Mind Over Matter

The power of clear thinking

Trick Or Treat For Your Soul

Being honest with yourself can be a real treat.

Passing shop windows with Halloween costumes and masks in the window, I’m reminded of the masks we wear in our everyday lives. Sometimes what we truly feel about ourselves and what we present to the world is not the same thing. Hiding emotional truths from ourselves can be the most damaging. Doing this limits us from reaching our true potential and negatively affects our intimate relationships.

So what kind of masks do we wear in our everyday life? And why do we wear them? As you read this blog, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I allow myself to really look at who I am, and how I feel about myself?
  • What am I most proud of, what am I most afraid of, and what would I like to change?
  • What is the image that I want to project to others about who I am, and what is it that I want them to see?
  • Is what I allow people to see who I really am? How does that help me, but how might it also hurt me?

Notice what feelings come up for you. Is it pride, confidence, fear, shame, anxiety, confusion, doubt, hopelessness or something else? Perhaps it’s a mixture of many of these feelings. We are complex beings and I would suspect that all of us have experienced most (or all) of these feelings at some time in our lives.

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Recognizing the truth about our innermost feelings can be a first step in helping us celebrate our strengths. It also helps us identify areas for further growth and improvement. Additionally, we can gain increased awareness about how we may unconsciously sabotage work and relationship success.

Honestly assessing ourselves, our feelings, insecurities and actions takes courage. It also requires a willingness to sometimes not like what we see. Self-acknowledgement is the most important thing as it is the first step towards making a change. Deciding what, and with whom you wish to share what you learn takes thought and consideration.

Individuals often feel they have to present a certain image or mask to themselves, loved ones, work colleagues, or a potential business associate.  Sometimes it is in direct conflict with how they actually feel. Telling yourself to act a way that you truly don’t feel or believe can cause problems. After a while it’s hard to keep it up, and in some way or other, the mask falls off.

Self-encouragement in the face of doubt can be motivating. Putting on a “confident” face, even when you might not feel totally confident, sometimes gives you that extra needed boost. Become your own cheerleader. Remember past doubts, but successful outcomes.

There are benefits of positive thinking. However, if there are underlying conflicting thoughts or emotions, it is extremely important to acknowledge those as well. It’s exhausting and potentially self-defeating to try to push away thoughts or feelings that are present. Ultimately you have less energy to use towards reaching your goal. Physic energy is misspent fighting an internal war, and often the thing you don’t want to acknowledge is lurking in the background.

Sometimes the thoughts we have about ourselves are accurate. Other times, often the critical or doubtful ones, are based on unresolved conflicts and feelings. The result can be faulty thinking which negatively impact your life. New masks are then created in an attempt to protect yourself from your own beliefs and the anticipated judgment of others.  Recognizing these conflicts gives you the opportunity to do something about it. Psychodynamic and cognitive therapeutic approaches can help.

Do you need to unveil the masks to others to be an authentic person? Not necessarily. Do it for yourself first. Recognize why and whom you wear them for, and honestly evaluate the positives as well as negative benefits of doing so. Admitting how insecure you feel to a potential business associate might not be advisable. Acknowledging this to yourself might help you plan in advance how to ease your comfort level. Self- awareness also protects you from coming across overly aggressive to compensate for underlying insecurity.  

It is important to be able to “just be ourselves” without hiding our feelings as long as it’s not hurtful to others. Nobody is perfect, and we all have things we are insecure about or could improve.  Choosing appropriate people to share your “true self” with can make for better, deeper and more meaningful relationships.

The trick is to know when to unveil the mask, and not let whatever you find out deter you from trying to improve. The treat is a happier, healthier soul.

Robin Zarel, LCSW, is a New York-based therapist. She has been in practice for 30 years.

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