get it from the people we needed it from, when we needed it--EVER. So the search will always be fruitless and futile. There are ways to recognize this, as you know, and move on. It's hard hard work. hugs back. CS

    3. Wow. That was my childhood and most of my adulthood. I had a brief window of 8 years, between high school and marriage, where I was growing and feeling more alive and seen by others.But then, I married an N and I disappeared. I've been searching for a way to be myself again. It's hard. I live in his world, his state, town and everyone he knows. I must make my own place, no matter what he does. I can't wait for approval or understanding. I'll have to make my own friends, people he doesn't know. Otherwise it gets back to him and the comments start. Enough. I was invisible to my parents, to everyone at school, and in my marriage. I get to have a life now.

    4. Yes yes yes I'm so glad I'm not the only one that feels like that. I have these roommates and I feel invisible around them. I so fucking hate that. I HATE IT WITH THE BLAZING FIRE OF TEN THOUSAND SUNS. I HATE feeling like I become partially nonexistent whenever I walk through the doors of my apartment. /endrant I just wanted to post this anonymously.

  3. Hi Violet

    This is such an eye opener that I can relate to so much! I agree with you and Calibans Sister that narcissistic ignoring/snubbing can be so difficult to describe and pin down - I found it easier to describe with relevant examples in my guest post. It is like being a small ghost in your own life and if you haven't experienced this first hand it is near impossible to understand. The quotes and definitions you included were incredibly helpful and the words 'trauma/traumatised' and 'a form of torture' really stood out for me - for years I thought that simply being ignored by my family was not something to get so distraught over, but now I am starting to realise how destructive it truly is. Thank you for posting about such an important issue :)


    I liked your article a lot and wrote a response on my blog. The being shunned by your own family creates life-long implications. I related so much.

  5. Great article. Another point I would add is that when you are the abused child of a Narcissist and nobody acknowledges your abuse or acknowledges to you that the way you are being treated is wrong and not your fault this is another whole level of feeling invisible and like what you feel and think is of no consequence. It is downright crazy making....lived it and unfortunately seeing this happen with someone I love right now :(

  6. I am really struggling with this right now. How do you know when someone is doing it intentionally (or is just an a-hole) versus the natural flow of conversation? Is it normal for someone to just not respond at all to 25% of what you say? Or to never respond normally, like never laughing at jokes, never understanding basic sentences, regularly responding only to parts of sentences? How do you even draw a line or put your foot down over something so bizarre?

    1. You can't know...passive aggressive people will intentionally ignore you or withhold responses and when you call them on it, claim they didn't hear you or were distracted or some other kind of plausible excuse, turning it around to make it look like you are somehow wrong or too demanding. Which is why I think it doesn't matter if a person is doing it intentionally or just an a-hole: what the person is doing is just plain rude and disrespectful. And you have the absolute right to determine how much disrespect you are willing to tolerate in a relationship.

      How much is "normal" in the natural flow of conversation? Depends on the people and the conversation. But if you notice either the group doesn't let you get a word in edgewise or a specific person (or people) fail to respond to you while responding to others, then it is a good bet you are being singled out for this treatment.

      And you draw the line at being treated rudely and with disrespect...only you can determine just how much you are willing to tolerate.

      Myself, I wouldn't make a big fuss over it, I would drop the person quietly because if a person is showing me disrespect, it means s/he doesn't respect me and may even be one of those people who think I have to earn his/her respect. Those people quickly and quietly become part of my history because I don't maintain relationships with people who are so full of themselves that they think the rest of the world has to turn itself on its ear to "earn" their respect. If they don't respect other human beings simply because those people exist and are therefore deserving, then they are too self-absorbed for me.

      But you are not me, so you have to make your own determination as to how much disrespect is too much, and take action from there. Personally, I think if you have to point out to someone s/he is being disrespectful and then ask for them to treat you with respect and civility, the person is already a lost cause.

      Best of luck to you,



  7. Dear Sweet Violet,

    I cannot begin to tell you how much your post has resonated with me. I, too, grew up with a NM and experienced the same type of treatment as a child (and as and adult) from her until her death 7 years ago. I felt as though you were writing not only about your own life experiences, but about mine as well. Lately, I have been feeling extremely invisible and have been depressed as a result. Reading your post lets me know that I am not alone in this journey. I see you. Thank you for sharing yourself with me. (((HUGS)))

  8. That is so right! I am being shunned by my entire family now. I have been NC for several months and plan never to see these people again. The fantasies remain, however, of telling my NexH off, or getting nasty in a witty way in my divorce response, including something snarky about the judge who denied my rights when N stole everything from me just before the discard. But I wont.

