Have you ever felt like you are invisible to everyone, including yourself? I did for many years. And although I had already overcome that “emotional obstacle,” it wasn’t until now that I realized that it was a form of fear, stopping my personal growth and career.
Two weeks ago, when I was reading an article in The New York Times about a refugee from Romania who became an international model, there was one phrase with a special word in it that resonated in me: “I went from trying to be invisible to an industry where I was asked to be a different person all the time: this muse, that muse.” (“A Model’s Refugee Story” by Susan Kirschbaum). And that word was “invisible,” which refused to leave me until I wrote this article “How did I overcome the “I feel invisible” thought pattern?”
If some word gets stuck in my mind, it means I have to work on it and analyze what’s in it for me. Whether it’s a memory of the past or an aspiration about my plans, the best way to find it out is to allow the analytical side of the brain to do the job and write down the results.
Going through the painful memories of my past, when I felt invisible, made me realize that it was a negative feeling, a collection of thought patterns – formed in my childhood by the social environment – unconsciously enhanced through my young adulthood. It was disrupting my aspiration for personal growth, and I realized it only after my second divorce.
The “I feel invisible” thought pattern that I was experiencing was because of:
1 – Emotional dramas that I experienced in my childhood resulted in a lack of necessary social communication and incremented fear of being seen and noticed. In school, I was shy and preferred to stay permanently behind the scenes, sit at the back in the classroom, and avoid speaking out and inventing any excuse to not be in the center of attention.
2 – Being raised in a socialist-communist society (former USSR), where showing your individuality was prohibited; speaking out and loud was perceived as a bad habit.
3 – Partly as a result of social isolation that happened after my adventurous trip to Cancun, which turned into nine years of expat life.
In 2013 I arrived in Cancun, a famous resort town in the Caribbean side of Mexico. I had a one-way ticket, a suitcase and a backpack with a camera. I knew basic Spanish and had money to cover only three months of stay. I didn’t have a precise plan, but I had a strong desire to stay and build a life in Cancun, and I did. Shortly after my arrival, I met my husband, and even faster, we started living together in the house, where I used one of the rooms to work online on building my photography business.
For five years, I worked in a little room with white walls, no decoration, a small plastic chair, and a table, where I had my clumsy, heavy Sony laptop.
Why do I refer to it as a room? What stopped me from calling it my studio? Physically it was a room, but I was creating and building my business in there. And if you would see a small room situated in a building, in a noisy, packed with traffic downtown, you might quickly call it an office. So, what is the difference? Is it just the location? Or was it my perception of the working space and my being afraid to call it a studio? The hunt for an official name, valuable places, and validating my worth made me hide behind my camera and computer for a long time.
But there comes a moment when you have to grow, and sometimes this will result in switching sides with your fear of feeling invisible and letting it hide in the darkest corners of this universe.
How did I experience feeling invisible?
- I was questioning my thoughts and actions and looking for the approval of people whom I perceived as having more authority.
- Words I used to talk to myself contained a lot of doubt, for example, “maybe,” “just” etc.
- I was afraid to share my most painful experience with anyone, including my parents and close friends. When I was 22, I was violated, and I didn’t tell anyone. I suppressed my pain because I was ashamed of it. And later in life, I understood it didn’t do me any good. As a result, in my first marriage, when my husband was physically abusing me, I thought this was a norm and was silent until I filed for a divorce.
- My wardrobe consisted mainly of clothes in black, grey, dark blue or bright plain colors with the main accent on pants, shorts, and plain shirts and sweaters. I used little to no make-up while living in Cancun, and I didn’t have perfume!
- 90% of the time, using the phrase “I don’t need your help, I can do everything on my own!”
- Afraid to speak out, write or comment about topics of interest because I think the way I think and write is not good enough.
- I didn’t value my work and wasn’t confident enough to call myself an artist, so for many years I referred to myself as “just a photographer”, pronouncing that with a shy smile.
- I didn’t feel comfortable being in front of the camera! Yes, I know it’s strange to hear this from a photographer, but that’s how I felt for a long time. Moreover, I didn’t like to post my photos on social media and share anything about my life, except for backstage photos of my work.
- I thought I didn’t deserve presents on holidays or excepting used things as gifts. I will tell a story about this in the following article.
- Afraid to communicate with people outside my work and circle of relatives and close friends.
- My physical environment (while living in Cancun) was a reflection of my inner world, a white wall with no decor as a symbol of silence directed at a void. Like I had nothing to say, I was invisible to everyone, at least that was how I felt!
