Do you ever feel like you are wearing a mask? That the words you say and the things you do don’t truly reflect who you are? You smile and have conversations that is more like reading from a script then an authentic reflection of how you really feel or who you really are. Why do we do this and why is it so easy?
Reasons we put on masks to preserve our self-image
Some people wear a mask to give a false impression about themselves. They are not satisfied with who they are and pretend to act and speak like someone else in effort to feel better about themselves. While improving yourself is encouraged, taking on the behaviors of someone else ultimately leads to inauthenticity and dishonesty.
Others wear a mask to shut people out from knowing who they really are. They use their mask as a wall, preventing themselves from ever showing vulnerability. These people have been hurt or taken advantage of. Instead of running the risk of being hurt again, they build a barrier between who they truly are and the world around them.
Lastly, people wear a mask to pretend like everything is okay. These people not only try to fool those around them, but also fool themselves into thinking that everything is perfectly fine when in reality, it’s not. These people have also been hurt or are struggling with something. However, they feel like dealing with the issue is too painful or difficult, so they wear a happy mask instead.
What do all these different types of masks have in common?
All of these masks prevent people from getting the help they need. Wearing a mask is like covering up a wound without treating it. You reject the reality of the situation because of the difficulty associated with dealing with it. Covering up a wound is easier and less painful that getting stitches at the moment, however, over time, the would will get worse and worse. When you finally do uncover the wound, you realize it’s much worse now than before.
Whether it is pride, fear, or convenience that prevents us from removing our masks, it is imperative that we take a breath, remove the facade, and face the mirror. If we want to improve our situation or heal, we first need to take a hard look at the wound in order to treat it. This is sometimes difficult and scary, but so important because you open yourself up to others who can help.
Now that the mask is off, let people help
Removing your mask is an important first step, but the second task has no less importance. Sometimes, we need to let others show us the mirror. By human nature, we are reluctant to do this. It’s hard enough to look at our own flaws, but others pointing them out to us causes us to become defensive, angry, and self-justifying. We are already in a vulnerable position without a mask on, and to receive any sort of criticism, no matter how good-natured, makes us want to strike back or run away.
However, we need others, especially coaches and mentors to show us where we can improve. We need advice, accountability, and an actionable plan to become better in the areas we want to enhance and we can’t do that alone. Just like a doctor diagnoses you, gives advice, and prescribes you medicine, a professional coach can diagnose what the issues are, give you personal and work-related advice, and can prescribe you with a plan of action to reach your goals.
Why becoming defensive doesn’t help anybody
Let’s say a friend comes up to you and tells you about a great new restaurant. She tells you that the food, service, and ambiance were all amazing and that you have to go. You would be excited to try it and thankful for her recommendation. Yet, when it comes to recommendations about ourselves that we perceive to threaten our self-image, we are less receptive to accept those recommendations and continue to live a life full of frustration. Running away from help or dismissing it out of hand does you no service.
For example, let’s say you haven’t been eating well and have a history of diabetes in your family. You go to get some tests done, and the doctor tells you that you are prediabetic and need to make changes to become healthier. It makes no sense to get angry with the doctor for telling you this information and giving you recommendations. The doctor is there to help you and becoming defensive and justifying your unhealthy habits only does you more harm.
The same is true for a friend, family member, or coach trying to help you. They want what is best for you, and sometimes can bring a different perspective or see more clearly the things that we are often blind to. Remove the mask, let people in, and let them help.
Making changes based on recommendations
The next step is implementing changes in our lives based on the recommendations we receive from those around us. This is the part where the prediabetic patient goes home, eats healthier, and exercises. While realizing who we truly are and becoming less defensive are mindset changes, this step is based on behavior. Again, it’s easy to put these changes off based on
convenience, pride, or fear, but making these changes early on puts you on a path of success instead of wandering back on the path to self-deception.
Looking in retrospect, so many of my clients realized how unaware they were to reality before coaching. They wore a mask to protect themselves and couldn’t see the damage this caused, not only to themselves but to others. They were unaware of how they were hurting those who wanted to help by lashing out or retreating. Through coaching exercises, my clients have had the guts to ask themselves, “who am I?” and are open to advice and constructive criticism. They have reflected on recommendations and have implemented changes, leading to great careers and stronger relationships.
What will it take for you to remove the mask?