The Masks We Wear

Masked.“Mate, you’ve been honest with me so let me honest back. Honestly, you could do a better job than many. You should be being heard and you should be leading the charge. However, as you say, a key thing is your personality. There is an enormous place for you and every time I’m with you I think you are a wasted talent.”

That letter was many years ago now but it has haunted me. You may argue that no one has the right to send someone a letter like that, especially since it was during a time when my life was falling apart. It really hurt. It was soul crushing.

I have always known I was different.
They say you can trace a lot of things back to your childhood. If this is true then it explains a lot in my case. One of my earliest memories is of when, at approximately the age of three or four, I hung myself in my backyard.
We lived in typical suburbia where blue-collar workers dream of long weekends and tall cocktails. Our backyard buttressed onto a virtual forest, replete with red fencing and the quintessential barbeque pit. There was also a square clothes line, the kind where someone has dropped six inches of concrete into the grass and rammed in a pole and enough line for two point four children. The exact details fail me now but nonetheless I pulled up a stool, crossed the wires, inserted my head and kicked away the floor. My sister walked out a minute or two later, and seeing my dilemma, ran in to my parents yelling, “mommy, daddy, Scott hung himself!”

When, a couple of years later, I threw a lit match into a five gallon gas can to see if it was empty I think it was beginning to dawn on my parents that their newly bald son, sporting no eyebrows and lashes, had a few issues.

My grade three report card actually said, “Scott thinks he runs the class and frankly I am sick of it!”

Like many of us I can look back on my life and see a variety of pitiful attempts to fit in. As a little child I have vivid memories of my grandmother telling me that ‘children are to be seen and not heard’. I remember being demeaned by relatives for being hyperactive and aggressive. Today I am sure I would be diagnosed as ADHD and medicated, but back then, like many of us, I was just a kid trying to fit in and be loved.’

As we grow up we begin to realize that we are supposed to act a certain way. In order to fit in and be popular many of us wore a mask to hide the hurt, to pretend we were all together, to live a lie. We began to understand that we couldn’t be ourselves because who we were on the inside just wasn’t good enough. As the poem says so well:

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
For I wear a mask. I wear a thousand masks
masks that I’m afraid to take off
and none of them are me.
I give you the impression that I’m secure
That all is sunny and unruffled with me
within as well as without,
that confidence is my name
and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm
and I’m in command,
and that I need no one.

Many of you are afraid that if you really let someone in, let them see the real you, they would reject you. This belief has some truth to it, doesn’t it? We’ve been hurt before, ridiculed and demeaned before. The older we grow the harder it gets to be honest with people. We have loved before and been burned. We have given our heart away only to have it stepped on. Most of us have a long list of people who have done us wrong.

It’s so much easier to wear a mask.

Some of us have been wearing a mask so long we aren’t even sure who we really are. We have been forced to be someone else by our spouse or our parents or others. Many people have been told since they were a child that they aren’t good enough the way they are; that people who matter don’t like their personality, that they are somehow flawed. I know I was.

Maybe you can relate to what I am writing about. Perhaps you have said to yourself, “If people really knew me they wouldn’t love me”. You have some terrible junk in your past, things you’ve done or didn’t do, ways you couldn’t measure up. Most people have a hard time forgiving themselves for things they did ten, twenty, even thirty years ago. I’ve been there too. We have scars that never seem to heal.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. One day I just decided I’d had enough. Enough self-ridicule, enough doubt and negativity and condemnation. Enough of feeling like a loser who is unlovable. Enough of hating myself and apologizing for who I am.

I have come to realize that it’s ok being me, in spite of my glaring faults. And you know what, it’s ok to be you too.

You are amazing. Unique. Special. Maybe no one has told you that in a long time but it’s true. Maybe your partner or a family member or friend has demeaned you and hurt your self-esteem. Stop listening to them. You don’t need to change who are.You don’t have to apologize for being opinionated, or creative, outspoken or different. Take off the mask and if people don’t love you for who you really are then they are not worth it. Stop surrounding yourself with negative people who feel it’s their god-given right to put you in your place. Someone who really cares about you will want you just the way you are. Without the mask.

It’s ok to be you. It’s more than ok, it’s fantastic.

