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Unmasking the Truth

For many people, Halloween is a time to try on a different persona, oftentimes in a stereotyped and exaggerated manner. But did you know that many of the people you come in contact with do this every single day? In fact, you may be donning a mask every morning before you leave the house.

Why Do People Wear Masks?

Much like Halloween costumes, masks allow people to create and embody a persona. The difference is that a Halloween persona is temporary, is typically not believed to be real (by the person in the mask or the viewers of the person in the mask), and does not squelch the existence of the real person that is there when the costume is removed.

gray-picket-fence-annapolis---- by Julia at hookedonhouses.netSo, why would anyone want to create a persona that is permanent (or semi-permanent), is believable to the person in the mask and to onlookers, and often squelches the real person underneath?

People receive messages from their families, cultures, sub-cultures, and communities that tell them who they are supposed to be. If that “supposed to be” does not fit who they really are, there is pressure to change in order to fit the description of the “supposed to be.” The threat of being cast out, of not belonging, of not succeeding– these are some of the risks of not fitting the “supposed to be.” ***

Masks are a survival mechanism. In some cases, it really is life-or-death dangerous to be something other than the “supposed to be.” In most cases, it is a non-life-threatening social pressure, though the consequences are still very real. And nearly everyone caves to the pressure at least some of the time.

Despite making changes to fit the “supposed to be,” these changes are surface-level and create a persona rather than changing the core of the person, regardless of how deep the persona seeps in. This persona helps people navigate their world as accepted members of their respective communities, sub-cultures, cultures, families, etc.

To complicate matters, if the expected behaviors for each of these categories are different, guess what? That’s right, multiple personas are often created and put into use, being juggled depending on context. And yet, the core stays the same, even if it is a little beat up and squashed under all the personas.

What Are Masks Hiding?

You have probably heard the phrases “put on your game face” or “fake it ’til you make it.” Although they have slightly different meanings and are used in different scenarios, they boil down to the same thing– your authentic self needs to be hidden behind a mask if you want to succeed, especially if your authentic self shows any kind of vulnerability.

Are you scared or sad or feeling some other unacceptable emotion? Put on your game face. Do you doubt your ability to do something or fear other people will doubt your abilities? Fake it ’til you make it. What are these things hiding? Fear, sadness, self-doubt, vulnerability.

Masks also hide anything that might seem out of place in a particular scenario. Someone might hide their passion for quantum physics, equestrian sports, ballet, ants, landscaping, or any other topic when with a group of people they do not think would share said passion. If they are never around people they think share their passion, the passion may never see the light of day. Expectations that come with class, gender, race, and other categorizations also affect what people are safely able to be passionate about. How incredibly constricting!

What Would Happen if You Took off the Masks?

Are the masks serving a real purpose, or keeping you from your purpose?

Taking off the masks, unmasking the truth of ourselves, would open us up for possibilities of greater creativity and innovation, empathy, discovery, and intrinsically valuable work and learning situations. All of these possibilities require vulnerability.

For a great presentation on the power of vulnerability, check out this TED Talk by Brené Brown, and watch her talk about embracing vulnerability (see below). Near the end (around minute 3:50), she tells us with humor and wit why workplaces that avoid dealing with vulnerability have difficulties with creativity, innovation, and dealing with change.

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable can be very scary, and taking off masks exposes you to all those judgements you were trying to avoid by wearing the mask. In order to make an informed choice, you have to look at what all the “supposed to be” rules are there for, and consider the potential negative consequences of taking off the mask. In many cases, taking off masks is well-received. In others, not so much.

At the very least, you may want to get in touch with yourself by taking off your masks (even if you only do it when you are alone). That way you can stay in touch with who you really are and what you really want, and you can make informed decisions about whether or not to wear the mask.

Who Are You Really?

Below are some questions to ask yourself to help you with unmasking the truth. Do not stop with the superficial answers that may come up first. Dig deeper and explore what each of the questions actually tells you about who you are.

Make note of any answers you have that bring up shameful feelings or that you try to immediately squash with thoughts like, “I should not want that,” or “But that is not practical.” These are thoughts that justify and maintain the mask(s) you wear. And they are getting in the way of you being your authentic self.

  • What motivates you?
  • What do you really care about? What do you value?
  • When do you feel most relaxed and in the moment?
  • What were your favorite activities when you were 5, 8, and 12 years old?
  • In what situations do you care more about what you are doing and less about what people think of you?
  • And, of course, if money were not an issue, what would you be doing and with whom would you be spending your time?

What did you find out about yourself? If you are like most people, you may need help digging a little deeper. Sometimes a trusted friend or family member can help, but make sure you choose someone who is not going to try to influence your answers or how you feel about your answers.

Another good source for help in this exploration would be an experienced professional, such as a life coach, personal coach, or counselor. Feel free to contact Essential Explorations if you would like us to help you explore what is under the mask or point you towards other resources.

***If you buy a house with a white picket fence because it is what you really want, that is great. I am by no means suggesting that people only buy such houses because society tells them they should. My goal is merely to have you reflect on who you really are and what you really want. Thank you to Julia of for posting such lovely pictures. Some of my favorites are on this page.

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