“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.” ~Jim Morrison
First of all, I need to give the credit for the gorgeous masks to my 8-year-old daughter. She was 5.5 when she made these masks at summer art camp. This post was inspired by the photos of the masks she made almost three years ago.
Masks. We ALL wear them. We all hide behind masks in various areas of our lives. In fact, we all use masks – they can be our safety net, our protection. This is why I LOVE the Morrison quote above – it is SO VERY true! As human beings who are subject to the great stressors of this world we are all tempted to assume the roles that we believe we are expected to play. We lose ourselves (and, as Morrison said, our freedom) as we step on to the stage of our lives and willingly masquerade as only a semblance of the real selves we are.
Most of us do not wear only one mask, we wear many. Our masks are changed depending on the role we expect ourselves to play at any given moment. Here are some of the masks I wear:
- Wonder Bitch (assisted by hormones associated with PMS)
- Health Nut (comes and goes depending on my commitment)
- Boss/ Supervisor
The interesting reality is that in each of the roles listed above, I can be myself or someone else. The mask seems to go on and off depending on the day, my confidence and the specific situation at hand. Sometimes when I am overwhelmed with a particular situation, I may be more likely to put my mask on and “play the part” in the way I believe I should, placing my feelings of the moment aside. Sometimes this is a good thing, at other times this means that I sacrifice myself in order to perform whatever duties I have deemed are more critical than living authentically at that moment.
Last week I met with a patron of my workplace who spent the better part of an hour spewing racist propaganda. It was far too much for me to stomach. In that moment I wanted to allow my authentic “Wonder Bitch” to come out and attack him (I wasn’t even pmsing at the time). However, I was able to keep on my mask of Consummate Professional/ Boss and Employer and do my best to handle the highly offensive comments in a diplomatic way. Of course, afterwards I spoke with my employees about how to protect our workplace from inappropriate racist comments and we will be making changes to strengthen our policy so that our patrons understand how strongly committed we are to judging our community members only on the content of their character and NOT on their lineage. Had I taken my mask off in that moment, I would not have accomplished what I needed to. I may have FELT better in that instant by telling that individual off, but it would not have done anything to properly address the situation. In fact, it would have made the situation more explosive than it already was. My mask protected me, and ultimately allowed me to be more professional.
However, there are times when masks are not so valuable to us. What if someone is in an abusive situation and is wearing a mask of “loving, caring wife”? What if this “loving, caring wife” has been beaten by her spouse until she is black and blue? Her spouse returns with what appears to be a great deal of remorse and promises to change (for the seventh time). In her role as “loving, caring wife” she wants to believe that he will change. She likes to hear the promises. She wants to “do the right thing” and give him another chance (an eighth chance). In this case, her mask is causing her to make decisions that could cause her to continue to live a life where she is in physical and emotional danger. Perhaps she is even placing children in danger. Her mask is blocking the great pain of reality – a reality she needs to be in touch with in order to make healthy decisions. The mask needs to come off.
There is a new mask that has emerged in our society in the past decade – it is the INTERNET mask. This mask can also be used for good or evil. Often by hiding behind the internet mask, individuals will speak truth that they are afraid to speak in person. This reminds me of a quote by Oscar Wilder ~ “Man is least himself when he talks with his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” Yes, we often find that people are much more brave as they hide behind the mask of technology. They may say things they would never think to say in person, and often in harsher tones. Perhaps this is a good thing. I personally would rather know the truth, no matter how harsh and painful, than wonder where I stand in any given situation.
So what is the moral of my post? Perhaps the only moral is awareness. There are times when masks help us and times when masks harm us. Therefore, we need to be mindful of each given moment. We need to ask ourselves, “Am I wearing a mask now?” “Do I want to be wearing a mask?” “Is this mask helping or harming me? What purpose does it serve?” If the mask is filling an appropriate aim, then leave it on. If the mask is keeping you from your authentic truth that you need to be living, then be brave and remove it.
