Masks – do you wear one (or more)?
Who have you been today? Caring parent? Cheery joker? Strict disciplinarian? Dedicated helper? Fashionista? Provider? Rebel? We all have to play a role sometimes and often this will mean stepping away from our own feelings for a while until that role is fulfilled. This can be helpful if we are experiencing difficulties - it gives us a break from our worries and distracts us from uncomfortable feelings. But what happens if we get stuck in a role; when we can’t take off the mask and reveal ourselves as we really are? And how does this happen?
Sometimes we choose a role or a way of being - a mask - because it’s easier than experiencing the full force of our feelings – it gives us a break. “I’m fine” we say cheerily in order to avoid having to dwell on a painful situation. Sometimes, we are assigned a role by others – often by family members: “She’s the sporty one”, “He’s bookish”, “She’s the peacemaker” and so on. True, there’s probably a strong element of each characteristic present in the person given that role, but I’ve never come across anyone genuinely that one-dimensional.
If we are given a label like this, it easily becomes part of our identity, not only for those around us but, crucially, for us, too – especially when young. We accept that that’s who we are, that it serves a purpose – perhaps it helps us to fit in and become accepted. Perhaps it helps us feel more clearly defined at a time when we aren’t sure of ourselves.
The problem with a mask or a role like this is that it’s not very flexible. It’s hard to grow, to experiment with new ideas when we’re stuck playing a part. It’s also difficult to get in touch with what we really feel – about anything – when we’re busy playing out what’s expected of us. A prolonged or deep-seated mismatch between what’s on the inside and what’s on the outside spells trouble. At the least, we find ourselves unfulfilled and increasingly uncertain of anything except for that mask which no longer fits properly. More seriously, we can end up in a real crisis and unable to function.
So, just for a little while, try taking off the mask; try shedding the role. Give yourself room to breathe and to feel what you feel. It might be scary, yes. But you might be pleasantly surprised. And if you need help, a counsellor could help.
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