My coworker once asked a question. This wasn’t unusual as asking questions seemed to be ingrained in his nature. Most questions typically caused people standing out of view to glance at each other with that knowing expression: here we go. Questions such as, “If you were cosmic energy, where would you be?” But this particular inquiry was a standard question about friends. One of the employees responded,”I don’t have a lot of friends in general. I don’t hangout with fake people.” I was intrigued; I continued to ponder their response. Fake people: people who walk around portraying world-sought versions of themselves, often with plastered smiles displayed on their faces. In other words: masked truth. How can people become more in tune with the realities of life? How do we get rid of covering up who we truly are? I concluded that as we try understanding the origins and elements creating our individualized masks, we can learn how to remove such sporadic falsehood lurking in each of our lives.
The metaphor of the mask arose additionally when I watched The Dark Knight Trilogy recently. (Yes this was my first time, and despite the incredulous responses this info usually acclaims I still think of myself as a normal American.) I definitely hadn’t been banking on these movies changing my life. But in a way they did. Or, at least, they brought more clarity to my personal journey. The reason wasn’t really clear until the end of The Dark Knight Rises when I heard this monologue:
“Not a lot of people know what it feels like to be angry, in your bones. I mean, they understand… foster parents.. everybody understands – for a while. Then they want the angry little kid to do something he knows he can’t do: move on. So after awhile they stop understanding. They send the angry kid to a boys home. I figured it out too late. You gotta learn to hide the anger, practice smiling in the mirror. It’s like putting on a mask.” –John Blake
In this scene, Officer Blake explains the birth of his own mask as he speaks with Bruce Wayne–Batman’s true identity. It’s clear that he used his “mask” to hide his developing anger as a child. Bruce dons a different type of mask. The physical mask of Batman portrays an alternate identity he’s developed to promote justice and peace in Gotham as he fights crime. While having alternate origins and perhaps having different purposes, these masks have one thing in common: they serve as a barrier between a person’s true identity and the outside world.
This was me. I had learned at an early age to don a mask to hide my anger, my terror, the emptiness inside that comes from monstrous acts of abuse. I had learned to create my own separate identity, like Bruce, and don a mask of indifference, keeping me from working through my hurt, anger, and confusion. Part of my personal journey has been learning how to take off that mask. Before I did so, I was merely surviving as those emotions that cut me to the very core thickened the mask I put on my face. I mistook this for being alive. I didn’t know any other way of living.
Wayne’s mask exemplifies his public persona of a developed alternate identity. Masks constructed of emotions lead the wearer to construct alternate identities as well. But hiding and ignoring ones true emotions beneath these masks is destructive to one’s true identity. In the previously mentioned movie scene, the officer states to Bruce, “Right when I saw you I knew who you really were. I’d seen that look on your face before. It’s the same one I taught myself.” Wearing a mask isn’t living true to who we really are. It’s a learned behavior created to stay comfortable and not confront what we truly feel.
The mask is just a symbol of one of Bruce’s identities. Although he isn’t wearing the physical mask it 24/7, Batman becomes a part of Bruce. In Nav K’s character analysis of this superhero the author writes, “Our personal identity is a collection of the personas we create.” Sometimes we become so comfortable showing the world what we perceive they want to see that we adapt an element of falseness into our personal identity; we condone the fake identity even when no one is around. This in turn leads to us absolving from reconstructive self-change. We’ve bought into the far-out idea that it’s not okay to not be okay.
“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” –Oscar Wilde
I believe this idea has been bred out of the majority of substance found on social media. Social media often promotes sharing of people’s highlights, well thought out ideas. Everything is strung through a filter in the sense that people pick and choose what to share. In return for sharing these edited versions of their lives, people give them ‘likes’ or ‘favorites’. I believe people can become addicted to this positive validation. This leads to the construction of a filtered mask–accepted as reality–where we choose to present our “best selves” to the world. We crave that validation for simply being happy; we want others to notice our filtered reality, suggesting that life is always going our way. But this will eventually collapse and people will see through our mask because it’s not built on a solid foundation of truth. This filtered reality is a false identity.
How do you unmask–acknowledging the true realities of life–without exposing too much information?
- Social media is not the place to air out initially. Find an alternate way and place to work through feelings, such as with a close friend(s) or even journal about the hardship. Do this before heading to the internet.
- Afterwards, work to share personal trials with a positive spin on them while maintaining the element of reality. A girl’s story of overcoming and working through her addiction to pornography recently popped up on my news feed. The way she opened up, extending a hand to others in need and explaining her journey of growth, helped others to support her out of love and admiration rather than out of pity.
- When sharing experiences and feelings on social media, work to include the positive elements as well as hardships. After all, this is what real life is composed of. Remember that empathy comforts in a way sympathy never will.
As Nav K offers, “it is our experiences and choices that often shape our identity.” I think it is also how we choose to react to these elements of life that shape not only our identity, but our character. Some would choose to react by putting on a mask that is pleasing to the society in which they survive. Survive, because one cannot truly live while pretending to be someone they are not at heart.
Continuing to always be my filtered blissful state around others and on social media brought me to a point of self-discovery. But how could I truly discover my real self? I had to learn to be vulnerable. This meant being okay with me as a person, and being comfortable showing what I truly felt to the world. I had to decide that I was going to care more about my emotional well-being over another person’s judgments of them. This was perhaps one of the biggest steps in my journey of discovering peace. Doing this allowed me to sift through built-up emotional baggage I’d been carrying around since I was born, and leaving it behind. A quote which changed my life encapsulates an element of being able to leave the mask off:
Hiding our true emotions and thoughts behind plastered smiles can be harmful in the long run.
Or in other words: covering up true emotions and one’s true identity with masks of bliss or apathy 24/7 leads to fake people, souls in a halted progressive state, and self-centered people trying to blend in and please everyone else at the same time. Just because someone doesn’t walk around all day with a plastered smile, it doesn’t mean they have emotional problems. It means they can feel. They have emotions. They know that in order to move past their feelings of sadness or frustration, they have to feel it first.
The absence of a mask will not always reveal hurt and sadness and anger. This will only occur if the persona of falsehood has been constantly worn, keeping these emotions at bay. Little by little absolving from being fake will bring out peace and joy as we learn how to deal with our emotions and acknowledge the realities around us. Unmasking should be viewed as a positive thing, because it will bring us true joy and self discovery. As obvious as this may seem, there is a world of difference between looking happy and being happy. It is the ultimate goal in removing our mask to discover that happiness within.
Someone once told me that there’s a fine line between feeling depression–or any negativity–and letting it engulf us. Learning to feel what you’re feeling and then moving on is key in keeping your mask off.
We don’t have time and energy to waste on wearing the mask that ultimately destroys our true identity and keeps us hidden from others whose opinions have no place governing the course of our actions and feelings.
If one finds themselves wearing a mask they should take it as a signal to step back and examine the situation. What is the root cause of me donning this mask? Is it hurting me in the long run? When do I begin to subconsciously put it on?
Yes it will be hard to permanently take the mask off, but it will be better and get easier as we learn to be free.
Be vulnerable, feel what you’re feeling, and find the emotional balance within.
Take off the mask.