Behind the Masks


emotion-masks
Who are you?

By that, I’m referring to the “true” you.

I’ve written previously about the roles that we play, and how they impact us. We all play a number of different roles. Parent, child, sibling, friend, co-worker, lover.

Are all of these things simply roles? Are they acts that we put on, depending on our audience? Or are they components of who we “really are”?

Who are we? Is there actually a “true” you?

Who are You?

The idea of a “true you” has always interested me.

If it exists, when was it formed? Did you have the seeds of this true you when you were an infant? Did it start when you started attending school?

I guess it is the age old nature/nurture debate, but to me it seems clear that if it exists, it is something that formed over time. I suppose there may be some seeds to your personality in your genetic makeup, but your experiences definitely contribute to shaping who you are.

If we can accept that experience at least contributes to the “true you”, then the question becomes:

When (if ever) are you “complete”? When it your identity fully formed?

Did it stop when you became a teenager? When you reached the age of majority?

I definitely changed when I became a parent. And over the last few years I’ve watched my parents’ generation go from being the adults to the seniors, while I have gone from being one of the younger generation to being part of the adult generation.

During this time I have watched children grow into young adults. I have watched people fall in love, marriages fail. People get sick, loved ones die. I have watched great joy, love, anger and sadness.

These things impact you. The experiences change you.

So if I’m constantly changing, who am I? Was the “me” at 20 any more or less valid than the “me” I was at 30? Or 40?

Losing Yourself

We all have many roles we play in our lives, and each of these roles comes with a set of unwritten rules and expectations.

The behavior that is “acceptable” as a student is different from what is acceptable as a child, a friend, a parent, a co-worker, a lover. The list goes on.

Conforming to these acceptable behaviors can be like donning a mask, and sometimes we let the masks slip. For example, I don’t swear often, but have a tendency to in times of frustration or anger. Even still, there’s a part of me that knows that it’s different to swear with my buddies vs. in front of my children. I make that distinction at a subconscious level. Yet I have sworn in front of my children, and in those moments my “parent mask” has slipped.

When it does, is it the “true me” that is coming out?

I don’t think so. It’s a side of me, sure. I don’t believe the true me is someone who goes around swearing all the time. The true me also isn’t someone who never swears. I will occasionally, out of frustration or anger. But I would like to think the true me know which situations are appropriate, and which aren’t.

Sometimes juggling all the roles we play can seem overwhelming. And in doing so, at times it can seem like we have lost sight of ourselves, and we aren’t even sure who we are anymore under all those roles.

I think this sense of losing ourselves happens when we act the way we think people want us to act. People talk about “authenticity” as being true to yourself. And if we aren’t being authentic then the roles we play become just that – roles. We become like actors, trying to put on the appropriate mask for the appropriate setting.

When we do this, we lose sight of who we are.

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Finding Yourself Again

But wait a minute? Didn’t I just say that we all have many roles to play, and there are certain expectations associated with these roles?

Shouldn’t we have to meet those expectations?

This is where the challenge comes in. We do all have roles we play in our lives, but at the same time we should never just be “playing” a role.

Instead, we need to find ways to make that role our own.

Let me explain…

I’m a father, and my dad was my biggest influence for what a father is. After all, he’s what I grew up with. But I’m not the father my dad was, or the father his dad was. I can never be him. I need to define what it being a father means to me, and that’s the father I need to be. But even this isn’t “fixed”.

The father I was to my children when they were babies is different from the father I am to my children now. I learn, adapt, and change.

I’m sure other people look at some of my parenting techniques and see things I’m doing “wrong”. Well, yeah. I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong. But hopefully I’m also doing a lot of things right. And most importantly, I’m finding an approach that works for me. It’s fluid.

A harder one is my role as a husband.

Similar to learning to be a parent, I’m probably doing a lot of things wrong. Hopefully I’m doing a lot of things right too. The thing is, I’m sure my wife has certain expectations of me. And I likewise have certain expectations of her.

This presents a challenge, because if I do something simply because it’s expected of me then I’m just playing a role or putting on a mask. But at the same time there ARE expectations, and I can’t just pick and choose the parts I want to deal with, or the ones I am comfortable with at a given moment.

As a couple, you need to be clear with each other what your expectations are. No one’s expectations will match completely, and this can be a significant source of conflict in relationships.

Bridging this gap is important to the success of a relationship.

You should never feel like you are playing a role, or doing things simply because they are expected of you. But at the same time, when you are in a relationship you do have responsibilities to the other person.

I think this is where empathy comes in.

For both members of a relationship to feel valued, there must be a belief that both members needs and expectations matter to the other person – even when they don’t match.

Accepting this allows you adjust your expectations somewhat, and fill a role without just playing the role. It allows you to make it your own, and find a way to fill the role that seems natural for you.

It is only when you do this that you are being true to yourself.

When you do this, it’s not just a role. It becomes part of you.

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Embracing Change

Identity can be a difficult thing, and I don’t think there are any “easy” answers to the question of who we are.

But I don’t believe there is a “true you”. Or rather, the true you is always evolving and always changing.

We have countless roles we play in our lives, and each of them shapes us. But at the same time, we don’t have to let them define us.

So who am I?

The true me is both good and bad. It’s full of all sorts of flaws and contradictions. And all of these pieces are all still me.

