I have been doing a lot of thinking lately about how to interact with people. I have noticed that I have a lot of unique tendencies when it comes to this kind of thing, which is not really surprising. One of the first ones I started to notice that I do constantly is wearing ‘masks’.
I don’t like masks, but I think they are a necessity for surviving in a society of other people. When I was young, I heard the saying that “A wise man adapts himself for the situation” or something like that. It made sense. I could tell that the way you were supposed to act around teachers and the way you acted around your friends were supposed to be different. I also noticed pretty early that the way I wanted to act was not the correct way to act according to other people. So I needed to come up with some way to rectify that.
I started thinking in terms in masks. If I am going to school, I can put on the school mask. The school mask is a way to remind me of what is allowed and what is not allowed and it somewhat controls my actions. I don’t really visualize this as a mask or anything physical, but more like a feature that I add on myself. Because, as a side note, I mostly think of myself as a thought that has a loose connection to some weird physical body. This is why I hate pictures of myself and looking at mirrors, it never matches who I think I am or what I think I look like. So anyways, the masks are like a filter that I push everything I do through.
Over the years I have developed many more masks that I change throughout the day or depending on the setting. Often, putting on the appropriate mask for the day is the hardest part of the day.
Most of the time, I use the ‘child mask’ because I work with children. The ‘child mask’ has some pretty strict rules on it, obviously. There is no cussing, no inappropriate conversation, no weird comments (that one I need refine a little bit), and so on. It also dictates behavioral things like don’t touch the kid, don’t stare at them for too long and that sort of thing that most everyone else just kind of does naturally. But for me, I have to have a reminder.
I also have the ‘adult mask’ which is used when I am around adults and not children. This one allows for cussing, but only in strongly emotional situations or as part of a joke. This mask allows for some inappropriate conversation, but not much.
There is the ‘friend mask’ which is used for general friends. This mask allows for things like sarcasm (the intentional kind), teasing, more jokes that sort of thing. It also allows for more deep conversations and some topics that are previously forbidden.
Then I have the ‘close friend’ mask which is only really shared with a few select people. This mask allows basically anything. With this mask on, I am completely open and free and will talk about anything. I don’t think I have ever worn this mask while in public. It seems way to scary, kind of like going to the store naked. I can’t be that exposed.
I also have the ‘public mask’ which I use anytime I go into public. This one limits cussing, stops personal conversations, limits sarcasm and dark comments, controls somewhat for anger and sadness, and stops me from doing too much stimming (most of the time at least).
But these masks are also more than just a list of protocols that I need to follow. These masks serve as a defense to protect me from the harshness of the world. The world is a pretty awful place out there, and I very rarely feel safe or at rest in it. But if I can hide behind a mask, then I can pretend to feel safe.
I use masks a lot of the time to project how I am ‘supposed’ to be feeling or acting at times when I cannot genuinely feel that way. I use it as a way to compensate for my shortcomings. For example, if I have to do something totally new to me or something that I have no idea how to do (which still happens daily), then I can put on a mask that lets me pretend that I know exactly what I am doing. I can convince other people of that much more easily than I can convince myself.
One of my greatest fears is that all of the mask process is destroying who I really am. I spend all of my time hiding behind a mask out of necessity and not knowing any other way to get by in the ‘real world’. I hate that it feels dishonest, because I think that dishonesty is one of the worst things that we can do as people. I spend so much time with a mask on, that I don’t really even remember what it is like to not wear one. I feel sometimes like I have lost who I am underneath all the masks, or sometimes that I have never discovered who I really am.
Over the past few years, I have been making an effort to wear fewer masks. Maybe it is because I have done a lot of growing up and maturing, maybe it is because I have stopped caring as much what people think about me, or maybe it’s because I am closer to who I am meant to be, I don’t really know. But I have stopped trying to hide myself. I have allowed myself to be much more vulnerable and much more honest with those around me. And that has been one of the best feelings I can imagine. It has also led me to completely change where I thought my life was heading and the path that I was trying to follow, but I can honestly say that I am so much better off now for that change. I love the person that I have become with fewer masks, and I think that I can show the ‘real’ me more often.
I still use the ‘masks’ today, but not as often. Most of the problems and things that I felt I had to hide away are now the things that I use to reach out and connect with other people.