Why We Wear Masks

There is another level of identity that is the real, true, genuine substance of who you are — your authentic self. That is who you are at your absolute core. It is the part of you not defined by your job, function or role. It is the composite of all your skills, talents and wisdom. It is all of the things that are uniquely yours and need expression, rather than what you believe you are supposed to be and do. ~ Dr. Phil

While I work hard to be my authentic Self, I know that is a bit of a misnomer. In many cases and due to our feelings of fitting into the societal norms that are imposed around us, we tend to make slight changes to our authentic Self to ‘fit in’ or gain acceptance. I believe this is OK in some ways, as long as it doesn’t have us doing activities outside of what we deem ‘acceptable’ for us. So, in many cases we put on a mask, to hide some of our Self behind in order to conform. For example, I have a mask for work. I need to keep my job and conform to the cultural norm of work. Otherwise, I risk losing said job and my lifestyle. On some days, I admit that I wear that mask a little too tightly or it is uncomfortable, and then I know I am losing my authentic Self.

But what do I mean by authentic Self? Mathews (2018) in an article in Psychology Today offers up what the definition is as well as a clear statement of why we wear masks with our authentic Self.

…all along, while we are living in that identity, the authentic Self is coming forth through the small cracks in the identity.  Perhaps we feel this as a deep longing for something, or perhaps we surprise ourselves with something we say or do, or perhaps we just slowly begin to look deeper and find new aspects that have previously been undiscovered.  When it surprises us, we often very quickly stuff it back into the unconscious.  We do that because it rocks our boat.  We do that because it has said or done something that makes us temporarily aware that we are not happy with our lives, with our relationships, our careers, or our own behaviors. (Mathews, 2018)

She offers a compelling reason for why we wear masks. Being authentic to yourself is not easy, particularly when we are young. Most of us desire to fit in, even if we choose to be outsiders, we gravitate to other outsiders. In the world of bullying, many youth will mask their authentic self to fit in with their peers and try to avoid bullying. This is actually quite painful to do. When we begin to drift away from our authentic Self, we wear that mask that gets harder and harder to breathe through. We do and act in a way that is against our nature. That is how strong and compelling our view of what society wants from us is.

Bleiker, Knapp, Morgan-Trimmer, & Hopkins 2018 article explained that our:

feelings and emotions can be hidden from view either deliberately or unintentionally. Reasons for this are complex and may include a desire to co-operate in order to expedite the procedure, conformity or obedience to an authoritative figure in a white uniform, or an internalised set of rules regarding socially acceptable behaviour. Hidden from view are not only feelings and emotions but also their intensity, revealed in the choice of language used by some participants. (p. 3)

We are quite complex beings and being authentic means being vulnerable. If your past includes neglect or abuse, that vulnerability is compounded by the amount of damage that caused you and your authentic Self. Bullying can certainly do that harm and finding a place back to removing the masks to be more authentic is not that easy. This is not to say we should not wear a mask to fit in culturally to our surroundings. But the mask should not hide who you are, but only control some of the impulses you might find. An example in my life is that, when I go to work, I don’t yell, scream, argue loudly or look for improper alone time. I must meet the cultural norms of the workplace. As long as this mask is not taking away a majority of my authentic Self, I don’t find this behavior a problem. When I get home…well let’s just say more of the mask comes off, but I am still not truly my authentic Self. That is, again, OK as long as I am not painfully wearing the mask and showing mostly my authentic Self.

Unfortunately, many of us have been abused or neglected to the point of wearing a mask all the time that hides our authentic Self. That is really not good. I speak from experience of trying to bury who I was in order to please those around me and not be bullying. First of all, it didn’t work. Second of all, it had me doing things that I didn’t want to do in order to fit in. Finally, it made me both psychologically and physiologically sick. We know this last point to C-PTSD show that. So if you find yourself wearing a mask that is hiding the majority of your authentic Self or maybe you have lost sense of who your authentic Self is after years of mask wearing, don’t go it alone. Find help to help you find yourself behind the mask. It’s just not worth it to walk around in life trying to mask who we are. In the end, it only makes us feel sick and sad.

Photo by Charles Etoroma on Unsplash


References

Bleiker, J., Knapp, K., Morgan-Trimmer, S., & Hopkins, S. (2018). “It’s what’s behind the mask”: Psychological diversity in compassionate patient care. Radiography. doi:10.1016/j.radi.2018.06.004

Mathews, A. (2018, February 28). The Authentic Self. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/traversing-the-inner-terrain/201802/the-authentic-self

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About Alan Eisenberg

Alan Eisenberg is a Certified Life Coach, Bullying Recovery activist and author of "A Ladder In The Dark: My journey from bullying to self-acceptance" and "Crossing the Line". He has been writing and speaking to various audiences about the issue of C-PTSD and Bullying Recovery. Mr. Eisenberg has been featured on several print, radio shows and podcasts on this issue, including NPR and in the Boston Globe. He is currently working toward his Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling.
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