I’m all sorts of things. I’m a father, a husband, a friend, a co-worker, a son, etc. All of these things are me, and all of them make up my identity. But I am not any single one of these.

And no matter which role I am playing at a given time, all of them are still “me”.

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5 thoughts on “Behind the Masks

  1. I completely understand this from my perspective, the same perspective you gave. However, my husband has remarked many times that he is wanting to get back to “himself” referring to him as “me” when writing. I don’t understand this getting back to “me” part at all. I read what you wrote and integrating all those different roles are “you”. That is you! Perhaps he is feeling uneasy in his roles which is what I suspect.

    I do agree on you though in that you are always still yourself no matter what role you play.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Many, many people seem to go through some sort of existential crisis where they feel they have lost themselves.

      Like yourself, I don’t understand it. But this post is kind of my response to it.

      There is no “you”. Or there is, but it’s always evolving and changing.

      When people want to get back to being “me”, I think it’s because they have taken a look in the mirror and they don’t like what they see.

      They see a life that for whatever reason hasn’t turned out the way they had wanted or hoped. Maybe they feel they haven’t succeeded in some capacity – career, money, marriage, family. Whatever.

      Maybe they have just been ground down by the stresses of day to day life, and they are longing for a time when they were more carefree.

      My feel is, often they are looking at a period of time in their lives where they believe they were happier, and they are cherry picking the happy memories from that time. Then comparing it to how they feel today, and thinking “what happened? where did that version of me go?”.

      I read a lot of stuff, and commonly the “search for me” is accompanied by a search for “freedom”. Freedom from stress, and responsibility. Freedom to do what you want without having to worry about consequences.

      But that freedom doesn’t exist. It was never real in the first place, no matter where you are in life.

      A while back I wrote a two part entry on accountability, and although it wasn’t read by many people I think it’s probably one of the most important posts I have done.

      Many people get caught up in blaming others for the situations they are in. Or they go through life dealing with guilt, and doing things out of obligation. I’m not sure if it’s cause or effect, but chronic unhappiness seems to show all these traits – blaming, guilt and obligation.

      The fact it, relationships aren’t easy. Life isn’t easy. But it is still what you make of it, and your mindset in approaching the world is probably the most important thing in determining your level of happiness.

      Yeah, there’s a ton of stuff I “have to do”. I may not really enjoy it, or want to do it. But it still has to be done.

      I have a choice. I can do these things and be angry about it – because I feel they are obligations that are being forced on me. Which means I become resentful and blame others.

      Or I can say, yeah, these are things I need to do. Period. And accept them as part of whatever role I have to play at a given time.

      If I’m resentful, it’s a pretty safe bet I will never be able to enjoy whatever it is. But if I accept it’s simply part of life? Well, then it’s less painful. And maybe I can even start to see the good sides and enjoy something.

      Mindset is key.

      Liked by 2 people

      • I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote. I’ll have to check out your accountability post.. I wish your words could come and live in my head when I have these questions pop up.

        Do you think mindset can change?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Mindset CAN change, but rarely does. For someone to change their mindset, they have to truly realize that their current one isn’t working for them anymore, and they have to want to change it.

        I’ve talked about my buddy Gandalf a number of times in my blog, and had him co-write a multi-part thing on self love. He is an inspiration to me. He’s someone who had a very broken view of the world, and when that outlook failed him he took ownership of it and turned it around.

        I’ve known him a number of years, and his turnaround is remarkable. So that gives me hope, and makes me believe others can do the same.

        However…

        …even in his case, he had to hit rock bottom first. As he puts it, his coping mechanisms had to fail him completely. And until that happened, he was someone who would blame everyone and everything for his own problems. Once he lost everything and found he still had problems, he started to come to terms with the fact that the problems started with him.

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  2. I want to put a slightly different perspective on the entire idea of finding oneself, which comes from my personal experience.

    When a person suppresses parts of themselves for whatever reason and respond in a manner contrary to their core being, then a loathing of oneself starts to set in that person.

    For me, it was anxiety that I consciously allowed to influence who I was and suppress the person that I am. I couldn’t talk to people because I let the fear of what they thought of me prevent me from even trying. I couldn’t travel because I was scared of new experiences.

    This suppression of who I am caused a deep seated hatred of myself, but in an ironic twist, I blamed everything and everyone else but myself for this. “If only people treated me better, I’d be happy” I’ve said to myself often.

    One of my coping mechanisms, playing video games, allowed me to feel like who I am, or wanted to be. I could talk to people and travel and help others all in a game. But it wasn’t real, and eventually, I had to face myself. When I did, that’s when I discovered that I was letting anxiety influence my actions, or more precisely, inaction.

    For some people, the same can occur when being in one of life’s various roles. If a role runs contrary to who the person is, then resentment will build up in that person until the person breaks, leaves, or gives up and accepts it. I have found that it’s this mismatch of a person’s life to who they are at their core that causes these desires for “finding the real me” midlife crisis.

    Yes, we all suppress parts of ourselves depending on the role we are currently playing, but the issue comes in when a person suppresses core parts of themselves most or all the time and if you are resentful of it. I hated myself for not being able to talk to people (especially women) and that led to my crisis. Fortunately, I was able to recognize the problem and got help for my issue.

    Liked by 1 person

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