We’re heading into the Halloween weekend, and as I look at everyone’s costumes on social media I can’t help but think about masks. I’m not talking about actual masks, of course. I’m talking about the masks that people put on in everyday life – the ones that hide their true personalities, identities, and intentions.
I’ve never been able to do that. Even before losing Jim, I couldn’t bring myself to pretend to be someone (or something) I’m not. But it’s even more true since losing Jim. For me, it’s just never been an option.
On Halloween, putting on a mask is just part of the fun – you’re just wearing a costume for the night. But in life, it’s an escape. It’s unhealthy and even dangerous.
I need to preface this by saying that in the autistic community, ‘masking’ is a term used to describe the ways in which autistic people suppress autistic traits and behaviors around non-autistic people. This is not what I am talking about in this blog. For autistic people, ‘masking’ is a way to protect and make the people around them comfortable. This is a separate topic, and should be discussed between an autistic person and their healthcare team.
So let’s talk about a few examples of what I mean when I say that putting on a mask is unhealthy.
Some of the masks that people put on harm themselves more than others. If you are putting on a ‘happy mask’ or if you use humor as a mask when you’re going through depression, you hurt yourself by refusing to let your loved ones help you. Or if you put on a happy mask when you’re actually holding onto feelings of anger and resentment, you won’t be able to talk through the things that are bothering you and resolve them. These are just some of the many examples I can list.
There are other masks that people put on that harm the people around them as well. For instance, an abusive partner may put on a ‘victim’ mask, pretending that they are the one being harmed. Some people mask their true intentions by pretending to be your friend or ally in order to manipulate you. You may even find that someone pretends to be your friend to your face, but takes off the mask around others, talking poorly of you or working against you.
I’ve already talked a little bit about how wearing these ‘masks’ can harm you and the people around you. Sometimes the mask is intentionally harmful. But even when a person doesn’t intend to hurt anyone by putting on a mask, they can still cause harm.
For example, if your coworker is acting like your friend when you interact but complaining about you when you aren’t there, they may not mean to hurt you. You have to work together, so they may just want to be polite and avoid conflict. It still causes damage to continue pretending there isn’t an issue. If they had a conversation with you about the issue, you may be able to resolve it. And if there isn’t an easy resolution, you may be able to coordinate interacting less often.
But this isn’t the only problem with putting on a mask. It’s also bad for you. Hiding things – anything – is unhealthy. It’s unhealthy for both your physical AND mental health.
It’s tempting to hide behind a mask to avoid confronting whatever is going on under the mask. But when you do that, it will just show up in some other area of your life. It can affect your mood, making you irritable, stressed, or angry about other things. Your job performance may be impacted, preventing you from receiving bonuses and promotions (or even leading to job loss if the impact is serious). It can affect your relationships and lead to lost friendships and conflict with your family or partner. And the ongoing stress of hiding your truth can cause the kind of stress that hurts your physical health. It may cause health issues like headaches, nausea, indigestion, heart health issues, and insomnia.
You’ve probably heard people talk about the idea that holding in your true feelings is like shaking a bottle of soda. Eventually, the pressure will build up to the point of exploding. That is exactly what happens when you put on a mask. The pressure builds and you’ll explode at some point – it just may spill over into another part of your life. And when you explode, it will be so much worse than if you were honest in the first place.
So when you’re tempted to ‘put on a mask’ and hide what you’re really feeling or thinking, remember all of the ways it can harm you and the people around you.
So what should you do instead?
The best thing that you can do for yourself and the people around you is to embrace honesty. That doesn’t mean that you have to share every little thought and feeling with the world. But you shouldn’t hide the truth, either. Instead, give an appropriate amount of information, depending on who you are talking to.
If it’s someone who isn’t relevant in your world – opening up isn’t important. Just remember to be truthful. Avoid the automatic “How are you” “I’m good” responses and see what’s more natural and authentic. A client of mine says “I’m fair to partly cloudy” and that’s her truth!
If you’re with a partner or trusted friend, instead of putting on the ‘happy mask,’ consider telling them that you’ve been feeling depressed lately. This gives them data – they can use this information to adapt and adjust their words and actions. They also can find ways to help you. When you’ve talked through how you are feeling, you’ll be able to have more authentic interactions while spending time with your loved ones. If a coworker’s behavior is bothering you, consider asking them to sit down with you to talk about it and find a solution that works for everyone. And if you are feeling stressed or tired, be honest about that – hiding it only prevents you from finding a way to fix the issues.
Have you been hiding behind a mask in your own life? Are you ready to find a way to live honestly and openly? Let’s talk about how I can support you!
And remember, you can reach out anytime: email@example.com
P.S.: I’m excited to announce that I have made it to the 2nd round of Fab Over 40! This grant will help me support Griefhab clients and spread the word about Griefhab. You can vote once per day!
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