“Will my family ever really see me?”

17 Apr 2024

Have you ever felt invisible? In the context of your home with an abusive partner? And especially in your family of origin? if so, this post is for you.

This week, a lovely client was asking me why it was that her family of origin just didn’t seem to see her?  Even when she was physically present. They had a snapshot of her in their minds, which went right back to childhood.

Nothing that she could say or do could change that in any way.

Learned invisibility

That took me back to my own childhood and the times when my brothers and parents would talk around me and about me in an uncomplimentary way.

The underlying principle of that conversation was that I had no right to express my thoughts and feelings and certainly no right of reply.

I might as well not have been there. As far as they were concerned, I wasn’t there.

So, I learned to be invisible in my family of origin.

Like a lot of survivors of narcissistic abuse, I learned to be the child, then the woman who was just not there.

I grew up, physically and emotionally. Not surprisingly, I grew away from my family.

Yet in the family mythology, I remained the child who was just not there. My input was never asked for. My voice was never heard. Invisibility remained.

I still had a role: to fetch, carry and generally serve the family as required and, when required, to be the butt of family displeasure. But the paid help got more attention and appreciation.

The toxic family dynamic

That was just the family dynamic.

It suited the rest of the family and therefore it never changed to adapt to a changed reality.

That was exactly what was happening in my client’s world, also.  The more she works towards having a meaningful, valuable presence in her own world, and in the outside adult world, the more her unchanging place in the world of family rankles with her.

Understandably, she has three questions:

  • Why does it keep happening?
  • Why do I remain invisible?
  • How do I change it?

Why does a person remain invisible in their family of origin and beyond?

Obviously, narcissistic families present a challenging environment for every family member – barring the Narcissist – to navigate.

The normalization of toxic families

The degree of Narcissism shown by the various family members can vary from family to family.  Some families seem to be composed entirely of truly horrible narcissistic people, others are a more mixed bag.

Some narcissistic families boast a monster brood fully fledged Narcissists and Narcissists-in-training. Others understand that they live in a dog-eat-dog world and behave accordingly.

In other families, the siblings realise that their survival depends on a degree of solidarity.  That solidarity, where it exists, counts for a lot.

However it works out in any individual family, the family members accept the family dynamic as somehow “normal” and inevitable.

All narcissistic families have a narrative that normalizes the toxic behavior of its members.

Outside the family, these members may feel free to show up as different people.

But inside the family, long training leads them to continue doing what works, to some degree, for them – especially victimizing the invisible sibling.

 What changes?

So, how do you change it? How do you overcome the damage that invisibility and rejection have wrought on you?

If you are the family member who is evolving and growing, how could you not want to see family members respond and change in their interaction with you ?

How could you not want them to acknowledge the changes that you are making and reevaluate you accordingly?

Sadly, changing and acknowledging the feelings and growth of another person is not something that a Narcissist will ever be willing to do.

Since their relationships are predicated on power and control, it is unthinkable for them to relinquish some of that power or modify that dynamic in any way.

Nor will they countenance any of the other family members revising either their view of you or the way that they relate to you.

As ever, it is hard for the designated invisible person or scapegoat not to interpret that as being a judgement on them.

When you are engaged in the work of healing and growing, you really do not want to be revisiting those old messages of your perceived inferiority.

Seeing your reality in a different light

But how do you see the reality in a different light? And how do you explain the fact that the people who can be so dismissive of you might be reasonably respectful and courteous towards outsiders?

It seems to me that all Narcissistic families broadcast on a specific frequency, to a specific audience. It is like a primitive form of the Telegram app – or at least, what little I know of Telegram.

Long before the Telegram app existed, Narcissists had already worked out how to share their toxic message effectively with like-minded folk.

You were never going to be one of those folk. Nor, if you ever stop to think about, did you ever want to be one of those folk.

What you really wanted, was something quite different. You wanted to be able to nip down into their hell and bring them back up to the light.

You have wanted that from childhood on.

They never wanted that.

They were perfectly happy being unhappy and resentful exactly where they were.

They invalidated you from childhood on because they resented your challenge to their habitat.

Being in your world would have left them at a most uncomfortable disadvantage.

As you already know, they can fake being creatures of the light, when it suits them. But they don’t enjoy it because it requires a massive loss of status and authority.

They chose their world which, sometimes, looks like an easier world to live in than yours, perhaps even a more blessed world.

They, at least, have a sense of belonging somewhere that you might not currently have. Even if it is in a dog-eat-dog world.

But here’s the thing, every time that you are called upon to make a choice – and you are called to make that choice virtually every time that you interact with their world – you choose not to compromise yourself and your values to be accepted into that world.

Never forget that.

Honor your choices

It takes massive courage and conviction to make the choice that you made.

Admittedly, you should never have had to make that choice. But you did.

You chose to break the cycle of – very likely – generations of thoroughly unpleasant forebears.  That is huge.

You need to honor that.

Your family will never choose to see you for who you are because, just by being the one dissident in their system, you threaten them.

They won’t see you.

They certainly won’t honor you.

But you can see yourself.  Instead of being invisible, or only semi-visible to yourself because they don’t see you, you can see yourself.

And you can honor yourself.

You can be very proud of bringing yourself up to be the person that you are. Sure, you may have fought for your values, felt discouraged, struggled with being so alone. That should never have happened to you.

Sadly, it did. Yet still you rise to that challenge every day of showing up as a caring, decent human being.

Own it.

See it.

Honor yourself.



Annie Kaszina, international Emotional Abuse Recovery specialist and award-winning author of 3 books designed to help women recognise and heal from toxic relationships so that they can build healthy, lasting relationships with the perfect partner for them, blogs about all aspects of abuse, understanding Narcissists and how to avoid them and building strong self-worth. To receive Annie’s blog direct to your Inbox just leave your details here.

Leave a comment

The 5 Simple Steps to Healing from Narcissistic Abuse

Over the next 5 days, I'll send you some lessons and tips that I've found have really helped women to heal from narcissistic abuse.  Starting with the basics.

Connect with me on Instagram

Want daily reassurance and inspiration? Sign up to my Instagram account. @dr_anniephd