October 2005 Issue --> Personal Article
The Masks We Wear
By: Jim Sniechowski and Judith Sherven, Ph.D.


Halloween - the official holiday of disguise. A time to act out your fantasy-self, your wildest dream-self. A time to wear masks and costumes.  
But what about the other 364 days of the year? Have you ever put on an act then? You know, trying to appear a particular way, hoping  people will believe something special about you, something that isn't real but you want it to be. Or perhaps there's something about you that you're not comfortable with and rather than be exposed you cover it over by putting on a "good face."
The answer for every one of us is yes. Whether we like to admit it or not, from time to time or even much of the time, each of us wears a mask of one kind or another. Sometimes it's a smile when we'd rather not. Sometimes we want to seem knowledgeable when we don't have a clue. Or we want to look strong when in fact we're terrified.
Masks are part of daily life. And in some instances, like playing poker and haggling over the price of something you really want, they are indispensable. But in your personal relationships there's a catch. Whenever you choose to screen the truth of who you are behind a mask, you make the judgment that who you are is inadequate, incompetent, inferior, deficient or defective in some way. You actually insist that you are unwanted.
Whenever you express yourself and are met with rejection, ridicule, or any response that devalues who you are, you stand at a crossroads and you have to make a choice. You can either decide that the response is inaccurate and meaningless. Or you can take the rejection to heart. When you choose the latter, you vote against yourself, agreeing that there is something wrong with you. In order to protect yourself you decide to change, not by developing better self-awareness or learning to consider the source of such negativity, but by creating a false front, one that you believe will be unconditionally acceptable to others.
Once you decide to relate to the world from behind a mask, you cast your vote with those who have voted against you. You vote against yourself and decide to stay in allegiance with those who do not want you. You twist and turn, making yourself into whatever you believe will gain their favor, so that who you are is thereafter determined by someone else's values, someone else's beliefs and feelings. You become what you imagine someone else thinks you should be and you end up without a self of your own. And then you wonder why you are so afraid of being found out, why, when people tell you that they like you or love you, you can never believe them.
Living authentically -- living true to yourself -- requires a serious choice to hold your value on your own terms. And it requires conscious intention and practice to move out from behind your masks. But only then will love be a believable gift. Only then can you trust that you are loved for who you really are.
The following points will help you remember the enormous value of living true to yourself as you work to cast off your masks. 
  1. Masks cover your fear of feeling unacceptable. By dropping your masks, you claim the right to a full emotional range and grow your self-respect.

  3. Your masks block any personally meaningful connection. By dropping your masks, you reveal yourself in a manner that creates the way for genuinely intimate relationships.

  5. With your masks in place, you remain stuck. Locked up inside. By dropping your masks, you can tap a wide array of previously prohibited imagination and creativity.

  7. With masks on, you always feel emotionally hungry and can never be satisfied. By dropping your masks, your basic human need to be recognized, valued, and wanted can be fulfilled.

  9. Your masks keep you dedicated to your past, to the original environment that did not welcome you as you. And your masks continually perpetuate the pain you're trying to escape. By dropping your masks, you make the courageous move to leave the past behind, open to a new future, and become your own person.

  11. Most important, masks force you into believing the delusion that who you are lacks value. Then you live in the fantasy that others are superior to you. And the real you moves far beyond your reach. By dropping your masks, you set yourself free of self-rejection--the only real rejection there is - and make way for living a real and satisfying life.
Having just read this, take a moment and look inside. Are you willing to drop your masks, even just a little at first, and invite people to really know you? Are you willing to find out how people would actually respond to you? Will you agree that their acceptance would then be more meaningful than any so-called liking they may express for your performance? And if they don't like you for who you really are, why would you want to be with them?  
Life is to be lived. And lived as fully as possible. So come out of hiding. This Halloween, take off your masks and come to life -- for the rest of your life!
Husband-and-wife psychology team Judith Sherven, Ph.D. and James Sniechowski, Ph.D. are bestselling authors of Be Loved for Who You Really Are and their new book, The Smart Couple's Guide to the Wedding of Your Dreams, comes out in November from New World Library. Visit their websites www.judithandjim.com and http://www.themagicofdifferences.com.
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