    Your wise words remind me of what the advice columnest Ann Landers (or maybe it was her sister, Dear Abby) used to say. She said that when someone is giving you the silent treatment -- passive aggressive and disrespectful treatment, I would say -- it's best not to respond. Just put on your hat and wear it out the door.

    (If you think about it, probably it's the thing that gets them really STEAMED!!)

  9. I have felt invisible my whole life. This link really opened my eyes to the damage my NM caused my sister and I....

    1. The material on that link was actually written by The Harpy's Child, who occasionally comments on this blog. It is very insightful and extremely well-written and gave me a lot of food for thought when I first read it.

  10. Hahaha, the irony of being told my comment will be visible after approval lol

    1. Agreed...very ironic...but a little sad when you consider that there are so many insensitive people out there that such a measure is necessary. Some days I reject more spam and troll/N attacks than I approve comments from readers!

  11. I can relate. As a child I would retreat into my own world. As an adult I shut down under pressure. Its interfering with my job preformance..... How can I gain new coping skills after 57 yrs?

  12. This is a spot on description of how I have felt much of my life. At 57, and two years out of a 22 yr 'relationship' with an N spouse, it covers all the nebulous feelings of not-there-ness. Overlooked as a child, I understand now how that could lead to constant feelings of anxiety and the fear of potential annihilation. And also how that fed into my becoming the projection screen for the N spouse's weird world. I was bred to become a perfect blank screen, a sounding board. If I asserted my self, I was dismissed or targeted. I simply did not count except when someone needed me.
    On the other hand, outside of 'family', I have felt seen, felt, and heard. I came to know that my family life was itself a kind of unreality, or at least, not the only credible one.
    My ghostly self still occupies the kind of spaces between realities. As a visual artist and writer however, I also get to create images of what is unseen and unfelt and make them real.
    Now that I am out of the relationship with the N, I have time and space to recover my self, and to counter those feelings of potential annihilation with knowledge of my effectiveness and affect in the world. I am finding out that the world does indeed respond to me, and I to it. And that I am anchored in it and within it.

    What I want to say is that it is very important to me to have my own experiences reflected back in a very real way. Thank you very much for your article. It made my own experiences real and acknowledged.
    Please re-publish this one regularly! It ought to be seen, read, and heard again and again!

  13. I have realised that I was so used to being invisible that I could not even see myself and I am now on a journey of self discovery

  14. Thank you for this information. I have been struggling with this issue for a lifetime and I thought it was just me. It has been enlightening.

  15. Wow. Yes... described so perfectly. I always thought it was just my problem because I did not fit. But I was an avid writer and have journals back to high school. I was writing about my families abuse for decades. Facing it, coming to terms with it, and then I just stopped. I am not sure why I stopped writing. I did get a job where for the first time I felt seen and appreciated. But a recent relationship with an old N friend sent me into utter despair and pain. And I have asked myself alot of questions about why I was so succeptible. And I found myself looking at my mother And realizing she is an N and that I was the family scapegoat. And the interesting thing is that I am reading old journals and I had described without understanding being invisible to my mother. But what was hard was to have all those feelings but then to disappear around her. It was crazy making. But last summer I was in so much pain from the N and I went to stay with my mother and I had in the back of my head that by doing so, I would naturally shut down and disappear and it would help me with dealing with the N friend. But it was also at my wedding... my sister and mother and family all made me feel invisble. In fact no one even said anything about me... no speech or warm words. All of my father's family did though about me and my husband. What couled not have been more apparent than that?

    It's a terrible feeling. You feel hollow. As if the wind would blow right through you. Add on top of that that I was traumatized by an accident as a child and disassociate from the pain and even't and my life was about never existing...

  16. I've spent my life trying to stay "small". Its my explanation to being invisible. I was once told by an empath that I have a large personality and an aura that people are drawn to when I enter a room. (Note: I did not seek out this person. She is a friend of my sister I met when our parents died 5 weeks apart.) I laughed because I thought how could she be talking about me. I continued my 'need' to be small by marrying alcoholics (two marriages). Addicts have strong narcissistic personalities. As much as it hurts to acknowledge how I have failed myself in this life, I cannot begin to imagine another way of thinking. I need to be needed. That by itself is an empty, self-defeating existence.