(tomorrow I’ll return to the regular stuff so if you don’t like this post, that’s ok, I needed to say it)

19 thoughts on “The Masks We Wear

  1. I’ve often thought about why we wear masks. What is it about human nature that creates this proclivity? Perhaps a clue is found in the Garden of Eden story: the man and woman realized they were naked and covered themselves with leaves after they ate the forbidden fruit; but prior to that the text says “The man and woman were naked and without shame” (Gen. 2). How can we live without shame (without, of course, being sociopaths)?

  2. the most interesting part of the post is the part at the end, where you say that you will return to a more accepted kind of post tomorrow. i had to smile because it felt like you were saying “i came out from behind my mask, but if you don’t like it, don’t worry, i’ll be back behind the mask in no time.”
    it was a very good post. i don’t know why you felt the need to quasi-apologize for it. just a thought.

      1. i’m british, we also apologize for everything. the difference of course is that canadians have little to actually apologize for, and brits have a LOT.

        i like you with or without the mask. you’re a human (or so i assume), and that’s good enough for me. i expect you’ve lied and cheated and stolen and probably damaged a few hearts in your time. i know i have. unmasked at last! and look, the world didn’t fall apart.

  3. The masks we were! 🙂
    Beautiful post.
    I still use masks a lot, and very intentionally. I have always thought for myself from very little and I see life a lot differently, from majority, in many ways. Broadcasting my views, without a target in sight or a supporting platform is simply to be left stranded and abandoned.
    I choose to do the things that I consider best, and I put everyone into consideration. I create my own rules and live up to them. I always walk away whenever I feel an imposition that does not consider me. We are all unique and can be cool alone but we are much more efficient when we find those that resonate with us. I love your post and I agree with it all the way. I just define things ahead of time so that I don’t act erronously. When I encounter unanticipated things, I take sometime to think, even before I utter a word or take a step. Everyone has a unique approach, but quite a number are not even aware of their masks. 🙂

  4. I “liked” it I clicked on the button… but I REALLY LOVED IT! It rang so true to me and my life. Many differences, yes, but many similarities, too. Thanks for sharing.

  5. This is such an inspiring post to read right int the morning. Although the subject is cliche you’ve found a way to present it in such a genuine fashion it really doesn’t bring anything but awe to the table. My personal dilemma as of recent is either striving for complete indifference or just letting it be ( cause we all know emotions and all that jazz gets messy )
    Thankyou for sharing your story (:

      1. Thankyou very much scott. Its an honor to hear my stories mean anything to someone since I’ve just started writing again as of late so that’s really a surprise. I’m glad you liked the cactus story – Keep blogging, you bring very insightful and relatable materials (:

  6. Hi Scott – I certainly had very similar struggles. What broke through for me was a sort of shower of realisations. Wearing a mask hurts others (being scared makes you inward and self-focussed so you don’t help others or notice when you hurt them) – so believing I was bad made it true. Most of all I realised the only happy times in my life were when I was too busy worrying about others to think of myself. It made me understand that, contrary to ‘cultural norms’, we are creatures who need to help others to be well – not individuals fighting for whats ours – but part of a community, connected to everyone.
    The scary truth is that no-one can like you until you show who you are – so you have to go first. The beauty is that there is great power in this vulnerability.
    Hope you don’t mind such a long comment – just maybe my learning might help others who arrive here.
    Really like your blog too – methinks I may follow 🙂 – ROS

    1. wow, awesome thoughts. wish i had thought of these! i love the idea about going first. also the emphasis on community – where i live we have all become so individualistic and closed off from our neighbours that if you don’t belong to a club or a church it’s possible to live without any friends. so many of my patients tell me they have no friends.
      i do alot of counseling with people who struggle to let people in and think they have to hide their personality because, as you’ve probably heard alot, if they were real they are firmly convinced that no one would love them. Its a mess – can’t be real, don’t have deep friendship, they cut themselves off during depression, etc.
      thanks again

  7. Amazing blog. I am moved by the clarity and insight you give to the subject. I and many others can relate. I am glad you shared and I will be back to read more. Keep up this amazing work. I invite you to visit my blog.

  8. I’ve been writing about this same phenomenon, however my angle has been “my mask is better than the person underneath it”, But maybe I forgot who that person was. My “true” persona may be “evil”, but it may also be a mask that got stuck too long on my face. Cannot for sure anymore.

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