Did you ever notice the tension that arises in you when people are not seeing you for who you are, but are only noticing something about you? Even worse, they may be only paying attention to something over which you have little influence, like your eyes, your height, your employment history.

They “see” you, but they don’t really see “you”.

I witnessed a dramatic example of this a few years ago at a retreat workshop. Amongst the various people attending was a woman who would meet most western standards for being attractive. She was tall, shapely, pretty and blond. She was also invisible to most of the other people attending at any level beyond that of her appearance. This became blatantly apparent when we were asked to do an exercise in appreciation - everyone gathered around her as she sat on the floor and spoke to her words of appreciation. What I noticed was how she started crying as one after another people told her how pretty she was, how nice she looked, and words to that effect. She blinked back the tears for a second when my turn came and I said her tears were welcome. The comments about her physical attributes continued and her tears flowed again.

Some of the people around her had a smile on their face, and I suspect they thought she was crying tears of joy. I was not so sure, and when I spoke to her later that day, my concerns were confirmed. She had been crying from feeling not seen for who she was. We talked a little that day about how people were always looking at her only long enough to notice her physical gifts, and were ignoring the rest of her. She had pretty much resigned herself to a life of being invisible, alone in the crowd. Not too surprisingly, as we got to know each other a little better over the course of the workshop, her inner reality was slowly revealed and she said her good-byes with a beaming smile as she climbed into her husband’s truck for the drive home. All it took was for someone to actually pay attention to her with a desire to see “her” for who she was.

I’ve seen this surface-surfing played out in other situations as well, and sometimes it is self-inflicted. At another workshop, one of the participants introduced himself as a recovering alcoholic. Within moments, it was like someone had erased the memory of almost everyone present, as from that time onward, he was referred to as “the alcoholic”. No more information about him was solicited, and most people seemed content to put him in that box.

Why do people focus so much on the exterior?

The question that arises here is why do humans have a tendency to quickly put people in boxes and then leave them there. Certainly there is a survival instinct at work - in caveman days, we had to quickly size up the threat level of some new person who approached the tribe. But this only provides a partial explanation, and it does not account for the way that people often focus so much on the surface.

One possible reason why we do this is the need to keep a certain distance between ourselves and others. Most of us no longer live in very small communities, and cannot reasonably be in close emotional contact with everyone we meet in a day. Using a form of shorthand, we label people and then move along to the next new input in front of us.

Another possible reason is that we are responding to a perceived insecurity on the part of the other person. This is particularly true when we praise someone for that which they have little control over (putting aside cosmetic surgery and make-up for the moment). We may think that we are providing some sort of appreciation to the other person when we compliment them on their looks, but in fact it is a poor bargain. It looks something like this:

“If you notice my physical aspect and tell me flattering words about how nice I look, I’ll pretend to like that, even though I am only getting crumbs instead of what I really want - sincere acknowledgment and appreciation for who I am as a person, a recognition and acceptance of my intrinsic worth.”

There are a number of compilations of what people need to survive and flourish, and this one is a good example. All these compilations refer to some basic needs we humans have to be Accepted, Acknowledged, and Appreciated. When people comment on the physical aspects of someone, they are making token gestures of appreciation. They often think that if they do not flatter the other person, then that person will feel insecure and not accepted. This concept is greatly promoted by those who want you to buy their products and services so you will conform to a societal model of attractiveness. Every day, we are bombarded by messages about how we need to look and act like “supermodels”. What exactly is so “super” about a “model” that is actually airbrushed and digitally enhanced. Even “supermodels” don’t match the image of what they need to look like.

Even Celebrities want to be loved

One of the most poignant things to observe these days is the quest for celebrity-hood. So many people are constantly promoting themselves, directly and by association with other celebs, jockeying for position on the ladder of celebrity-hood. They adopt a persona of breathing rarefied air, only socializing with other VIPs and somehow being “special”. I suspect that underneath all this posturing and publicity-gathering activity is a deep-seated desire to be really seen for who they really are. Like all humans, they desire the love, acceptance and acknowledgment that brings true tears of joy and well-being. Even those who are sincerely realistic and humble about their contribution to the arts can find themselves caught up in the tide of needing to become someone more "celebrity-like”. Stepping aside and letting that tide flow past is possible, but one needs to be aware of it and act according to one’s inner guidance.

Our modern world, with all its trappings of the latest fashion and gadgets, provides poor surrogates for that which we truly desire and thrive upon. The pursuit of a new pair of Manolo Blanco shoes or a big screen TV or an electronic gadget like an iPhone may bring a temporary sense of thrill (the chase!) but it pales in comparison to actually feeling truly seen and appreciated. In the hectic daily rat race, we lose sight of what we really want and are overwhelmed by the flood of advertising, direct and indirect, that purports to show us what we “need”.

A simple gesture can mean a lot

The next time that you notice yourself about to say some flattering statement about some surface aspect of someone, see if you can stop for a moment and find something more significant and meaningful to mention. Notice something about them, as a person. How can you know what they might want to hear? Take a moment and ask yourself what about you do you want appreciated. Most of us look for the same things from others, including:

* Acceptance of who we are,
* Acknowledgment of our individual being,
* Appreciation for how we contribute to the world being a better place, and a
* Sense of connection to others.

If you take the time to notice how positive or upbeat or relaxed you feel when you are with someone, and then tell them that instead of commenting on their hair, you will be talking to their being and their heart. If you are addressing someone who is in some way a celebrity, tell them how their work touches you instead of the usual “you are so talented” or “you are so beautiful”. Go ahead, plant some seeds of true appreciation.

Dr. Gary Chapman has some excellent research on the Five Languages of Love, in which he examines how couples can learn how best to relate to each other in ways that each will truly appreciate. Chapman says that many of the issues that couples face is simply due to their not speaking the same language of love - he’s doing the dishes and what she really needs is more time to be held. This same principle can be extended to everyone you interact with - notice something real about them, something intrinsic.

What do you really want?

It is perfectly normal to be a bit confused about what you want from others. After all, you are bombarded with messages which are designed to shape your thinking, telling you that what you want is someone who meets some template that was created by those who sell you “enhancement” products and services. You constantly see images of people speaking platitudes as if they meant something, and you see people pretending to like them. The volume and intensity of this propaganda is only increasing and it causes a lot of stress as we all know deep down what we want, and yet we don’t get it very often.

Take some time, notice what feelings come up for you when you ponder what you’d really like to have. Release any feelings and thoughts that get in the way of that vision, using something like AER. Then start the ball rolling by investing in the positive and true appreciation of others. Notice what there is to be noticed about them, their contribution to the world and their way of being. See them in the way you want to be seen. They’ll be a little surprised at first, but many will join the party given a little time and encouragement by example.

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved

Find out more at http://www.vibert.ca

Author's Bio: 

Robert S. Vibert is a 'big-picture" Applied Researcher of numerous techniques, philosophies and methods developed both in ancient and modern times to provide awareness, guidance, emotional health, and insight. He is constantly discovering new information, methodologies, and insights into how our hearts, minds and bodies work, how we interact with each other and how one can utilize simple but effective steps to improve our lives.