Today, the day after Halloween, I find myself thinking about masks. I don’t mean those created as works of art for the purpose of decorating walls in people’s homes or others which are exhibited in museums. The images in my head are the masks people wear when covering their faces, especially the grotesque ones often worn on Halloween.
In fact, the more I think about them, I believe it’s understandable why someone with my personal history would find such masks to be particularly disconcerting and not objects of holiday fun.
Anyone who has grown up in a household such as mine – not knowing how a parent would behave from one day to the next, which of their identities would be seen and which would be disguised or seen and not talked about – would certainly think twice about the wearing of masks. Anything that conceals a person’s identity, whether in jest or not, is all too reminiscent of the reality that was ours as we lived with others whose identities were forever masked and our days were anything but amusing or entertaining.
We knew, all too well, what it meant to live with someone who showed us one aspect of their persona one day and another the next, leaving us uncertain about what was real and what was masked. Perhaps that’s why I always feel more comfortable with people who speak their truths than with anyone who says only what he or she thinks is “politically correct.”
In my private practice, as well, when I see couples prior to marriage, they are usually seeking counsel because one or both are beginning to have doubts. Some times that’s to be expected. It’s what we’ve come to refer to as getting “cold feet.” But in those instances, each feels reassured after we review the pattern of their relationship and the reasons that have kept them together. Others find themselves doubting whether or not they really know their partner and wonder if what they showed one another during their courtship is their true self or merely aspects of themselves that they knew would be appealing. Once wedding plans were set in motion, they found themselves “faced” with the whole of who their partner is as well as who they themselves are, as opposed to only the best parts, the ones they felt free enough to share.
Here is where there is much to be said for not having to deal with another’s masquerade, clouding the truth and shattering loyalty.
Returning to my feelings about masks, I’d ask you to think about how different masking one’s face in the name of “playing” or “loving” is from that of a criminal not wishing to reveal himself for fear of being identified? And why is there a need for any of us to masquerade as anyone other than ourselves? Are we afraid of our true selves? Is deceit part of our conscious or unconscious intention?
Or is it that too few of us really know ourselves well enough to be true to the self we think we are? Perhaps we need to think more seriously about what or whom we hide behind, what beliefs we’re willing to be held accountable for, and what masks we have worn at various times in our lives and for what reasons.
In therapy, one of the major goals is to discover our true self, to rid ourselves from the masks we’ve used (or what professionals might refer to as defenses we’ve used)which have influenced us, most often, to make poor decisions.
When poor decisions are made, it is usually because we fail to see the whole picture. We are, in effect, unable to “face” all of who we are and all that we need to make us feel content.
I suppose that’s it for me! I prefer to un-mask rather than to mask. And, in so doing, I know that I have spared myself unnecessary anguish and hope that I do the same for the patients I treat.
Anyway, I hope that those of you who did celebrate had a HAPPY HALLOWEEN!