About half a decade ago I had a friend. For anonymity sake we’ll call him Carl (I doubt anybody knowing him will ever see this, but you never know). Carl was one of those friends who was sort of halfway between an acquaintance and an actual friend. I’m sure you know the type. You greet them warmly when you see them, make small talk from time to time, but there’s never a real connection between them and you.
There were two reasons why I never became real friends with Carl. One was that he was opinionated and had a big ego (something we may discuss in a later article). The other was that Carl was a mask-wearer. Carl was the sort of person that liked to brag about he was a part of so many cliques. He used to tell me how cool he was because he could hang out with my group but he could also put on a pair of shades, walk with a little more swagger, change his speech, and also hang out with a completely different circle of people.
The problem with this mentality was that Carl was never just himself. He was always trying to fit in and blend perfectly with groups. This made him kind of uninteresting and boring, because you never got to like him for him. There was no potential to get beyond that half friend, half acquaintance relationship. If he was ever to become an actual friend, he would have to be real and that was something he couldn’t do.
This is essentially the dilemma of mask-wearers. They are awesome at blending in and talking to people, but that’s where the relationship ends. They will find themselves surrounded by people, but also, ironically, very alone.
Mask-wearing is a behavior that happens when you get tired of being rejected. You want to blend in and be accepted. To some extent, you want to be somewhat normal, and so you stop acting like yourself and start acting like somebody others will like more. Where this coping mechanism burns you is when your fear of rejection takes over. Any level of intimacy with another person involves you sharing a part of your real self. When you are a mask-wearer, this is the part of yourself that has been rejected over and over again. The part of yourself that you don’t want anybody to see because they may realize that you are unlikable, unlovable.
Steps to overcome mask-wearing
Stop thinking you are unlikable. The big reason to wear a mask is because you think nobody will like you if you don’t wear one. You think the real you is boring, unattractive, and lame– the real you has too many flaws to be liked. If you think like this you’ll never find people who will truly love you for you. You need to start recognizing how you are plenty likable and lovable by just being you. This can be hard, especially if you have a really strong conviction about how others will react to seeing the real you.
Here’s a simple exercise to try:
Before you have gotten dressed or done anything with your appearance take 5 minutes to look in the mirror.
Your mind may make you think negative thoughts about yourself, try to ignore them and let them pass by you.
During these 5 minutes find at least one thing about yourself that you LIKE (more is better, but even one thing is a start). It can be something about your physical appearance, your personality, your taste in movies, anything.
Do this every day for at least a week. If you want, record your experience so you can see how your feelings change over time.
If all goes well, you should notice that you start to like yourself more. This is a big step, because it is impossible to be loved by others if you can’t love yourself first.
Include yourself more in everything you do. Mask-wearing is about blending in and not embracing your own unique style. If you want to connect with people you’ll want to reverse this. Start thinking about how you can express yourself more openly. Secretly, maybe you are the sort of person who likes to dress in bright colors, or pursue unusual hobbies, maybe you even like talking in silly voices or making crude jokes. The fact is whatever makes you strange, quirky, and unique is going to be what draws people to you– it’s going to be the thing they like about you, and it will be your first indication that you are loved for you.
Explore. There is a lot to this world and there is a lot to you. If you have been mask-wearing you probably cut yourself off from worlds of interesting experiences. When you aren’t worried as much about what people think, there is a lot to discover about yourself. For myself, I have dabbled in everything from breakdancing to holistic medicine and I am always learning something new about myself.
Images provided by Kristina Ruth and Nina Mathews