Power Tip #3: Shed Light on Your Dark Secret – How you can accelerate your healing by removing your mask and practicing authenticity.
Today we’re going to talk about Shedding Light on your Dark Secret. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to talk about this today, because this is all about going from a place of duplicity, where an individual has multiple identities, multiple masks that he or she wears, to doing what it take to get to a place of authenticity.
I’ll start by asking you to reflect on a simple question: who is _________? Fill in the blank with your name.
You may answer by looking at the roles that you play, and many people would do so. “I am a college student. I am an Engineer. I am a devout Muslim. I am a leader in my community.” So on.
But for someone struggling with a secret habit, the answer is not so straightforward. You may think “I am a Muslim, but…” Or “people see me as a role model in the community, but….”
There is inconsistency between different identities. And this inconsistency causes deep, deep pain because you are unable to answer the question who am I? Have you ever felt pain because of this? Have you ever felt like a hypocrite or a fake, because people see you in one light, but you think to yourself “if only they knew what I did..”?
Most people respond to this feeling of hypocrisy by trying to eliminate the secret mask and obliterate it, thinking that once it’s gone their identity will be whole again. The common assumption is that if I stop my secret sin, then I will no longer experience this pain of duplicity, this pain of hypocrisy.
So they are aware that they have 2 different masks they wear, and they hope that when they destroy the mask that comes out in secret, the pain will go away because then they can live their lives consistent with this other persona, this other identity, this other mask.
But have have you ever stopped to think – does the answer really lie in forcing myself to live up to this public persona? Or is there something else, something deeper that needs to be considered? Have you ever thought – what would happen if I removed my mask all together? What would happen if I allowed my true self to manifest? What if it wasn’t all about expectations and roles and how others see you, and what if it was all about taking the time to actually find out, perhaps for the very first time, who am I, after all? Who am I beyond all of the roles and expectations and masks?
Who is the face behind the mask?
The reason we’re talking about this today is that most people try very hard to live up to a set of expectations that others have upon them – or expectations that they have set up for themselves – hoping that this will relieve the pain of hypocrisy they experience so often. But what they fail to realize is that it is only by removing the mask to discover your true self that you will finally be free.
Living behind a mask
Let me give you an example of what this is all about, and let’s see if this experience sounds familiar to you.
One of our members shared this story in a blog article, he says:
I wake up early in the morning, and I get ready to go off to Fajr prayer, because going to Fajr is important to me. Although, I don’t share it with anyone, I’m furious. As I drive to meet my Lord, I give the empty passenger chair a backhanded blow with my right arm. My face is contorted in confusion, pain, frustration. I acted out sexually the night before. And I hated the fact with every ounce of soul I had. For years, my existence was characterized by an external display of calmness and competence, yet chaos reigned inside. Despite my acting out, I still tried to make Fajr prayer, I attended weekend Islamic seminars regularly, I held leadership roles within my school and masjid, I was successful academically, parents in the community praised me as a role model for their kids. Everything was fine…if only this one tiny little thing could just disappear. Truth is, nothing was fine. I was deeply, deeply insecure. The primary reason is simple: my focus, my goal, the thing that drove my actions day and night was living up to an unreasonable set of expectations.
You might wonder, listening to his story, isn’t this level of religiosity good? And you may ask, does being more authentic somehow mean becoming less religious? I’m going to answer those questions in just a little bit, insha Allah, so read on!
Wearing a Mask Makes it impossible to get the help you need
One of the biggest problem behind wearing a mask is that it makes it impossible to get the help you need.
One member describes how this happened for him:
When we’re placed at the forefront of our communities and relied on for help, we tend to get used to that position. We feel validation and a sense of purpose being the one assisting others in their journey to Islam and we won’t accept a scenario where those roles are reversed. Subconsciously, we search for more opportunities to volunteer in activities and organizations because of the praise that we get from those around us. All the while, our activist persona is becoming more and more embellished, widening the gap between our public and private lives. Eventually, we are placed on such a high pedestal, that to step down from it and admit that we are actually human and have flaws would be social suicide and a surefire way to cut off the praise that feeds our egos. When I realized the pedestal I was placed on in my community, what followed immediately was a dizzying recognition of just how far I had to fall.
