Letting Ourselves Be Seen | Steve's Quest: The Animated Musical Web Series

Letting Ourselves Be Seen

I think that, to some degree, we all have a love/hate relationship with being seen — with letting another person see all the parts that make up who we are, whether it’s our joy, anger, grief, ambition, or something else.

On the downside, if we show the other person parts we usually keep hidden, and they leave, we’ll feel hurt.  The more of ourselves we let them see, the more pain we’ll experience if they decide not to be with us.

On the plus side, the more of ourselves we allow others to see, the more it’s possible for them to “love us for who we are” — for them to embrace all of our parts, no matter how unique or socially unacceptable those parts may seem.  I think most of us crave this kind of love, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not.

The “Unvarnished You” Is a Gift

So, being seen is both risky and potentially rewarding — that much, I think most of us understand.  What we don’t grasp as often, I think, is that letting ourselves be seen can also be rewarding for the person we’re with.  Giving them a glimpse of who we are, beneath the polite, competent “social mask,” can be a gift in itself.

I know that, when I’m with another person, and they become willing to show me a part of themselves they usually conceal, my body suddenly feels relaxed and alive.  It’s as if they satisfy a yearning I didn’t even know I harbored until that moment.

This happens even if the part they show me is typically seen as “negative” or unwelcome in our culture.  For instance, although we tend to see anger as a “negative emotion,” it’s such a relief for me when someone who normally holds up a pleasant and even-tempered façade gives me a blast of their fierceness.  When I’m with a woman who does this, it’s often a turn-on.  :)

The Pain of “Relationships” Without Relating

Of course, the idea that just letting someone deeply see us can be a gift flies in the face of the conventional wisdom.  In our society, the “value” we offer each other depends on our accomplishments, possessions and appearance — how much money we make, how “hot” our bodies are, and so on.  Conversation isn’t about seeing and being seen — it’s about communicating our “selling points.”

I suspect this way of thinking is the reason so many of us are dissatisfied with the relationships — “intimate” and otherwise — in our lives, no matter how “successful” our peers say we are.  Of course we feel unloved and unappreciated — because we aren’t letting anyone see us, we aren’t allowing anyone to love us for who we are.

We think working on our credentials, possessions and looks will make us “stand out” and get noticed, but there are plenty of people with all of those things (many of whom are unhappy).  What’s rare, in my experience, is a person who’s willing to give me the gift of who they truly are.

Yes, it feels vulnerable to let someone see us — “negative” and “unacceptable” parts and all.  But opening ourselves in this way, I think, allows us to be genuinely appreciated, and can be a liberating experience for people we’re with as well.

16 thoughts on
Letting Ourselves Be Seen

  1. Jenny Ann Fraser

    Hello Chris,
    Fabulous post. I’ve been contemplating these same issues myself.
    I wonder, if we could step away from the idealized values that are so pervasive in our culture today and give ourselves permission to be fully ourselves, what would happen to the world as a whole?
    I can’t really imagine that it would be anything less than better when we learn to truly value each other.
    Thanks for making me think!

  2. Jarrod - Cultivating Heroes

    Absolutely agree about dropping the mask and letting not others see you but letting yourself shine.

    Consistently in interactions you can feel the difference between people who really being themselves and people who are putting on a show.

    It is definately a great release to be yourself and interact with real people.

  3. Giulietta Nardone

    Hey Chris,

    Thanks for stopping by my blog! Most appreciated.

    One of my fav topics – credentialism! It’s rampant out there. I agree that the real credential we need is to have the courage to let ourselves be seen. Instead, we exert all this effort to concoct an image of ourselves we think others want. So much talk about authenticity, yet so little evidence of it.

    Excellent post! Giulietta

  4. Hilary

    Hi Chris .. I’ve had lots of challenges this year & when I faced them and let others in .. it has made a difference – I feel better, more relaxed, while the others understand the situation .. and I’m not putting on a good facade over what is actually a troubling (for me) facade and one I really could do with some support on… which I then get – because they can understand.

    You’re right being ourselves is important .. letting go of the chains of life, that we seem to take on as we become adults without realising that some of them we definitely don’t need and could change our ways, soften up and show ourselves .. as you say “show who you truly are”. Be the quiet one without airs and graces ..

    Thanks .. good to be back here .. Hilary

  5. Evelyn Lim

    For a long time, I was afraid to allow others see the real me. I thought it would be highly dangerous for me to do so. I feared rejection. More recently, I found the contrary to be true. I receive more love in return when I open my heart to others.

  6. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jenny — I get the sense that our culture’s values of constant acquisition and self-promotion really stem from this desire to be seen — we’re all trying to “earn the right” to have someone else see us, but the paradox is that, in our quest to earn that right, we aren’t allowing ourselves to be seen. Instead, we’re putting on our “likable,” invincible, perfect personas.

  7. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evan — I like that way of putting it — I know I’m instantly intrigued by another person who’s willing to let me into what actually goes on in their inner world.

  8. Chris - Post author

    Hi Jarrod — yes, I can definitely relate to what you’re saying about being able to feel the difference when someone is genuinely relating to us, rather than trying to show us their perfect public face.