Today, 339 days ’til 40, I will seek to be more aware of the masks I acquire. I will use the ones that are valuable and shed the ones that are useless. My hope for you is that you are able to find the personal strength to do the same.
March 19, 2012 at 00:09
Wow, this is dense, in a good way! So much to think about, and I thank you for sharing.
March 19, 2012 at 07:30
Thank you, Maura!
March 19, 2012 at 00:13
I feel like I’m reading the posts of a like-soul. Great job as always. You bless me.
March 19, 2012 at 07:31
Thank you so much for your encouraging words, Walkwiththerabbi! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 00:18
Reblogged this on Stuart Otway-Smith.
March 19, 2012 at 00:40
My internet mask is definitely of the writing-stuff-I-wouldn’t-dream-of-saying-in-person variety, but I think giving my bitchy/venty/exploratory/undecided side freedom online allows me to be a calmer, more sane person in life. Perhaps that’s just an excuse, though.
Masks are really important, especially in situations like you describe at work. But they exhaust me too. I get depressed by the masks one must wear to sell oneself – the interview masks or the my-life’s-great masks. Wouldn’t it be nicer if we could be ourselves? Be hired because of who we really are not what rubbish we can regurgitate on the spot?
March 19, 2012 at 07:32
Thank you for your comment, Thebitchybride. I agree with you – if we can say everything we need to on the internet, then we protect ourselves in person! I also agree that masks can be exhausting! I think that is why I love watching the TV show House- at his work he says everything I can only dream of saying!!! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 10:33
I love that show too!
March 19, 2012 at 00:59
I agree, except I don’t consider your mask at work handling that situation a mask as it was wearing the right hat for the right situation but your analogy of the mask of the abused woman so true. I’d wear the mask everything was fine outside the house. Inside the house the kids knew it was a war zone and I’m sure some of the neighbours since when he would torment me too much I would either lash out which made things worse and put me in physical harm or I would cry hysterically and hide in a corner. If I found out someone was coming for a visit I would cover up and pretend to be a happy family even though he would mope and make sure whoever it was there felt uncomfortable. The best mask was on the internet as you say. I used to social network from morning till night from facebook, twitter, myspace, a different blog then I have now and many other ones. I had my picture on there but I wouldn’t let people know about my relationship unless it was positive. I would be social networking sounding like I was happy but really I was crying behind the computer. But who knew except me I was miserable. Another mask is the mask of vanity. Makeup. I never really liked wearing makeup except some mascara and lipstick or gloss once I had kids until my ex husband one day in the car told me to put makeup on I looked to much like a plain jane. I was so horrified I started wearing cover up even at home. I’d put it on before he got home from work and on the weekends made sure I’d get up and shower most days and put on make up. I felt so ugly without it. Now that I’m gone I’ve gone back to my ways of just mascara and lipstick or gloss. I figure if one day a man comes into my life if he doesn’t like the way I look without being masked in make up then he doesn’t like me being me. To wear a mask means not to be yourself or comfortable with yourself, I believe what you explained about you is wearing many different hats. Great topic and blog … Peace
March 19, 2012 at 07:35
Thank you for your comment. As I wrote thepost I was thinking about the fact that hats versus masks is a fine line, so I think it is really cool that you also caught it (the post was too long, so I figured it was not the time to get into the subtle differences!) 🙂 I think sometimes we are comfortable with ourselves even with the masks – the thing about the hats I wear is that I am still authentic with them all on – when I wear a mask, in any of my roles, then I am less authentic – which is sometimes what a situation needs….. Like I said, a very fine line – I think the important thing is to be aware of our true feelings, whether they are in or out at a given moment so that we can live our truth in a hea;thy way.
Thank you again for a great comment!!!
