The Masks People Wear & The Astonishing Power of Authenticity
We all wear masks. Different masks for different people and different situations. The mask one wears at work is most likely very different from the mask one wears to a social event with old acquaintances, which is different from the mask they wear at a small gathering of close, intimate friends. People wear masks to protect themselves from scrutiny and judgment – wondering inside “what would they think if they really knew me?” or “what would they think if they only knew the truth?”
The masks people wear to protect themselves are like ‘personas’, that is, each mask carries with it a different personality style and a set of rules or behavioural parameters for what people think they can and can’t say, as well as, what they feel they should and shouldn’t do when in the presence of different groups or types of people.
Examples of Masks People Wear
- The hero mask
- The mask of the martyr
- The pacifist mask
- The ‘I’m a green person’ mask
- The uber-successful mask
- The ‘I don’t need anybody’ mask
- The politically correct mask
- The ‘got everything under control’ mask
- The joker, class clown or jester mask
- The ‘I’m a person of influence’ mask
- The ‘cynical of everything & everyone’ mask
- The ‘know it all’ mask
- The ‘I’m a spiritual person and love everybody’ mask
- And on and on.
Why do we wear masks?
We wear masks because we all want to be and feel accepted by others – belonging is a very strong and basic human need. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it falls right in between Personal Safety and Self-Esteem. Wearing different masks for different situations (using different sets of rules for different groups of people) can seem like a sensible approach – it’s playing it safe to avoid being judged, hurt or even losing the acceptance of others. It’s what people call being “appropriate”.
Being appropriate may have saved someone from judgment but it never brought anyone lasting happiness.
The Paradox of Fitting In vs. Being Truly Happy
We, as unique individuals, are embedded in the paradox of “being & expressing our true selves” and “fitting in” to a system of other individuals and groups of people. If we consider Maslow’s Hierarchy again, for most people, fitting in & belonging and having the respect of others is more important than having respect for ourselves and high self esteem.
Though people wear masks to protect themselves, most of the time they’re not even aware that they’re actually hiding from the world. In the end, wearing too many masks too much of the time will do more harm than good to a person’s self esteem. There’s another paradox – on the one hand they’re trying to protect themselves but they’re really hurting their true selves on the other.
It takes massive amounts of personal energy to keep wearing those masks – it can drain you to your core and deplete your very life essence to incessantly hide, censor and even lie to others about who you really are, what you really think, how you really feel and what you’re really like in the good times and the bad. Hiding yourself just to belong causes much suffering in the form of loneliness and feelings of isolation, which further perpetuates putting on a brave face (another mask) and a fake smile (yet another mask).
Authentic, genuine, people might still wear a mask once in a while but they have fewer of them and they wear them less often than inauthentic, so-called ‘appropriate’ people. They ‘show up’ as their true selves, warts and all, wherever they go and whomever they’re with. They are being themselves.
At first, it takes great courage to make the decision to be yourself and to start shedding those masks, one by one. It can feel like you’re walking around naked in the middle of a battle where everyone else is covered from head to toe with body armor, a full head mask and multiple weapons. You will feel vulnerable, a word that most people, especially men, can’t handle very well.
It takes a higher form of self esteem and confidence to share your true thoughts and feelings, your fears and failures. But for some people that’s easier than sharing their successes and their true greatness because they believe that that might threaten others if they speak highly of themselves, as it bears the risk of being judged and losing acceptance. This reminds me of a famous passage by Marriane Williamson:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us, it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
That still gives me shivers every time I read it.
What does it mean to be truly authentic?
Being authentic means you are being yourself at the very deepest possible level – the level of true spirit. Your mindset, your behaviors or actions, your ways of being in the world are guided by your true nature, not by the dictates and rules of society or the particular group or individual you are with at the time. Your true nature, who you really are, is calm and relaxed but so alive at the same time. You are honest with yourself and with others. You have personal integrity and you honour your true self, your inner spirit.
What’s the benefit of being authentic?
There comes a time in people’s lives when they begin to value how they feel about themselves more than they value what others think of them; where they value self respect more than the respect or acceptance of others. There is an astonishing power and sense of freedom and lightness that comes from being authentic. It is so powerful and fulfilling that after a while, being ‘real’ is the only option worth considering.
When you are authentic everything in life gets easier:
- You feel more confidence & clarity
- You experience less self doubt and second guessing
- You are more effective at doing your work, collaborating with people, leading others, being led by others
- You feel more alive, energetic, enthusiastic, positive,
- You are more flexible and less rigid
- You experience more inner peace and don’t feel threatened by many people
- You are more convincing to everyone you communicate with
- You are less judgmental and more accepting of yourself and others
- You are more engaging and dare I say more attractive to everyone
- You are more motivated and can motivate others without force
- You are just as attentive to the outside world as your inner world instead of focusing only on how you are being perceived or interpreted by others
- You are in harmony with the world, with people, with life
- You have more passion and vibrancy
- You are happier
- You are free
How does one become more authentic?
Increasing authenticity (being real) will be the topic of many more posts, including information about ‘what gets in the way of being authentic’ (something called the ‘Inner Critic’, the ‘Ego’ or the ‘Gremlin’) but to bring this article to an end, I will close off with a few last points.
The first step to being yourself is to know yourself and that means increasing your level of self awareness (you can read this page called Awareness Choice & Trust, as well as this article called Building Self Awareness). Knowing yourself means being, first and foremost, honest with your ‘self’ without self judgment and condemnation.
Be a passive observer of your life. Reflect on how you are, or better said ‘who you are’ in different situations with different types of people. When do you feel more ‘yourself’ and when do you feel like you need to put on a mask? Questions like these spark reflection, which then increases self awareness.
That covers who you have been being but who are you really and how do you get to know your self better?
There are many ways to get to know yourself and it is primarily an inside job, that is, only you can really decide for yourself who you are. However, the process or approach to discovering who you really are will be mix of internal and external evaluation. Ultimately, it’s all about CHOICE – choosing who you want to be from now on.
Let’s start with some outside perspectives:
- Take a few personality assessments
- Ask several close friends, a spouse/partner, different family members, a coworker, employee &/or manager, who you trust, who they think you really are
Now for some inside work:
- Spend time alone each day & begin reflective journaling:
- Reflect on those external assessments and opinions
- What felt right? What didn’t feel true? What hurt? What felt good?
- Write down everything you love, like, and are attracted to in the world.
- Write down everything you hate, don’t like and are repulsed by in the world.
- Write about what makes you happy and fills you up with pure joy.
- Write about what makes you unhappy and drains your energy.
These are all clues or signposts to your true essence and day by day, you will discover who really are a little more.
A mix of inner and outer work:
- Find good books about self growth, personal development, self discovery, self actualization or self realization – pick one or two that really seem to resonate with you and devour them; live them for a while.
- Take a workshop or go to a seminar.
- Engage a life coach (ok, I might be a little biased) to help you on your path 🙂
The ultimate inner work is to decide for yourself who you want to be because it feels right. Choose to be yourself and begin to play and experiment in your life each day by taking off one mask at a time and showing up as your true self more often.
And lastly, enjoy your ‘self’!