“Put your game face on”.
Often we don’t share our vulnerabilities or our inner selves with everyone. Some of us have different personas, different masks, for different situations and groups of people. Masks are pretty common, even when we think we’re an open person.
There are many reasons we wear masks. Probably the most common is for protection.
We wear a mask that hides who we really are to protect our authentic self from the hurt of rejection. It is vulnerability that we hide by avoiding the acknowledgement of what worries or frightens us. So, for instance, we maintain a facade of brightly smiling ‘I’m fine thanks’ when inside our loneliness or insecurities is a burden.
We wear a mask to try to keep up with the expectations of other people – filters on selfies, make up on before leaving the house, never asking for help or directions.
Some people wear different faces in different surroundings so that, for instance, work mates never see their raver side and their raver friends never see their serious academic side.
We take on roles as well, that are masks of a sort. These can be affirming but can also lead to imposter syndrome – everyone tells me I am good at something so I behave as if I am but.. what if i’m not??
When we wear a mask we can feel ‘safer’ but at what cost? Research shows that when people wear a physical mask that conceals their identity they are more likely to engage in behaviours that are anti-social and unlike themselves. I’m not saying that putting on your game face to protect yourself from rejection will lead to anti-social behaviour, but I do think it can be an obstacle to being that authentic self, and therefore an obstacle to making strong social connections.
I have written before about seeking to be as authentic in life as possible, so it won’t be a surprise that I am in favour of shedding masks to show people who we really are. I am a very open person and have, 9 times out of 10, never regretted showing people who I really am and how I really feel.
Masks that help us:
Firstly – sometimes we do need to conceal our emotions. It isn’t appropriate for me as a teacher to let my inner turmoil be apparent to my students. I’m very fortunate in that my workmates are friends, but in many workplaces too there is a level of professionalism that requires stoicism. This doesn’t mean that we don’t ask for help if we need it, more that a mask of stoicism helps us function in a professional setting despite significant emotional stress.
Secondly – fake it til you make it. Masks can be helpful in convincing us that we can actually do something.
“Dress for the job you want”
Research has shown that when children dress as batman they are more focused in class and attempt all tasks, therefore being more likely to achieve all tasks.
Those of you who have read my post on overcoming fear will remember that when i was 15 I fell down Mt Ngauruhoe, smashing open my face. This left me with a lingering fear of steep slippery slopes. When I returned to the mountain as a teacher, I knew I could not have a break down in front of my students. The mask of a competent and in control adult slipped over my face and I was able (with the help of another adult on the trip) to face my fear and walk across the saddle.
As with many things in life, it’s how we use our masks that determines whether they help or hinder us. The moment they restrict us from feeling able to access help, or from being who we really are, then we know we should probably drop them.
Dropping your mask can be scary, but it can also be liberating.