Whether she’s queuing to buy a cup of coffee on the way into the office, coming up with ideas at work or chatting with more than one friend, Abida feels invisible.
‘I sometimes feel I should cough, and say: “Excuse me, but I am here, you know. I do exist. Why are you all talking over me?”’ she confides.
‘In coffee shops staff serve people who arrived after me first. It’s as if I’m the invisible woman standing there, waiting to order. In the street total strangers say hello to the person I’m with, but not me.
‘It happens even within our family. My mother-in-law greets my partner and our son but doesn’t even acknowledge me when I walk through her door. I’ve started to feel unimportant, like Mrs Nobody.’
Abida, who’s 48, isn’t alone. According to research, we all go through phases when we feel overlooked, ignored or not taken seriously, whether we’re waiting for a table in a restaurant, in a meeting at work or at the school gate to pick up our children.
While we can never be 100 per cent sure why we feel disregarded, we often put it down to our background, race, colour, the way we dress, our gender, height, the colour of our hair, and even our level of attractiveness.
American actress Kirsten Dunst, who made her acting debut in Woody Allen’s Oedipus Wrecks at the age of six and has since starred in Interview with the Vampire, with Brad Pitt and Tom Cruise, and in Spider-Man, says she’s never been recognised by her industry. Former US First lady Michelle Obama confessed she felt invisible to white people, while Little Mix pop star Leigh-Anne Pinnock felt she was the one band member who was often overlooked.
If we look back through history, we find George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) took on a male name because she thought her novels would be taken more seriously if they were by a man.
The Polish French physicist Marie Curie, the two times winner of the Nobel Prize, who discovered radium and polonium, was sometimes dismissed as merely the helper to her husband.
But while many middle-aged women joke that being invisible is their superpower, and they could pass through most places undetected, being overlooked isn’t purely a female or racial phenomenon.
Some men, too, notice no one looks up when they enter a room, people stop hanging on to their every word and they’re the last to be chosen for the squash team.
Research in London by Harley Street cosmetic surgeon Dr Julian De Silva revealed that women start to feel invisible once they reach 45, while men experience it two years later at 47. According to Gransnet, the online community for the over 50s, 70 per cent of women believe they will become invisible as they get older, feeling ‘unseen, overlooked, and patronised’.
Life coach Talane Miedaner, who was born in the US and now runs a global practice from her home in Devon, UK, says most of us experience this feeling at some point, and though it’s more prevalent as we reach our 50s and beyond, it’s something that can happen at any age.
‘You might be a young mum waiting in the school yard for your children and when you speak, the other mums don’t respond,’ she says, ‘or you might be travelling with a really gorgeous friend who everyone falls over backwards to serve and help. It feels like you’re totally invisible. At best, you’ll feel you’ve blended into the background.
‘At work, it may be that other people take credit for the work you’ve done, or they steal your ideas. They might speak over you in meetings, interrupt your presentations to put their views across or get promoted above you, even though you work hard, are better at the job and have more experience.’
Life coach Amanda Davies, who helps professionals reach their potential, says in very sociable, fast-moving cities like Dubai, it’s common to feel as if you don’t exist for others.
‘These places can feel really cliquey and it’s easy to feel invisible, even if you’re among others,’ says Amanda, who runs Pinnacle Life Coaching in Dubai. ‘If a group is already established, it can be difficult to break in and be welcomed.
‘At children’s parties you see mums standing on their own being ignored by the other mums, or there are people who go to the café after yoga class, leaving out the odd one or two members of the class who aren’t maybe as good as them at yoga.
‘The other problem is because of working from home, many people don’t interact as much now as they used to. Ironically, people will feel invisible in coffee shops and co-working spaces because most people wear headphones or airpods and they don’t even look up from their laptops to talk.’
But if we don’t all feel invisible in today’s modern world, why are some people more affected than others?
According to Talane, author of The Secret Laws of Attraction (McGraw Hill), making ourselves invisible could have been learnt as an effective tactic in childhood. Children of aggressive parents or those with addiction issues, will have realised they’re safer to lie low and this coping mechanism extends into adulthood, when they don’t put themselves forward, speak up or push for recognition.
‘If they have had traumas in the past, there could be a pattern there,’ she says. ‘It’s worth asking yourself if there’s anything in your past when it has felt safer to stay below the parapet.’
So if being invisible means a calmer life, is it such a bad thing? Often not, says Talane. ‘Sometimes it suits an introvert to be invisible – they don’t like drawing attention to themselves,’ she says. ‘They can slip through an airport without the hassle of having all their luggage searched. They can go through life undetected.’
But she warns: ‘If feeling invisible bothers you, it can dent your self-confidence. You start thinking: ‘Why is nobody listening to me?’ It can make you feel like a nobody and it can lead to mental health problems, like anxiety and depression.’
So how can we break the cycle? How can we go from Ms Invisible to a head turner when we walk into a room and being the person everyone remembers from the party?
The Four-Step Plan
If people are ignoring you or overlooking your ideas, especially at work, Talane has a four-step plan. ‘Inform, request, demand, leave,’ she says. ‘In a flat voice, say: “Do you realise you just interrupted me? Please wait until I have finished speaking.”
‘If they continue to talk over you, or interrupt, you move to demand and say: “I insist that you hear me out.” If that doesn’t work, you need to think whether you want to continue to work somewhere where they don’t respect you and maybe find another job.’
If you try too hard to be seen and liked, you’ll repel people, warns Talane.
‘If you go to an event and don’t feel confident about working the room, find a seat with a chair next to it, get yourself a drink and look friendly. People will come to you,’ she says.
Better still, get your emotional needs met, and you’ll start to appear less needy when you’re out and about. ‘For example, if one of your needs is to be included, let your friends know that excluding you from their Whatsapp swimming group while you’re recovering from an operation makes you feel really left out,’ she says.
Old School Values
Forget texting and Whatsapping, and pick up the phone, suggests Amanda.
‘Arrange to meet up with one other person for a coffee or get out in the sunshine and go for a walk. Or join a social group. Most are multicultural and are full of strangers who could become friends. You won’t be invisible to everyone, and whether you’re shy or they’re strangers, you’ll soon find someone who recognises you and your qualities.’
Use A Number
If you’re giving a talk, and colleagues constantly talk over you, speak a number, advises Talane.
‘Tell them there are three ways in which you can improve sales, for example,’ she says. ‘Then tell them point number one. It makes you sound organised and logical, and they will wait for points two and three. Even if you get interrupted after point number one, they’ll all look to you for points two and three.’
Recruit a Four-Legged Friend
Get a dog, or borrow one, suggests Amanda. ‘If you don’t want the commitment of a pet, but you love animals, join an animal sanctuary and help out, walking their dogs. Dogsitters and dogwalkers are always needed. You’ll soon find people pay attention to you when you have a dog.’
The old saying goes ‘if you want to get ahead, get a hat.’ And Talane agrees there is some truth in this.
‘If you want attention or to be seen, wear a hat or something brightly coloured that draws people’s attention to you!’ she says. ‘I once went to a football match and I was wearing an orange beret. Everybody wanted to talk to me.
‘Other ice breakers include pushing a baby in a pram, or being on crutches, in plaster or wearing a bandage!’