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Breaking the Cycle of Feeling Invisible: The Hidden Toll on Mental Health

Feeling invisible, unseen, or unheard can happen in the home, the workplace, a classroom, a doctor’s office, social settings, or when supervising a team of subordinates. Middle children, very young children, women, victims of bullying, religious and racial minorities, the obese, the soft-spoken, and men short in statue often experience invisibility, “the inability to be seen or the state of being ignored or not taken into consideration.”

Over time, feeling invisible can become chronic – gradually destroying self-esteem, self-confidence, and devaluing self-worth. Long-term disregard for oneself due to feeling invisible or ignored can cause sensory processing disorder, a condition in which the brain has trouble receiving and responding to information, and/or anti-mattering, which can lead to mental health disorders. The counselors and therapists of Improving Lives Counseling Services diagnose and treat the experience of invisibility and linked neurological disorders.


There is a long list of situations in which someone can be ignored. From the conference room bigot to the narcissists in the bedroom, from the prejudiced teacher to the social media clique, nonacceptance can be cloaked in both external rejection and internal self-protecting. Many suffering invisibility assumes (or perceive) when they walk into a room they will be seen as unworthy. To protect themselves they sit in the back of the room, they avoid responding to questions and comments, they attempt to make themselves small because they have been seen (treated) as small.  They’re told, “children are to be seen and not heard, women must know their place, seniors can’t handle money, and they deserve ex-communication.” This form of bullying is practiced and accepted in many businesses, organizations, families, sects, and cultures.

Being ignored by a partner in a relationship has become more common in the 21st century. Long working hours, finances, infidelity, incompatibility, differing on political and social issues, and disagreeing on childrearing leads to separate lives – one feeling unloved and unwanted, the other ignoring to keep the peace. Anderson J. Franklin, PhD, a professor at City College and City University of New York says; “…..he has seen clients who say feeling invisible causes them a range of ills, including disillusionment, chronic indignation, pervasive discontent, anger, depression, substance abuse and hopelessness.”


Invisibility due to prejudice or nonacceptance based on how one looks, dresses, believes, or worships can cause stress, anxiety, depression, and chronic mental illness. These victims often experience invisibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week. From the time they wake up in the morning, they expect to be ignored, to be seen as different, to be unaccepted, and to be unheard. The child who raises his or her hand but is never called on, the man of color flagging a cab but no one stops, the woman walking her children to school in religious apparel, the homeless teen diverted to the free lunch line, the person using food stamps at the local grocer, and the vagabond pushing a grocery cart under a bypass. These people are not judged by what Martin Luther King Jr., calls “the content of their mind” and they know it – many expect it. Anderson J. Franklin, PhD calls it “the invisibility syndrome – the feeling people get when their abilities, personality and worth are disregarded because of others’ prejudice.”

Nonacceptance by family is often experienced by adolescents or teens coming out as gay, lesbian, or transgender, by women who marry outside their race or religion, by men who fail to join the family business, or the college student who chooses music over medicine as a course of study.  In the workplace, nonacceptance is often displayed by ignoring – in conversations, in prepared presentations, in application for advancement, and desire for growth. Not seen as a person, these employees endure derogatory comments, loathsome language, unfair performance reports, and social ostracism.


Research and recent studies find social rejection activates the same regions of the brain as physical pain – “hurt feelings may register in the brain just like a scraped knee or a kicked shin, according to new research that finds that the brain responds to social rejection in the same way it responds to physical pain.” Feeling invisible, unwanted, or unaccepted can cause chronic stress, anger, depression, and rage, activating physical pain throughout the body. We often see this in lowering of the eyes, curving of the upper body, tilting the head, or crossing arms across the chest. Researchers have found emotional pain caused by the “silent treatment”, or totally ignoring someone in a “love” relationship affects the chemical balance within the brain’s sympathetic nervous system.

Emotions triggered by invisibility are stored in the body; stress affects the heart, worry and trouble the stomach, anxiety the chest and upper body, anger the liver, and rage the buttocks. The physical and psychological effects of feeling invisible, unaccepted, unseen and/or unheard can be long-term and lead to serious mental illness and physical pain. Improving Lives Counseling Services’ licensed, professionally trained, diverse team of counselors, therapists, and clinicians diagnose and treat emotional, traumatic, and stress-related disorders. Time to live the life you were meant to live and to let others see you living it. Call us: 918-960-7852 or contact us online.