Hiding Behind Masks - Facing Fear?
“Behind every mask, there is a face and behind that face, a story.” - Marty Rubin
Usually at this time of year, in February and March, there are many processions and parades where people walk wearing their colorful costumes, with beautiful masks along with pleasant music amidst a spectacular setting.
Some of the world-famous mask festivals are the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival, the Venice Carnival, and the Adloyada, a traditional, humorous procession held annually in Israel on the Jewish Purim holiday since 1912. Purim is also celebrated in many Jewish communities around the world.
However, to the disappointment of many all 2021 worldwide carnivals, festivals, and parades were canceled due to the Coronavirus and were postponed indefinitely.
After visiting the Venice Carnival and celebrating Purim where people were wearing all kinds of masks, I started wondering about the whole façade around masks in general, but especially about all the psychology that lies behind the ‘masquerade’ because there are a lot of diverse masks in people's lives.
The emotional masks
What I found most interesting and intriguing about the Venice Carnival was that even after the festivities had finished, people nowadays were still wearing 'masks' as we have many faces. And this is where the emotional masks come into the picture - the masks behind which we hide because of fear.
Why do people hide behind emotional masks?
We all wear masks in our lives when we interact with different people, revealing different layers of ourselves and protecting ourselves from vulnerability.
The Japanese say that you have three faces:
1. The face you show the world.
2. The face you show your close friends and family.
3. The face you never show anyone, and this is the truest reflection of who you are.
The majority wear the third face covered by a mask. The reasons for this can be many and include hiding fear, anxiety, a desire to integrate into society, not feeling good enough, feeling insecure, being afraid to be 'too' visible and exposed, not being loved, or for those who feel too loved/famous, and need to hide themselves to make others feel more comfortable.
One way or another, everyone wears a mask and many of us live in perpetual fear- it’s utterly exhausting to be afraid all the time.
Since childhood, we absorb everything that society gives us - both positive and negative. We often internalize the negative things and develop negative beliefs about ourselves, like 'I cannot do this,' or the most popular, "I'm not good enough."
Therefore, to survive and deal with the fear, we tend to wear a mask and hide behind it for as long as possible.
According to Dr. Gail Brenner, a psychologist, and author of "The End of Self-Help,
"The fear that you take so seriously in your life is just like a costume you put on. When you’re dressed as a dragon, are you really a dragon? No. You take off the costume, and here you are in your natural brilliance. You know what’s true and what’s not."
She also said that fearful thoughts aren’t true. As believing fearful thoughts is like believing you’re a dragon just because you’re wearing a dragon costume. So, just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true. Don't believe all of your thoughts, otherwise, you will find yourself immersed in suffering because thoughts can be deceiving.
What lies behind the mask?
On a certain level, we all deal with fear – the fear of others seeing who we are or seeing our true selves; the fear of confronting the beliefs which limit us. This fear, this avoidance, causes us to wear one kind of mask or another, thus becoming anonymous – protected and safe even from ourselves, hiding behind walls we have constructed. We let fear hide our true self, our fear of exposing our truth.
The mask separates us from ourselves and the world. It hides our real self and our most beautiful parts so well that no one can see who we are. It is colorful, decorative, and creates an external, beautiful, and impermeable partition wall between us and the world around us.
Often, we become too used to the mask – which is comfortable and soft - but can also swallow us, not letting anyone get close enough to see the inherent beauty beneath.
Everything remains hidden, secretive, aloof, and distant behind the impressive and beautiful façade.
After all, at the end of every performance, the players remove their masks and return to the true story of their lives, to themselves ... but for how long?
Being vulnerable and exposed
Interesting research on authenticity (a survey of 1,000 people) found that a third of respondents said they didn’t let people see ‘the real me.’ No less than 50 percent said they didn’t find it easy to tell others they were hurt or upset.
When asked what it means to be authentic, this is what a few people said: ‘Authenticity requires vulnerability – and it’s often the type of vulnerability that at times makes us feel deeply uncomfortable.’
"Probably the reality for many of us is that we want it both ways – we want the deep connection, but we also want to stay protected," says Sarah Abell, a relationship expert.
Finding your authentic self
“Do the thing you fear and the death of fear is certain.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
To find the authentic selves we have to stand tall and confront our fears, dig deep into the most obscure parts of ourselves, deep into that "terrible" place where our fear hides and is so ominous.
Move forward step by step.
Instead of moving away from our source of fear, we need to train ourselves to get closer to it. Only by recognizing fear and a conscious acquaintance with it can we deal with it and create a life full of growth and meaning.
As in nature, if we dig deeper, we will find not darkness but light; not ‘nothingness’ but hidden treasure; and thus, by removing the mask, we will discover a wealth of light instead of shadows . . . it's a kind of ‘game’ we play with ourselves. We will not understand how to find the light until we have removed the mask- and this involves a ‘leap of faith.’
