Imagine, for just a moment, a world where no one cared what car you drove, what designer handbag you carried, or what job you worked at.
Can you sense the freedom?
But this isn't reality, because we do care. And because we care we've developed habitual masks to please and impress others.
We all wear masks.
There's a good chance, too, you change your masks so habitually you don't even notice doing it. Maybe you've done it your entire life.
What mask do you wear?
How do you feel about the face you're portraying for the world to see? Are you truly yourself? Do you feel that you can be you, no matter what social situation you're in?
In your mind, gather up everyone you know and put them in a room, friends, family, co-workers, and acquaintances. Everyone is surely cautiously mingling with their masks perfectly placed. But then, imagine a strong wind gust sweeps through the party, blowing all masks off. It's mayhem, faces are exposed, for maybe the first time, wrinkles and all.
Now imagine that instead of using this vulnerability against one another you patted each other on the back, encouraged uniqueness and supported one another.
Why are we so afraid to be authentic?
Even when our masks irritate our skin, and we can't relax or be ourselves, we still resist change.
This epic performance is a huge drain on our minds, bodies and souls. It's a hard act to constantly pretend to be, or feel like you need to be, someone else. Similarly, it's very draining to regularly act like you feel one way when you really feel another.
Becoming authentic is a process to begin knowing ourselves. To understand our own personality traits, behaviors, values, beliefs, needs, goals and motives. It's having the courage to acknowledge our limitations, and embrace our own vulnerability.
Make a list of words that describe the person you want to be. Look deep inside and concentrate on who you are, not what you do. Are you passionate, nerdy, curious, loving?
You'll know when you've discovered authenticity because your thoughts, beliefs and actions will originate deep from within and they'll be resistant to external pressures. The result of this authenticity is a genuine, quiet, vitalizing fulfillment and confidence that resists anxiety, self-doubt and stress.
Wearing a mask protects us from vulnerability. I fear that if I stand tall and exposed, I'll be "weak" in some way. But when you wear a mask you stand in resistance to your true life and end up attracting realities that conflict with who you really are.
Below are five common masks we wear and keep tucked in our costume drawer. It's time to retire them.
The June Cleaver
The "Positive" Persona
Scrolling through Facebook I have the urge to stand and clap wildly. What a performance. Wow. It's almost flawless. Almost.
We are all performing, all of the time. We pretend we have it all together, that everything is perfect. There are many different types of June Cleaver masks. The spiritual June Cleaver, the superficial confident June Cleaver, the overly friendly June Cleaver, and all these masks are usually wrapped in fake smiles. I look at my own profile and feel shameful at the façade I too, am portraying.
I am such a fraud, my life is far from perfect, far from the rosy pictures I've posted. Knowing this causes my self-esteem to come shattering around me, because I begin to feel as though my life should be perfect by now, after all everyone else's is.
Most of us are guilty of this façade and it's causing many friends and loved ones to feel hopeless, shameful, and sad. I'm sure that's not the reaction we'd hoped for.
Recently a friend confided that her marriage was struggling. At first I felt the urge to give her advice, a tip from my own perfect marriage. But I didn't, instead, I let my guard down, displayed a smidgen of vulnerability and confessed that my own marital satisfaction had been declining after the birth of our son.
She commented, "I would have never guessed this, you two seem perfect."
We shared our struggles and for a brief moment retired our June Cleaver masks.
We later learned many of our other friends had similar issues. No one's life was perfect, despite what we want everyone to believe.
Show Us You're Imperfections. I Dare You.
Why can't we admit that we're perfectly imperfect? Our imperfections make us human, unique and relatable.
I know you're not going to believe this, but I am far from perfect. I can be controlling, unfair to my husband and I have wrinkles and bad skin.
Admit it, you too have a few hairs on your chin.
Life is life, it will never be perfect. But exposing your true imperfect self opens you up to a world of deeper, meaningful, and supportive relationships.
The Arnold Schwarzenegger
The Over Contrived "Strength" Persona
I'm amazed at how many people pretend to be strong even when everything is falling apart inside.
Coping with everything life throws is tough.
From the outside, others seem to be holding it all together. Just like you. Just like me.
We juggle all our different roles, trying to be all things to all people. Have you ever thought that perhaps they're not coping either? That maybe, just like you, they're not always strong? Everyone can't have Arnold Schwarzenegger muscles.
You're not alone, you know. You don't have to be alone either, you know.
We all have moments when our troubles feel big and our faith feels so small.
We all get to the point too, when we can't take another step. There's no shame in that, and you don't have to pretend to be strong.
Let those who love you carry you. Let them be Arnold for a brief moment. Tell them what you need. Ask for help. See that as an act of courage -- not of weakness. Because that's what it is.
