I'll never forget the moment I was called upon for the show and tell segment in second grade. It was my turn to share my excitement. I had not been in school for three days, and my classmates were curious. If I wasn't sick, what was it I was doing?
Just as I began to tell them my story--that I had been filming a national television commercial--I heard snickering from a few classmates. "Nah, ah! You're a liar!" One boy, confident in what he was saying, elbowed the boy next to him for support. "Oh, yeah, prove it!" The other boy said.
I had succeeded in the 'tell' part of my share. I didn't know how to do the 'show' part. I had no photos of the experience yet, and the commercial would not air for months. I was mostly excited to tell them that I got to ride in a sleigh with Clydesdale horses pulling.
I must have gulped hard. My body froze, and I was unable to speak. What started as excitement quickly turned to embarrassment. The teacher stepped in to say, "Now, boys, it's not nice to call anyone a liar. And I happen to know what Amy is saying is true. Now, let's be good listeners and let Amy continue her story."
It didn't seem to matter what the teacher said. A lot of kids doubted me that day. It didn't seem to help that my best friend was fiercely defending me. The point is, it was the first time I experienced the power of negativity from others and our human need to feel seen and heard.
I can look back and say it was the first time I felt invisible to others. And that feeling would erupt at times wherever someone doubted my efforts or accused me of being a liar when I was telling the truth.
It is in those times I grew an emotional defense mechanism. I could quickly shift into trying to prove myself to certain people--or hide from the world entirely to avoid pain. I would come to value the lesson that this was an apparent lack of self-worth. It was growing disbelief within myself that what I was doing and saying didn't matter. And that feeling hurts!
It's natural to want to feel like you belong. It's another thing entirely when we try to force ourselves to get others to see us, listen to us, understand us, or even like us so that we can feel better about ourselves. If we get to the point of feeling invisible because we believe no one's listening, we may quickly engage in self-pity parties. Feeling dead inside is sure to follow! To feel alive again, we must get over ourselves and begin to relieve ourselves of the pressure to expect that people should be happy for us. Even when we're innocently sharing a happy story, if we become deflated by the jeers of others, we're giving up on ourselves--and deflating our spirits.
Of course, there was no way as an eight-year-old to know how to accept criticism more gracefully. As an adult, I know that when we are shaking inside because of others putting us down, it is a natural safety protection kicking in--a fight or flight stress response. Where we can feel better about ourselves is in learning to respond to that stress-mechanism more effectively.
The next time you feel paralyzed by criticism and others doubt you, check in to see where you stand in response. If you are busy moving into defense mode, what happens in your mind and body as a result? If you find you are mostly climbing into your imaginary invisible shoes or jet to avoid pain, what happens to your spirit? If you're feeling exhausted, consider Wonder Woman. One of her strengths is to convert mind power into physical power. So, ask yourself, what is going through my mind when others doubt me that could be draining me?
What matters to me is a message to any 'invisible operating' person who might be reading this. We don't have to weigh ourselves down trying to prove ourselves to others. We are further from our authentic selves when we step into our imaginary invisible shoes or jets. I am here to remind myself (and you if necessary)of these things: We are here as physical beings with beating hearts and blood running through our bodies--which means we are alive (and visible)--a fact we can't dispute, even if we've gotten to the point of feeling dead. We have brains to think with, even if it's foggy some days--and it is a fact we can learn to change our minds about the way we think and even clear our minds effectively at the moment. If you believe you have a soul, then it is up to you to nourish it and bring forth its brilliance--people can sometimes succeed to dim your light, so let's keep our internal confidence generator working to 'light ourselves up again.'
As for that commercial? You won't find it on YouTube. It only aired once. There is no visible way today to prove to you that I filmed it. Even if I were to tell you that the film reel we had of the commercial was one of the few delicate items to survive our family's house fire that year but is forever un-viewable, would you believe me? Fortunately, these days your answer one way or the other won't improve or damage my self-worth. I choose not to be slowed down in my choice to feel my happiest about life. And even if you were to call me a liar and succeed at making me feel bad at the moment, my Wonder Woman power kicks in to remind me of my ability to shift into new energy. This can be your story!
Where will you go from here?
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