I was taking a yoga class a while back and it was a sad moment when I realized that you just can’t hold in your tummy and fake flat abs when you’re in a lot of these poses. There I was in a mirrored room face to face with my real body, lumpy and soft parts hanging out everywhere.
There are some things in life we think we can fake, but it’s not really working all that well for us. Have you ever gained some weight but had to get dressed and go out anyway? The jeans we’ve outgrown don’t lie when the button pops off and the zipper won’t stay up. We can cover them with a long shirt and a cute belt, but we know the truth underneath and we don’t feel very comfortable.
I think a lot of us are doing the same thing in our emotional lives. We’re trying to fake it. We wear a mask to present ourselves as something we hope to be, or as something we think the other person wants from us, or to protect ourselves from someone we fear will leave us. But when we wear our mask, we can’t feel comfortable in our own skin. It’s like those jeans that are popping open – we’ve got them on, but we live in fear of them falling down in public.
The masking I want to talk about goes much deeper than simply adjusting our behavior to fit a particular situation. For instance, you might be the fun-loving, center of attention type of person who knows that in the office you’ve got to act professional and courteous, so you tone yourself down. The question is, do you tone yourself down because you understand and accept that as appropriate office behavior, or do you tone it down because you feel that there is something wrong with you? If it’s the second, that’s most likely a mask you’re wearing.
The difference is subtle but important and it’s something I get into with my Personality Plus workshops and trainings. We are all born with our core personality traits. As children, if we are raised in a health emotional environment, we can learn to live in our strengths.
The fun-loving person described above would likely be a Popular Sanguine whose basic desire in life is to have fun. Living in their strengths, this person knows how to make events fun, tell good stories, make everyone feel welcome and get others to join them in everything from a vacation adventure to vacuuming. But if that bubbly, cheerful person has been told that they are too loud, too flaky, too disorganized or other criticisms of what should be their strengths, they can start to mask themselves as a different personality type in an effort to please the person who told them that they were “too much.”
I met a woman like this at an antique sale. I was sitting in an outdoor area of the shop with another woman I hadn’t seen in a while talking about my personality trainings and how to identify people’s personalities by what they were wearing or how they acted. A woman neither of us knew overheard our conversation and jumped in with, “Oh I need that training. I need a new personality!” Of course, I couldn’t let that one go so I started to talk with her as well. What she told me was a very common story.
I could tell immediately that she was a Popular Sanguine. She was colorful, gestured wildly with her hands when she spoke, injected a lot of laughter into her comments and would jump from one topic to the next. She had been told by her father, and then by her husband, that she was too flighty, shallow, loud, disorganized and unreliable. She felt that they were right and she was just a huge disappointment to them both.
She had been masking her true personality at home for most of her life. She made sure that the house looked perfect, even if she had to hide things in drawers and closets where her husband wouldn’t look. She had stopped trying to talk to him and instead spent hours on the phone with her girlfriends while he watched the news. She avoided as many social occasions with him as she could because she felt so out of place next to him. And she spent her Saturdays prowling antique stores because she loved how messy and haphazard and disorganized they were. Visiting antique stores was the only place she felt “normal.”
I told her she didn’t need a new personality, she just needed to learn how to appreciate her hardwired strengths and learn how to use them in a way that made her feel good about herself again. She wandered off and I wandered off, but I’ve never forgotten that conversation because it’s not as uncommon as you’d think.
The truth is that many of us have learned to mask our true selves in order to survive a traumatic situation, or a family dynamic where there are too many strong personalities under one roof, or to please someone. But we never feel like we belong in our own skin.
So if you’re feeling like just these few words have caused anything to bubble up for you, pay attention to that. When we have a physical reaction to something like this, it’s an indication that something might want our attention. Take some time to think – have you been masking your true self, or have you placed someone else in a position of masking their true self?
It’s not a matter of letting loose and ignoring appropriate social norms. Think long and hard if you’ve been a square peg trying to fit yourself into a round hole, and if so, how far back did that feeling start? If you’ve been wearing your mask because you hope it will please another person, how much longer do you want to live that way?
There are ways to step into your natural strengths that are positive, productive and non-threatening and I would love to help you figure that out.