Are You Wearing A mask?

mmask2_smAll of us wear masks at different times. For example, we are one way at work, different with our friends, still different with our lovers, children, mothers in law, etc. Our masks, or in modern parlance our Personas, are usually developed to gain affirmation and acceptance in the outside world, i.e.,‘Nice Guy’. ‘Good Girl’. ‘Loyal Employee’. ‘Humanitarian Boss’, ‘Compassionate Therapist’, ‘Super Mom’ etc.

Even those who are oppositional by disposition and wear the Personas of ‘Rebel’, ‘Loner’, “Macho Individualist’, ‘I don’t need anybody Career Woman’ are only wearing reactive personalities not yet healed from brutal, early authority conflicts. I’m especially leery of those who boisterously announce, “I’m up front, I tell it like it is!” “I don’t pull any punches.” “I am always honest.” Their claim to ‘candor’ is often a disguise for rage, cruelty and a need for control over others.

Despotic control is always a compensation for tremendous feelings of inferiority, unworthiness and often feeling unlovable. Profiles for Personas are formed early in life, primarily to manage fear and anxiety and often are reactions to early trauma, including responses to childhood authoritative figures (parents, religious institutions, teachers…).

There are three unconscious responses to early overwhelming authority figures: (1) obedience (2) defiance (3) passive-aggressive – i.e., “I will do the dishes at three o’clock” (fearful obedience). At three o’clock “Oh I forgot” (cowardly defiance). Personas only fake individuality – they’re a compromise between our individual needs and the demands of society and authority figures.

I don’t mean to trash Personas per se, because they are a reality of life for all of us. I certainly behaved differently at a seminar with colleagues last Saturday morning, than I did with my comrades around the campfire that same night. As always, the critical point is consciousness. Once we reach mid-life we are strongly requested to become fully aware what Personas we are wearing and especially what our motivation is for wearing them.

Overall, the need for the wearing Personas lessens and lessens as we get older, there is something bigger going on in our psyches than our Personas. If we’re unconscious of our Personas we become neurotic like the 24 hours a day ‘dutiful daughter’, ‘misunderstood artist’, ‘compliant city council member’, ‘selfless minister’…

When we hit 40, the capacity for self-deception is exhausted. If self deception continues, there is hell to pay! In midlife a radical change needs to take place, because the depressions, anxieties and general suffering are a summons to move from the Persona to authenticity.

Nobody but ourselves can save us from ourselves — the main enemy is always WITHIN. The answer is simple — take a long, deep and genuine look in the mirror — again and again and again and again. Of course this whole initiation ritual is advisable only for those who have some inner authority already. The company of a fellow pilgrim, who knows about the ‘night sea journey’, is strongly recommended.

This pilgrimage is hard and painful, but if you hang in there – keep on looking — there is soul there. If we can eventually cop to our own weaknesses, fears, dependencies, manipulation, power plays, cruel streaks, etc. something incredible happens. Many of our psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, somatic complaints lessen or vanish. Our ‘Shadow’ is not something we can choose to have; it’s there just like our noses and feet.

Dr. Peter Milhado  © 2011

2 thoughts on “Are You Wearing A mask?”

