My close friend, who resides in the U.S., recently surprised her parents with an unexpected visit home to Asia. She recorded her father’s reaction as he walked out of his bedroom and saw his daughter sitting in the living room. “What on earth is going on?” he questioned, “What are you doing here? What did you come home for?”
I know my friend’s father well. I know how much he loves and misses his daughter. Yet, his reaction upon seeing her was not a loving hug, not “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you.” Instead, in that moment, he donned a mask of strength and composure, even while I know his heart was smiling so bright. At that moment, he was unable to free his heart.
We all wear masks, and often, we wear different masks with different people. Fathers wear masks of strength and dignity in front of their wives and children. Mothers wear masks that show “everything is under control” among other mothers. Young women wear masks of perfection: perfect hair, make-up and dress – a perfect balance of beauty and intelligence. Young men wear the joker or macho mask in front of their buddies.
At work we wear masks of professionalism and responsibility – even if our internal dialog says, “God forbid anyone finds out I have no idea what I am doing!”
We often wear the most impenetrable masks in front of people closest to us. We are so afraid of disappointing them, so afraid they will not like what they see beneath our masks. How many times have we hid tears from close friends and family? How many times have we pushed ourselves to be more perfect, more worthy of the masks we bear?
Sometimes, we have worn our masks for so long, we no longer know what we look like without them. We believe it’s impossible that others will accept us without our masks. Or perhaps we have allowed our true selves out – sans mask – yet shied away from others’ attention, feeling undeserving of their love.
How can we begin to remove our masks and embrace our true beings?
There is a saying, “We leak the truth.” Perhaps the journey of removing our masks begins by looking deeper at how we show up. Are we leaking our truth? My friend’s father may have donned a mask of dignity upon seeing his daughter, but I know he felt loving joy at that moment. It is probably true that none of us is wholly successful at masking our truths.
Ask people how you show up. Have them describe their impressions of you. What specifically did you do to form the good – and the bad – impressions?
When I asked, I first was upset that people only saw my strong, capable side, and not my kind, caring self. But allow yourself to receive feedback without judgement. Accept it, let it sink in. When we embrace what other people see in us, we begin to see our truth.
Let’s put aside our masks and allow light to shine on our true selves.