“It’s fine.” “I’m okay.” “Nothing’s wrong.” Have you ever responded like this but you know deep down that it’s not true? There’s many reasons why humans may try to hide their true feelings. For some, it’s about not wanting to hurt or burden others with our “problems.” For some, vulnerability is scary and it’s also scary to put ourselves out there in fear that we may be perceived as “weak” or that we won’t be accepted as our true selves. For others, sharing out loud makes the problem more real. So we put on a mask. A mask that can buffer our ability to be completely authentic in order to achieve one of the reasons above. A veil to protect us from potential hurt, shame, embarrassment, or any other uncomfortable emotion. It can feel safe to hide behind a mask and there are situations where emotional masking may be necessary. For example, compartmentalizing stress at home may be the best option as to not impact work performance.
However, emotional masking can have long-term consequences. Masking emotions for too long can cause an eruption of emotional distress. Just like a beach ball in the water, a person can only hold it under the water for so long before that beach ball is going to find its way back to the surface. Our emotions find a similar way of coming to the surface, no matter how much we may try to fight it or push them down. Emotional masking also prevents humans from showing up authentically in their lives. Shielding others from what is really coming up for us disrupts our ability to connect, communicate, and build on our relationships. This same pattern can also make it difficult to strengthen the relationship with ourselves if we refuse to allow our emotions to take up space. We may find it challenging to move forward if we’re still harboring or avoiding stress from our past.
If you’re finding that your mask is no longer serving the same purpose for you, here are some things to keep in mind:
NOTICE when and where your mask is on. It’s hard to intervene when you don’t even recognize when you’re wearing a mask. Take the time to check in with yourself each day and ask yourself, “how am I ACTUALLY doing and am I honoring that part of me?”
ACKNOWLEDGE your internal experience. That part of you that’s living true thoughts and raw emotions, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant. There’s one quote that has always stuck with me, “it’s okay to not be okay.” So practice being kind to the parts that aren’t okay.
REACH OUT and share. The emotional mask you wear will continue to act as a disguise until you give yourself permission to remove it. Find someone you trust to share openly and express effectively. Social Worker, author, and storyteller extraordinaire Brené Brown asks us to remember to choose courage over comfort. From that courage, you may find yourself capable of cultivating deeper relationships, allowing space for every part of your experience, and living as your true self.
Mask off, my friends. It’s scary, vulnerable, and completely liberating. Why not try it?