Who Behind the Mask
by Marla Sloane, Ph.D.
Halloween is a great time to wear a mask and set aside your inhibitions to become somebody else for a short time. It’s a lot of fun because you get to choose who you want to be. On this one particular night, you can be someone totally different from how others see you and it is accepted. You can be anything you want from Frankenstein to Einstein or from Cinderella to the Chainsaw Killer. But what if someone else chooses the disguise for you? In our lives we are faced with this dilemma all the time. People will try to give us masks to wear, and in the right situation we will be willing to wear them.
When we are children our parents have certain expectations of what they expect of us. We are told that we are expected to go to college and become someone special. We are taught to have manners and to respect others. We are advised to obey laws and to set lofty goals. These set of expectations are healthy and positive. Oh, if only we were that lucky to have these sets of masks! What happens if our parents put a different expectation on us? “You will never grow up to be anybody.” “Your mother and I expect you to run the family business.” “Since you are a girl, you really don’t need an education.” “You are such a disappointment in the family.” “You just can’t do anything right can you?” When we hear these kinds of words from our parents, we have a different vision of our potential. We will do anything to make them right.
Our subconscious mind is wired that way. We will wear those masks to make others happy and in return we will feel that we have earned their love. These masks however are destructive and limiting. But since they are so subliminal we put them on and act out that character to perfection. We will wear a mask to fit into society. We will wear a mask to be accepted and loved by our families. We will wear a mask to have our spouses be proud of us. These masks, unlike the Halloween masks are invisible, yet very powerful. These masks are harder to take off because they are hidden and somehow along the way we have made them part of our psyche. If the mask doesn’t fit and we want to take it off, now there are consequences involved. If I remove my mask will I still be loved? If I remove my mask will they find out that I am an imposter? “If I remove my mask I won’t feel safe anymore.” Isn’t this the age old fear: what if I’m just myself and they don’t like me?
After wearing many masks growing up, I discovered that we have two choices in life. We can choose security or we can choose freedom. Security involves going with the flow and not making any waves; being accommodating and wearing the masks that are expected. There is certainly nothing wrong with this choice; but it is safe, and since very few risks are involved, there is little chance for growth. The other choice is freedom. Freedom involves removing your masks. Freedom is living life on your terms, but this requires risk and the high potential of failure before you get it right. When you remove your mask, you will automatically change the dynamics of your relationships; some will improve and some will end. The fear of losing certain people in our life is too much of trepidation to bear; therefore we place the mask back on. It is like the battered wife that goes back to her abusive husband. She knows that is not the best choice, but because of fear and the risk of losing her security she goes back. The gay community faces this predicament; do I come out and remove my mask or keep things safe, just as they are? Children from close knit families have these decisions; do I make my parents happy and work in the family business or do I defy them and choose my own career? It’s all about the masks we wear and the choices we make and our choices will create our future.
Halloween is a night of choosing a mask that can be an adventure for one evening, but it can also make us conscious of the masks we wear in our real lives. While we are having fun on this ghoulish occasion it can give us insight to discovering who we really are and who we aspire to be. The important thing to remember is that a mask can be a good thing as long as it fits and it is our choice.
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