The Need To Be Seen

I’ve written before about how narcissistic it is to communicate. I don’t really believe that anymore (to the extent I ever did), but I think it’s interesting. What’s interesting about it is that there’s a tiny sliver of truth behind it. That sliver is this: all humans have an intense need to be seen and understood by each other.

This is one of those truths that psychologists seem to know and understand deeply but which did not come naturally to me. For me, the conflicting desire to be allowed to pass by unremarked upon was always stronger. I’m sure some psychologists would love to psychoanalyze that, but for now let’s let it lie.

I’m told from respected sources that the child’s need to be seen by their parents is one of the most fundamental. This is the theory behind the classic dysfunction of the child ignored by a parent — think the classic distant father and eager son — who spends their whole life desperately trying to impress that parent.

Where the most interesting learning has occurred for me is in the fact that simply being seen can cure most of our psychological neuroses. When someone is just feeling sad or overwhelmed or angry, a person coming along and acknowledging and accepting that they are feeling those feelings is one of the quickest ways that those feelings can dissipate. There is no need to for the other person to change the situation (in fact in most cases that’s not wanted), they just need to really understand it. It can feel like such a relief to finally have someone understand and acknowledge that you feel the way you feel.

It turns out, as I’ve been slowly learning, you can do this for yourself. You can see yourself feeling your feelings, you can acknowledge that you are feeling your feelings, and your feelings can then naturally dissipate as they do when recognized by someone else. This is magical mental jujitsu that I would never have believed if I hadn’t caught glimpses of it in myself. But back on track.

Whether or not you have any desire to be able to soothe yourself by seeing, simply knowing the need and value to others of being seen and understood is a great way to become better as a communicator. You’re more empathic, patient, and easy to be around if you know how to see without jumping to change. To the action-oriented person it feels like you’ll go crazy when you just see the situation and don’t try to change it, but for most people, with most modern problems, most of the time, it is the single best thing you can offer.