I am not entirely sure who I am. When I talk with people, I am wearing a mask and depending on who I am talking to, I wear a different mask. The more judgmental a person is, the thicker the mask I might wear. I have a large arsenal of masks right at my disposal. I don’t have extra sensory perception because I am special or smart, I only have a good read on people because I need to know which mask to wear. I don’t do this consciously. It all happens without my knowledge. I only realize it after the fact what I had been doing.
I meet someone; I find the right mask and wing it.
Only really sensitive people can see through my mask, but everyone else has no idea who I am. All I know is that after I was born, I learned that who I was — was not acceptable. So, I had to find a way to survive. I found a way to better the chances of being accepted by others.
As a result of decades of juggling masks and unwittingly running from unresolved open wounds, I lost my sense of self. While I get visions of who I might be quite often and while I know who I might not be, I don’t know who I am. When we buy an electrical appliance, it comes with a manual showing us how to use it. Well, I have no manual on how to be social with other people. I often don’t know what to say or what facial expression to sport. Every social interaction has me feeling awkward. If I appear confident to others, it’s because I’m a damn good actress. That false-confidence comes in handy since it hides my shame. The more shame I might feel, the more confident I will look to others.
My masks says, “When in doubt, agree with everything and smile and you cannot go wrong”. After decades of wearing masks that made others think I was happy and strong all the time, it started to wear me out when I hit my mid-twenties. In spite of having a reputation of being bubbly, strong and fun-loving, the weight of my mask started to take a toll on my health. I had my friends, but I didn’t have myself. I started suffering from panic attacks and debilitating headaches and cheek-aches. They got so bad, I couldn’t put my head on my pillow at night. I had to sleep in a sitting position. Medical doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me.
Taking 8-10 Xanax a day wasn’t enough to combat the anxiety I felt around other people — especially when I had to give a culture class in front of many Japanese students in the school I worked at in Japan. I had to ask my boss to relieve me from that school program. I would also talk to others and feel like crying. What was going on? I had no idea. I would get crippling anxiety especially around people I admired, probably because I wanted them to accept me more than anyone else. It took all my energy to successfully fight back tears I could not understand at that time. It was like a war between my mask and the child within that wanted to let go. No, we can’t let go now — please stop! I didn’t know then what was happening, but I know now that when I fake-smile or behave inauthentically, I suffer physically and emotionally. Old stuff I don’t want to remember is trying to get my attention and pushing all that down over all these decades has sucked my energy dry leaving me with no sense of identity and as I got older, a host of medical and mental maladies came along with it.
Self-betrayal had come at a high price.
I, inadvertently, realized later in life that I needed to find out who I was and work toward becoming that person. I didn’t know what I had been doing back then, but I do now. With the help of years of professional therapy and doing the emotional inner-work on my own, my mask has become significantly lighter. The lighter my mask becomes, the more insight I receive as to who I might be and who I am definitely not. Every month or so, it seems, my mask becomes lighter and lighter. I do things that I feel are aligned with who I am. The more genuine I become, the more vulnerable I am to receiving criticism and rejection, but I am getting myself and my life back, so it is worth it. I might lose those people who no longer serve me while attracting the RIGHT people into my life.
As I see myself becoming more real and more liberated by expelling beliefs that had once limited me, I still don’t know who I am.
So, how do I know who to be if I don’t know who I am?
I struggle and I see how I confuse people. Sometimes I will be speaking with someone online and say something and then following that realize I wasn’t being real and then feel shame as I know my friend caught on as well. That’s when I realized I have a long way to go on this journey. I have made peace with the fact that I don’t know who I am because I know it’s a process. I am patient. I will return to myself in time. There is no rush. Slow and steady wins the race. It’s all good.
What’s interesting is that I feel uncomfortable around disingenuous people. I shut down around them. I feel the huge wall between us. Now, I realize I have a problem with these people because I dislike the unreal part of myself that manufactures thick solid walls between myself and others. But once I remind myself of why I have always had to be fake (and still have to be fake), I can have a little compassion knowing that is how I survived, and I can also begin sympathizing the inauthenticity in others. Inauthentic people who hide behind walls aren’t trying to hurt anyone; they’re trying to feel safe. We all want to be accepted as we are, and we need to wear a mask and guard ourselves (for a while) to at least create the illusion for ourselves and others that we might be good enough.
Truth is, we are all good enough. And this is what this journey could be about: learning who we really are.
Fun times! :)
And if you listen to this song and the lyrics, it is perfect fit for this post.