Thursday, October 17, 2013

Are you seen?

Are you seen?

This post is about the times when you are not seen. You do not feel felt. You feel alone in your triumph and/or your fear. It just feels like no one sees you at all.

This happens to Zuri, a lot. You can read about her experience (i.e., Zuri’s Story) and then read the processing after (i.e., The Process).

Zuri’s Story

It was raining outside. Zuri could hear the rain hitting the window glass and felt the coldness stealing in through the cracks in the old paned, school windows. The room was nearly silent. The rain, the shuffling of students in their seats, and her teacher’s heels click, click, click, click, click, click, down the isles, weaving around desks. Zuri was staring out the window. She sees a sparrow on the windowsill. It seems as if the little bird sees her. He tilts his head. Zuri tilts hers.

It was the pre-algebra test results. It was a hard exam and Zuri has felt over her head since September. She studies and goes to the library after school to look up math help online. She wishes she was one of those kids who could afford a tutor. She wishes she was one of those kids whose parents helped them.

She wishes she was…someone else. She even wishes she was that little sparrow. Maybe she could fly away.

Click, click, click, click, heels on the floor, paper after paper on students’ desks.

Yeah, she wishes that she was someone else. She watches the sparrow fly from the windowsill, struggling in the rain, and still flying away. “Fly, little one fly,” she thought. “Fly.”

Mrs. Connor stopped at her desk. She placed her paper face-side down on her desk. Mrs. Connor held her hand on the paper and looked right into Zuri’s eyes. Zuri did that thing she does that postpones tears. She blinks so tears can’t collect in her eyes. “God,” she thought. “Just get it over with.”

“Nice job Zuri,” Mrs. Connor says. “Best grade in the class. You’ve been doing the work and it shows. Good work.”

“What?” Zuri wasn’t sure she heard right. Just in case she smiled and thought “What?”

Mrs. Conner moved on and Zuri flipped over the paper. There it was 98% an A. Zuri’s heart pounded and she had to start blinking again so that she would not full-on cry. Only this time, it was because she was so happy.

She could not wait for school to be done. She could not wait to show her mom. Her mom was going to see this paper and wrap her arms around Zuri and pick her right up off of the floor. Her mom was going to be so proud.

I see Zuri practically running home from school. She is so excited. Her mom had half day at work so Zuri knew she would be home. I see Zuri running thru the big front door into the house. She slows a bit. The house is dark, shades are drawn, and the TV is on. She can hear it. She turns the bend from the kitchen into the TV room. Nervously, Zuri peers in. The room is filled with the smell of stale cigarette smoke and alcohol. Ugh, she can barely breathe.

Zuri’s mom is curled up on the couch, blankets around her. There is an infomercial on the TV, loud, something about weight loss. I see Zuri’s eyes get big.

“Mom?” she whispers. “Mom, you okay?” She touches her mom’s shoulder.

“Oh, hey, Zuri, you home from school already? What time is it?” Zuri’s mom turns to check her phone and falls off the couch. She’s drunk. Zuri helps her back on the couch.

Ignoring what just happened, her Mom says, “What’s going on ZuZu?”

“Nothing” Zuri says.

“How was school?”

“Well, if you really want to know, I had a sort of great day. I got a test back from Mrs. Connor, my Pre-Algebra teacher. I got the best grade in the class. I got an A.”

Her mom doesn’t respond. She has dozed off.

“Mom? Mom? Did you hear me?”

“Sure honey. That’s great. You got to play.” She dozes off again.

“No. Mom.” Zuri says to no one as she walks out of the room. “I got an A. Best grade in the class. Yay.”

Zuri walks into the kitchen and starts making dinner for Eric and Rashan. Her mom wasn’t going to do it. Her brothers would be home soon, hungry.

Later, Zuri had finished dinner, cleaned the kitchen, packed lunches (she calls them ‘make-do lunches’ cause…., well, you know) and finished her homework.  She decides to dig through the yoga bag and flip through the yoga notes. Her eyes land on a class I teach every few months. It is titled, “You are the one who tries. You are the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

Lying on her back, she places the soles of her feet together (just like in my drawings). She places one hand on her heart and one hand on her belly. She closes her eyes. She whispers, “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

In my notes, I explain that our efforts are between our souls and ourselves. For some, the soul is a reflection of God. For others it’s a drop of the universe within. For all of us, it is our soul, our God, that sees our work. No matter how drunk your mom might be or how invalidating any one person, or all the people in your life, may be-- your soul knows that you tried and that is all that matters.

I see her breathing. I see the very slight upward turn at the corners of her mouth. I see a peacefulness fall over her face. Again she thinks, “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

The Process

External validation is critical. It is so critical that there have been entire interventions built around invalidating environments as a core principle (see Dialectic Behavioral Therapy; Linehan, 1993, In fact, the neurological location in the brain that feels physical pain is the same area at which we feel social rejection (* We need to be seen by, included with, and accepted by others.

It actually hurts when we are not.

But what if it is just not in your cards to be seen today, or for lots of days, or even for big chunk of your childhood? What then?

There is an emerging concept/practice in psychology called Self-Validation (see There is still lots of research needed and a lot of what is talked about now is about loving yourself even when you make a mistake. Still the essence of this is that we can be validating for ourselves. We don’t need the world to validate our efforts (although it would be super awesome if it did).

So lie on your back. Place the soles of your feet together. Close yours eyes. Place one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Breathe in and out. Say “I am the one who tries. I am the one who sees. And that is all that matters.”

Because truly, that is all that matters.

I see you Zuri,


*An experimental study of shared sensitivity to physical pain and social rejection
Naomi I. Eisenberger a,*, Johanna M. Jarcho b,*, Matthew D. Lieberman b, Bruce D. Naliboff c,d
a Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
b Department of Psychology, Franz Hall, University of California, Los Angeles, CA, USA
c Center for Neurovisceral Sciences and Women’s Health, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California, Los Angeles, USA d VA Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System, Los Angeles, CA, USA
Received 21 March 2006; received in revised form 8 May 2006; accepted 19 June 2006
Recent evidence points to a possible overlap in the neural systems underlying the distressing experience that accompanies physical pain and social rejection (Eisenberger et al., 2003). The present study tested two hypotheses that stem from this suggested over- lap, namely: (1) that baseline sensitivity to physical pain will predict sensitivity to social rejection and (2) that experiences that heighten social distress will heighten sensitivity to physical pain as well. In the current study, participants’ baseline cutaneous heat pain unpleasantness thresholds were assessed prior to the completion of a task that manipulated feelings of social distress. During this task, participants played a virtual ball-tossing game, allegedly with two other individuals, in which they were either continuously included (social inclusion condition) or they were left out of the game by either never being included or by being overtly excluded (social rejection conditions). At the end of the game, three pain stimuli were delivered and participants rated the unpleasantness of each. Results indicated that greater baseline sensitivity to pain (lower pain unpleasantness thresholds) was associated with greater self-reported social distress in response to the social rejection conditions. Additionally, for those in the social rejection conditions, greater reports of social distress were associated with greater reports of pain unpleasantness to the thermal stimuli delivered at the end of the game. These results provide additional support for the hypothesis that pain distress and social distress share neurocog- nitive substrates. Implications for clinical populations are discussed.
Ó 2006 International Association for the Study of Pain. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

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