Above all that, my expat life in Cancun, the inability to speak Spanish fluently (during the first three years), and a jealous husband, who was against me going out and making friends, all enhanced my “I feel invisible” obstacle. And as a result, brought me to the edge of an emotional breakdown.
Thanks to all the fantastic books about the phycology of life that I read for the last five years, and my healthy lifestyle, which included running, yoga, and meditation, I was finally able to break a vicious circle of “I feel invisible.” A list of recommended bookAt the end of the article you can find a list of books that helped me
How did I overcome the fear called “I am invisible to everyone”?
I stopped doing these:
- Ignoring my feelings.
- Being a people pleaser
- Looking for approval
- Being afraid of my desires and goals in business.
- Believing someone else when they told me what should I do in my spare time.
- Referring to a space where I worked as just a room (Change the words you use in your internal monologues, and you will change your life. That’s the conclusion I made after reading the book “Words can change your brain” by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman.)
- Calling myself just a photographer because it’s not only about taking photos but also marketing, advertising, writing articles, generating new ideas to expand a business, meeting with clients, training my creative vision to upgrade my photography, recording videos, and retouching.
- Using words “I don’t want …” and all the reasons why something is not possible.
I started doing these:
- practicing powerful words: “I want…” and focusing on my goals
- Referring to a space where I worked as a studio, where I create. Now, I am unafraid of stating “I am an artist” with confidence! And I create and share my art with the world.
- I entered theatre school in Cancun where I met my friend, a beautiful person and a talented life coach Alma Gonzalez (“Ama tu Cuerpo con Alma”), who showed me that speaking out is a fun experience.
- I performed in Spanish on a stage in the “House of Culture” in Cancun, which became was a major breakthrough in my silence and showed me that I speak very good Spanish.
- I painted the walls of my studio yellow and orange, which made it pulsate with creative energy and optimism.
- Giving myself presents and buying flowers. Yes! Flowers are a beautiful way to nourish femininity.
- Saying NO when I didn’t want to do something, even in communication with parents, relatives, and friends.
- Paying more attention to my style. I changed my wardrobe, and it’s full of colorful clothes, including dresses.
- Adding little details of beauty in my studio and allowing myself to invest money in moments of happiness: like having a breakfast in a lovely cafe; walking with a cup of hot cappuccino along the streets, marveling at the view around me, enjoying a conversation with a friend while tasting delicious macaroons.
- I embraced the notion that I am more than just a daughter, friend, and photographer. At first, I am an individual and a woman.
- I realized perfection doesn’t exist, and from that moment, I allowed myself to be just me, perfectly imperfect, asking questions when I don’t know something, without the fear of being judged.
- I admitted that I needed help and started delegating work. And the first step was finding a professional retoucher, which allowed me to invest time in marketing and promoting my business.
- I became more assertive in business.
- I told myself I am more than just a beach photographer, and I am capable of creating fine art photos and speaking out.
- I did a fine art boudoir photo session, and, after designing and ordering to print a photo book. As a photographer, I did many boudoir photo session for beautiful women, but it was the first time when the model was me.
- Now I believe in myself, and I know I am the only one who knows how to live my life.
- The fact that I love taking photos and I know how to create a beautiful composition, thus take great photos, helped me tremendously in overcoming “I feel invisible” thoughts. When I was at a wedding with hundreds of guests, there was no time to be invisible. I was committed to doing my job the best possible way, and sometimes it means standing in front of a big group of people and guiding them in posing and making them smile.
And finally, I divorced and moved to a separate apartment at the beginning of a global pandemic. It was the right time to do it, though the challenge of staying in business when all the world is shut down was tremendous. But I did it and came out of it stronger than ever, with an upgraded way of managing my finance and a list of new goals in life.
I am a woman that learned to own her story and to be honest. It was emotionally challenging to post this article, not to mention that while writing it, I broke into tears many times. But I learned to trust myself, and I know it was the right thing to do because words were coming out naturally. And I know that challenge can be painful at times, but it’s part of life because through the challenge – we learn, get knowledge and grow, and that is part of being alive.
The right words come to mind when you start writing; you realize you have a story to tell when you start speaking; you become visible when you move out of the shadow cast on you by your own fears.
Personal growth happens when you dream and ACT fearlessly. For that’s the action that activates the energy capable of transforming your life in a very positive way. The magic doesn’t happen to you. It’s you who make the magic happen!
Great books to read:
John Grey – “How to get what you want and want what you have”
Brene Brown – “The Gift of Imperfection”
Andrew B. Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman – “Words Can Change Your Brain”
Wayne Dyer – “Your Erroneous Zones”
Norman Vincent Peale – “The Power of Positive Thinking”
Elizabeth Gilbert – “Big Magic”
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – “Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life”