    1. Then start by needing yourself and fulfilling your real needs. Therapy helps a lot.

      You have a choice: continue life as it has been and continue feeling hurt about failing yourself and living what you call an empty, self-defeating existence or step out of your comfort zone and start doing, seeing, and feeling things differently.

      The choice really is yours.

  17. I've " know " this my whole life. I did not know there was a name for it. I knew I felt unreal. I did not realize that to her " I " actually am. I started researching this about a month ago when during a conversation my mom inserted herself into a story about an actual event that she was not involved in. She inserted herself into my spot in the story. When I called her out on it she became angry, called me a liar and said I was always so sensitive. I hung up on her and immediately was relieved to realize my husband had heard the whole thing. He laughed thinking she is crazy anyways but in my gut I knew I had put my finger on what had been going on my whole life. So , I put into Google " My Mom is trying to make me disappear. " your blog is what popped up. I have decided not to have a relationship with her right now and the guilt is overwhelming. I love her and she is aging and lives alone. I am looking for peace with this but I don't see it. Reading others experiences do help but I don't read any resolutions. Is that possible?

  18. This post is well informed. Recently I became aware of feeling anger towards other for no apparent reason, like a strong hate or rage. After really sitting with the emotions I realised the feeling was one of being derpived of approval and acknowledgement. Feeling like others were not giving me what they owed me- an oppurtunity to talk, be heard, be seen and be felt, the very things my parents witheld.

    Expecting work collegues, strangers and friends to acknowledge that they are hurting me by denying the basic right of existence is outrageous. - but this is what I've been doing for a big part of my life. Attention seeking behaviours etc.

    My parents often ignored me and treated me like I wasn't there. Mainly because their parents treated them the same way. Its a cycle.

    The thing about it is, all thoughts are completely neutral, its not the thought but what you think about it that causes problems. And all emotions no matter how painful are there to remind you of your aliveness, they serve a purpose.

    I think the real shameful feeling underneath feeling invisible may be one that says
    " I'm such a horrible, defective excuse for a human being that I don't deserve my existence to be acknowledged, everyone else does but not me". - For me this has proven true.

    Really sitting with uncomfortable feeling can be helpful in finding the source and meaning behind them.

  19. thanks for writing this, it really helped me understand myself more through introspection. i had blocked many things of this exact nature out of my consciousness and reading your words helped resurface many of these memories that seemingly were sitting at the tip of my unconcious waiting for me to find them again. it very much describes my life and i'm starting to think that its possibly my core problem. so very often i feel alone in this world, i struggle to relate to anyone, so its heartwarming to find something like this written because its a reminder that i am in fact, not alone, and that sadly there's many others out there silently suffering. it's nice to know that other "real people" like myself do exist and that we're not truly invisible despite some peoples greatest efforts

  20. I have never respond to any post until now. I had several people look away or right passed me this morning while arriving to work. The feeling of invisibility crept in and I felt urged to look up this topic - low and behold this post. I never realized so many people feel this way and this has made me feel now that Im not alone. I am 45 and told to be an attractive woman, but yet Ive always felt like so many of you have described...looks do not matter if your core being feels trapped. I have felt very alone and unable to express to anyone the feelings I have felt all these years of feeling left out. Now I see how this has effected and effectiving past and current relationship, just not being able to connect and the feeling of my own personal inner shame of feeling this way. I look at other people alive and full of life and I so long to be and be seen as the woman inside. This article will not cure this but now I have a starting place to work on coping and recovery skills. I just wanted to say the article and post made my day - Thank you....Erica

    1. I wanted to second your reply. We seem a lot alike, which is amazing to me.

  21. I'm a dude. My father was the narcissist, mom the co-dependent.

    I completely relate to the invisible stuff and how you talk about it. I remember now and again over the years I'd look in the mirror when I was alone and wonder if I existed. Until the last couple of years I didn't connect it to my Ndad. Now it makes sense.

    I've realized also how much I think other people exist but also that they matter. I don't feel very bad about myself, just irrelevant and replaceable to almost everyone I meet. I don't think anyone really remembers me, notices me, or feels I matter more than a spoon. I'm occasionally useful, I suppose but interchangeable with other spoons. Basically, I don't matter at all, in the most non-chalant, basic physics of reality kind of way.

    I have this general sense that while I'm nice and pleasant and all that, have friends, family, etc, if I died no one would really notice. You know...

