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Can I get a witness? On telling your story and being seen.

A male hand and a big notepad on a wooden table
Over the weekend I ran into the mother of a friend from high school. As she pulled out pictures of his recent wedding on her phone she said, “They got married in front of people after all!”

He and his bride were absolutely glowing in the photos, and I was so happy to witness the happy snapshot. My friend is an anti-establishment, alternative kind of guy, and I can only imagine his wife is similar. So their decision to be witnessed as they made their vows apparently surprised, and thrilled, his mom.

As I tucked my veggies away in my tote I thought about my own wedding and how amazing and important it felt to be witnessed as I committed to Mike and our life together. For us, being surrounded by the people we loved most in the world on that day felt secondary only to the fact that we were choosing one another. Declaring it publicly was paramount.

Desperate To Be Seen

I also thought back to all of the workshops I’ve attended and spoken at where two things seem to happen a lot:

  1. During Q&A there are always a few people who, as soon as they get the microphone, tell the long version of their story instead of asking a question (or before finally getting to the question). This seems to happen even when we’ve been instructed to get right to the question.
  2. During breaks or book signings, there are always a few people who come up and say, “I just have to tell you my story.”

Now, there’s nothing wrong with coming up to someone and telling them your story. Most of the time I’m quite delighted by it and often am moved to tears.

But from time to time when someone gets the microphone or pulls someone aside to tell their story, I can feel that their need to be seen (or heard) is overshadowing their perception of how long they’ve been talking, what’s relevant to the group, or whether or not the person they’ve pulled aside has to pee.

They’ve not created enough space to be witnessed in their regular life, and this unmet need comes out sideways.

A Universal Human Need

I was talking about this phenomenon with my cousin, and we both agreed that all humans have a need to be seen.

Being witnessed helps us feel like we matter. (Tweet it!)

If you’re an external processor like me, being witnessed can also help us figure out what we think or feel. When I’m caught in my own head I can get lost. But when I’m witnessed (even by a girlfriend’s voicemail) I find myself.

There are so many healthy, helpful ways to be seen and heard. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • Communicating with dear friends via voice memo. (There’s an app on your iPhone called Voice Memos. Record and text it to a friend! Way better than a voicemail because you can talk as long as you want. Plus, they don’t always require a response. Often sending the message is enough.)
  • Journaling. Yes, we can witness ourselves. It’s a beautiful feedback loop that’s never exhausted.
  • Blogging and other forms of writing for public consumption. I write to help you and to help me.
  • Women’s Circles or other semi-structured settings where sharing is encouraged. My weekly Qoya class is a beautiful setting for this.
  • Social media. While I don’t personally tend toward long, extensive posts on Facebook, I often read the pages of friends who do. I appreciate their stories and how they provoke new ways of thinking. I do, however, love sharing my life via pictures. Instagram, I find, is a particularly useful tool for sharing things I love and also being witnessed. (Plus, I love witnessing others’ lives this way.)
  • Talking it out with people I love. This can be done in person, on the phone, via text, emails, or even snail mail. No matter the medium, though, it’s salve to the soul.

No matter who you are, you need to be witnessed. It doesn’t make you weak or needy. It makes you human.

Getting our need to be seen, heard, and witnessed met in sane, healthy ways makes us not only feel whole, it makes us so much more pleasant to be around.

You, your story, and your life matter. And anything that matters deserves to be witnessed.


What are some of your favorite ways to be witnessed or to witness others? Leave your comment below – I’d love to hear from you!


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