March 19, 2012 at 01:27
I feel that living an authentic life, true to yourself is the only way to live. Stand up for your beliefs without fear of rejection or dissaproval. People will respect you more living this way then if you patronize them wearing a mask, too afraid to have confrontation. For example, I have a friend that was participating in very destructive behavior. This led to him attempting to take his own life. My other friend and I the week before discussed having an Intervention with his mother, telling her everything we know. But we were too afraid that our friend would think we were betraying him and we did not proceed with our plan. Now if he actually didn’t survive the attempted suicide and he was dead. I don’t know if I would be able to live with myself. I did eventually tell his mother everything while he was in the hospital and I saw him for the first time today and he said he was mad at me but understood why I did what I did. I guess only time will tell where our relationship will lead from here. So if you truly want to be a friend to people, don’t be afraid to be your authentic self and do or say how you really feel. Honesty is and alway’s will be the best policy in my opinion! 😉
March 19, 2012 at 07:37
Thank you for your comments, Jared – what you say is so very true! When we are not our authentic selves we risk regrets – sometimes regrets that are so deep we cannot forgive ourselves. I am glad that you had a chance to speak what you needed to speak and that your friend was okay. What a scary life lesson!
March 19, 2012 at 16:57
I know, I don’t know if I would have been able to live with myself if he had died!!! Thank God he survived. I am so grateful for that!!! 😉
March 19, 2012 at 01:40
You know….I kept associating masks with hats….However….when viewed from a different angle..(abused wife) and driving it home with the internet and the perfect Wilde quote, masks are indeed perfect….I really enjoyed this piece…
March 19, 2012 at 07:37
Yes, davmer2303 – another blogger said the same and I agree – there is a fine line between masks and hats! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 02:07
Awesome blog. Makes me take a better look at the masks I put on.
March 19, 2012 at 07:38
Thanks, wherethedaytakesme!!! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 02:12
I try to be up front and real, but I know I sometimes put on my happy mask to hide pain, my contented mask to hide disappointment, and so many other masks. Sometimes my face feels like it has turned to stone from trying to maintain my mask. I need to learn to go naked faced!
March 19, 2012 at 07:38
Thanks for your comment, norinep. I love your last sentence! I think we all need to work on learning how to become naked faced!
March 19, 2012 at 03:55
I am fascinated by your topic today; the interchanging masks that people wear are most interesting when they are unaware of them (which goes against the moral of this post).
While speaking with my counselor last week one of my own masks became the subject of our conversation. I grew up white in Hawaii, which is like growing up a minority in most other parts of the U.S. In order to survive I had to adopt the mask of underachiever; I didn’t want others to know how smart I was because I didn’t want to get labeled a ‘nerd’ on top of the racist labels I already carried around with me. I didn’t need another reason to get by butt kicked. I wear that same mask today, though I no longer live in Hawaii, because I’m afraid people won’t like me as I am in my head. I have to ‘dumb down’ my persona in order to feel accepted by those around me. The Internet allows me to circumvent that mask and lets the ‘real me’ come out; hopefully I’ll be able to drop that mask in ‘real life’ soon.
I would challenge you not to stop at identifying your masks. When Jesus commanded His disciples to, “be perfect, as God is perfect,” he was not referring to a Greco-Roman idealized perfection. The Aramaic word for ‘perfect’ He used translates best to “being congruent with oneself.” You cannot be congruent with yourself by wearing masks; let them all go.
March 19, 2012 at 07:40
I love your comment, rabidmongoose! We all can work on being congruent with ourselves – a challenge that can be difficult in a society that seems to socialize us to do just the opposite! I am glad you are open with your opinions here, as I find them very insightful and valuable! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 04:21
One of my favorite poems is We Wear the Mask – Paul Laurence Dunbar
March 19, 2012 at 07:41
Yes, living4bliss! If I was allowed to post an entire poem on the internet (cannot, copyright issues) I would have included it!!!!! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 04:28
It’s not only FREEDOM when our reality is congruent to what we appear to be. It’s also called INTEGRITY.
