The Courage to Unmask

Posted by Sinead Millard
makeup portrait

I have been wearing a mask for so long that I’m not quite sure that I would know how to remove it. It’s been hugely helpful in enabling me to seek praise, attention and of course keeping the critics at bay. It’s a little suffocating at times, but it’s incredibly comforting and I feel very safe wearing it. 

I’ve managed to perfect my mask over the years which has been great. I am pretty clear on the version of myself I’d like to portray onto the world. Sure, it’s an edited version/impression of myself, but it’s working pretty well. 

In fact, I think it has helped me hold onto my job. My parents seem proud. My friends say we are so alike, almost identical in our beliefs. The parenting mask is an interesting one, I have to edit this one from time to time, depending on the company, it’s a little tiring but I seem to manage it. 

Unlike a halloween mask, this mask can stay on, it’s not an annual disguise. 

I couldn’t really imagine a day without my mask – what would I do with all that extra energy? Who would I become? What kind of people would I connect with? It could be a disaster, un-doing all those years of perfecting my mask.  

We all wear masks from time to time, but there’s a spectrum (the above is perhaps the extreme but a nice little benchmark). I am still unmasking so to speak, but it has accelerated a little in more recent years.

Unmasking is not easy. We give up an identity we have become familiar with. It requires a degree of sacrifice and discomfort and effort. Yet, the return is worth it. We take back energy, energy that was once used to live a life of pretence can instead be channeled into growth and development. We find our power, our voice. We uncover a sense self respect – finally, we respect ourselves enough to remove the mask.

Unmasking doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process, a commitment.

A commitment to:

– Understand who you are on a more deeper level (questioning your beliefs, values, behaviours and actions).

– Begin listening to what your life is telling you – our lives never lie. We all have signals that tell us something is out of whack. Some examples include: physical body pain, inner dialogue/critic gets louder, feeling drained after certain situations/ people, excessive worry, constantly seeking to please, excessively apologising, fear of disagreement, are some but a few.

We are all at a different stage when it comes to unmasking. The starting point is different for everyone.

Maybe you can start with your voice. Share what’s on your mind, whether it’s fully formed, whether or not you think people will agree with you or not.

Question things more.

If you are a parent, give your children opportunities to speak up on behalf of themselves, on what matters most to them (start them early so they have solidified the practice of having a voice).

There’s no shortage of inspiration out there when it comes to living a life that is true to our authentic self. There’s a reason it’s been researched and written about so much. Unmasking is not a “nice to do” its a prescription for personal well-being and the gateway to growth and development.

These sages said explicitly what we all know implicitly,

The Greek poet Pindar said, “Grow into what you are.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Insist on yourself, never imitate.” Famed psychologist Erich Fromm said, “Man’s main task in life is to give birth to himself, to become what he potentially is.” Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To be what we are, and to become what we are capable of becoming, is the only end in life.” And Abraham Maslow said, “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be, he must be.” Shakespeare said “God has given you a face and you make yourself another”

Are you wearing any masks? Can you start practicing the version of yourself that you know to be true but perhaps you’ve been too afraid to take action on?

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