Beauty is the understanding that this light is our true self, our authentic self, covered over the years layer upon layer, for so many reasons and due to many life events.
According to psychology today there are 5 reasons why it's better to shed your masks:
1. Realizing your potential Each one of us has a unique fingerprint; appearance, style, personality structure, creativity, and so on. Therefore, it is worth highlighting this uniqueness and not hiding it so that there is a varied mosaic encompassing every single detail. That way we can all benefit from each other's abilities and the individual will not lose his or her greatest latent potential.
2. Self-control and better decision-making Without the mask, you dare to say "no" when you do not want something. You also tend to develop good habits in life according to the values that are important to you.
With such a mindset you can make better choices in everything in life, from small to big decisions like how to live and with whom to share your life.
3. Enabling relief It is hard to live a false life and wear masks most of the time so that eventually you start forgetting who you are. According to the Macmillan Dictionary, the definition of true/real self is the type of person that you are when you are not trying to impress anyone. So, being your authentic self feels great and brings about relief.
4. Bringing healing and health
Living authentically is freedom, and freedom is health and a good life. Living authentically means that you are living according to your values and your beliefs.
5. Happiness and self-love
When you express your desires freely you will be happier.
You will love who you are and experience a happier and more exciting life.
Back to my adventure at the Venice Carnival
I took an unusual walking tour through the hidden part of Venice; I found quite a few labyrinths in distant hidden corners and picturesque squares in the heart of the city.
It allowed me to discover its most fascinating and secret corners and also inspired me to play an inner game that reflected much more to me than I ever thought to myself. At times, it felt like I was wandering through the narrow alleys but also between mirrors.
I felt the deceptive game with the masks while I was watching the people at the festival in Venice – they allowed us to approach and then they drew back; they played for the camera and then shied away. They posed for the audience playfully, but the mask hid their features, so we could not see joy or smiles on their real faces and we could not get too close.
While I was taking some photos and looking at them, I began jotting down some of my inner thoughts, spontaneously, just like a little girl.
● What had I felt about the people wearing the masks?
● What were the messages they conveyed to me?
● What had I sensed, or understood from them?
● What caption was I associating immediately with each of them?
● What did I think of the story/persona behind the mask?
I gave each photo a title and that's what popped into my mind.
'The Elephant Man & Frankenstein' –how the audience responds to deformity and disability- I can show now my imperfection.
The ‘Scanner’ – Examining everyone ... observing everyone from a distance.
'The Queen of Darkness' – a wicked and devious witch.
"Beauty for a Day" – to feel beautiful & finally get attention.
"The Audience’s Favorite" –an opportunity to shine even if just for one day.
"As if a Couple" –the feeling of togetherness and cooperation.
"The Whisperer & her Confidant" – a "forbidden" relationship behind the masks. Shshhhhh
"Terrifying Dracula " – feeding on human blood to live forever.
"The Boys Lovers" – today we can be "us" in masks only.
Then, I happily shared with my 'new friends' the playfulness of my imagination and they loved this game.
Where did it take me and what did I find out about myself?
After touring the city and having fun with this game I came back to my hotel amused and tired, but lots of thoughts ran through my mind; was it encased in a cloud of mystery and imagination... OR was it only the fruit of my imagination?
But then loads of questions washed over me like the ocean's tide:
Was it a reflection?
Is there a hidden message for me?
It got me thinking about the masks I wore or wear in my life, hiding my true feelings. I examined where and when in my life I wear a mask and I asked myself WHY?
Maybe I was not in my best space …
This reminded me of what Yoko Ono once said, "You change the world by being yourself."
“To know thyself is the beginning of wisdom." - Socrates.
Knowing yourself is the most important life skill. Once you meet your true self, you will become more confident and you'll find your clear purpose. It also sets a great example for everyone around you, and you can also make more impact on the world.
“Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” - Oscar Wilde
Think about the masks you wear and commit to taking them off to share your unique gift with others.
Hold your gifts out to the world—no apology, no shame, no regrets. As the old saying goes, every creature has its rightful place, and in that place it becomes beautiful.
Being yourself is the best thing you could ever be.
You are good enough!
You are the BEST!
Ally Gilboa is an innovative entrepreneur, speaker, author, and the founder of A.Q Group- Language Solutions. As a multicultural content consultant with expertise in translation for the past 25 years, Ally has helped multinational companies and entrepreneurs craft, convey and share their brand stories with the world. Her blog page shares insightful stories, ideas, thoughts & knowledge based on research + personal experience as a researcher, writer, and keynote speaker to bring valuable & entertaining content to others.