Understanding Our Masks

Take off Mask_Sept 30 2014

Mask in Our Lives

It is easy for us to put on a mask in the complex social world. A student whom I interacted with today shared with me her habit of wearing different masks in the different setting. This student comes from a complicated family background which has caused her defensive and distrustful attitude towards the world.

I enquired when she wanted to remove such mask, which she gave appreciation of such question, as she never considered so.

When do we grow not to remove the masks? I recall another student who happened to have a conversation with me on his difficulty to let others see the real him. “It all just happened. First it was me who wanted others to feel happy around me, and I really wanted a good impression and relationship with the others. And so I acted so cheerful, funny and silly. Then I realized I could not get out from this image anymore. People always laugh when they see me no matter I speak about something funny or serious. If I pull a straight face and really get angry, they cannot accept this side of me. I really feel I am a clown. I guess I cannot get away from it anymore.”

Then as soon as we ended the conversation, two students passed and the student gave the cheerful smile again. I questioned whether he wanted to be seen as the real self, which he replied, “Well I just want a good time, that’s all.” I felt the student was back to the beginning of the repeating cycle – the need to be seen, to be acknowledged, to be respected.

Behind the Mask – Craving Need for Acceptance and Love

The funny thing is, at these different points as we swing between putting on a mask or resurfacing our real selves, we seem to do it for the same and one reason: our craving need to be accepted by the others. Respect. Appreciation. Acknowledgement. Isn’t it what we all want? Like the student I encountered who reflected his all along desire to be accepted by the others. I also think of us who change to “the perfect us” in the initial stage of relationship for the “perfect love”. Or our obligation to switch to the “professional mode” at work. Or simply a usual mask we have for everyone so others do not know our dark secrets. It is our desire to be loved, adored at any cost.

Only then we leave the partner out of frustration for not being “real”; we feel over-stressed and suffocated which leads to either two options of our career: resignation or the endless torture; and we feel even more lonely and scared as not being understood by the others.

One World, and Many Voices – How do We Fit In?

The truth is that the world is not a place of comfort bed for us to be “real and just us”. It is this one living world, yet there are the millions of unique individuals with the different thinking, emotions and spirits. And so to remain harmonious and united, there is often if not one then a handful of mainstream/integrated images leading the development as a whole.

Only not everyone is born with the exact same picture as the mainstream image, as such integrated version is for “us”, not for “self”. And therefore for us to live well, we are bound to travel the inevitable journey to let our “real selves” fit in this world.

I admit such “fitting in” experiences with the inevitable hardship, feelings of fear and insecurity. In our growth we are bound to perceive and absorb about the outer world at young, before we develop our own awareness, thinking and judgment in the latter stage. I would say we face and probably get influenced/brainstormed by the mainstream ideology, long before we connect with our own inner voices at the maturity stage. We are lost before we find.

Mask, the Seemingly Easier Way to Live

Therefore it is no surprise that we are in the constant battle of putting on and removing the mask on self. Facing the hardship and suffering of staying real and unique, why not the easier hiding path to fit in? I realize that despite our awareness of being fearful of putting ourselves into the place when we can no longer understand “us”, yet often the moment when we contact the outer world , then we somehow find the different reasons to “cowardly” convince ourselves that, “It does no too much harm not be self for a while. ”

It is easier to hide our weakness as we can avoid being looked down.

It is easier to hide our vulnerability as we can show a strong and successful look.

It is easier to hide our anger and frustration as we need to “be good and polite”.

And so on…

That is how many individuals who are still in search of the real selves can be easily swung to the other’s expectations. Without the firmness of character, own fear and insecurity of not fitting in the “majority” can be catastrophic. We become sensitive of the differences, and then our fear and insecurity of not being accepted, loved, cared about eat us up, thus our lack of courage to maintain realness, and rather go on the smoother way to act a different and publicly-likable, socially appealing self.

Being Real – Removing the Mask

Certainly as we walk a long way then we may realize the ultimate destruction for hiding the self. The longer we put on the mask, the longer we continue to seek love from others, and not ourselves. This forever extends the deepening hole of our unrequited desire for love, care and attention which can never be filled, as it is not the outer surrounding but only “us” who can fill our gaps.

How to change? Indeed it is difficult to remove our mask. It is difficult task, and Here in this sharing, instead of finding a way to highlight the need to put off the mask, or in the judgmental way of criticizing the fake self, I hope to seek to understand it.

We understand where our masks come from. They speak out our unintentional, honest and bleeding reflection of wanting to find a way to live better. We open our hearts to accept the vulnerabilities and flaws of us, as well as the others.  Only such openness and understanding can lead us to the rising heartfelt and willing desire to seek the more difficult path of realness of self, and stay with it.

For us who live with a mask in life. I hope to send this bit of understanding to you all for such difficult journey to stay real and avoid the realness of self. May this sharing bring meaning and empowerment to you.

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