The Liberation of Feeling Seen


Many sensitive children do not feel seen by their parents, teachers, or family. Their sensitivities are treated more like aberrations from the norm than precious and unique abilities. Many of us are told as children, “Get a thicker skin,” or “Toughen up,” suggesting that something is wrong with our empathic nature.

Growing up with the sense of not being “seen” by their family can also injure an empath’s self-confidence, which can lead to becoming a people-pleaser. These sensitive souls try to win love by getting into others’ good graces. Also, they may feel responsible for someone’s emotional or physical state. People-pleasers give away too much of themselves and squash their own needs and emotions.

In my book “Thriving as an Empath: 365 Days of Self-Care for Sensitive People” I discuss the liberation of feeling seen with a capital “S” and how to build your self-confidence.

This means that others accept you completely for who you are. You are not judged, blamed or minimalized. In my psychotherapy practice, “seeing” someone is a crucial aspect of what I offer my patients. When you are seen–really seen–you can breathe a sigh of relief. You don’t have to change. You don’t have to do anything differently. You are authentically and unapologetically who you are, including your gifts and areas in need of growth. It’s a marvelous feeling to be unconditionally accepted.

You can begin to shift out of the people-pleasing pattern by saying “no” to something small. Also, express your opinion about an issue (start with less emotionally charged ones), even if it differs from friends’ or families’. Asserting yourself will build self-confidence. You don’t have to please people all the time. You deserve to be liked and respected for being your authentic self.

Set your intention. Today, I will “see” myself with loving eyes. I will be with others who can “see” me too. I will also find the right balance between expressing my own needs and supporting others.

14 thoughts on “The Liberation of Feeling Seen

  1. I an feeling grateful to have empathic feelings but at the same time, exhausted. Getting better with my invisible shield. Just happy to now know i am not alone. Thank you for the tools n understanding

  2. I’m 48 now, but it was more in my 20’s and 30’s that I had comments such as “toughen up” and I began to feel very sensitive and empathic. Maybe in earlier years I didn’t stand out for being an empath so much, in with all the other kids. Finding my feet as an adult has taken a very long time, and I now appreciate the need of the regularity of my steady job (not too demanding or high-pressure!), stable partner and home environment in order for me to keep flourishing in ways I love. Embracing myself and loving and nurturing my sensitivites has been and continues to be so fulfilling and liberating. The things which keep me in balance each day are a few morning stretches, decent breakfast of porridge then tea and toast, drinking water during the day, finding quiet places to eat lunch if I am working in the office, plenty of vegetables at dinner and in bed by 10pm for decent sleep. Regular walks, meditation, journalling and therapy clear my mind and the past. This all builds a stronger and clearer self, and I am then able to make considered choices about who I spend my time with, and for how long.

  3. I am so confused all the time. I am just recently beginning to understand my empath life. I believe I was born with this gift as well. I don’t fit in or belong anywhere. I am with a narcissist man for five years. It is because of his strong feelings I began to realize I am different. He controlled my feelings and every day living for so long I started setting boundaries for myself. I now stand up for myself and don’t let his ways bother me. But I am wondering now….Am I the narcissist? That is how I feel. How sure can one be if they are empath? Am I empath??

  4. Dr.Judith Orloff thank you for your great, supportive article I try to be aware do not being pleased to people,transforming my habit and say NO, NO, NO to my family members more times .

  5. Thank you Steve! You give me hope that at age 67, I too can live in this thin skin with pride one day soon, & really enjoy this last stage of my life now retired.
    I only just recently, in 2020, learned from my grandson, that I too have ADD, & we are very high on the spectrum of sensitivity. I have lived my life in hiding from the shame of being “too sensitive” my attachment pattern is avoidance. My circle of friends is very small, & I have lived a long lonely life. But I plan to change that now. I will hold my head high & embrace ADD & sensitivity as a gift I used in palliative care. Thank you Empaths for your courage & vulnerability!

