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The Masks We Wear

"We all wear masks that grins and lies, that hides our cheeks and shades our eyes- this debt we pay to human guile; with torn and bleeding hearts we smile."- Paul Lawrence Dunbar

When we are born, we come into this world the most innocent and pure as we will ever be. We have no fear of the future, no expectations to perform or be anything other than the sweet bundles of perfection that we already are. Likewise, we have no expectations of anyone or anything besides the innate instinct to survive. We are enough to ourselves and to our environment. As we grow into toddlerhood, we begin to learn that there are certain rules in order to survive. We can't just go walking into the middle of the street or drink the cleaning products under the sink or sticking metal utensils into electrical outlets. It just isn't allowed in this earthly realm. We also begin to observe the behaviors of those closest to us as well as the art of social interaction. We begin playing dress-up and house and are exposed to the fact that the society we live in also has rules for how a man or woman is to behave in order to be deemed a "successful" member of society. Before we could ever do our own experimenting on what works best for our personal, individual lives, it has already been decided what makes us good mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, money handlers, time managers, and on and on and on. We become fixated on trying to live the "right" way, even if that goes counter to our individual needs and ideas. We are then overwhelmed by the fear that we can never measure up to society's expectations of us and anxiety sets in. There are few safe places to express our feelings of fear, anxiety, and constant feelings of inadequacy. To compensate, we learn to hide those unacceptable thoughts and feelings behind our carefully constructed, oh-so-perfectly fitting masks.

Our masks are often attached to the roles we play, but there is a distinct difference between playing a role and wearing a mask. We play roles every day, all day. It is how society functions. We have all kinds of people playing various roles- teacher, student, mechanic, nurse, doctor, grocery store clerk, mother, father, waitress, plumber, electrician, you name it. We identify with people on a surface level by the roles they play. That's normal. The problem lies when we either identify with another human being strictly by the role they play, or we become so caught up in the perceived importance of our own role that it masks our ability to connect with another human being on a deeper, more heart-centered level. This tendency, in turn, causes the recipient of our "maskly" behavior to tighten their own mask, in order to level some perceived equal playing ground. The cycle creates a bunch of people trying to be someone they aren't to impress people who don't even care because they are too busy also trying to be someone they think would better impress others than their authentic self. The result is a big lack of human connection, interaction, or affection, both within ourselves and in our relationships with others.

"If you trade your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief."- Brene Brown

Examples of how we mask ourselves and contribute to others doing the same can be so harmless they are often overlooked, and yet our behavior is weaving an enormous quilt of human apathy and despair. We have all been guilty of barely making eye contact with our grocery clerk or carrying on a full phone conversation while we are ordering our Starbucks. In those moments, we have lost the opportunity to make another human being feel seen and appreciated for the service they are providing us. How often have you chastised your child or reprimanded them for the friends they keep in the middle of them trying to tell you something important that happened to them during their day? Where did you miss the opportunity to build depth to that sacred relationship in exchange for wearing your "parent mask". And then we wonder why our children don't talk to us. If