People of integrity don’t wear masks. 🙂
I agree, our different roles somehow force us to wear masks. Yet, ultimately, as you have pointed out, AWARENESS is the best way to deal with it. We need to be aware if the masks we are wearing is destroying our integrity. We need to be aware of the universal and timeless principles at work. We need to be aware whether our values are aligned with those principles.
Thanks for your great post!
March 19, 2012 at 07:42
Yes, sojourner, what an excellent point – living our authentic truth IS living a life with integrity! Thank you for your great comment! 🙂
Mari Sanchez Cayuso
March 19, 2012 at 05:12
This embarks worth. Great post!
March 19, 2012 at 07:42
Thank you Mari!
March 19, 2012 at 05:53
Thanks so much for your recent interest in my blog, and I’m looking forward to following you as you head to that Big 4-0 milestone (which, sad to say, is ancient history for me!) As a psychiatrist who works with combat veterans, I see the men and women who have grown so weary of their pain, the mask of “invulnerability” just doesn’t fly any more for them. Yet as I read various blogs by the family members of combat veterans, I hear their pain as they often have to live with partners/parents/children who simply are not yet ready to take off the “everything’s just fine” mask. As you say, there’s a time and place for everything: sometimes endurance and putting-on-the-back-burner is exactly what is necessary. Sometimes it’s a disaster. Your thoughts are very appropriate just for such dilemmas.
March 19, 2012 at 07:43
Thank you, Rod – I apprecaite your insight into this reality based on real-life experiences. I imagine that part of your work is helping your patients to figure out the timing of when to keep the masks on and when to safely remove them. Thank you again! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 07:11
March 19, 2012 at 07:43
March 19, 2012 at 07:42
We all have masks for different occasions. It’s not often we stop to think about them though. You’ve made us think.
March 19, 2012 at 07:45
Thank you, Wordsfromanneli! Yes, the thinking is the often left out, but critical, step!
March 19, 2012 at 14:40
Wonder Bitch – that cracks me up! I think there are a lot of us who wear that mask occasionally! Thanks for a thought-provoking post.
March 19, 2012 at 15:05
Thanks, Rachturner! Yes, I have fondly used the term “Wonder Bitch” in many of my finer (and not so fine) moments! 🙂
Lisa Pace Wegrzyn
March 19, 2012 at 17:32
Congratulations! I have nominated you for The Very Inspiring Blogger Award. To claim the award so to http://lisaweg.wordpress.com/2012/03/19/and-the-award-goes-to/
March 19, 2012 at 18:07
Why, thank you!!!
John Paul McNeil
March 19, 2012 at 18:57
Thought provoking, as usual…(a good thing). It’s largely about the milieu/setting I suppose. And protection. If the World was a bit more kind, open, accepting and understanding, our Mask(s) would not be worn so much. You had to protect the relationship with the patron by wearing your Mask. We all need to Mask ourselves somewhat from the goofballs (a rarely used but descriptive psycho-social term) on the internet. And then there is that aspect of it for a kind of creative play, like “guess who/what I am”. Kind of like adult Peek-a-Boo. “Peek-a-Boo, I see you!” Or not. As Lisa Pace said above, Inspiring.
March 19, 2012 at 22:11
Thank you, John, for your response! I appreciate your insight. Yes, if the world we lived in were different, perhaps we would be able to live with less need for masks. I like your Peek-a-Boo analogy, great one!!! 🙂
John Paul McNeil
March 19, 2012 at 22:41
Had another insight, if I may. Masks may well be needed for protection, yet at least they are more transparent/interactive than Armour. Psychic Armour protects one to the point of total closing off. The Mask acts as a useful filter (with conscious use under appropriate circumstances), where some interaction/discourse (and thus at least a possibility) of resolution may occur. Just sayin’.
