The Masks We Wear

I read this response to Robin Williams’ death this morning and it struck a nerve.

The author, also in the comedy business, discloses the dark underbelly that is often present beneath the laughs. He describes how childhood trauma or a sense of unworthiness leads to the development of an alter ago – a front man who entertains the crowd while distracting from the scared and broken child beneath.

He spoke of the yin and yang of depression and comedy. The pull of the audience and the isolation inherent in the belief that the performer is only loved for the performance.

Not for the child within who only wants to be loved.

 

The piece struck a nerve this morning. Caused my coffee to cool as I read.

I don’t fit that personality profile, although I have seen many in my personal and professional lives over the years (some of whom also tragically took their lives).

I don’t fit that profile.

But I fit another that I recognized as I read.

 

The performer is driven from a need to be loved.

I’m driven by a need to not be abandoned.

The performer learns how to entertain and draw a crowd.

I’ve learned how to be needed.

The performer struggles with depression.

I struggle with anxiety.

But we both hide behind masks.

 

In fact, to some extent, we all do.

 

The following are some of the masks and underlying causes I’ve seen. I see them in adults and I see them in my students – 13 and 14 years old. We all have the same basic needs and the same basic fears. We all try to hide them from the world and we begin to develop our own masks in childhood as we encounter stresses and learn from other’s responses to us.

These are caricatures of people. Oversimplifications. We are much more than the fears that drive us and the costumes we select to shield us.

But even though these are but a brief sketch, there is power in recognizing your own mask of choice and why you may have decided to wear it.

 

Mask – Performer or Funny Man

Behind the Mask – A sense of being unlovable

This may have the fat kid in school. Or the one who suffered abuse or neglect at the hands of his or her parents. This child felt alone and wanted nothing more than to loved and accepted. The performer found a love of sorts through making others smile. Even though inside he may have crying.

If I make you laugh, you’ll love me.

 

Mask – Worker Bee or Caregiver

Behind the Mask – A fear of being abandoned

This mask is usually picked up after a childhood event – death, divorce, desertion, or  neglect- leaves behind a fear of being abandoned at an age when adult support is needed. In order to temper the anxiety of being left again, the worker bee becomes an efficient taskmaster and the caregiver becomes a necessary nursemaid.

If you need me, you won’t leave me. 

 

Mask – Strongman or Overachiever

Behind the Mask – An insecurity of being unworthy

These are the people that grew up always being compared to others and found wanting. They internalize the message and feel that they will never measure up. They learn to overcompensate in a visible way to try to prove their worth and lessen their insecurities. Although often envied by others, they still never feel they will never make the grade.

If I work harder, I’ll meet your approval.

 

Mask – Professor or Distancer

Behind the Mask – A fear of being vulnerable

This is the person who refuses to show emotion. Who either responds with analytical perspective or indifference to any situation, even those that are emotionally charged. They are often read as cold, uncaring. But often they are soft and sensitive on the inside. So sensitive that they have learned to hide it well.

If I don’t show myself, you can’t wound me.

 

Most of us wear our masks when we feel threatened – a new situation, a large crowd, a demanding client. But most of us also feel comfortable enough to slip them off around our loved ones, revealing the fears and drives beneath.

It’s lonely living behind a mask for too long. You’re not alone yet you feel no one values you for the real you.

Only for the character you play.

It’s okay to shield your inner child sometimes.

But it’s also okay to let him out to play.

And teach him to trust that he can be loved and accepted as he is.

Fears and all.

 

 

 

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19 thoughts on “The Masks We Wear

  1. I find and fear I have and still wear all of these masks at one time or another. It’s a bit chilling because we know psychopaths wear masks. Except their masks are by choice with intent to do harm, while the masks of “normal” people are to stave off hurt and prevent harm. It’s difficult to let go of the masks in day-to-day life. Behind all of them is the deeper knowledge and fear that we are mortal beings with finite lives. We are all vulnerable to lesser and greater extents. I am hoping that my blogging will reveal the real self behind my own masks. Thank you for another great piece, and I am so, so heartbroken by the loss of Robin Williams. 😦 I was gutted to tears.

  2. I know the anxiety-related mask well. Very eloquently put, Lisa. I appreciate your tackling of link here. Slipping the masks off can be scary – not easy for someone already dealing with fear. But it’s necessary to do it so we can open up and expose the rawness to the light. Also, to know who’s really in your tribe – they’re the ones who stay whether the mask is on or off. xoxo

  3. I love each and every one of your posts. You’re absolutely right. I discovered/realized a few years ago that I was guilty of wearing several masks (the people pleaser, the comedian, the worker bee and the over achiever.) I have since learned to dispose of most of my masks, feeling extremely vulnerable, BUT, I feel like a better person for it. When you look at me, you see me. I no longer put on a show for anyone. I may hide emotions from my son as he is only 11 and highly sensitive. Other than that, I feel naked. Scared to death, but naked. I don’t want to be fake. If I’m hurting, I want to address the problem head on. I’ve spent too many years hiding from reality, behind every mask you can imagine. I’m done hiding. Plus, by facing my fears head on, and dealing with emotions, I’m teaching my son to do the same. I’m hoping he doesn’t learn to hide, but rather face his fears, just like his mom. He doesn’t know the masked me. He was very young when I admitted to wearing masks, and although a human sponge, he absorbs more now than he did when he was 2. Now he asks more questions and I give him honest answers. Today he asked me what a condom was. He has no interest in girls yet (thank God) but I felt it only right to educate him. Maybe I’ll end up screwing him up even more, but my intentions are to make him mentally stronger so he doesn’t make the same mistakes I did. Again, great post!! I’m so happy I found your blog. I only wish I knew of WordPress and your blog while going through my divorce…

  4. I think I wear all of these masks to some extent. My greatest wish in life is to love and to be loved back. It sounds so simple, but you learn that it’s not at all. It’s a shame that we feel that we are not good enough on our own to have love, that we need to resort to wearing masks.

  5. The masks I’ve worn to hide from myself. Hide the from loved ones as I struggled to heal after my husband’s affair. Hiding from people that want nothing more than to help me but I was ashamed, too afraid they would permanently judge and not allow me space when I needed it. I’ve worn a mask as I write my blog anonymously. I don’t regret the mask but I feel like this experience has given me a deeper understanding of what it must feel like to suffer from depression, anxiety, etc. I think we are lucky to be writing here and have followers to comment, encourage and keep our heads above water through it all.

  6. I think I wear all those masks. I overachieve to feel valuable, I take care of people so they won’t leave and I stopped feeling so I wouldn’t get hurt. I guess I was never the performer.

    After an early midlife crisis and a lot of therapy, I realized I’m not going to get the approval from the people I seek it from most (my dad), no matter how well I care from someone, they’ll likely still leave (the ex) and there’s only so long you can suppress emotions before you simply explode (in my case it’s roughly 32 years).

    Very insightful.

    1. You highlight an important piece – we often continue the drama of our childhoods into adulthood, playing the role of the hurt/scared child and substituting others in for mom/dad.

      Glad you’re in a better place:)

  7. And there is the mask after the divorce. For so long I tried to pretend that I hated him because that is what everyone wanted to hear from me. BUT I still love him, no matter the hurt, I still have feelings. Enough to go back to him?? NO, but I don’t hate him, twenty six years, four kids, and plenty of good memories. It was exhausting to keep up the facade. My heart just won’t let go, and that can be exhausting too.

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