M is for Masks
Updated: Jul 15, 2021
“Do they love you or the mask you put on every day?” Shimika Bowers
A mask is a protection but it is also something that covers your real identity. The difference between the masks that we are asked to wear today in the middle of the current pandemic and the emotional masks we all have a tendency ‘to wear’ is that we are being asked to wear a mask to protect others as well as ourselves from Covid-19 but the masks we can have a tendency to ‘put on’ in different situations are more concerned with thoughts about protecting our view of ourselves.
“We all have a social mask, right? We put it on, we go out, put our best foot-forward, our best image. But behind that social mask is a personal truth, what we really, really believe about who we are and what we are capable of” Phil McGraw
Responsibly wearing a mask despite the discomfort, conspiracy theories, laziness, sense of invulnerability, plain vanity or anger at being told what to do (or simply a narcissistic attitude where people are selfish and simply don’t care) is scientifically proven to be the right thing to do to slow-down the spread of the active virus.
Wearing a mask raises our consciousness that we are in the midst of a dangerous pandemic and is a metaphor for caring and civility towards others. It is a visible symbol of considerateness, respect and empathy. When we wear our masks, we are performing acts of human kindness both at a personal and social level i.e. acknowledging that we as humans are all in this together.
The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.
Why do we put on masks?
“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.” E. E. Cummings
Although there is truth in this quote, sometimes we are our own worst enemy and self-sabotage our authenticity by trying to cover up our perceived imperfections rather than celebrating them and daring to be our true self.
“Virtue has a veil, vice a mask” Victor Hugo
One of the main reasons we sometimes put on masks consciously or subconsciously is because of fear ; a concern that people will not like the ‘real me’. We consciously create boundaries or illusions to protect ourselves, but there are a multitude of other masks and behaviours we can choose to hide behind.
If we are insecure, for example, we might have a tendency to ‘name-drop’. We don’t feel that our words or indeed ourselves are enough and therefore we try to solicit the ‘support’ of someone we think will give us more credibility or mention a place we have been to in the hope that this will cause the listener to be impressed etc.
When we feel unsure about our ability to do things; i.e. when we have low self-esteem or feelings of powerlessness, we can hide behind the mask of ‘being a bully’ through our words or lack of them or through our actions.
It is easier to hide behind a mask of anger and indifference if we don’t think the world loves us or alternatively to overcompensate and come across as being controlling.
“I’m a very positive person, but this whole concept of having to always be nice, always smiling, always happy, that’s not real. It was like I was wearing a mask. I was becoming this perfectly chiselled sculpture, and that was bad. That took a long time to understand” Alicia Keys
People use masks all the time e.g. to cover up when they are not coping with lifestyles they cannot afford; or pretending things are fine at work or at home when in fact jobs are insecure and there is distance in our relationships. We crave acceptance, but fear makes us afraid to show our true selves.
“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” Oscar Wilde
By putting aside our ego and allowing ourselves to be vulnerable and having the courage to show up as our authentic selves is the best gift we can give ourselves and others. When we put aside fear and have the courage be ourselves and communicate with others authentically we flourish and have better relationships based on honesty and trust, understanding and unconditional love and are happier as a result.
“We were not meant to mask ourselves before our fellow-beings, but to be, through our human forms, true and clear utterances of the spirit within” Lucy Larcom
Gender and cultural differences can play a role in whether we mask emotions or not; theory shows that females can hide certain negative emotions more easily than men e.g. dislike and certain cultures also tend to moderate their expressions of emotion while others show a greater amount.
The effects of wearing an emotional mask
“Wearing a mask wears you out. ‘Faking it’ is fatiguing. The most exhausting activity is pretending to be what you know you aren’t.” Rick Warren
We weren’t born with masks; we put them on, so we can take them off. We can experience true freedom only when we learn to change our habits and actions caused by the baggage we carry around with us. We do this by reflecting on our core beliefs and values; examining each one and asking ourselves whether they are actually true or not, by asking ourselves questions like:
Where did I learn this? What is the actual reality? Why am I carrying this belief?
If I change this belief and act differently, what would happen?
What am I now going to chose to believe?
Usually by letting go of our fears and stepping into a new reality, the main risk we face is other people’s reaction because by opening yourself up and embracing authenticity, it can be threatening for others; your change can cause others to re-evaluate their own lives, perhaps making them realize that they too have the ability to change, but they haven’t.
“I dare you to take off the mask of perfection and show up as you are. Feel the freedom , the relief, the lightness. Because when we are real, that is when we actually heal. And those around us might just heal too.” Ashley Hetherington
Why we should get rid of our emotional masks?
“We all wear masks and the time comes when we cannot remove them without removing some of our own skin.” André Berthiaume
We cannot live to our full potential and have meaningful connections with others, if we do not drop our masks. It is impossible to bring all of who we are; our personality, creativity and skill-sets to our relationships and what we do.
“He often felt that too many people lived their lives acting and pretending wearing masks and losing themselves in the process”. Nicholas Sparks
It is exhausting trying to live an inauthentic life and is detrimental to our health because of the dissonance it creates. You would have to be constantly change masks according to the scenario that you are in, risking forgetting what you have told who and worse still you would start forgetting who you really are in the process.
“You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it”. Alan Moore
When we wear masks, we withhold parts of ourselves. We can’t have truly healthy relationships of connectivity unless we offer up all the pieces of ourselves. It’s like giving someone a broken vase and then asking them to fix the pieces back together and see the original perfect version but holding back two or three of the broken segments. Honesty and authenticity cements the healing process of being 100% true to ourselves.
“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?” Fanny Brice
The benefits of a life without masks:
“If you want people to love you for who you are, take the mask off”. Quetzal
There is a saying that ‘every creature has its rightful place, and in that place it becomes beautiful.’ In order to be free to live a life of freedom and be our true selves we need to pull our masks off, communicate with each other honestly and not allow ourselves to be scared into putting our masks back on.
“There’s no fairy tale in me, I don’t wear a mask
And hard times I’ve worn with the tenderness of feathers
my truths were always dancing on my skin
all you had to do was look within”
To end, a quote with reference to clowns, which started me off on another trail of thoughts but rather than expanding I will just leave it here for your reflection too:
“I did my thesis on clowns. It’s a powerful thing when you’ve got this little red nose on. It’s a mask, the smallest in the world, but it unveils you. You stand up there and do these exercises that free you, let you play, and see what comes out. What comes out is the truth” Becky Lynch
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
What masks do you wear? Why?
Are masks stopping you live to your full potential?
“Love has a powerful way of removing the mask we all insist on wearing”. Jessy
If you want to read/listen to more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started:
The Masks We All Wear | Ashanti Branch | TEDxMarin
The Masks We Hide Behind | Shelby Wildgust | TEDxDover
“People seldom change. Only their masks do. It is only our perception of them and the perception they have of themselves that actually change.” Shannon L. Alder