We all wear masks in our lives. Masks are part of daily life, and in some instances they are indispensable. We put up this barrier to keep people from crossing into something that we don’t want them to know, and when they cross the line, we lash out. We all wear masks at one time or another, some more than others do. We wear the masks to cover up the true us, and what we are really feeling. Wearing a mask protects us from vulnerability. Inside we want to tell people what is going on in our lives, but we fear rejection and we fear that someone will make fun of us for what we believe and how we feel.
Most people are familiar with presenting a certain face to the world. In fact, we all do it to some extent, because many of us feel constant pressure. Pressure to be a good son or daughter, partner, brother, sister etc. Pressure to be perfect and to follow social norms. Most of us learn to protect ourselves with defense mechanisms and personality traits that ensure our safety in the world. By adopting certain behavioral patterns, we unconsciously or consciously seek security and stability.
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, —
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
‘’We Wear the Mask’’ (1896) by talented African American poet and novelist Paul Laurence (1872–1906)
What mask do we show to the outside world: to family, friends or business partners? Are we showing things like “I’m confident”, “I’m fine”, “I’m in charge”, “everything’s good”, “I’m happy”? What is behind your mask? What are you hiding?
How many of us live life behind a mask — a mask of confidence, authority, perfection, efficiency while hiding who we truly are? Have you been wearing the mask for so long that you have actually forgotten who you are underneath?
When we are sad about something in our personal life, most of the time we cover it with a fake emotion. We most often put a fake smile on our faces and act like nothing is wrong with us. Sometimes the emotions get so built up inside that it converts to anger. We still have the protective barrier, but this time its far touchier. Anger is one of the many emotions that we don’t hide, because it’s so easy to show. Whenever you choose to screen the truth of who you are behind a mask, you make the judgment that who you are is inadequate, incompetent, inferior, deficient or defective in some way.
The Japanese say that you have three faces:
1. The first face, you show to the world.
2. The second face, you show to your close friends and your family.
3. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.
Why do we do this? How many of us go through life thinking that we are not good enough, interesting, beautiful or rich enough? Could it be that we have an absolute fear that if others saw us for who we believe we truly are, that they would not like or accept us?
One of the most common reasons we wear masks is the fear that the world is going to find us out. We wear different masks to keep us from getting too hurt. One of our greatest fears is that if we show our true selves, but being yourself is actually the best thing you could ever be. Once you decide to put on a mask, you become what you imagine someone else thinks you should be and end up without a self of your own. The problem with masks is when they become the norm and we lose ourselves in the process of trying to please others.
We change our masks so habitually and we do not even notice doing it. Maybe you have done it your entire life. The reasons for wearing a mask can be both positive and negative and some of the reasons might include: to hide fear, anxiety, to be liked and accepted, to hide vulnerability, sadness and depression, anger, or to show masculinity or femininity or to manipulate.
Wearing masks we close ourselves off from authentic relationships and stay stuck in the scabs of our childhood wounds. We are hiding our vulnerability, fearful that should our vulnerabilities be seen by others, and we would be exposed. Even when our masks irritate us, and we can not relax or be ourselves, we still resist change. We have developed habitual masks to please and impress others. This performance is a huge drain on our minds, bodies and souls. It’s a hard act to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be, someone else. Similarly, it’s very draining to regularly act like you feel one way when you really feel another.
By identifying our protective shields, we can begin to heal from past hurts and enjoy deeper intimacy with our loved ones. While our coping strategies are as varied as our personalities.
What masks do you wear?
Here are the most common masks people wear.
The Cool Man/ Woman
By all outward appearances, this person seems to have mastered whatever it takes to stay calm in all situations. This person possesses the composure of a Tibetan monk. However, beneath the surface, following things happen. Person bottled-up emotions either result in a nervous breakdown, or he/she periodically presses the release valve when no one is around, snapping at people subordinate to him/her, have unhealthy habits (drinking, smoking etc.). He/she lambasts the waiter for forgetting his/ her coffee or fires off a nasty email to his/her assistant or colleague for a small mistake.