  6. I once was in a conversation with a quantum physicist that went on for hours. Our question was about the nature and purpose of life. In the end, we came to the distilled conclusion that we are simply here in life to See and be Seen. This is the only true fulfillment. Thank you for your offering about empathetic seeing.

  7. Thanks a lot Judith. This email of yours was very much required at this period when I was feeling the pressure that I am not good enough. I am trying my level best to listen to my intuition. When I listen to my intuition I always feel that there is so much that I can do as an empath, as a woman, as an educator, as a mother. I have to literally tune into myself in order to be in connection with my intuition as I am able to listen to my intuition well when I am grounded. The days I am off the ground, I feel even minute things overwhelm me.
    Now, in general I feel that I am getting a good grasp over my emotions. I do express them but not from a fear mode or a judgmental mode. I love loving myself and others. I love doing things for everyone and now I can discern well who respects me the way I am. I am very much in love with my ability of being an emotional intuitive empath.
    I am so grateful to Judith for all this.

  8. 1961 and my first grade teacher pays a visit to my mother at home. (Who does home visits?…or was this just too “sensitive” for a regular PT conference?) I overhear her inform my mother that “Lari is a sensitive child,” in such a way that it sounds like a disease. I think in West Texas, “sensitive” was a code word for “gay,” which I wasn’t. But it definitely marked me as someone who would not fit in with the community standards for assigned-male children. I was soon forbidden to enter my sister’s room and no longer allowed to visit with my female friends. I was trained to be invisible and by 4th grade I was lost even to myself. Then came decades of alcohol and drug addiction to bury my truth even deeper.

    Today I am grateful to have reclaimed my true self and have several communities of supporters who can see and hear me fully. The larger society chooses to see only their own expectations and so I remain invisible to them. My well-being hinges on being seen as I really am and it’s well worth the effort to seek out those communities of support..

  9. I`m 65 years young right now, and thank`s to Judith I have just recently `allowed` myself to find my own identity, and my true place in life. Which is simply being me.. I am moving forward with new dreams, BIG dreams! I may have lost many years, but I know this.. I will live so big, and so much more fulfilled because people like us have the unique abilty to appreciate and feel the depths of life, nature, love and joy like no others could believe exists!..

  10. I’m grateful for this post today as I am dealing with my very difficult and narcissistic mother’s ovarian cancer battle. I am the only family she has left since my father passed away 6 years ago from pancreatic cancer and my brother was killed in a car accident 21 years ago. I feel like I’ve given all I knew how to give to my parents since that time as my husband cared for our 9 and 6 year old sons who were traumatized as well. It has been a very difficult struggle for us all as a family. She is very demanding and manipulative and I am struggling mightily with boundaries which has always been an issue for me. I am praying for patience, wisdom and guidance.

  11. I believe i was born as a empath!! I was not wanted my so called momtried everything to abort me .saying at 13 in front of others but didnt work but look at her shes my slave as we owned restaurants!! I am now 79
    Forced to marry a marcissitic pychopath and familys all toxic bevame a people pleaser young !! I fell mostly that i have suffered serious homesickness!! Been abused in everyway couldnt get out no suppoet from even 1 person !!! Lost who God created me to be . Very spiritual w my wonderful God but want to go home never knew feeling like home in any home i have lived in read your books probably need to reread them thank you Dr.Orloff

  12. I’m pleased to be recognized & this email was opened at the right time! I’m constantly doubting myself & feel as if I’m taken for granted, judged, & always feeling alone. The emptiness that creeps in when a off color remark is referring to my behavior. It’s usually a negative commit or the positive is only because they want me to do something they feel is in my best interest only to leave feeling as I’m being used. I love the quote stating, “today I am a beautiful human being, worthy of accepting myself as a person that believes that I matter. Today my skin does not have to be thick or tougher to make it through the day. My skin is beautiful, kind, & loving. I shall respect myself with compassion, empathy, & respect. I shall accept my gifts that I have received from my spirit guides & allow myself to see beyond the realms that people are afraid of. I shall be brave & carry myself with grace & dignity for I am who I am supposed to be. I will be me & be grateful that I know love is what makes me who I am.”!

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