March 19, 2012 at 22:47
Yes, you are so very correct John- this is where the need for evaluation and reflection comes in so that we can carefully determine when the masks help us and when they are less valuable or even harmful. 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 19:07
Thanks for leaving your mark on my blog. I’m all for off with the masks! Nice post. Now if only I could find “the right” assistance to help manifest my vision-efforts to ground Creativity Cafe; a “new school” where we help people at the highest bandwidth (ie face to face, no filters except maybe to find friends and allies) who come to our (projected) permanent venue dedicated to social change, transformation and helping to provide-create a world for young people (and those young at heart) to benefit from social networking, community resources and the very denizen in the venue, who have gathered to have fun, learn, and find/offer support to other Creativity Cafe members. Want to know more?
March 19, 2012 at 22:10
Wow, it sounds like you have an amazing vision – yes, I would like to hear more. Many many wonderful movements are birthed by a few passionate visionaries. 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 19:48
Seriously, I’m with Lisa Pace Wegrezyn on this! And I second the nomination! Especially loved the Morrison quote! Out of the park hit! 😉
March 19, 2012 at 22:09
Thank you, Jan!!! 🙂 I hope you will stop by again!
March 19, 2012 at 19:51
Existentialism was all the go when I was a lad (much more than 400 days ago!) and it tried to address the same area as you do in this post. Authenticity was supposed to be the key but it is not always easy to distinguish between authenticity and bloody rudeness. Also it is by no means easy to distinguish the authentic you from your many roles. In the end I vote for politeness as a general rule modified by Camus’ moderate rage where appropriate. Thanks for visiting my blog, I found your very interesting and hope you reach 40 without mishaps.
March 19, 2012 at 22:08
Thanks, Tootlepedal! Interesting existential link, I like it!!! 🙂 Yes, I agree with you, the politeness needs to be considered, but there are situations where rage can be very appropriate! 🙂
March 19, 2012 at 23:45
More and more every day as you get older, I find.
March 19, 2012 at 20:56
Really enjoyed your post – especially the part about the “internet mask” – so true! At times I think that particular mask can give an inappropriate voice to a coward, by allowing for anonymity so the person does not have to own their opinions. I think it can be a good thing at other times though, when someone dares to say things that are heavy on their heart, and feels relieved somehow by sending out their words into the void.
March 19, 2012 at 21:52
Thanks, Undividing. You are so right! I suppose it is all about balance…. too bad we can’t take it away from the inappropriate cowards and only use it to empower those who desperately need a voice! 🙂
Strange Trip Studios
March 19, 2012 at 21:11
I am past 40, so the number of masks that are required have diminished. I am more about WYSIWYG. So much easier for me and those around me. I am not so pure as to believe I never use masks. I just know that I have, over time, needed them less and less. Great post!
March 19, 2012 at 21:54
Thanks, Strange Trip Studios! Yes, it is so much healthier to live a WYSIWYG life – good for you for shedding masks over time – I think what you said is the key – understand they may still exist, but work towards needing them less and less. 🙂
March 20, 2012 at 03:26
In physical therapy school, we say proximal stability before distal mobility…….simply put: the limb won’t move if the joint isn’t working. Directly applicable to your post.
March 20, 2012 at 07:30
Thanks, simplywillb! I like that analogy and it is not one I would have thought of! 🙂
March 20, 2012 at 05:15
Being Bilingual, I do not know if this counts as a mask, but I have two very different personalities as I switch from one language to another. I am way more extrovert in English than I am in French, and much more of a nice guy in French. Nice post, looking forward to more!
March 20, 2012 at 07:32
Thanks, rolfmaomachizlin, for yoru comment. What an interesting observation, that your personality changes depending on which language you speak. If this is the case, then it would seem there is a mask, or identity, depending on the language you speak. I would wonder if it is connected to your confidence in each language, or your life experiences as you have spoken each language – how fascinating!!! 🙂
March 20, 2012 at 10:51
There certainly are difference in confidence and I think that the fact that I am more of a ‘dick’ when speaking English was largely used as a defensive mechanism when I wasn’t very good at speaking it, and it stayed with me ever since.