  1. It is interesting to see someone attempt to address the issue of “Persona” and why it is in life that so many people feel obliged to “wear a mask”. This is a complex issue, and in all probability it is impossible to enumerate the individual reasons as to why the “Persona” may exist.
    You begin to address the issue, starting by explaining that for many people, their lives develop in such a way that they are obliged to take on different roles – each of which could be termed a “Persona”. These may include aspects of an individual’s professional or personal life, that call for the usage and display of specific attributes. Sometimes, these roles in a person’s life call for CONTRADICTORY, or competing attributes. Thus, it is easier to adopt a “Persona” that to fully commit to “becoming” that role.
    We are all well aware of the age old dialogue about the competing roles of “wife”, “mother” and “career woman”. Each requires that the woman fulfilling the role behaves in a particular way. The wife may need to be sexy, and appealing to her husband. The mother needs to be nurturing, safe, reliable, and there for her children. The career woman needs to be dedicated, hard working, professional, competitive. How easy is it for ONE woman to successfully combine ALL of these attributes? Surely, there will be times when the “mother” role competes with the “career woman”, or when the “wife” role clashes with the “mother”? How does one deal with the competing demands of job, children and husband? Why, one develops a “Persona”, which changes to suit the situation one is in. The “mother” draws on all of a woman’s domestic attributes, the “wife” on her sex appeal, etc… (I simplify!).
    However, this does NOT fully explain why “Persona” exists. A “Persona” is not simply shorthand for a role into which we must slot in life. After all, why should anyone be “slotted”, at all? Surely the need for adopting “masks” would suggest that the individual human being is NOT free to be him- or herself. Surely in this sense “Persona” is damaging?
    Maybe my problem is that I do not like, or wish, to be “pigeonholed” in life. NO person is just one thing, and is not defined by just one limited set of attributes. However, if one deals with the requirement that one must exist as a multitude of roles, simply by adopting a “Persona” for each role, then surely the outcome is not going to be good?
    A “Persona” suggests something transient, something superficial, something that is NOT REAL. It suggests, to me, a person who is NOT fully engaging with their TRUE SELF. Perhaps they do not even know who this true self is!
    It is interesting that you suggest a need for people to become free from the usage of “masks” as they grow older. It is fascinating that you mark the “watershed moment” as the reaching of age 40!
    I have recently felt myself to be going through somewhat of a “crisis” in life. I have been bullied at work, and as a result, returned to Postgraduate University Study, in an attempt to re-evaluate my career options. The job I once loved now feels “tainted”, and I felt a need to make changes in my life that would eventually lead to a more fulfilling career.
    I have also been through several personal upheavals, including bereavements, health problems (diagnosed with M.E. and Endometriosis), and receiving the news that I would never naturally conceive my own child.
    The shock of being bullied at work was horrendous – I had thought that left behind me on the School playground! The knowledge that I could never conceive naturally has been a devastating blow to my sense of femininity, undermining my very core. It has put pressure on my relationship, as my husband, too, is distraught. I feel to blame for having fertility problems, I feel unattractive and useless as a woman.
    Yet, somewhere deep inside of me, I have become aware of a powerful struggle. Of questions left unanswered for many years. I have become aware of the fact that I have changed as I aged, and have somewhere lost touch with the fundamental essence of “me”. I have adopted roles, some of my choosing, others thrust upon me. I have become the competing wife, career woman, and latent mother divide that I described above. And now that I am aware of this fact, I feel torn. Ripped apart, so to speak, by the conflicting demands of the roles I have taken on board!
    Perhaps, from a Psychological perspective, it is wrong for humankind to view the last significant stage of an individual’s development as Puberty? This is always seen traditionally as the huge jump from childhood to adulthood. But is this accurate? Perhaps the truth is that we take FAR longer to mature and to reach adulthood. It is not accomplished simply in one stage. And we do not all accomplish it in the same way. Perhaps some of us develop quickly into adults, whereas for others this may take a lifetime. And who is to say what we are to term “adult” anyway? Your idea of adult behaviour may not be mine!
    And that brings me back to “Persona”. You are right to state that there is something about maturity which calls for a rejection of the need to hide behind “masks” – that calls for a need to be true to oneself. However, I do not believe that this should occur at any particular age.
    “Persona” is a damaging thing; it is fake, and false. It is a deception (a self-deception, too). At its worst, it prevents us from fully engaging in life, and thus from fully exploring our true potential. Perhaps, all those years ago, “Persona” should have also been added to Sigmund Freud’s list of “Ego Defense Mechanisms”? Adopted for a very limited period of time, it is a “coping strategy”. Adopted for a longer term it is unhealthy.
    In this modern era of glib superficiality, where everyone is encouraged to be obsessed with the “cult of celebrity”, and “get rich quick”; where we are all enticed by the lure of playing the Lottery, and fashion, fake tans, cosmetic surgery, fast food, luxury goods, big cars, expensive holidays… In a world where we are kidded that we can “have it all, blow the cost!” the march of “Persona” is never ending. But should we not halt its march? After all, is what we read in a glossy magazine, about a person we will never ever meet, REALLY TRUE? Is that “wonder diet” REALLY as good as it claims? Can we TRULY be forever the slim, glamorous, young, tanned, slicked, well-muscled, wealthy, exotic… (Insert adjective here!)… man or woman that the media, advertising, and society in general kid us we should be?
    We have become a society of people who are encouraged never to look below the surface. Never to search for the reality. Why should we always believe the “hype”?
    Each and every one of us has inside the REAL US. Yet we rarely show this face to the world. We rarely take the time to explore who this true self is. We are often too busy striving to be something we are not. And society has taken advantage of that fact. To implore us to buy into (often literally) a never ending stream of gimmicky nonsense. Scratch the surface, and we suddenly become aware of this.
    After all, are those celebrities we are encouraged to emulate REALLY as happy as we are told? Do we TRULY want to be them? What’s wrong with being US? THE REAL US? Come on, DITCH THE FAKE, GET REAL!!

    Elaine (aged 41)
    Postgraduate Psychology Student
    UK

  2. I’m so impressed with your work, thankyou for giving us all this gift of life.

    To finalize, I would say that your work is inspiring, ingenious and interesting.

    You have given me many of life’s answers, all just within the short space of time. I genuinely trust your work and it’s left me feeling on a high note 🙂

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