What Masks Do You Wear?

A few weeks ago, I was talking to the lovely Lisa King about her experience of the journey to TEDxAinleyTopWomen last year, where she gave her inspirational talk (watch the interview here) about the masks we all wear.  It’s such an important subject and one that is key to living a life of happiness.

At the moment all the talk is about whether to wear a mask out in public to protect against Covid 19, it seems like a sensible suggestion, but that is not the kind of mask Lisa was talking about. 

And I agree.  Because most people wear a metaphorical mask most of the time.  We have the ‘I’m fine’ mask, with the fake smile and the forced laughter.  There’s the ‘I am invincible and don’t need any help’ mask.  Conversely there is also the ‘poor little me’ mask.  There’s a list of masks as long as your arm – ‘Concerned Colleague’, ‘Faithful Friend’, Dutiful Daughter’, ‘SuperMum’, ‘Flirty Fiance’ take your pick. 

So, what’s the problem with wearing a mask.  Well, nothing.  And, everything. 

There’s nothing wrong with wearing a mask occasionally and for a positive purpose.  So you may be the ‘positive parent’ for your daughters birthday party – even if you are feeling a bit down – because you don’t want to ruin the atmosphere.  You might put on the ‘Confident Co-worker’ mask when you are trying to encourage a team mate to complete a task. 

What Kinds of Problems Can Wearing a Mask Hide – or Even Cause?

The problems with wearing a mask fall into 2 categories. 

  1. Masks that hide a problem
  2. Masks that become stuck

Masks that Hide A Problem.

It’s fine putting on a cheery smile in order to not spoil someone’s celebration, for example, but when you use it as a sticking plaster or an excuse to never deal with the underlying problems, then it is a problem.  You might say – well isn’t it better to be positive and not negative.  Yes, of course it is.  However, if you are just pretending to be positive all the time for someone ELSE’s benefit, then it is not OK. 

And there’s the important difference.

One effective self-development technique can be to “Act as if”.  So,  if you want to be more confident – you “act as if” you were already more confident.  And in doing so, you learn how to be more confident. 

That is – in effect – wearing a mask.  But the difference is you are doing it with positive intent and for your own benefit, because it will make a positive difference to you – and then by association to those around you. 

However, when you are wearing a mask for someone else’s benefit, then that is not – generally – OK.  You are not being you.  And at the end of the day, if you are not living authentically to who you are and to your values, and  you will never be truly happy. 

I wore a mask for many years – “happy go lucky Cheryl”.  Stuck in a life and job that made me miserable.  The only way I could wear that “happy go lucky Cheryl” mask, was to stick  it on with alcohol. 

It was kind of scary when I stopped drinking because it meant I couldn’t wear that mask anymore.  Which meant I had to be me.  And that meant changing things in my life.  Change can be scary.  But that is when I started to find happiness.  Real acceptance of the real me.  And joy in the people around me who wanted to be with ME, the real me. 

Which brings me to the second type of mask.

Masks that Become Stuck

Sometimes you can wear a mask for so long, that it becomes stuck.  And you can never take it off.  Even for a minute, because you have actually forgotten it was a mask to begin with. 

These are the most dangerous masks.  Because here’s the things with masks.  They ain’t real and ONE DAY they are going to come off in the most spectacular and often uncontrolled fashion.  Think abused wife of 40 years who one day snaps and kills her husband.  Or the happy go lucky girl that everyone thought was OK who one day can’t live with the mask anymore and steps off a bridge. 

Or the child brought up to be the carer, who many years down the line is still that carer, who is totally lost when that parent passes on.  They have never taken the mask of ‘dutiful daughter’ off.  They don’t know who they actually are underneath. 

You can wear a mask for so long that you think that it is actually who you are.  It may be part of you, but it is not all of you.  Sometimes you need a helping hand to gently, slowly and finally, prise it off. 

It’s time to let the world see the real, glorious, imperfectly perfect – YOU.

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