How to overcome your fear of being seen to advance your career

The desire to grow and advance our careers is something most of us experience at some point in our lives. We would love to make more money, get more respect, and become leaders in our field, but to advance, we need to get noticed for doing good work.

For the childhood trauma survivor with CPTSD, allowing ourselves to be seen and acknowledged can fill us with fear and short-circuit our nervous system. I wrote in a previous article about what receiving a compliment does to my system.

There is a legitimate reason for us wanting to be invisible. This article will explore why we want to be invisible, how that affects our career advancement, and what we can do about it.

The Superpower of Invisibility

Yes, invisibility is a superpower. Invisibility gives us the ability to not be seen. As young children trying to navigate a chaotic and abusive home without the opportunity to run from it, we learn adaptive coping strategies that help us survive. One of those strategies is the ability to “blend in,” to not get noticed, and not draw attention to ourselves. We become chameleons. If they can’t see us, they can’t hurt us.

This was a brilliant strategy for keeping us safe when we were children, but unless we are intentional about “putting off” this coping strategy through therapy or internal work, we bring it with us to the workplace as adults. In the workplace, it looks like an employee that does their job, but only what is expected of them. They don’t make waves. They don’t stretch, grow, challenge authority, or take risks. They are a bit of a wallflower. They blend in.

The Downside of Invisibility

There are two sides to every coin. While invisibility may keep us safe, it can also have other consequences, like not being seen, heard, or ignored. We become invisible and lose ourselves in other people as we fawn our way to survival. This happens to us in our families of origin and also in the workplace.

This strategy does work to keep us safe; however, it limits our ability to move up in our careers and to change and grow. Sometimes, we need to be made aware we are even doing this. We scratch our heads and wonder why our peers are moving up when they make so much noise even though we are the dependable ones.

“Our need to be safe often trumps our desire to advance our careers until it doesn’t, and we become frustrated”

Our need to be safe often trumps our desire to advance our careers until it doesn’t, and we become frustrated. Perhaps we move from job to job to get promoted and have the same experience. That’s because the driver of this experience is coming from within us, not outside of us.

If you are like me and have an insatiable desire for safety, being noticed, even for something good, you can feel unsafe. A battle rages within my internal system between wanting to be recognized and the desire to be invisible and safe. There is a child-like part of me that wants to please my authority figure (boss), and another part of me is terrified of drawing attention to myself.

Having the Courage to be Seen

Being noticed for our performance is paramount in being promoted, so what should we do to get past this blocker of career advancement? Here are some things that worked for me.

  1. Awareness. Having the ability to notice that this is what is happening to you is a big deal. If we can notice it, we can change it. If you feel like you are invisible at home or work, then you probably are. Just notice it without shaming yourself. Remember, invisibility was an adaptive coping strategy when you were a kid to keep you safe…and it did.
  2. Put it off. To move forward in overcoming past trauma, we need to lay aside our cloak of invisibility and allow ourselves to be seen. This doesn’t just happen; it has to be intentional. For me, this meant acknowledging the role this coping strategy played in keeping me safe as a child and telling myself I no longer needed this in the present.
  3. Change our Mindset. For many of us, this coping strategy has been in place for decades and has become habitual. It is not something we even think about; we do it. When we start to change how we’ve always handled something, it will feel awkward, clunky, and even scary. We will have to work through our fears of being seen to convince that little child within us that it will be OK. Sometimes, I even convince that little one she can be invisible and hide inside my adult body. That works for me because the little part gets to hide while my adult part can be seen.
  4. Be Present. Reminding ourselves that we are not the same little kid anymore with limited options to cope with a horrible situation will help us be the resourceful adults we are today. We have to live in the present and not in the past.
  5. Go Slow. As you negotiate with that part of yourself that has kept you invisible for years, you may find yourself swinging in the opposite direction of working hard to get noticed. It is normal for a trauma survivor to have all-or-nothing thinking. You go from being invisible to wanting to be the center of attention. Sometimes we are trying to make up for all the time in the past we were invisible. While understandable, there are more effective strategies. Keep in mind that you are not the only one that is going to experience this change. When you start allowing yourself to be seen and heard, your manager and co-workers will probably be shocked and wonder what got into you. They are not going to be expecting it because, up until this time, you have been very consistent in your approach to not being seen. Take your time. There is no hurry. Allow yourself to be seen in small increments. Get used to the idea. Desensitize that part of you to the potential danger they see and remind them that you’ve got them now.
  6. Practice. When trying to change a habitual coping strategy, learning how to show up consistently will take a lot of practice. You will have ups and downs, wins and failures…that is part of the learning process, but don’t give up. Keep working at it. Once you get the hang of it in the workplace, you may notice other areas of your life where you are not showing up and being visible. Don’t be afraid to bring your light to those who need you.

A Case Study of Moving from Invisibility to Being Seen

I experienced this scenario recently while working on setting up my side business as a Trauma Recovery Career Coach. I had already mastered the ability to be seen and noticed in the workplace without too much trouble. Still, I noticed that I was experiencing internal resistance to allowing myself to be seen on social media related to this new business.

Part of that resistance was tied to many observations of fraudulent behavior and online predators, which is understandable. Did I really want people to see me? There was a lot of noise in my system as I worked through the fear of being seen in this way on social media.

Then, I actually experienced fraudulent behavior and predatory practices for myself on Facebook. Someone commented on one of my blog articles, which felt sleazy to me, like I want to get to know you, and asked me to send him a DM. Ewww. Nope. That was followed by a phishing email with many links asking me to speak on some podcasts.

In both cases, my nervous system was alerted to the danger immediately, which is not abnormal for a trauma survivor

In both cases, my nervous system was alerted to the danger immediately, which is not abnormal for a trauma survivor. It also caused a lot of fear and noise in my system, with my littles feeling very threatened.

I had to do some journaling to work through this to get my littles to cooperate with allowing me to show up on social media. If I am going to help people, I have to be able to show up for them. No trauma survivor is ever going to trust someone they can’t see and doesn’t feel comfortable showing up in public. It is a requirement.

Once I secured the partnership of my littles, I announced on Facebook my new business and the work I am doing and going to do in the future. I am not quite ready to leave my day job (I have to actually make some money before I do that), but I am working to build this company to the point where I can retire from my day job and follow my calling.

This was a little example that I experienced with the struggle between being visible and desiring to be safe (invisible). The struggle is not shameful; it is part of the healing journey.

Call to Action

I am not some super-informed, never struggle kind of person, as you can tell by my latest adventure, but I am on the healing journey, just like you. If I can do it, so can you.

The world needs you to come out of hiding and show up. Your company needs what you have to offer. It is time to leave your past behind and shine.

What one step will you take today to show up for yourself and allow people to see your brilliance? Tell me in the comments below.

As always, you don’t have to walk this healing journey alone. If you want to work with me, you can schedule your complimentary discovery session by clicking here.

Here are some FREE resources to help you on your journey:

  1. Trigger Tracker Template — helps you keep track of the triggers in your workplace and to plan for what coping strategies you will use to get through the experience.
  2. Keys to a Successful Interview Guide — this guide will give you seven steps to help you prepare for a successful interview.


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