The Masks We Wear

shutterstock_542530333Keeping it together has always been my thing. No matter how strong the adversity, I am well-known for being the calm in the face of a storm. Even during really difficult times, I’ve often caught myself saying, “It’s okay. I am okay.” Whenever someone comes forward to comfort me, for instance, during a time of personal distress, I have this need to thank them and reply, “I am fine.” Even in some of my worst moments, I’ve kept everything in place and appeared composed before the public eye, when in reality I’ve been secretly dying on the inside because of the excruciating pain I was going through.

Some months ago, at a workshop I actually discovered that there is freedom in letting others know that I can have feelings of inadequacy too. It is alright to let go of the need to hold it together and keep up a façade for others all the time.

However, I also discovered that some people can be caught off guard when they see you in your raw form, and their responses to seeing the real you may leave you feeling wounded. Indeed, I know that feeling so well: A few weeks back, I met a friend after a long time. He asked me how I was doing, and instead of going with my stock response, “I am fine, how about you?” I actually told him, “I am exhausted. Totally drained. I am just going through the motions of daily life in auto-pilot mode. I am scheduling back-to-back sessions, winding up projects, taking up new assignments – just going on and on, without stopping, without pausing to even think. Sometimes, I feel like I am going to collapse, and at that time, I just tell myself that I cannot afford to even do that, so I  just drudge on and on.”

My friend actually made a face. Clearly, he was disturbed by my response, and he went on to deliver a fifteen-minute lecture on how I need to change my attitude, and the next time someone asks me how are things, I must always frame a positively-worded answer otherwise I am just going to end up pushing people away. While my friend may not have had any ill intent, he definitely made it uncomfortable for me to open up to him the next time around. It made me think about why some people try forcing others to hide behind a mask.

Already I was out of my comfort zone by revealing my true feelings in that moment instead of keeping up the mask of a smiling face and behaving like the upbeat, positive person who always helps others feel better. I also felt slightly embarrassed, like I had been rejected and told how I should sound because the other person had an assumption of how I should be at all times. By revealing my actual feelings, I thought I had somehow let that person down at that moment. But, when I reflected back on it later, I realized that I actually had nothing to be ashamed about. My response had been genuine and there is no need for me to “act” and pretend to be fine when I am not. This was a moment for someone to find out what was truly going on in my space, to find out why I felt a certain way, and to make a real connection; instead, he just offered me another mask to wear in his presence.

For all those seeking to make honest, true connections, how open are you to an honest response to the question “How are you doing?” or are you also just seeking to hear the template response, “I am fine, thank you.”?

So many of us wear a mask each day just to make others feel comfortable. Every person we cross paths with has worries, concerns, and emotional pain within, just like us. There is no need to hide behind masks and walls. Be the person who allows others the space to just be. Offer support and guidance when needed. Ask more about the lives of people around you, and lend a non-judgmental ear. Open up to others about yourself. Start small maybe by sharing just one thing that you’re feeling but may have been tempted in the past to keep inside. Honest connections help forge deeper relationships. Give people room to share pieces of themselves with you, and let them know you are there for them.

Do not mask your pain by plunging into activities. Give yourself the permission to feel whatever it is that you are feeling. Be kind to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up just because you aren’t responding, speaking, acting or thinking in a manner that others believe you should. Respect your truth and your needs.

Hiding behind a façade or wearing a mask is a heavy burden. The real power lies in being able to put down your superhero cape, being vulnerable, and sharing your truth. Welcome genuine connections in your life with people who accept your truth. You don’t need to be the “strong one”. Remember that you aren’t really weak, you’re just human, and you never need to apologize for that.

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