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Hiding In Front of Me

Whether you refer to it as a façade, a mask, a false front, or simply a lie, it is all the same. It’s a covering up of who we really are, a pretending to be someone we aren’t. It is something we use to keep others at bay, when in truth, it keeps us at bay.

The Making of Our Masks

These masks, these pretendings, can be based in fear (if you get to know the real me, you won’t like me, or you’ll throw me away, or you’ll use who and what I really am against me). And so, we present a different self, an artificial self, but one that we believe will be more likable, more keepable, or less “weaponized,” i.e., less able to be used as a weapon against us.

They can also be based in a combination of not feeling worthy, but wanting to impress you. Examples might include acting or speaking as though we are more educated, more traveled, wealthier, more important, more recovered, more creative, or even wilder, tougher, or more experienced than we really are.

It is not uncommon for practicing alcoholics and addicts to live lives that are spiraling out of control, and at the same time, wear a mask that says they are in total control. -Jay WestbrookThey can also be rooted in deep shame, a sense that at our core we are worthless, unlovable, unforgivable, and unchangeable. There is a difference between guilt and shame.

Guilt is feeling remorse over something external, something we have done, while shame is feeling remorse over the internal, over who we are. Guilt is about feeling badly over having made a mistake; shame is feeling badly over being a mistake. So, shame can cause us to pretend to be someone we are not, because it is the only way we can function.

Interestingly, shame can also be the façade, the mask. We can create a self-image of shame, and/or present ourselves to others as shame-filled, to avoid having ourselves or others demand very much of us.

It is not uncommon for practicing alcoholics and addicts to live lives that are spiraling out of control, and at the same time, wear a mask that says they are in total control. Both of these – having a life that is out of control and pretending to be in control – often follow the substance abuser right into early recovery. This reflects a desperate desire to look fine, to convince others and ourselves that we are fine, and to minimize the magnitude of both the problem of substance abuse and the solution of recovery.

We call this the F.I.N.E. mask (Feelings Inside Not Expressed):

In response to being asked how we are, we say “FINE,” all the while glaring and slamming doors. We tell others that we’ve got it going on, that we are FINE, then lay in bed at night, unable to sleep, mind racing, and having no idea how we will be able to stay sober, get a job, pay the rent, go on a date, or ever dance or make love sober. The silence is deafening, and it feels as though we are slowly hurtling toward the edge, although we remain unclear about the edge of what. We are not fine.

There is also the Minimizing and Deflecting Mask:

I’m asked about the effects of my incest, and I speak about my fear of the dark, but 
leave out any mention of my guilt, shame, poor boundaries, being untrusting and hyper-vigilant, having sleep difficulties, and having spent years trying to tie back together sex and intimacy 
(after separating them as a survival tool).

Another example of the Minimizing and Deflecting Mask is:

I ask how your relationship is going, and you tell me you two broke up, followed by the story of your partner having taken all your stuff (the furniture and appliances) but you leave out any mention of your heart break, feeling unlovable, having lost confidence in your “picker,” and the fact that you’re now hurting yourself as a way to “show them.”

In Search of Love and Acceptance

In truth, most – not all – of our facades and masks are about being willing to lie to protect ourselves from rejection or being willing to lie to be accepted and loved. The typical set of 12-Step “bumper stickers” addressing this issue includes:

  • You’re as sick as your secrets
  • You can’t save your face and your ass at the same time, so you better decide which one you’re gonna save
  • What you think we love you because of, is what we love you in spite of, and what you think we love you in spite of, is what we love you because of.

While each of those is true, and has great value, not everyone is able to relate to “bumper sticker” philosophy. For those who prefer a more poetic approach, I offer:

“What if there is someone out there looking to love the you that you hide because you’re ashamed of the real you – when that you is exactly what they see as so lovable?”

In spending time, energy, and focus trying to convince the person in front of us to fall in love with the façade we offer them, we may well miss the person at our side who wants the genuine, authentic person we are trying to hide. Please, remove your masks and let us love all of you.

I know that I love seeing the masks and costumes that fill the “pages” of Facebook every October as Halloween approaches. That being said, I wear neither these days, as I spent far too many years wearing costumes and masks, most of which had nothing to do with Halloween.

I am now free – and pleased – to just be me.

Image Courtesy of iStock

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