What do YOU DO to feel SEEN?

isolated-youthThe military throughout the world use solitary confinement as a torture strategy. Entire cultures and communities use shunning as a way to ensure conformity and even as parents, we often use isolation in the form of time outs to control our children’s behaviours.

How come something as basic as rejection, isolation and exclusion can be so powerful in controlling human behaviour? Because we evolved to be a SOCIAL SPECIES, we NEED a feeling of belonging in the same way we need food and water for survival.

In the past 20 yrs the research world has exploded with evidence showing there is actually “survival of the nurtured”. People with healthy (Secure) attachment styles, stemming from having caregivers who they felt were emotionally and physically consistently available to meet their needs, actually live longer, have fewer physical health issues, fewer mental health concerns and report a higher quality of life, as well as higher quality of their relationships. 

They are literally in better shape than the rest of us, are happier, are more satisfied with their friends, develop less cancer, have fewer heart attacks, even get fewer colds- and when they do, they bounce back quicker. They even heal from surgery quicker than those of us who did not win the lottery in terms of emotionally and / or physically available parents or childhoods.

It is also the people who do the work to heal their INsecure attachments, who are afforded these same benefits, as they learn to how to BE and ACT in healthy relationships moving forward.



This social survival advantage has been so well established in the research that it is now common-place for Oncologists (Cancer Docs) to talk to patients who are newly diagnosed with cancer about the importance of engaging their social supports because it actually increases their chances of survival!

We are biologically hard-wired to be social, to want to be seen and acknowledged. Feeling seen is the achilles heel of our existence, the irresistible drug of humanity. Feeling seen is a crucial part of feeling connected. If we are not acknowledged, we don’t feel like we matter, we feel invisible- and that actually activates our fight/ flight system and kicks it into overdrive because deep down, we seem to know that if we are not seen, we will not survive!

So what do YOU DO to be seen or accepted? 

  • not-fitting-in-in-high-school-featGo along– we will go along with things that hurt ourselves or others, even when we don’t really want to…we will…
    • Stay quiet when people are treating us poorly, be a doormat, make ourselves small
    • Bully others even when we don’t really want to, but it gets us accepted or makes us feel VISIBLE (and powerful)
    • Use drugs
    • Have sex (and/ or do sexual things we wouldn’t otherwise choose to do)
    • Not use a condom
    • Cheat on our partner
    • Cheat on a test or evaluation or let someone cheat off us
    • Try to be the best at certain things, people pleasing or be “perfect” at our own expense
  • Draw attention to ourselves– through…BusinessSkirt
    • How we dress (ie. provocatively, alternative, goth- usually in a way that is outside of what is acceptable in our cultural context)
    • Saying controversial things we may or may not believe
    • Showing off, bragging (trying to convince people we are worthy of being seen)
    • Talking down to people
    • Doing dare devil stunts or engaging in risky activities
  • Get loud– have temper tantrums, make ourselves big! We tend to do this in arguments when we don’t feel heard or acknowledged. We even raise our voices in discussions when this is the case, it doesn’t have to be as heated as an argument.
  • Show dominance– when getting loud alone doesn’t help us feel seen, we bring out the power-plays! We will try to control the interaction trough withdrawing, detaching, smothering, interrogating or bombarding the other person with questions or words, acting erratically or unpredictably so the other people have to walk on eggshells around us. This can escalate to verbal, emotional, physical or sexual violence, and we may act that violence or abuse out with the person who is making us feel not seen, or a more vulnerable target, depending on our survival maps.


There are positive things that can stem from wanting to be SEEN and ACKNOWLEDGED as well

girls hugging


  • It may motivate us to stand up for ourselves or do things like make a comment every day in class
  • It can inspire us to find our purpose
  • It can encourage us to take chances to be ourselves
  • It can guide us towards finding our meaning
  • It may help us take pride in how we dress or be accountable



  • How we learn to try to feel SEEN, ACKNOWLEDGED or ACCEPTED depends on our early life experiences, on our survival maps- and we keep using them until it becomes painfully clear we need to CHANGE TO SURVIVE.
  • How successful we will be in making and maintaining that change, will depend on how healthy our tribe is at the time.

Take a moment to reflect

1.What were some of your survival maps about how to be SEEN? Were they helpful or harmful?

2. And if change is needed now in order to be well, is your current TRIBE helping or harming you on your journey?


  • For those looking for opportunities to interact with other people on a similar journey, remember that Inspired Living Medical now has an open drop-in on Mondays 12-3 pm (closed Mar.14 & 21 for Spring Break) for anyone who is currently completing or completed ACT or ISTDP with either Dr. Wilson. This is not a Booster group, we are merely providing the space to facilitate healthy tribe).

2 thoughts on “What do YOU DO to feel SEEN?

  1. Interesting.

    This context flirts with my feelings & actions. Observed thrugh my own self & seen through others, it is this foundation that cements it all: “THE QUALITY OF OUR TRIBE AFFECTS THE QUALITY OF OUR LIFE”. It is here so many of us are lacking! Almost 2/3rds of us beak up the tribe, hoping the latter choice will meet your needs better?!?! Choose don’t Excuse my friends, in everything you do. Easier said then done! Awesome article Dr.^2! 😉

  2. So as I continue my journey with inspired living medical I am struck by how the dots connect and circle back to our need for a healthy tribe. Our need to be seen, heard and treated like we matter to be well. After reading this post I am left to ponder our incredible will to survive both as individuals and as a human species. When I look outward to world events and inward to personal experiences I am amazed at our capacity to both be cruel and accept being treated in cruel ways in order to belong. That social isolation undermines our humanity while love and belonging embraces it. The incredible pain that stems from using our basic survival maps–when they are part of what keeps us isolated, the process of uncovering and owning our own ways of being (survival maps) in the world and the amazing journey when we embrace change. Thank you for this post and the amazing journey!

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