    "Hey there's a thunderstorm coming this weekend."
    "Oh yeah and Nik's dead."
    "Yeah, ah well."
    "So you coming to play cards, Saturday?"

    I know it isn't true but part of me still believes it. I don't think about it much, mope, or let anyone think anything is wrong. It's just a background belief, like the sky is blue, and gravity.

    For me there was a flip side to invisibility. If I was quiet and under reacted to things my father would insult me less often. Basically the emotional possum tactic worked very well. I was boring to play with so he slowed down on his insults and generally demeaning behaviors targeting me.

    Invisibility actually protected me in that way, although not the other. I was bullied by my father mostly between 5-10 years old, after that my possuming worked enough I suppose. Or maybe I was moved up to audience member instead of target. I dunno.


  22. Thank you fo rwriting this all down. I never before connected the dots. The supreme job acting, the outside socially graceful person to hide the invisible me is exactly what i have done. People are shocked to learn that i feel introverted and awkward inside. As I get older, I think I have become exhausted with this role, and the invisible me is showing a lot more to people. Or not showing, rather. It builds a bad cycle, I let the "real" me show, which is shunned and ignored by people, which makes me feel alienated and ashamed, and so on. But what to do? Even my "friends" have not kept in touch, when I expressed to them my feelings of unworthiness. This has greatly added to the feeling that i must be "cheerful and good" or i am not worthy of attention. I see other people go through difficult times, and they have love and support from their friends and family. What makes me undeserving?

  23. Reading these postings from all of you has helped me to realize I am not alone with the invisibility factor (as I like to call it). Felt alone and invisible my whole life. I can bet pretty much everyone who posted accomplished major things in life...but your family or others simply refuses to acknowledge them. It is a frustrating feeling because you just don't understand it. I think there is something about us when we go through difficult times that makes people believe we are so strong and we do not need any one. In reality, we have been ignored for so long, we learned how to look stoic...blank-faced...emotionless. The whole time we are a tight ball of emotions because no one seems to care. What I do is workout, listen to upbeat music, and keep doing good for others. There is a wonderful feeling in giving--regardless of whether you are acknowledged or not. This is what helps me. I will probably never have support from family or people who say they are my friends...but knowing that something I did helped others--always makes me feel good. Even donating to a charity online is helpful. Keeps me from thinking about my own life so much when I focus on others. Thank you all for your posts.

  24. I genuinely feel and subconsciously believe that I am invisible. Its the weirdest thing, especially to be conscious of. I truly believe that I am not here. Wtf?

    My mother was a narcissist that had 5 kids so she could get the love she never got as a child. I feel bad going no contact on her I feel like I was the black sheep of the family. I have a few memories of my siblings laughing at me and humiliating me. I think it may have been so terrorizing that I don't remember a lot of it. When you are born into bullying,, when you are born into feeling like less, you don't realize that you DO feel like less, you believe that the feeling of less is the feeling of wholeness. That is such a dangerous thing. I could've lived my whole life this way. Thank god I've become self aware, though.

    Anyways though. My life is incredibly dark. Well it has been my entire life. I'm only now realizing it. When one is born into darkness they don't know there is a light. Same thought as before.

    But yeah. Lifelong loner due to feeling like a shit stain self esteem and I have a pretty bad eating disorder. Going to go on a fast and see if I can heal myself of all of this. Thanks for reading.

  25. I have been there...truly been there. No amount of psychology, intense psychotherapy or trying to make sense of everything was fruitful. No healing my psyche...until...I forgave.

    I couldn't forgive with my mind or by my emotions. I forgave by my will and by will alone.

    I have read a lot of pain here, and I know what you all experienced traumatized you...wounded you deeply. To finally leave those who scarred you behind, get RID of the hold these memories have on you, first, call upon the name of Jesus or the Hebrew name Yeshua, repent of your sin of bitterness and hatred, because, believe me, that poison is hurting YOU and no one else. Tell Him you forgive them because you want to be forgiven...again, it may be too difficult to do this in your heart , with your emotions. Name those who have hurt you out loud and state that you forgive them and RELEASE them. At that point, ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse you of all hatred and bitterness. You don't want to carry the weight of that pain with you any longer. You may have to pray this each day until you feel that darkness lifting from you.

    I hope you will do this and feel the peace you have so longed for and need. Remember, those who have hurt you were broken people themselves.

    This worked for me. I wish the same for you.

