My boss had invited me to a farewell lunch for a colleague who had been promoted and would be leaving for better prospects. While we waited for our food, my colleagues started sharing the stories of their youth, when “they did not know any better” and their generation was “bad”. Then one of my colleagues looked at me while smiling and said, “This kid has definitely done nothing wrong, she’s pretty pious”. My boss then added, “Yes, your generation is better.” My other colleagues nodded in agreement and they all stared at me, expecting me to respond. As I held my drink, I smiled weakly and said quietly, “That is not true, we just know how to hide things better.”
Public vs. Private Mask
Throughout the years, I have struggled to maintain an ideal public image while having another, private one. There is the way one is supposed to live – having a loving family, friends and being the type of colleague you would want on your team. You want to appear as the type of person who would laugh in the face of pressure and pull through. That was the public mask I wore and showed to the outside world. That was what I did day in, day out, thinking and telling people that this is “me”. It never occurred to me that there was something wrong.
When “no one” was watching, the public mask would come off and be replaced by the private mask – this is when the “real” me would come out, all alone with an Internet connection and technology combined. In my hands, it literally and unconsciously became a form of escape from reality. My logic was that no one needed to know and no one would get hurt because it only involved a party of one. There was no need to change – the private and public masks could be maintained. Back then, I deeply believed that like fractions, these two masks combined to create the whole individual. This was my “normal”. Each time people got close to discovering my party of one, I felt like hiding because there would be this voice whispering “Deep down, you know this is not adding up.”
What was behind that mask?
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…”
Whenever I switched between the masks, these three things were in the back of my mind: fear, rejection and being unloved. The fear of people finding out about the private mask led to my need to wear a public mask. If that mask started to crack and crumble, people would become shocked and surprised when they learned about the “real” me. This would be followed by rejection – I was sure no one could accept my private mask. Finally, through that rejection, these people who were supposed to love me would end up hating me and leave me all alone. If people were happy with me, it was proof that I was a good person who people liked being around. When they were not happy, I would crumble to pieces – so the mask-changing continued.
The inside job
This pattern of wearing masks tends to repeat itself, and these questions arise: “Why does this keep on happening? What am I doing wrong? Will no one ever accept me for who I am?” It is not easy, but let me share something with you: this can be stopped. We can get rid of the public mask we show to the world and the private mask we keep to ourselves. “How?” you may ask.
It is an inside job.
All this time, the answer has not been on the outside among the sea of people. The answer is in us. Do not be surprised – think about it. Those words “fear, rejection and feeling unloved” were selected by ourselves. It was an inside job. In a sense “we killed us” through fear, rejection and depriving ourselves of love. By intentionally seeking out those types of experiences, we justified what was in our heads and how we felt. We stopped loving ourselves and denied our own worth in the process. When I realised that it was an inside job, I felt like I was pointing a finger of blame at myself. However, the need to meet the person behind the mask motivated me. I thought to myself, there has always been a face beneath these masks. What does that face look like?
So do not lose hope! We can get through this – trust me when I say this can stop. It only takes one step to deal with this. All we have to do is begin by expressing love and accepting ourselves. There will be days when those feelings start to wrap around you and drag you down. When the inner voice starts to express the fear, rejection, and feelings of being unloved, do what I do – I wrap my arms around myself and say out loud “I love and accept you for all that you are, and I am telling you it will be alright. I am here.” This is an “inside job” which only you can do. No one else can do it for you.
Accepting responsibility for my actions did not happen overnight. Even to this day, I am still continually peering inside myself as this inside job is not a one time gig. Now, instead of a single finger pointing at me, I see a helping hand reaching out to someone who needed to be saved: me.