We all develop a sense of self from messages received during childhood. some messages teach the child to trust who they really are and live their life free from fear of being hurt. But with others, the authentic child gets lost in negative messages about who they are and what the world is like. And they will create ways to protect themselves from being hurt.
We humans are resourceful. And the crutches we use to protect ourselves come in many forms. We put up walls. We live in denial. We guard our feelings. We buy love. We avoid threatening situations. And so on, and so on. We create a protective mask, and this image is what we present to the world.
“You wear a mask for so long, you forget who you were beneath it.”
We all wear a mask from time to time, but our facade can become so real, we may forget who we were before someone or something forced us to create a protective shield. And others will react to us according to the person we appear to be, not knowing that beneath our mask we may feel inadequate, unloved, rejected, lonely … any pain from our childhood.
Behind every mask there’s an unmet need, something we missed as a child. And we never found the courage to explore life as our true self. We hide behind our mask to feel safe, and that can work for us. We project silent messages, and others respond. But sometimes the mask can backfire and leave us defenseless, as in the following examples.
People Pleaser message:
If I always give and do what you want, that will please you, and then you’ll love me. So I’ll put your desires ahead of my own. Other people’s response: So that means I can run to you any time I want something done, you’ll do it for me. My own gofer. Yeah.
Result: A people pleaser can get used, and not always be loved.
Do Gooder message:
I’ll serve my community and always help others. Then I’ll get everyone’s approval for being such a good person. Other people’s response: That person is so dedicated to helping others, but he/she doesn’t know when to stop. Result: Do Gooder’s efforts are appreciated, but no approval as a person.
Center of Attention message:
I have no pain from childhood. I’m okay just like I am. So I can do whatever I want, and everyone will like and accept me. Other people’s response: He/she is all right for a while, but not the center of attention all the time. It’s too much. Result: Center of Attention’s denial of any pain underneath isn’t working, and there’s no acceptance by others.
“We try so hard to make ourselves lovable, and yet each layer of this mask puts another wall around us–a wall that keeps love out.” ~Vironika Tugaleva
When I was 6 years old, my father died, and I was heart-broken. But no one understood or comforted me. So I vowed to take care of myself and need no one. Without realizing it, I put up a wall and projected an Independent, Self-Sufficient image to everyone in my life. And of course this brought a Response that said: Oh, you take care of yourself, and you don’t need help. You always look good and seem so happy. You don’t need us. The Result of this image brought loneliness behind my wall.
“Because an illusion is an illusion, reality always exists despite the facade”
~ Kasie West.
Do you wear a mask to protect yourself from childhood hurts? If so, living with a false image may get you through life, but that allows your authentic self to remain lost inside, yelling “Let me out. See me. Hear me. Love me.” And somewhere inside you know it. You feel it. You may not realize you’re living a protective façade but your life is worth exploring to find out where you’re really coming from and whether or not you’re happy with that.
Tune in next week for Part 2 with ways to be less of who you are not, and be more of who you really are.
Let your light shine.
Marilyn Fowler, Author of “Silent Echoes” . . . .
About Silent Echoes:
Silent Echoes is a memoir with psychological undertones spanning three generations. It begins with life in an orphanage and moves into the rich, sweet life of the 1920’s, through the tumultuous Stock Market crash and Great Depression years. The story recounts this historical period, and brings the national trauma to life through a vivid portrayal of one family’s personal struggle to go on as they fall from wealth to poverty and homelessness.
It guides readers through this entire decade with a bone deep exploration into the family’s inner pain and desperation as their situation tests their strength to survive. Characters are portrayed with poignant care as they experience not only loss of material possessions, but of trust in a secure future, of loved ones through death and separation, losses that wound the very soul. As their story moves out of the Depression years through several wars and beyond, residual scars become apparent as they influence the character’s self-defeating choices for some years to come.