“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
― Oscar Wilde
The real you is the person you are when nobody is watching. But when other people enter the picture, things can change. You can change.
How do you feel about the way you appear within the context of your life? Are you truly yourself? Do you feel that you can be you, no matter the social situation you’re in?
If you regularly feel that you can’t just relax and be yourself, you’re probably sick and tired of it.
Why do so many people feel confused about who they really are and how did the issue of personal identity become so challenging? While it may seem like you should automatically know how to be yourself, in reality, that is rarely the case.
When you think about it, so many things in life depend on our ability to connect with our true self. After all, how are we supposed to know what we should be doing or who we should be doing it with if we don’t even know who we really are?
We are often not our true selves in the company of others. Subconsciously and repeatedly, we are wearing masks that project a certain image of us to the world. We seem to have a great collection of these masks that habitually surface, intending to best serve our self-interest, based on the need of our immediate environment. These masks come in varied shapes and colors like the aggressor, the conformist, the nice guy, the shy one, etc.
Why We Need So Many Masks?
One of the most common reasons we wear masks is what I think of as Imposter Syndrome—the fear that the world is going to find us out.
Masking is a process in which individual changes or “masks” their natural personality to conform to social pressures, abuse, and/or harassment.
Masking can be strongly influenced by environmental factors such as authoritarian parents, rejection, and emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. An individual may not even know he or she is wearing a mask because it is a behavior that can take many forms.
The Different Types of Masks
As the bestselling author, John Gray explains in “What you feel, you can heal”, this is how it works. If we were recognized for exceeding our parents’ expectations, say at school, we can grow up believing that being a high performer is the real ticket to be loved.
Another way of protecting yourself is to behave as if you’re happy all the time. No one ever knows when your feelings are hurt and to the outside world nothing gets you down.
If we were loved and encouraged every time we followed our parents’ directives, we can easily grow up being a conformist, believing that it would not be in our self-interest to go against the norm in any group – a family, social circle or an organization.
Similarly, we could play the diplomat, keeping our true feelings to ourselves but seeking to create a congenial atmosphere in a group; the reserved one, always hiding our true selves in the belief that we are not lovable anyways.
You know, avoid all the pain and protect your authentic self as well.
People Pleaser Mask
People Pleaser Mask means doing whatever it takes to make other people happy so they’ll accept you and be less likely to emotionally attack you. When you have thoughts or feelings or preferences that are different than those of your companions, you shove them down or push them away.
The poor me person believes in the notion that “only when I am in deep trouble and wronged can I attract others’ attention and love.”
The aggressor is the person for whom anger and show of superiority are the way to get noticed.
The person who is constantly finding faults with others in order to hide their own inadequacies.
Mask of Anger
Anger can keep people away from you and protect you from feeling vulnerable. Anger feels more powerful than hurt, fear or sadness and can be used to avoid those painful feelings.
The bragger, where lack of self-esteem leads to eulogizing about oneself in the hope of being loved and admired.
Don’t let that stop you. Don’t pull your mask partially off then let the world scare you into putting it back on. As the poet E. E. Cummings wrote, “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.”
Here are some questions that clinical psychologist Merry Lin suggests you consider, to help you drop your own masks. I recommend you write them in a journal or notebook and explore your answers in writing. Perhaps address a question a day, to let your truth emerge deeply over a period of time.
- Think about all the times in your life when you felt you had to be “on,” when you couldn’t be honest with how you really felt, when you chose to pretend to be someone you weren’t. What’s the cause of that?
- If I were to ask you to describe yourself, could you talk about your strengths and weaknesses with confidence? (In other words, do you know who you really are?)
- Are you always the same in how you act regardless of the situation you’re in?
- When you are around others, do you ever feel strained and uncomfortable and find it hard to relax?
- Has anyone ever told you that they thought you were one way, but then when they got to know you better, realized you were another way?
- Has anyone ever commented on how you act differently around various people?
- Do you ever act like you don’t care what others think, but deep down it really stings when others judge or reject you?
- Do you ever pretend to like someone you really don’t?
- What might some of your masks be? The “I’ve got it all together” mask? The “I’m a victim mask”? Think about different situations in your life—work, school, church, home, with friends, with family, etc. What mask might emerge during those times?
Make a list of words that describe the person you want to be. Look deep inside and concentrate on who you are, not what you do. Are you passionate, nerdy, curious, loving?
You’ll know when you’ve discovered authenticity because your thoughts, beliefs, and actions will originate deep from within and they’ll be resistant to external pressures. The result of this authenticity is a genuine, quiet, vitalizing fulfillment and confidence that resists anxiety, self-doubt, and stress.
Wearing a mask protects us from vulnerability. I fear that if I stand tall and exposed, I’ll be “weak” in some way. But when you wear a mask you stand in resistance to your true life and end up attracting realities that conflict with who you really are.