The unveiling of the societal masks we wear

So I’ve been thinking recently about how many masks we wear in our societal roles. We all have them, we all use them, but they are invisible - possibly not even seen or known by self.


Whilst recently recovering from a virulent chest infection my daughter helped me feel better by putting on some eyelash extensions and a bit of lipstick. To the outside world I looked fine, well, healthy even. What no one could possibly see in that one captured image was that 'inside' (my lungs in particular) were anything but fine.

It got me thinking that we really can not see or possibly understand what is going on under the surface for someone. Whilst our outward appearances may seem as if we are excelling in life, performing to our fullest potential, existing, or barely just living. How could anybody identify from our outward exterior what is truly going on for that person.

So what do I mean by wearing a societal mask?

The metaphor of wearing masks is not new to counselling. Also known as personas, alto egos or schemas. Carl Jung describes them in his analytic psychological approach as an individual's social facade or front. It reflects the role the individual in life is playing out. We wear them to protect our vulnerable inner true selves and feelings. It is like an invisible wall or barrier we unconsciously put in place to be accepted by others.

We are 'programmed' from early childhood to fit in with society and so wear masks that project social conformance and acceptance. Masks lie, however, hiding our true selves and feelings, albeit with fair purpose in protection of self.

The masks I wear

I have them - the mum mask, the wife mask, the counsellor mask, the charity committee mask, the HR role mask, and the I’m trying to get into fitness mask. That's ok as they are all parts of me, however I believe that whilst I'm wearing all of those different masks I am trying to be my true authentic self with all the masks I currently wear. I'd like to think that although the masks are different the person wearing them is not, ie. my authenticity remains the same.

So what does true authentic self mean?

I have learnt over the years it’s ok to be me, it’s ok to fail, it’s ok to show emotion and say it how it really is. It is ok to say no, it's ok to cancel last minute plans as anxiety rears its ugly head, in fact it’s ok to, dare I say those now very familiar words, it is ok to not be okay!

Life is complex. From a young age we are moulded to try and fit in with societal norms, we are taught morals and whether our compass is right or wrong. We are even told sometimes that we are not good enough. Over time we swallow whole these introject‘s that make up the complex being of self.

I wish I had the strength and conviction I do now to say a few things to the people that have wronged me in the past. To say I didn’t want to do that actually, I won’t accept that harsh, bullying tactics and treatment. I would like to have said no you are treating me unfairly and with discrimination!

Learning to live authentically, being true to yourself, not following facts or fads or fitting in to please others is difficult. Especially with social media at its all-time high, checking back on likes, or comments, or whether my latest post has made any impression at all.

How can we live more authentically?

I think we should teach our children to be the best version of themselves from an early age that difference should be encouraged and not held in disparity. Teaching them about acceptance of race, gender, sexuality and equality for all.

Living authentically is liberating, freeing not having to put on a brave face or pretence to anyone. Being a Gestalt practitioner I work very much in the here and now in the moment by seizing the day.

I like to see my clients as multifaceted - like a diamond with many different faces, faults and fabulousness. The counselling techniques and methods I use to help facilitate their acceptance of all sides/parts of themselves. Even the parts they don't like.

I said to a client only recently 'you can drop the dad mask, the husband mask, the boss mask and just be you.' He exhaled deeply and said thank you Nicky I've forgotten what me looks like!

We still have much to learn about the complex human mind, but one thing I have learnt over the years is, if we are true to ourselves then we can learn to be truly authentic with others. Or seeing it metaphorically like a seesaw very equally in-balance with self and others. I'm accepting of me, and I'm also accepting of you.

How can a Gestalt therapist help me?

Working creatively with clients can help unlock things from the past in a safe contained way. Gestalt therapists work very much in the here and now helping clients find awareness of themselves and the world around them.

Awareness = Choice = Change 

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Andover, Hampshire, SP10 3JH
Written by Nicky Bates, Director of The TLC Counselling Hub Member of BACP
Andover, Hampshire, SP10 3JH

A qualified nurse, trainer and assessor for 20+ years. Counselling was the next career step and certainly the best decision I ever made. I Founded the TLC Counselling Hub in July 2019 and it has gone from strength to strength. The Hub is involved in many charity events in and around Andover. I'm excited to be working with companies within the town.

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