Wearing masks is exhausting
If you haven’t thought about how to practice authenticity in your own life and you find yourself living your life so focused on expectations and roles and identity and masks, then you might not realize how exhausting all of that really is. One member reflects on this saying:
The thing with wearing masks is that they are temporary. Masks are changeable, and constantly switching them becomes exhausting. When my public mask was on, no one realized how that bright smile was hiding an individual who was and had been broken on the inside. It was all a lie. My life was a lie, and I started to slowly crumble. Even without asking, people would say “You are a good person”. On the inside I would be saying, “If you only knew what I did…”
When you make it a priority in your life to practice authenticity, you cut down on this constant switching between masks. You stop spending so much time thinking about what other thinks and what you’re “supposed” to do and you stop spending so much energy trying to analyze what your actions and thoughts and emotions mean with respect to your identity and roles. You STOP doing all of that because you’ve allowed your true self to manifest. And when you do so by practicing authenticity, you gain back so much of your time and energy and it’s such a liberating experience. Wouldn’t you like to experience this liberation and reclaim all of the energy that has been lost switching between the different masks?
Read on if you’d like some examples on exactly how this liberating experience looks like, insha Allah.
Who is the real you?
So far we’ve seen how living your life to maintain an image is exhausting, yet people do it because they assume the mask they wear is who they’re supposed to be, and so they work hard to be that person without realizing they’ve failed to take the time to actually get to know their true self
So, you may think well if the true me is not about all of these idealistic expectations and this religiosity and this having-it-all-together-ness, then who is the true you? Some people may fear that the “true” them is the one that turns to destructive behaviors when no one is looking, and that thought is scary
But rather than telling you who the real you is, I will ask you… who is the true you? I can’t tell you who it is, but I can tell you: You are complex. You are human. You have flaws. You have strengths. Can’t you see that the real you is far deeper than a mask can ever show? Don’t you want to explore all of these depths within you? Don’t you want to know the real you?
Let’s talk about how you can get to know the true you!
How to practice authenticity
In the recovery community, we recognize that addiction thrives in isolation.Lots of people have not shared their secret struggle with anyone. And I get emails and calls from people telling me I’m the first person they ever share this with. And sometimes they have a hard time even talking about it with me, even though I don’t know them. This part of their lives is so neatly put away in a box, under the bed, that even they have a hard time acknowledging it when they are not actively engaging in it.
And the reason this tends to fuel addiction is that your true self never gets a chance to shine, because you are so busy hiding behind different masks. People do this because they think it will make the pain of hypocrisy go away, but the truth is that the more you keep your true self hidden behind a mask, the more you continue to injure and wound yourself, and the pain will only get worse in the long term.
So how do you give your true self the space to be discovered? How do you practice authenticity?
The answer is to take that bubble of isolation you’ve created for yourself, to take that heavily guarded wall that you’ve built, and start to break it down.
You do so by removing the mask in front of another human being, and letting them see the face behind the mask, letting them see your raw self with all of your flaws and imperfections, without any sugar coating or hiding.
Whoah. That’s a tall order, isn’t it? For many people, this is a big no-no. How could I show someone else my true, raw self?
Well, I’ll tell you now this doesn’t mean rounding up your whole family and confessing up to them. In a moment I will share with you more ideas on how you can practice this authenticity. But first let me share with you a story that illustrates just how transformative and liberating this experience can be.
The experience of removing the mask
We had a panel where 3 of our members shared their experience about removing their mask to other people and confiding in someone else about their secret struggle
They all had this good-kid image, academically, religiously, etc.
One of them shares what he experienced when he started letting those close people around him see the real him:
It’s the most liberating feeling. I can’t explain it to you. I used to be a very self-conscious person. I used to look to people to give me confidence. Whatever people thought of me is what I thought of myself. Now that I am transparent with people and people know the real me, I’m comfortable being that real me. So now I don’t care if people don’t think I’m the most righteous person to walk on the face of the Earth because at the end of the day that’s not the case anyway.
