Most of the world has come out of about three years of the mandatory wearing of masks. No one imagined that the global pandemic would emerge and engulf our lives the way it did. Those masks were worn and removed on mass but there are other masks worn daily, masks used to hide. The most practised and convincing wearers have a thin veil that covers them just enough to obscure what’s real.
“How are you, nice to meet you!”
Do you feel the warmth in those words? Do you feel the sincerity? Do you feel seen? A practised greeting but look closer, do you see the mask?
Before we go further, let’s take a stroll down memory lane, back to our childhoods. Most of us will remember our mother, father, sibling or some other responsible adult teaching us the importance of manners, to say thank you and please and to create a good first impression.
What an idealistic picture I paint, hey? Let’s agree that at some point most of us would have benefited from these teachings but every one of us processed those words of wisdom in different ways.
Some of us would have taken them literally (the polite, well behaved among us), some would have half listened (those of us who are polite most of the time) and some of us would have rebelled (quite possibly the ultra successful among us or equally as possible the losers among us).
Our young minds would have mangled the wisdom given to us by what we saw, heard and perceived in our own heads at the time. We create mental pictures and interpretations of what we think is the lesson and apply it in very different ways. Years later it becomes habit, insincerity creeps in, it’s superficial and hides our true self behind a mask.
Let me gently coax you back to the present day and the person you are now. How did you interpret your childhood lessons and how does your “How are you, nice to meet you!” reveal what’s hiding behind your mask?
Think about all the other interactions you have throughout the day and think about how many of them are truly genuine. Most of the time we are masked. We mask in the car, we mask on the street, we mask with our colleagues at work, we mask in line at the convenience store and we mask…at home? In our relationships? With our children?
Perhaps this is getting too close for comfort?
If it is, pause and think about it. It’s natural to mask, it’s a protective mechanism we use as humans to get through the day, to give ourselves more time to think and react, to deal with difficult situations and relationships. Sometimes we mask against those we care about the most because we want to protect them from the monsters we know we are. We want to hide who we really are because we fear rejection.
It’s natural and we all feel it. The monster conjured up in our minds, hiding under the bed in childhood, morphs into a monster on our shoulder as we grow, ever present, ever critical.
“Why can’t I get anything right?”
“I’m so stupid…”
“I’ll never amount to anything”.
“Why do you even bother, you’re a loser, stay in your lane and quit now”.
If we take a breath, we realise the voice of the monster is really just us; we have become the monster in our own stories. We are so monstrous to ourselves in our own heads constantly and consistently. We call ourselves horrible names, we berate ourselves and we belittle anything we do. We are relentless and tireless, from morning to night we give ourselves no respite.
Fear and self loathing are part and parcel of our existence. It’s the cause of sadness, depression and many injustices in this world. It’s also what makes us special.
To overcome our doubts, to tame the monsters we become, to understand that the monstrous voice in our heads is just fear and to recognise fear is ok and to recognise we are just human. Fear leads us to the light, it pushes us past what’s comfortable and into the unknown. The unknown is where we grow.
The lucky among us find a way through, while the rest of us are ravaged by the monster whispering obscene words in our ears all the way to the grave.
Our self mandated masks protect us from the outside world but are harmful to our inside world. To find a way through no matter how much we mask in front of others, we must find a way to take off our masks in our own heads. We shouldn’t fool ourselves into things we know to be untrue, situations we know to be unhealthy, relationships we know to be toxic and beliefs we know to be false.
Take off the mask when you talk to yourself in your own head. However monstrous you may think you are, let yourself in. Get to know yourself. Accept that there’s lots of areas of improvement but acknowledge the things you like or respect about yourself. Perhaps without even realising it, your mask will begin slipping in the outside world as well and perhaps you won’t mind any more. In time you might even develop a preference for taking off your mask more then you do for keeping it on.
As we begin to breathe without impediment and take in reality, as we learn to shed our masks we find ourselves seeing others, catching a glimpse underneath the veil and really seeing others.
Next time you robotically greet someone, look under the surface, just a little. You’ll find there’s an iceberg hiding under the tip obscured from the world’s gaze. You may even find that underneath the masks that we wear, we’re not so different. Underneath we have more in common then we could have ever imagined.