By Jade Joddle
I have spent years of my life feeling like an invisible ghost in social situations because my friends won’t speak in English. This happens to me when I am in a foreign language situation and I am the only one who doesn’t speak the main language. While my non native friends like to speak English with me on a one-to-one level, this preference is quickly dumped in group or party situations. Over the years I have got used to just sitting there saying nothing, going into my own head, and feeling like a ghost.
When I feel like a ghost I am disconnected. While ten or fifteen minutes of it is fine, an evening of it hurts because it means being lonely in a room full of people. In particular it hurts because I have experienced this so many times as a repeating pattern in my life. Feeling invisible. Just sitting there like a blank screen and trying to leave as quickly as possible so I can get back to my cave.
People may say every hour or so, ‘Oh we should talk in English because of Jade,’ but then they just continue speaking in their native language. I grow more invisible and more lonely.
The longer the ghost thing happens the more worthless any contribution I can make to the conversation begins to feel. I grow resentful. Then I don’t want to speak any more. I want to go in my cave and never see those people ever again. Avoid. Avoid. Fear. Anxiety.
To stop feeling like a ghost I have a need to be included in the social moment and to communicate. However, I have been my own worst enemy regarding this need. I don’t ask people to translate for me and I don’t just say things in English to begin my own topics of conversation to the group. Somewhere along the line I picked up the idea that I am inconveniencing people if I ask them to translate for me or to tell me what is happening (note to self: I am unworthy). I am pretty sure this stems from being a mostly silent child who felt INVISIBLE.
The way I have been dealing with the ghost problem in the last year is to only stay for a short time in such group situations where the main language is not English. This means that I am always looking for an exit (which leads to increased anxiety). I will avoid situations where I imagine there is no way to escape. It is a strategy all based on avoidance and only makes things worse. Often, however, it’s hard to see that your actions are only hurting yourself more when you’re caught up re-enacting your deepest patterns.
I know the winning strategy to deal with feeling like a ghost is to become more assertive. If I am with people in a social situation; I am worthy to be included. This means I may have to ‘make’ them speak to me in English.
Today I overheard an American woman say loudly to her friends, ‘If you guys keep talking in Spanish, I’m going to leave!” Once she had said this, the conversation went back to English. The American woman was pushy, but I wonder how it might work to say honestly, ‘Guys I am feeling lonely because I don’t understand anything. What are you talking about?’
I have had enough invisible ghost experiences in my life to know that I am creating the disconnected feeling for myself. If I don’t include myself, why should others go out of their way to include me? Avoiding these situations doesn’t make the feeling go away. It’s up to me. And if you know what the invisible ghost feeling feels like: it’s up to you too.
UPDATE 2018: If you’re just on holiday and don’t intend to make a life there, then being in these kinds of situations where you can’t speak can happen. That’s okay. But if you plan on living there and you’re still mute after a time and can’t learn to speak the language — why are you still there? I would also add here that after a few of these silent kinds of mute holidays it gets a bit boring, so ask yourself if that’s a good way to spend your time.