It meant looking in the mirror every day and being proud of myself. I never ever felt that, no matter what “accomplishment” I did, no matter what event I spoke at, no matter what halaqah I gave, no matter what I did I never felt proud of myself like that.
They also shared the reflection that removing their mask showed them that everyone is going through something – this happened when the people they opened up to shared their own struggles that were completely unexpected. They talked about how when you break isolation you begin to see that your struggle does not define you as a human being
Religiosity and Authenticity
You may have noticed many of these examples include people trying to have a high level of religiosity, doing all kinds of religious activities, and this is the public image they spend so much energy trying to maintain. But isn’t being religious and engaging in religious activities a good thing?
It’s not really about the specific actions they are doing – it’s about what motivated them. What motivated them is an image of who they’re supposed to be. Even though they may not have realised it, they were wearing a mask, and they were working hard, day and night, to make the mask their reality. They had no idea what their own identity really was, and were struggling to hold on to this religious identity. They didn’t realize that the answer lied in removing the mask they wore.
Another important question may come up: Does being more authentic mean becoming less religious?
Again, it has less to do with what you’re doing, and more to do with what’s driving you. We’ll talk more about what it means to live authentically, but for now just know that what you’re focusing on may change as you practice authenticity because once you know your true self you will better understand what’s important to focus on. In one of these member’s case, after starting to focus on being more authentic, he no longer holds a leadership position in his community, but he has started to memorize the Quran – not because it’s what he “should” do, but because he now knows it’s what he wants to do.
How to Practice Authenticity Daily
Let’s talk more about how you can start to practice authenticity in your own life. Again, I’m not saying that you need to go and confess to everyone you know.
But also I won’t downplay the reality that if you haven’t yet connected to your true self, I don’t know a better way to start than to let someone you trust see the real you. Can you think of someone in your life, be it a friend, mentor, imam, family member, who you can feel safe with?
Aside from confiding in someone you trust, what’s it really mean to live authentically? Let’s turn to Brene Brown who is a researcher on shame and has a great book for you to learn more about living authentically: Gifts of Imperfection, Letting Go of Who you think you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are.
She first lets us know that authenticity is not something you have, it is a practice – it is something you choose to do. And she defines it as Authenticity is the daily practice of letting go of who we think we’re supposed to be and embracing who we are.
The thing about being authentic is that it can seem like a daunting task, especially if you’ve spent most of your life wearing a mask.
The poet E.E. Cummings said
To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself-means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight-and never stop fighting.
But she reminds us that if you trade in your authenticity for safety, you may experience the following: anxiety, depression, eating disorders, addiction, rage, blame, resentment, and inexplicable grief.
To practice authenticity, simply focus on it and ask “how can I bring more authenticity to my life and relationships?” It doesn’t mean telling everyone you know about your struggle. But it does mean starting to respect your true feeling and experiences, and letting others see them.
The Greatest Fear: Being Rejected and Unloved
The burden of a secret is a huge burden, but you may not even realize it if it’s all you know – if you want to achieve the life you dream of, you won’t do it carrying this burden. Let the burden go, and then you’ll have more freedom to pursue your dreams.
Probably the greatest fear of being more authentic is the fear of being rejected and unloved by others. But your true self deserves to be honored more than that. Your true self deserves to be shown to the world. Wearing a mask, the world will never know you, and you will never know yourself, so you will not receive love and you’ll remain stuck in addiction. When you remove the mask, there will be some wounds, but the joy and the freedom will far outweigh that risk.
Thank you for being with me for Episode #3 of Kickstart Your Recovery, I hope you gained new perspectives on what you can do right now to make strides toward breaking free, and I look forward to seeing you for Episode #4 where we will talk all about how lots of people continue to struggle because they have not made recovery a priority in their lives, and what you can do about it, insha Allah.