March 20, 2012 at 18:40
Thank you for this post. A long time ago, I realized that what you said about this technology is so true: it give us a chance to reveal what’s buried deep inside of us that we generally don’t want people to see. Who am I? I’m not who I think I am nor am I who you think I am. I am. Thank You.
March 20, 2012 at 21:55
Thanks, Katrael! You are very correct…….. this technology affords us a certain freedom, but sometimes I think we are not really sure how to balance our use of the freedom to communicate, at least on some level, with more barriers removed.
Thanks for stopping by!!! 🙂
March 21, 2012 at 02:34
Did a bit of SOciology when I was i school. These masks yu were talking about – Self-schema 😉
March 21, 2012 at 07:44
THANK YOU for attaching the term to this! I LOVE it when this happens…… Self-schema….I will have to remember that!!! 🙂
March 21, 2012 at 21:36
Great message! Reminds me of my own post on “Masks” a few weeks ago. Please check it out when you have a moment. It is so important to learn to be our authentic selves. Here’s the link … http://dorothymcdonall.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/masks/ … Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this important aspect of life … Be well, Dorothy 🙂
March 21, 2012 at 22:40
Thank you so much, Dorothy, for pointing me back to your post on masks – I LOVE it!!!! Thank you for sharing it with me and the readers of this post! 🙂
March 22, 2012 at 00:05
Thank you … 🙂
March 22, 2012 at 00:44
Great post. I’ve been thinking about posting something similar. I like how you said that masks can be a problem AND a problem-solver! Interesting perspective!
March 22, 2012 at 07:21
Yes, Teri – thanks for your post and it is so true – masks, like so many things in life, do not always have to be bad – just used in the appropriate and healthy context! 🙂
March 24, 2012 at 20:32
Great post! You pose wonderful questions at the end and I will most definitely start asking myself those when I find myself in various situations. Very insightful. Thank you!
March 24, 2012 at 23:27
Thanks so much Brianna!
March 24, 2012 at 20:36
You are doing some great work here. You won’t need all those days! Blessings to you! And thanks for checking out my blog, too!
March 24, 2012 at 23:26
Thank you!!! 🙂
March 27, 2012 at 02:02
Interesting… I thought of it as hats, something you wear, not hide behind because you can’t really lose the essence of you in any circumstance.
March 27, 2012 at 07:27
Yes, kitmom, quite a few others have said a similar thing. I also thought the same while writing, but did see the post as also describing things you hide behind….. or things that sheild the real you… so that is why I went with mask over hat…. but perhaps I should write another post specifically on the hats we wear?!? 😉
March 27, 2012 at 15:38
Yes, please do that would be great! In fact you just inspired me to write something about hats as well 😉
March 27, 2012 at 16:29
Please tell me when you write it, I would love to read it! By the way – I am a fellow cat lover and I LOVE your name! 🙂
Michelle B. Araneta
March 31, 2012 at 04:45
I am simply in love with the quote above! Thank you for sharing it!
This post is so true. I have lived with a mask for so many years. It wasn’t until recently (these past few years) that I decided to take it off and finally figure out who I was, what I have gone through, and who I wanted to be. It has empowered me to be myself and no longer hide behind that mask I once used.
I can’t help but feel that society plays a role in the way we choose what masks to wear. We grow up thinking, believing that we are supposed to be a certain way for it to be acceptable, even if it is not truly us. We don’t realize till later on that the time and energy we put into creating a different version of ourself through the masks we wear, was sometimes just for nothing. I believe we need to take time to sort through our masks in the closet and find out why we wear them and why they are necessary, then finally look in the mirror and ask ourselves, “Why can’t we just be who we are?”
March 31, 2012 at 12:40
You are so very right – our social conditioning indeed plays into this on many different levels – and I believe part of finding freedom is acknowledging this reality so that we can then stand up against it! Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing your wonderful insight!