And your part? Open yourself up to love and support. Tell others your fears, hopes and hurts. People care about you, people want to help you.
You don't need to be stronger. You don't need to pretend everything is okay.
Throw that mask away and let others in.
The Albert Einstein
The "Intellectual" Persona
"We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be." -- Kurt Vonnegut
We all want to feel special. Maybe teachers and parents praised you for being the "smart" kid in school, this praise felt great, and so you want to keep it coming.
Suddenly being "special" and "smart" is very important. This need for validation continues into adulthood.
This leads to what's known as "the imposter syndrome," not a diagnosed condition, but a label to describe the self-doubt that many people, especially high achievers experience. It's the gnawing feeling of knowing deep inside you're not perfect or superior -- because no one is -- and this gnawing feeling makes you jumpy, like your always on the verge of being "found out."
Feeling special, influential, valuable, or better than others can be an encouraging and motivating feeling, who doesn't want to be Albert Einstein, after all he did develop the theory of relativity. But you can't avoid failure, and you can avoid disappointment. There will always be a "smarter" Albert Einstein lurking in the shadows, ready to expand on your quantum physics discovery.
When we throw that mask away and no longer put so much emphasis on being "special," we can taste freedom, we can just be whoever we actually are. We stop draining our energy maintaining this persona. We grow the wisdom to understand that mistakes and failures are a part of the human experience. When you stop searching yourself and everyone around you for the "special" and "superior" qualities, and start appreciating basic humanity, then special qualities naturally arise.
Superiority is only an illusion. It's not real, we are all special and unique, yet also all strangely the same. Why not listen instead of pretending you know everything. Take space, contemplate, think before you speak and be humble. Give others a chance to talk, dream, and brainstorm.
The Mother Theresa
The "Nice" Persona
Like most people, I want to be liked by everyone. I'm a people pleaser. I want to keep people around at all costs. And that cost, was sacrificing my own happiness to make others happy.
Many of us fear if we put our own needs first, we'll alienate those around us and end up lonely.
I usually agreed with others, would never dare say no, felt afraid to stand up to people, and was deathly afraid of conflict. I often complained people weren't treating me right or returning my own kindness, but then I would keep on giving anyway.
I was a door mat.
It's time to leave this Mother Theresa in doormatville and move on. We all need to appreciate ourselves and what we have to offer.
Learn to say no. Take yourself off of the "yes" autopilot.
Being a DoorMat can seem like a safety raft, especially if you've used it for a good part of your life. But ask yourself, is making other's happy worth not being happy yourself?
As I became more conscious of my people pleasing habits, I realized people pleasing wasn't getting me anywhere, but more miserable. I began paying attention to my habitual responses to people and started to make small changes.
Take off the mask slowly, start by changing one habit. Turn down someone's request or express what you really think to one person.
Putting your needs first, is the only way to truly love and be there for others, much like putting your mask on first in a crashing plane, you're no good to anyone if you're drained and depleted.
This is the beginning of the beautiful self-love that is within your grasp, and you can choose to flourish it by breaking the people pleasing habit, one person and one act at a time.
The Oscar the Grouch
The "Grumpy" Persona
My neighbor is a "grumpy old man." He snarls at children running on his grass, grumbles when my mail gets delivered to his house and snaps his blinds shut in the daytime.
What purpose could this mask possibly bring, because we all know that at the core of most people are good person, not someone who is always grumpy and mean.
Being a jerk is an intimidation factor, but unless you're the tax collector, you're obviously overcompensating for a lack of confidence.
Perhaps you drive a very large automobile, and take up two parking spots too?
Macho behavior, bullying, and aggression are often attempts to protect the fragile self-esteem.
For whatever reason you've been hurt and this mask protects you from being embarrassed, hurt or rejected again. This mask is usually a sign that someone is lonely, scared, and fearful.
But ironically wearing this mask only isolates you more from others.
Stop projecting your own painful elements onto people.
Really you just need a big hug.
What you resist, persists. Wearing this mask is a warning signals that something is unresolved in yourself. Carl Jung said, "If you do not know and own the darker aspects of yourself, you will project your own negative repressed elements on other people."
BE AN AUTHENTIC HUMAN
During illnesses our minds can be so tired that it no longer has the energy to create and hold up the masks, so we finally appear in our true being, and others often say, "You look peaceful." Does this peace have anything to do with freedom?
Innocence is not a weakness, it's a great strength. Masks are a sign of weakness. When you stay true to innocence you align with life's stream and therefore will be privy to an influx of well-being and love.
Masks are harming you, by creating resistance to life's natural movement.
Most of us can tell when we're in the presence of an authentic human being, one who isn't "putting on a show," they are just true to their humanness. This comfort is felt because in their presence we can sense our own authenticity and we sense the deep peace this authenticity brings.