What mask do you live in that you’ve outgrown? There are hundreds. The ditz, the brainiac, the dumb-ass, the bitch, the too-cool- for-school, the douche, the weirdo, the sex-pot, the serial apologizer, the victim, the comic relief.
We all know them. And can identify. And they all keep us from stepping into the real people we wish to be.
The masks we adopt serve a function. Without wearing them we’d probably not have survived our early childhood developmental phase. In fact, that’s where they’re generally adopted. We assume a false identity – become someone we’re not – in order to be liked, popular, accepted, embraced and basically become part of the tribe. It’s what most people experience in one form or another throughout their lives.
The powerful documentary, The Mask You Live In, exposes the many masks that young boys (in particular) adopt in order to be accepted as “men” in our society.
But there’s two problems with wearing masks.
1) Those masks aren’t real.
Men are emotionally marginalized in our society because we learn at a very early age to not feel. We’re taught that certain kinds of feelings are desired (and desirable for men to express) and anything else – vulnerability, intimacy, emotional bonding – is associated with weakness and therefore the domain of girls, the feminine or being (gasp!) gay. No young boy wants to have his vulnerability used against him. To be labeled something he isn’t. So instead of talking about our pain and sharing it, we’re taught to externalize it and take it out (generally through aggression) on someone else.
So at a very young age, this is how children are taught to (not) feel. And we spend a lifetime trying to reverse the terribly damaging ramifications.
Young boys (and girls) are taught lies about what maleness (and femaleness – based on male-dominated societies) look like. And they are always exaggerations. So we live in a culture of hyper-masculinity and hyper-femininity without realizing our true selves are being co-opted. The actual expressions of real shared feeling isn’t a gender issue; it’s biology, psychology, spirituality and ultimately just being human. At our core we all feel. The same.
So gender roles and behaviors are social constructs that lead to devastating results. No one wants to be ostracized. Even as adults – the real desire for each of us is to be seen and heard for who we are and what we can contribute. When we live in a culture that shapes false-identities, is it any wonder that we’re all running around judging other people who don’t sound like us or look like us or feel like us? And a major disconnect occurs between what we want to actually feel – and express – and what we’ve been told we can feel and express. So we often start hating in others that thing we hate in ourselves, because we’ve been shamed for having it.
In my work with actors over the last 20 years, I’ve discovered that the same research gleaned by social scientists, psychologists and academics – are those we get to the heart of very quickly at our acting studios. It’s simply a laboratory where people overcome their emotional blocks and resistance to all kinds of deep feeling – which is what holds us back as fully-realized beings. That’s the work for each of us. In – or out – of an acting class.
2) Like all masks – you outgrow them.
And this is where it gets really scary. Again, I’ve discovered that each of us is trying to constantly step into this newly realized part of ourselves – our real self – who has often been hidden from us for years. The challenge is to let go of these false selves and really allow ourselves to be seen – emotionally naked and without hiding, defending, or rationalizing – which is one of the scariest transitions ever. And because we’ve spent an inordinate amount of time being something we’re not – when we let go of that comfort of that recognizable persona, it’s petrifying to step into something that hasn’t been fully actualized yet.
It’s like swimming with tiny, non-man- eating baby sharks your whole life and then suddenly being thrown into great white shark-infested waters. With no cage.
To step into the real you is not unsafe, however. It’s really the journey (if you are awake enough) to realize in this lifetime. And that is a huge gift of awareness to know that you can be so much more impactful by simply being you. Without the mask. That your best self isn’t about hiding the parts you’ve been ashamed of or feel like there’s something wrecked inside you for feeling. It’s the contrary. Feeling, sharing, getting honest, allowing other people to see you for all your humanity – is so much more empowering than any false archetype or model of being you’ve adopted.
So let’s all take off our masks. And you might discover, for the first time, you can actually breathe freely. The way we were all intended to be.