Early on, human beings learn to express themselves, partly based upon roles and personas they developed from childhood. Our experiences teach and shape us. For example, many people were rewarded more for putting on a “happy face” instead of crying. “Stuffing” true feelings down became a survival instinct — and was deemed appropriate, though not necessarily honest. For some, these roles and personas helped us survive demanding, oppressive childhoods. Feeling safe enough to “let our guard(s) down” became (and still is) the goal. The difficulty begins when personas develop all too well, so that we lose sight of who we really are and came to be.
Derived from a Latin word meaning “mask,” a person’s persona(s) can dissuade, even deny, the essence of self — that place within that desires connection, bonding, and love. A persona is designed to disguise our pain, disappointment, or fear by donning a mask. Where we get into trouble is when we get so good at pulling the mask down over our face, that we may lose touch with our individualized expression of self.
Yes, most of us have several different masks that we put on in order to ‘go out into the world’ — promoting a self-assured, intelligent, balanced, mature, successful person. Who are we talking to…really? Over time, we realize that by revealing our vulnerability, we risk rejection of our authentic self. Such rejection feels devastating, so we put layers of defensive mechanisms into place. Ergo: the development of personas or masks. And sadly, in our attempt to protect ourselves from other’s hurtful judgments, opinions, accusations or criticism, we also prevent people from ever getting to know who we truly are!
Here’s are some important tips:
Begin by observing how you engage others as you move about in your world. For example, do you feel like you are ‘being real’ in any given situation? Are you trying to live up to others’ expectations of you?
Next, pause silently to ask yourself: “What’s happening in this situation — within myself,” causing me to put on a mask? How does it serve me to hide behind this smile, or to appear angry, when it’s really not how I feel inside? Objectively, try to identify what emotions you are experiencing.
Then, compassionately and consistently, acknowledge where you are without judgment. Consciously or unconsciously, notice how you chose to wear a mask rather than believing you could be authentic.
If we stay present to our discomfort, we will also feel something else arising — something more real, capable, sensitive, and exquisitely aware of ourselves and our surroundings. Our true nature may be quite different from how we present ourselves every day. Worthiness and identity issues can become intertwined within our personas. Ask yourself, do you feel all the ways you “show up” are genuine and fully integrated? What faces do you convey that no longer serve you…and your highest good? And don’t forget to celebrate and embrace your authentic self!