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Taking our masks off

Keeping up appearances and the price we pay.

“But, as you well know, appearances can be deceiving…” – Agent Smith

While the mask mandate has been lifted from today where I live, I will be talking about the psychological masks we wear in order to keep up appearances and how we can end up writing cheques we can’t cash.

“With who we portray or present ourselves to be, perhaps only the mirror knows who we truly are.”

You may have heard of the word “persona” or even played the acclaimed videogame series of the same name, can generally be understand as the aspect of a person’s character that is presented to or perceived by others. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung did a lot of work in the area of personas – the mask of the actor – and the problems that can arise when we identify with the persona over our true self e.g. inner conflict, resentment, detachment, feelings of loneliness and isolation etc.

We play roles in society, some of us many roles, for example, parent, partner, sibling, friend, co-worker, teammate etc. with expectations placed on us by society and ourselves as well as what each of those roles envisages us to behave and perform like. Now, as I have written previously, roles and expectations can guide and motivate us in the right direction, but also burn us under their searing heat or crush us under their weight. Understanding ourselves and our place in society is a lifelong journey.

“Our physical masks are coming off, but what about our psychological masks?”

Oh the Palpatinean levels of “ironic”; wearing a mask in public yet ask to show your true self, no? Yet, believe me, the “unlimited power” comes from integrating your dark side not turning to it. While this extends beyond the rudimentary-but-still-important “pretending to be alright, but deep down you are not”, what we see and present is the tip of the Freudian iceberg to what there is going on beneath the surface.

In acting one of our personas, it is possible for a false self to appear and for this false self to be rewarded. When this happens it reinforces the behaviour so we continue (or increase) to act in this manner, the danger being a potential snowball effect to the point where you don’t even know who you are anymore. You will start to feel a disconnect, a conflict within you. Something will feel off, but you may not be able to pinpoint its source – think: general discontent/unease. Your life may start to feel unfulfilling, like you’re out of alignment and devoid of true satisfaction with an emptiness to your existence.

So, why do we create these false selves and fake personas? Well, for those answers you have to subscribe to my OnlyFans account for $9.99/month…haha no, seriously, status seeking and wealth creation are some reasons, but fear of abandonment and not being liked are of greater concern and are more likely to lead to an increase in false-self/s. A lack of internal strength, resolute character, courage and/or self-acceptance can lead to creating a fake persona to overcome such fears. I’ve written another piece on external validation, please click the link should you wish to read more.

One of the many great things that the film “The Shawshank Redemption” illustrates is this difference between false-self and true-self through the character Red’s parole rejection (and finally, approved) scenes. Red, played by the iconic Morgan Freeman, starts off by telling the parole board what he thinks they want to hear – bang! Instant rejection, to which he jests about it being “same shit, different date” while another character jokes about being “up for rejection” next week. Next time, he says similar things, but doesn’t really believe it (and it doesn’t matter, he already knows the answer) and no surprise, same result. Finally, Red illustrates how he has changed and been rehabilitated by being his true-self, and lo and behold his parole gets approved. Obviously, the scenes deserved far more analysis than this, but it illustrates beautifully the transformation from naïve to cynical to courageous using false and true selves. Full essay analysing The Shawshank Redemption anyone?

I get it, sometimes it can get quite tiring being yourself and it’s easier to act the part or go along with it. However, in the long run it is more tiring keeping up appearances than being who you are. Honesty starts with yourself and then with others – we must overcome our own self-deception before concerning ourselves with our deception and manipulation of others.

Technology, the internet and social media have accelerated the need, want and effects of “keeping up appearances” – it really is a “be seen, be heard” world we live in with perception being everything. To use an Aussie phrase, it’s a bit like “keeping up with the Joneses” but on steroids.

I don’t really share this modern-day social obligation to publicly share life. As a private person I feel quite disadvantaged in this regard. As an introvert, I know the world is set up for the extraverted to thrive, but thankfully technology has helped narrow the gap. Why does everyone feel the need to be so outwardly expressive? And that we all have to love it? And with no criticism?

All I ask you to consider is that with the removal of our physical masks, think about what psychological masks you may still be wearing.

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