We have lived our lives
behind a mask.
Sooner or later
—if we are lucky—
the mask will be smashed.
One of my earliest memories of being taught how to live behind a mask was when I was about eight years old. I was angry for some reason and my mother told me,
“You’re prettier when you’re not angry.”
In that moment I learned that the mask of “pretty” is superior to the authentic expression of anger. I also learned that there is no beauty in anger, which is a lie.
Do you remember the first time you learned how to live your life behind a mask?
Living behind a mask is another way of saying that our insides don’t match our outsides.
Living behind a mask is when what we are thinking, believing, feeling, and sensing is invisible to those we are interacting with most of the time.
The ways one can live behind a mask are endless.
Some of the most common are:
- Pretending to agree with something you don’t truly agree with. (In fact, we may feel appalled or even disgusted by something another person says, yet we say nothing or even smile.)
- Saying, “It’s okay,” when someone breaks an agreement or is unconsciously hurtful to us.
- Going along with another person’s suggestion or preference when your insides are screaming a strong, “No.”
- Pretending that the family we grew up in was happy or “normal” when we know it was neither.
- Smiling (as a rule) when you are really feeling sad or hurt.
A common mask many women wear is a smiling mask that covers deep anger, and even rage.
Or she may intentionally act as though she is not as smart or as informed as she is to protect another person’s fragile sense of self.
To be fair, there are times when we must consciously choose to veil or hide what is happening inside us.
We may have information or news that we cannot — or are not ready to — share.
We may be in a situation where we must prioritize caring for a child or taking care of work responsibilities, or otherwise temporarily play a role.
These conscious mask-wearing situations are necessary and even vital for the smooth functioning of human relationships and polite society.
We put our feelings to the side temporarily, and return to them when there is space and time to attend to them.
The masks Woodman speaks of in this reflection are not conscious. They are optional, and they are learned.
The dominant emotion behind these learned masks is shame.
Shame that we are not enough. Shame that if someone knew who we really are they wouldn’t like us or love us.
The mask gives us a way to protect ourselves from shame.
But sometimes it also allows us to feel one-up and better than others since the mask hides our humanity, our vulnerability, and our wounds.
What does it mean for the mask to be smashed?
If we’ve been living a secret life or a lie of any kind, when the lie is discovered, the mask is smashed.
Masks can be smashed by external circumstances or by our own choosing.
We may have finally cracked after years of being duplicitous — pretending to be someone we’re not so that we can get love, approval, and security. When we can stand it no more and decide to step out into the light, the mask is smashed.
Why is it lucky to have our mask smashed?
In the unveiling of the mask there is great freedom.
Freedom to be who you are.
When the mask is smashed we are seen.
And when we’re seen we are vulnerable, which is the foundation for connection and understanding.
When the mask is smashed, the real you is instantly revealed — creating an opening to receive compassion, acceptance, and love.
When the mask is smashed, you are invited to move into a life of integrity, which means a dedication to living from your core of truth.
When the mask is smashed you may fully inhabit your humanity so that you can experience more connection and intimacy.
Invitations for reflection, exploration, and action:
- What masks do you wear?
- When you think about the masks you wear being smashed, how might coming out from behind the mask benefit you?
- Are there any masks you are wearing now that you would like to smash? What actions would you need to take to make this happen?
© Vicki Tidwell Palmer (2021)
Coming Home to Myself: Reflections for Nurturing a Woman’s Body and Soul (©1998)
By Marion Woodman and Jill Mellick
(Reprinted with permission)
*This post is from the Coming Home to You Series. Visit this page for the backstory of the CHTY Series.