Some people unconsciously pursue perfectionism as a defense against annihilation. If everything is done right, then their world can’t fall apart. While the accolades and praise associated with being a perfectionist may provide some temporary relief, the perfectionist is always at the mercy of something going wrong, and therefore lives in a constant state of anxiety. Her/ His stubbornness and lack of trust build a barrier between their loved ones.
Humor is a brilliant defense mechanism. It can and does prevent intimacy. Sarcasm, especially, tends to be rooted in pain and is not without consequences. The humorist tells a joke to keep conversations from getting too real or deep. Uncomfortable with conflict, he/ she will charm his/her way out of confrontation. Humor serves as protective shield. As such, he/she doesn’t allow anyone in, and is lonely.
The people-pleaser will go to desperate lengths to win the approval of those around her/ him, because her/ him sense of identity is largely based on the assessment of others. Her/ his values often vacillate depending on the input of the day because she/ he looks to outside sources to validate who she/he is. This mask-type solicits the advice of friends, beloved ones, co-workers and mentors because she/ he lacks a strong foundation. Easily influenced by others, decisions are especially difficult for her/ him.
The Social Butterfly
Although the life of the party, the social butterfly is innately lonely. He/ she compensates for feelings of insecurity with his/ her gift of gab and small talk. He/she has many acquaintances but few, if any, real friends. Although his/her calendar is packed full of social events, his/ her life lacks meaning. He/she keeps the conversations superficial because deeper dialogues may expose his/her anxiety or shed his/her confident persona.
The introvert person is deathly afraid of failure and rejection. He/she would much rather feel the pangs of loneliness than risk not being liked. Like the perfectionist, he/she is so afraid of making a mistake that he/she refuses to challenge himself/ herself. He/she blushes easily, is embarrassed easily, and doesn’t say much for fear of saying the wrong thing.
The Control Freak
The control freak uses order and power to achieve a sense of security. By making sure everything is in its proper place, person relieves his/her fear of the unknown, of ambiguity, of uncertainty. Person becomes unraveled when anyone deviates from the plan.
Suffering from a chronic case of unworthiness and insecurity, the self-basher projects a negative view of herself/ himself to others. Perhaps unconsciously, person believes that she/he can insulate herself/ himself from hurt by hurting herself/ himself first. Person, then, berates herself/ himself and insults herself/ himself as a protective measure against any potential zingers coming her/his way. Self-deprecation becomes a defense mechanism with which she/he avoids any risk of intimacy.
Bullies appear to be confident in their forceful delivery of opinions and order, they are innately insecure. They want so badly to be respected that they will break the rules of appropriate conduct to get that esteem. Self-doubt drives their hostile behavior; an obsessive need to feel right that comes at the expense of others’ rights and feelings.
Most of us know a martyr, a person who boasts that she/he has single-handedly saved the world with her/his selfless actions. While martyrs can bring families together with compassion, their exaggeration of sacrifices drives loved ones away. The drama with which they do good serves as a protective shield from the very people who they are helping. The martyr secures her/his place in the world by believing her/his role is critical, all the while making everyone uncomfortable around her/him.
Oscar Wilde has said, “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.”
Do you feel that you can be you, no matter what social situation you are in? Why are we so afraid to be authentic? Do you know who you are? Are you truly yourself?
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom “, is the famous quote from Socrates.
For many, being yourself sounds easier than it actually is. Living authentically . Living true to yourself — requires conscious attention. These are important points to remember as you work to cast off your masks.
· Masks cover your fear of feeling acceptable. By dropping your masks, you claim self-respect.
· Your masks block any real connection. By dropping your masks, you open the way for genuinely intimate relationships.
· With your masks in place, you remain static. By dropping your masks, you can tap your imagination and creativity.
