The complexities of the human condition are deeply reflected in the layers that we each have. The antidote to this are the authentic acts of vulnerability and empathy. The fear of judgment causes us to hide our childlike self under a hard shell, rather than allowing our true self to flourish. It takes energy to not be ourselves. The masks we wear can become definitions that we create for ourselves and the ways that we present ourselves to the world. Reflecting on my own masks, I thought about how the words we are told as a child are powerful and they can become deeply ingrained into us as facts throughout our whole lives. The powerful truth is recognizing that only you know who you are and only you are in control of changing who you are. No one can really define you, unless you let them.
Growing up, I was often told that I was shy, quiet and reserved. This was repeatedly said to me throughout my life to the degree that I thought that there was something wrong with me. As an Asian New Zealander, there have been many moments throughout my life where I felt an unexplainable invisibility. The stereotype of the ‘Quiet Asian Woman’ has followed me all my life, deeply affecting the way I previously saw myself. My experiences, though, have really helped me to understand the harm of minimising people through categorizing them. The undoing of a lifelong feeling of not fitting in a mould came through the development of self assurance within oneself despite external voices. You are the author of your novel and the beauty and freedom of this is that you can create whatever you desire.
Masks are an internalisation from how other people perceive us. It can make us succumb to the perception of the world to protect ourselves. The fear of vulnerability can hide our true self as we wear a false mask as a protection to feel safe from the world. The desire for acceptance leads to wearing a mask that society puts on us for fear that being your true self is not the way the world wants to see you. Our identities are constructed on how others perceive us, but the lack of vulnerability constrains the diversity of human nature and potential. Vulnerability openly invites us to talk about how we feel without judgment, builds trust and a sense of security and connection, the freedom to be ourselves and the deliberate act of being kind.
When we struggle with our mental health, we often cling to our masks even tighter. For example, when you have experienced depression, you may have fought to bear a smile on your face. We experience an inner battle when we hide our depression and anxiety; holding tightly on our masks can provide temporary relief, but never allow us to fully heal. The surface may not reflect the reality. The dangers of this comes in the deterioration of authentic connections when we create an appearance of perfection to the world that doesn’t exist. Perfection is a false façade to create an illusion of happiness to the world but it never achieves true happiness. True happiness is the freedom we feel when we are living in the world as the person that we were born to be.
Our true selves tend to shine when we let go of external pressures or validations. True understanding comes from taking the time to listen and see through different lenses. When we judge ourselves or other people, it comes from a deep rooted insecurity within ourselves and a desire to feel a false sense of superiority. Wearing masks are a learned practice that we have picked up as a survival tactic as a way of hiding what we are feeling. Masks are worn as a socially expected concept such as when we may have to keep a polite demeanour even if a situation is difficult. When we really unpeel everything, everyone wants to be understood and loved.
There is a beautiful photography series by Justin Rosenberg that you can view here that brings to light the reality of how we tend to perceive things through what we see rather than for what they are.
What are the masks that you wear?
Art by Marcel Dzama