The Mask

Sometimes we become trapped by the person we are trying to be, and deny the suffering beneath. This outer mask of personality is uniquely shaped by the confluence of our personal, familial, cultural, and historical experiences but shares a certain rigidity of structure. Trying to look like “I have it all together” is one such mask, one that rides roughshod over the hurts and little doubts that punctuate each moment. Trying to “please everyone” is another, in which personal wants and needs are repeatedly pushed aside or stuffed away until that impossible day comes when everyone is happy and those needs can be asserted with a vengeance. “Always being right,” “never being good enough,” “being the good boy,” “being the bad girl,” all of these are phrases but even these phrases cannot capture the whole.

Sometimes we wear this mask so closely that we come to believe it’s our true face, and that is a real danger. The mask that always smiles has a frown lurking inside. Sometimes we are aware that it is a mask but we still feel helpless to set it aside or act differently, terrified of what will happen. Terrified that we will change in ways we can’t control, or relationships will change, or we’ll be abandoned, or we’ll get our needs met and we won’t know how to deal.

The mask is not bad in itself. At times we have needed the mask to protect the softest, dearest parts of the soul. What becomes bad is when the rich, complex entirety of the self is sacrificed for the mask. That which we cannot allow ourselves to express will slowly poison us. Those unmet needs do not disappear but rather lay in the darkness, becoming larger and more grotesque. They come back in many guises, some terrifying, some completely opposite to the need. The biting sarcastic remark when we need to be heard and understood. The withdrawal when we want to connect. Yielding when we want to make a stand.

We need not express every facet of ourselves to become whole, meaning we do not need to scream at each other or shout “I love you!” at a person we’ve known for five minutes. What we need is to sink into the waters within when something threatens the mask. We need to learn the rules of our personality and seek those things within that are impeded or buried because of the rules. We need to soften and let these conflicts surface in our hearts and let each part speak what it needs and what it fears. We may need to do the thing that terrifies us most, and we may need to make this a regular practice.

May we find some person, some guide, some community, some practice that helps us to meet these conflicting parts with unyielding love and understanding. Those parts that are most tightly clenched within us can open when we encounter true understanding, and yield a priceless gift. This gift is our selves.

Peace and joy are not qualities found in the absence of suffering and discord. Peace is the ocean that is large enough to contain multitudes. Joy is the sun that shines upon kindness and chaos alike. To open our hearts to the complicated truths of ourselves is to become sovereign in our lives.