· With masks on, you feel emotionally hungry and never satisfied. By dropping your masks, your human need to be recognized and valued can be fulfilled.
· Your masks keep you dedicated to your past, and perpetuate the pain you’re trying to escape. By dropping your masks, you make the courageous move to become your own person.
· Most importantly, masks force you into fantasy, because they put the real you far beyond your reach. By dropping your masks, you set yourself free and make way for the possibility of living a real and satisfying life.
We were not born with masks. We put them on, so we can take them off. There are practical reasons why we should shed our masks.
To live to your potential. We have to bring all of who we are to what we do. There are numerous people who have our same skillsets, or maybe an even better one. But none of these people bring the same personality and creativity. The irony is that we often mask that part of ourselves at work and lose our greatest potential.
Relief. It is exhausting to live an inauthentic life. You put on a mask or two or many more, then take a few off, then put a couple more on. It’s exhausting! Worst of all, you start forgetting who you really are. As comedian and actress Fanny Brice explained, “Let the world know you as you are, not as you think you should be because sooner or later, if you are posing, you will forget the pose, and then where are you?”
Healing. When we wear masks, we carve a piece of ourselves out — withholding parts of ourselves as unworthy. But in relationships, we can’t be truly healed unless we offer up all the pieces. It’s like handing someone a broken vase and asking him or her to fix it but holding back two or three of the broken pieces. Everything in our lives get cheated when we choose to hide behind our masks.
Happiness. You will be happier when you can express who you are. Expressing your desires will make it more likely that you get what you want. Can you sense the freedom?
Less inner conflict. When your outside actions are in accordance with your inside feelings and values, you will experience less inner conflict.
Better decision making. When you know yourself, you are able to make better choices about everything, from small decisions like which sweater you’ll buy to big decisions like which partner you’ll spend your life with. You will have guidelines you can apply to solve life’s varied problems.
Self Control. When you know yourself, you understand what motivates you to resist bad habits and develop good ones. You’ll have the insight to know which values and goals activate your willpower.
Resistance to social pressure. When you are grounded in your values and preferences, you are less likely to say “yes” when you want to say “no.”
Tolerance and understanding of others. Your awareness of your own foibles and struggles can help you empathize with others.
Vitality and pleasure. Being who you truly are helps you feel more alive and makes your experience of life richer, larger, and more exciting.
Don’t pull your mask partially off then let the world scare you into putting it back on. As the American poet E. Cummings (1894 –1962) wrote, “The greatest battle we face as human beings is the battle to protect our true selves from the self the world wants us to become.”
Life is a choice that you make every day to change and empower yourself. Think about the masks you wear and commit to taking them off. No apology and shame, or regrets. Every creature has its rightful place, and in that place it becomes beautiful. There is a saying that “sometimes it’s not the people who change, it’s the mask that falls off”.
There is a beautiful children’s book ‘’The Velveteen Rabbit’’ by Margery Williams. It tells the story of a rabbit who becomes Real through the love of a little boy. It is a beautiful metaphor for the value of authenticity and vulnerability. It tells that we become Real through our openness. Maybe it’s time that we become Real through the love and acceptance of ourselves.
How wonderful would it be to be able to allow our authentic selves to be seen by others? To feel secure, loving and accepting enough of ourselves to allow ourselves be seen without our masks?
“Once you are Real, you can’t become unReal again. It lasts for always” (Margery Williams, ‘’The Velveteen Rabbit’’, 1922)
You will know when you have discovered authenticity because your thoughts, beliefs and actions will originate deep from within and they will be resistant to external pressures. The result of this authenticity is a genuine, quiet, vitalizing fulfillment and confidence that resists anxiety, self-doubt and stress. Becoming authentic is a process to begin knowing ourselves. To understand our own personality traits, behaviors, values, beliefs, needs, goals and motives. It is having the courage to acknowledge our limitations, and embrace our own vulnerability. Being yourself is the only way to find out who truly CARES and LOVES you for who YOU ARE.