    God bless,

    1. First of all, even well-known therapists and writers on the topic of toxic families, like Susan Forward, do not share your vision of forgiveness. It can be harmful for a person to feel forced to forgive when they are not feeling forgiving, and there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with feeling unforgiving to those who have harmed us and have no remorse for their actions. You may want to read this for more information on the subject:

      Secondly, those who have hurt us are not "broken people themselves." We are talking about narcissists here, people who have a choice with respect to their behaviour and invariably choose to put their wants and whims ahead of the needs and rights of others.

      And third, I just want everyone who reads this to realize that you message was just one big self-righteous, posturing guilt trip. If suppressing your real feelings, being publicly pious, and "forgiving" people who hurt you intentionally works for you, I am ok with that. But do NOT come to my blog and dump guilt on people who are already overburdened with toxic guilt that is not even their own but projected onto them by people with personality disorders.

      I published your message because it is a crystal-clear example of someone who doesn't "get it" and whose self-righteousness blinds them to the plight of others. You may even be a narcissist yourself. What you are not, however, is compassionate, empathetic, and clued-in.

    2. I just want to say how happy this makes me to read your comment on forgiveness, Violet. As so often, you are right on!

  26. Bravo, Sweet Violet. Bravo. Your reply makes me cheer! I am sick to death of the self-righteous who choose not to understand that being shunned is soul-killing. Forgiving narcissists is just a welcome mat for more narcissists. Thank you.

  27. Thank you so much. I am so happy that there is someone who can understand,share and express my pain. I am functional with slight autism,awkward,a survivor of childhood sexual abuse,raised by my sister,neglected emotional by my family, beaten by one brother,and abused by the other. As a black female, often not trusted and feared for no reason. I was raised in a neighborhood where the mixed kids were passing for white and being dark was bad. I am 54 and I fight so hard to not try and control or force people to like me. I have not learned to love myself. I unfortunately live in an area where my skin is tolerated. I am a novelty by not nurtured. Thanks for sharing. I will continue to fight and learn to accept myself.

  28. I've read many books and articles on Narcissism and those whose lives are impacted by a Narcissistic Mother, not because I'm curious, but because I was trying to navigate what turned out to be a very toxic marriage masking as "you're the problem." Your post captures very well the feelings of invisibility, confusion and alternate universe feelings that grew so insidiously I didn't even realize what was going on. 12 years of therapy, 8 of them including marriage counselling where my husband masqueraded so well for both the therapist and myself that I really truly thought that I just needed to change more. After all "the only person you can change is yourself." Turns out, what I needed to change was being agreeable. Be me. Be seen. Say what I feel, observe and think. Argue. And walk away when you need space to be you. Wow, that was a hard lesson to learn. I knew his mother was a big part of his issues, but when I realized he was projecting on to me and interacting as if I were her . . . that was it. Enough! I found myself inside and brought her out in public again. If he was going to over react and try to control and demean with a ghost--have at it. But I'm not playing her role, paying the dues for her crappy parenting and mental illness anymore. I know shocking, how long therapy took me to get to that point, but that's how vested I was in believing his charismatic mask. And how vested I was in trying to recreate my mother's formula for a happy marriage. Turns out I wasn't married to my dad and I was not my mother or his mother. Turns out, not being invisible was okay, and a lot less stressful than I ever dreamed. Turns out, I was afraid of rejection all along never realizing I have the power to choose my own path, my own destiny and that has nothing to do with rejection.

  29. I feel the same way too. But I have trouble WANTING to integrate with the world sometimes now. After a while, you look in from the outside and the people on the inside seem... too small. Like they don't know what the real world is like because they haven't known what it's like to be on the outside. I have trouble relating to them and the warm, cozy relationships they were lucky to grow up in. Maybe it is just better to learn to live as a ghost.

  30. It took me until the age of 38 to realize that it was abnormal to have the expectation that people you meet and interact with on a semi-regular basis won't recognize you. It wasn't even that I thought I had some sort of super special powers of recognition, in that I usually remember faces. I didn't put those two things together at all. I was just constantly astonished when people like neighborhood baristas or people I saw in the library recognized me and sometimes even spoke to me first.

    I felt invisible for all of my life without ever questioning whether that was normal or not. I didn't know enough to question. Seeing how many people have experienced the same thing from being raised by Ns is really eye opening and helps me not feel so weird with this.

    1. I feel ya. This is a constant struggle for me. Also, I find myself repeating so many things because I have the feeling that when I said it before, nobody thought it was important coming from md. I'm working on being aware of this and stopping it.


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