“Nothing hurts worse than Not Being Known,” said a septuagenarian to a group of 5000 at a recent women’s conference.

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, I felt the weight of their truth.  That Wound of Unknowing – I’ve lived with it.  After all, I’ve walked the lonely road of widowhood for over a year, and felt the loss of that Other who knew me so well.  Yet I felt that wound as a child, and maybe you have, too…

The pain of not being known afflicts women and men, married, single, divorced, or widowed. Young people and old people bear what I call the Wound of Unknowing. As I see it, this wound derives from different paths…

Obvious Paths to the Wound of Unknowing

Sometimes we aren’t known because we don’t disclose who we are. We keep what we know about ourselves under wraps. Our true opinions, thoughts, or identities stay hidden.  We nimbly play whatever role we’ve created.  Usually someone else’s expectations shape that chosen role. Over time, we feel frustrated and downright depressed about hiding who we are.

Other times we aren’t known because no one seeks to understand us.  We readily disclose who we are, but the audience rejects or even ignores us. Maybe the audience is absent.  Our opinions, thoughts, and identities are discarded.  When the audience is a spouse, partner, parent, or child, the Wound of Unknowing cuts very deep.  It leaves us feeling unimportant, isolated, and worthless.

A less Obvious Path to the Wound of Unknowing

Sometimes we aren’t known because we don’t even know ourselves. We only know the role we play – a role that others dictate. It’s been like this since we were young – “Wear this, work there, major in that …”  We learned to see ourselves only through others’ eyes.

If they think we’re not enough, it must be true.  If they think we’re stupid, we are.  If they label us a failure, so we will be.  Our fate: They tell Us who We are.  I think this is the deepest Wound of Unknowing – the wound of self-abandonment.

How to Triage the Wound of Unknowing

Before going all Florence Nightingale, we must harness our most powerful resource – choice.  It’s within our power to heal the Wound of Unknowing. But we must choose to do so.  Two importance choices await us….

Healing Choice #1: Learn to Know and Accept ourselves.  

Knowing is one thing. Accepting is something else entirely.

We must turn our attention away from the outer world and its people.  It’s time to tune into our own preferences, ideas, beliefs.  Taking baby steps, we acknowledge to ourselves: what we like and what we don’t, what’s acceptable and what’s not, what we’ll tolerate and what we won’t, what we can change and what we can’t.  That’s how we begin to know ourselves.

We’re talking internal change here. And sometimes it will be uncomfortable.  Yet we must walk this path without self-condemnation!  We will not like some things we acknowledge about ourselves.  A dark habit, a sour attitude, a physical limitation, a financial reality. How can we accept ourselves?  We’ll pull out….

Secret Weapon #1: Learn to separate a struggle from an identity.

Fact: Your bad habit, crappy attitude, physical limitation, or financial reality IS NOT YOU!

You and I are just normal people with these very real (and common) struggles.  Yet all our lives, we’ve been enmeshed with our problems. They are Us and We are Them. Here’s a visual: crack an egg. We’re acting like the whole egg! Now we discover: We’re just the yolk! So our job is to separate who we are (the yolk) from that icky stuff we struggle with (the white).

Ever tried to separate an egg yolk from the white?  It’s messy, but possible. So is this journey of separating yourself from your struggles.  It takes practice. Look in the mirror and tell yourself, “I’m a person with Problem X. I am not the problem”. Acknowledge the difficulty of being the person with Problem X.  If done consistently, you’ll gradually push self-condemnation to the curb.

That’s how you begin to accept yourself.  You practice.  Armed with self-knowledge and burgeoning self-acceptance, you’ll be ready for the external change…

Healing Choice #2: Reveal who you are to the waiting world.

So now the rubber hits the road – whether or not the world is ready.  This show is in our hands.  You and I have a challenge to reveal who we are – from a place of acceptance.   We begin to be honest about our likes and dislikes, we demonstrate what we can tolerate and what we can’t, we state what is acceptable and what is not.

We own our value, and we demonstrate it as we show up in the world.  But how can we risk this in face of all those other people? We’ll pull out…

Secret Weapon #2: Play to the real audience.  

We’ve misidentified the real audience.  It’s not the family, friend, partner, spouse, or child. It’s You for you, and Me for me.  An audience of one.  We live the truth known by our audience of one.

If we know ourselves to be intelligent, we act that way.  If we know ourselves to be creative, we create. If we know that failure doesn’t define us, we rise up to pursue a good course with a better plan.  We change our response to the habit, attitude, or reality that jerks our chain.  Why? Because we see ourselves through clearer eyes – our own.  We finally realize that no one else’s opinion trumps our truth.

Are you digging what I’m laying down?

Not a sugar coated panacea, just a humble path of change to heal the Wound of Unknowing.

It’s a process driven by two core principles:

  1. Know and accept yourself.
  2. Reveal a bit of what you know and accept.

Ready to start?

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