What mask are you wearing?
Have you ever found yourself presenting an image to others that isn’t the real you? On the outside you show everyone how ‘together’ you are and how life isn’t phasing you at all. Meanwhile, on the inside, the real you is screaming out for help because life just isn’t going your way.
Wearing a mask can become a normal way of life for some people, especially those suffering with mental health issues. The following is a list of examples of the types of masks people may wear and the reality of the feelings they may be covering up.
• The ‘I’m ok’ mask – the reality is you’re not ok
• The ‘I’m bright and bubbly’ mask – you’re feeling lonely and depressed
• The ‘I’m here for you’ mask – you really need someone to be there for you
• The ‘I’m calm and in control’ mask – you’re feeling anxious most of the time
• The ‘My relationship is going really well’ mask – you’re deeply unhappy in your relationship
The wearing of a mask isn’t about dishonesty or the need to deceive people. It’s more about protection and self-preservation. Wearing a mask is a defence mechanism.
We all use defence mechanisms and they can be very helpful in protecting us at times when it is just not safe for us to be vulnerable. The mask is also about control. By not revealing our true feelings we are taking control of who is and who isn’t allowed into our most intimate thoughts and feelings. When life around us feels out of our control, wearing a mask is a way of gaining a measure of control.
Negative feelings that are hidden and buried deep within us have a nasty habit of surfacing later in life. They can come in many forms including anxiety, panic attacks, anger and depression. Consider what it might be like to take off the mask for a few moments and tell someone what you really feel like inside. The vulnerability this requires can be quite a challenge, especially if you’re not used to it. If we continue to hide our true feelings we can often prevent ourselves from getting the help and support we might need. After all, how can someone help us if they are oblivious to the fact that we need help?
Counselling is all about exploring our life experiences, both past and present. Exploring these experiences helps us to discover how they have shaped us and how they have influenced our thoughts, feelings and behaviours. There is no rush to dive in and ditch any defence mechanisms. No need to throw away the mask. Be kind to yourself and take one step at a time. Meet with a counsellor or possibly more than one and ask how they can help you. Once you find someone you feel you can trust then perhaps you could take off the mask for a little while and discover who is underneath. You might be pleasantly surprised.
“Just like children, emotions heal when they are heard and validated” Jill Bolte Taylor