Last week I was listening to my instructor describe a very familiar scene. It was not the first time I had heard a similar story, a similar metaphor. Yet somehow this time it really caught a hold of my thought process; my mind was off and running. The story sets the stage as follows:
Imagine you wake up in the morning to a dark house. You are naked as you climb out of bed and head toward your living room. On the table, before you lies a handful of masks of various sizes, shapes, and colors. You stand pensive for a few minutes, painstakingly trying to decipher which one, or ones, you will wear today. This may be the most important decision you make for the day and you do so with caution. Out of the variety, there is the “good son in law mask,” the “perfect husband mask,” a “good employ mask,” a “proper student mask,” and a mask that is careful to hide all of your emotions regardless of the situation. There are others of course, but because you are going to work today you choose both the “good employ mask,” and the mask that hides your emotions. Once decided, you quickly put them in place before you finish getting ready.
We all do this. Metaphorically speaking. On a daily basis, we put on the different masks based on what the day holds and who we think we will be dealing with. How we feel we need to represent ourselves to the world. Carefully, so that we will not be caught off guard and accidentally expose a personal part of ourselves we do not mean to expose. It helps us feel safe and confident we can choose to expose our true selves on our own time table to those we feel are worthy or those we feel we can trust.
I think we all are afraid to some extent to be vulnerable. It is hard, if not for some terrifying, to think of being vulnerable and authentic with others. We do not want to be taken advantage of or made to feel stupid. Fear of course, in all its aspects, is a powerful motivator.
So I have heard it said, how you know someone is mentally healthy, depends on how they end their day. Do they go home, return the mask(s) to the table, submerging into their own authenticity around friends and family? Or do they keep one or more on? Do they at some point in their life become inseparable from one or more of their masks? So their authentic self is fused with the mask(s) making it impossible or painful to be around others without the mask on? Some may say they were going along in life, trying on the different masks, attempting to figure out who they were and what they wanted out of life. Who they could trust and who they could not. Then one day, they found the perfect fit. The mask that was so comfortable and so profound they could not imagine life without it. When they put it on it fit like a glove and made the world seem right. Is it ok to wear this mask since it fits so well? How could this possibly be unhealthy, when it feels so right?
Well, the trouble with masks is although while they may be necessary in the workplace, it is unhealthy to keep them in place on a consistent or permanent basis. Even if they make you feel safe and secure. Masks can not only cause others to be blind to us, they can distort our view and cause us to be blind to others. Almost ensuring we will never have a true, authentic relationship with anyone.
Sure, I can admit that being vulnerable to others is difficult. Challenging and terrifying at times. Yet I have found it to also be worth it. Connecting with others is such a different experience when you can learn to be authentic with yourself and with them. It is also said to be a more healthy way to live. Keeping the masks off as much as possible can relieve the pressure of having to live in our own personal masquerade. With the secrets and sometimes the lies that come with wearing those masks.
What about you? Do you wear a mask or masks? Do you take them off and dare to be authentic whenever possible? Or do you find it safer, dancing around in your own personal masquerade, revealing only what you choose when you feel it is safe to do so?