  9. Chris - Post author

    Hi Giulietta — yes, it does seem that authenticity has received somewhat of a bad name recently, as the word has been indiscriminately used in internet advertising. But I don’t think that means it doesn’t exist, and I still think it’s worth striving for.

  10. Chris - Post author

    Hi Hilary — I liked what you said about how “becoming an adult” seems to mean, according to the conventional wisdom, cutting ourselves off from “inappropriate” parts of ourselves — it would be wonderful, for me, if we could embrace a different view of human maturation, under which we are actually more mature when we get into relationship with the parts of ourselves we’ve pushed aside in the past.

  11. Chris - Post author

    Hi Evelyn — yes, I’ve definitely had a similar experience — and, I’ve found, if I’m holding up a “professional” or “likable guy” facade in order to be liked, it’s actually impossible for me to be liked or loved, because it’s really the facade that’s getting appreciation from others.

  12. Sara

    Chris,

    It’s interesting that I come to this post after finally seeing the movie, Avatar. While I’m not planning on discussing the merits of the movie, one thing I really loved is how the people would greet each other with the words, “I see you.”

    It would be interesting if instead of the word “hello”or the other greetings we have, we used these words, “I see you.” I wonder what the impact would be?

    I think you are absolutely right in this post that being who we are means letting people really see the various colors in our personalities, not just the traditional ones on the color wheel:~)

    This makes me wonder about our fear of rejection. If it’s our “mask” that’s accepted and not our true selves, then we have to deal with the stress of keeping the mask in place. I’m not sure the fear of rejection is worth this maintaining of the mask.

    Thanks for this post:~)

  13. Chris - Post author

    Hi Sara — I agree that it would be nice if we could actually “see” each other the way the aliens do in Avatar, as opposed to simply thinking about what we want from the other person, how they messed up in the past, and so on. When that kind of “seeing” happens, I don’t think any words are necessary to convey that it’s going on. And yet, like you say, we expend so much energy making sure it doesn’t happen, even though we claim to want it.

  14. Robin Easton

    Dear Chris, You are WONDERFUL! I love this post, both the insight and the humor. I too LOVE when people are honest with me even if it is anger or some feeling we tend to call negative, like anger, depression, sobbing tears of grief, or frustration, irritability, etc. I just love when someone I am around expresses emotion or is honest about what they feel or what they have done that they’re ashamed of. Often too few people allow themselves to express emotions. And for me, the more honest someone is with me, the more honest I feel I can be with them. I find it wonderfully liberating. Years ago, my husband use to laugh at me, when I’d say, “That is so beautiful! Wow, you are alive, you’ve lived, you are human!” LOL!! He grew to totally trust me because he could tell me anything, and I didn’t judge him.

    My husband and I have grown so close that we can easily share what we feel. We no longer pressure or expect the other person to be a certain way. Not even with unspoken rules or pressures or silent agreements of “don’t go there”. “don’t ask that”. “we just won’t talk about that”. We talk about EVERYTHING. In fact, we take Sunday mornings and turn everything off, shut out the world, and talk.

    First one of us talks about ANYTHING we want, and the other listens without interrupting, then the other goes and the first person listens without interrupting. We go back and forth like that until neither of us has any more to say. The only rules are or no nastiness, no blaming or shaming, and if we feel a need to vent we ask permission of the other person by saying, “I need to just “spew” about this or that to run it off so I can get to what is beneath it. Can you listen while I do that?” And if it is about the other person, then we say, “Once I’m done I will hear what you have to say.” But it has been years since either of us spews. We have been talking like this of almost 12 years, every week.

    It is not “talking in passing” while doing dishes, or driving to the grocery store or while taking a walk (although we also talk at those times of course). It is just sitting in a room or lying on the bed, the world shut out, while we ONLY talk. It is FABULOUS. If two people really want to get close, know each other, open up, really SEE each other (not what they think they WANT to see, talking like this each week really is FABULOUS. You’d be surprised how much you never knew about the other person. Also how much more fantastic they are than we often realize.

    I think it might be especially good for men. Because women are often allowed more emotion and talking and sharing feelings, at least in American society, but men are often taught to hold it all in, stiff upper lip and all that. This “talk time” allowed my husband to focus on what he felt and to share his life, feelings and things he’d never told anyone. We so enjoy it. It is wonderful when life is fast paced and people hardly have time to connect.

    I too love seeing the emotion and hidden secrets of my husband. I too find it a turn on! :) LOL!! It’s vitality and someone clearing the air. How invigorating.

    Sorry, I kind of got off the topic a bit here. But I love this post and the way you wrote it. Excellent.

    Hugs, Robin

  15. Chris - Post author

    Hi Robin — speaking of vitality, I can definitely sense yours, even through a blog post! I can definitely relate to what you said about feeling more capable of being honest around someone who is willing to be honest with me, and I loved your description of the practice you do with your husband — I get the sense that we’d be living in a very different world if everyone consciously chose to have a dialogue with another person (whoever they were) like that every week.

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