For almost four decades I hid behind several masks. As a child I started to put on masks and exhibit certain behaviors to get the love, strokes and attention that I felt I needed. As I got older, more and more masks became embedded in my skin.
As I grew older, my masks were protective barriers that I put on to deal with my insecurities; the feelings that I was not enough. One of the issues was that I was constantly comparing myself to others, including my older brothers…one who was an accomplished athlete, another a prominent politician, and another a Purple Heart Veteran, karate expert and Youth Coach. I found myself lost in the shadows of who they were and always had doubts that I would ever “measure up.” The one person in my life who I wanted to make proud was my Dad, but how could I when my brothers had already done so much? Like all social creatures, I needed to know how I would fit in.
Even as an adult, those around me never suspected my insecurities. I wore my masks well. I was employed by the second largest Federal agency in the world and as others saw it, I was well on my way to making a name for myself in the employee and personal development community. I was helping others achieve personal and career success, all while being smothered by the many masks that I had piled on. I did well in hiding the discomfort of it all or at least until someone very dear to me suspected that there was much more to me than what was on the surface. He confronted me with it and challenged me to face the true essence of who I was. Now the time had finally come…time to be real with myself and face what was truly going on.
As I started peeling off the masks and sharing my story with others, I realized I was not alone. Everyone wears masks at some time. Often times you don’t want others to know how you are feeling and a mask is a convenient way to hide what is going on inside. You use the masks to project a different attitude or feeling on the surface, protecting you from the pain of rejection, someone’s opinion of you or others disliking who you really are.
What I also came to realize is that there are costs to wearing masks. The inability to express yourself and show real feelings can prevent you from attracting those into your life with whom you can learn and grow. Masks of insecurity can keep you from responding to opportunities that were meant to enhance your life, or from showing real intimacy in relationships.
Imagine someone trying to kiss you when your face is covered with masks. That is a perfect picture of how hard it is to get close to someone when they are wearing them. Think of all those who withdraw from someone who is not being open and authentic. You can never achieve openness while wearing masks.
How many masks do you continue to wear? How much emotional energy are you investing into wearing them? What is it that you are trying to hide? Who is it that you are trying to please?
The truth is that you are carrying around a huge burden by trying to act the way you think you should act rather than just be yourself. I know from experience that the energy put into carrying masks is emotionally and physically exhausting. You spend more energy carrying the mask than you do learning about yourself, growing personally, and doing things more productively.
Remember that underneath the masks are usually wounds that come from having a part of yourself rejected, by yourself or others. As long as you need the mask it means the wound is in control, not you.
Don’t delay any longer taking control. There is true benefit to de-masking and here is how you can get a start.
Sit down and make a list of all the masks you are wearing. Focus deep within and try to get in touch with your feelings. Locate the fear and/or pain underneath the masks you are wearing. If you are unable to deal with the fears or pain alone, seek out a friend or group of friends to help you through the process. If you feel uncomfortable with friends, seek counseling. No matter how you choose to deal with it, it must be done.
Teresa L. Holmes