The subject of friendship has been coming up in a lot of my sessions: the struggle to make new friends as an adult, the worry that a child is becoming friends with a ‘bad influence,” the hurt feelings of not being invited to a party.
In most of these sessions, my patients are longing for a sense of connection and community. Unfortunately, they are getting in their own way and aren’t even aware of it. How? They’re putting on a mask or persona.
Don’t get me wrong. We all wear masks to some extent based on our roles and context. For example, if I am at a parent teacher conference, I am showing up as a mother. If I am at husband’s holiday party I don’t socialize the way I do with my closest girlfriends. But I am myself in all of these situations. My personality, my values, my worldview, who I am at my core is present in all of these contexts.
We wear masks because they provide some emotional protection in the short run.
- The mask of perfection may hide deep feelings of inadequacy.
- The mask of judgment may hide deep feelings of shame and guilt.
- The mask of being annoyed all the time may hide deep feelings of hurt.
- The mask of being cool may hide a deep fear of rejection and isolation.
Wearing a mask is about pleasing others and fitting in.
Fitting in is a process of assessing situations and groups of people, then adjusting your mask to get them to accept you.
In essence, we determine our worth based on the external characteristics of others. The irony is that you don’t really know them. You’re just making assumptions about them – you believe their masks.
Focusing on fitting in results in very poor quality relationships. They are like the empty calories of friendships. You spend a lot of time chewing but you don’t really feel satisfied.
What we really hunger for in our relationships is a sense of belonging. Belonging doesn’t require you to change who you are in order to be accepted. Rather, all you need to do is let your true self be seen and known as you really are.
Wearing a mask to fit in actually prevents you from feeling a deep connection with other people because authentic connection to others cannot happen without an authentic connection to your self first. In true friendships, no one is wearing a mask.
Unfortunately, some people have worn masks for so long that they don’t really know their true self anymore.
If you’ve lost touch with yourself, spend some time thinking about your own values, preferences and feelings.
- Think about the qualities you admire in yourself (smart, funny, kind, generous, creative, helpful, honest, friendly, thoughtful etc.) How are these qualities expressed in your daily interactions?
- Think about the things you do to impress other people.
- Now consider whether or not you want to keep striving just to fit in.
We have a basic need to feel connected to other people and that can’t happen when you are hidden. When you wear a mask, you are settling for less. You deserve to feel the richness that comes from belonging and true friendship. As you put away your Halloween decorations and throw out this year’s jack-o-lantern, consider what masks you continue to wear and if they are actually serving you.