Since Halloween is right around the corner, I thought it would be apropos to talk about the masks that we wear. Not the literal one that you might for a costume, but the figurative ones that we use on a regular basis. What do you hide from others? Is there something you don’t want them to see? What would happen if they did look behind the mask?
People hide themselves from others for many reasons. Perhaps they don’t think others would like them if they saw what was really going on. Maybe the person is a people pleaser and is afraid of conflict. Maybe you fear that you wouldn’t have any friends, or your partner may no longer love you.
The cost of hiding behind your mask
What is the cost of hiding behind your mask? Is there resentment there? I work with some people who hold everything in. They don’t want to rock the boat, so they stick their head in the sand, or sweep it under the rug. At some point in time there will be too much dust under the rug and it will leak out. However, if you wait too long your relationship may be in serious jeopardy.
I have worked with many people who don’t know how to express themselves. Anger at themselves as well as the other person builds up. Many people don’t know what to do with this. Realistically, most of us didn’t have the best role models for how to resolve conflict. The good news is, that this is something that you can learn. You don’t have to sit there in misery, or pretend that you are smiling when you are really frowning.
Dare to be vulnerable
If you are one of those people who feel that your friends or partner wouldn’t like you if ______ (fill in the blank, i.e. knew I was depressed, anxious, abused substances, had a record, had an affair, etc.), you are hiding. These are things that can eat you up inside. Now I certainly wouldn’t recommend that you share this kind of information with anyone, just people it would be safe with. That would be someone that is nonjudgmental, empathetic, and won’t share your struggle with others.
A funny thing happens when you take off that mask and show your vulnerability. Can you guess what it is? It creates intimacy in relationships. You have shared a part of you with another human being who is going to accept you, warts and all. Another funny thing often happens when you show your vulnerability, and that is the other person may share one of theirs. It is healing to both of you because you don’t feel as alone. There is someone else to share the burden with.
Why do we hide?
Something else to consider is the way men and women are socialized. As little girls, women play house, they talk about their feelings, they nurture their baby dolls etc. They are taught that all emotions are acceptable-other than anger. If you’re angry as a woman, you are labeled a bitch.
On the other hand, little boys are socialized to be rough and tumble. What do you think would happen to a little boy who wanted to talk about his feelings on the playground? They learn at an early age, that is it not okay to express emotions. The only socially acceptable feeling for boys is anger. So women get to express all their feelings but anger, and boys only get anger. Think about that. We are all wired human first, and have all the same emotions.
Men may be better able to show the face of anger, vs. another emotion. However, whether you are male or female, life experiences may have taught you that it is not OK, or not safe to show your emotions, so you hide behind them.
Learn to be authentic
If you wear these masks all the time, then it prevents you from being authentic. If you aren’t authentic, you won’t have a healthy sense of self-esteem and your mental health will suffer.
So the key to getting healthier is learning how to slowly remove the masks that you wear. As you do this slowly, you may begin to take more risks with it. If you are going to do this, be sure to do it with the people you feel safest with first. We want you to have positive experiences. Behind that mask is a wonderful person waiting to be truly known.
If this is something you struggle with, therapy can help. Please give me a call at 713-304-6554.