Sometimes we think that wearing a mask is just something you do at Halloween, to go have some fun at a party or get some free candy. But as an adult, we can wear masks every day to keep people from getting too close, and to keep from having to answer tough questions that make us uncomfortable. I suppose I hadn’t realized until recently that I could relate to hiding my pain from others in a similar way of wearing a mask.
I keep going back to how this new healing journey has been enlightening in so many ways, which I guess is both good and bad depending on how you look at it.
Anyways, I may have mentioned previously that I started reading this book, Victims No Longer, by Mike Lew. A guide for men recovering from childhood sexual abuse. I admit I am fully immersing myself in this healing process, in the sense that I am doing all I can to educate myself and learn about how these horrific events from my childhood have impacted my entire life. Believe me I’m no where near healed yet or even close to it, but I’m trying…slowly but surely. Well, at least slowly.
So I wanted to find a book that was geared to the guy perspective and I definitely found it. I’m about 1/4 of the way through and so far I’m finding it quite helpful.
One of the sections I’m at right now talks about how we can wear masks to hide the pain and hurt that we carry with us. It talks about various types of masks we might be wearing right now, perhaps more than 1 for many of us?
I won’t list them all, but the ones that I see myself wearing are:
- Pollyanna: The rosy pretense that everything is just fine.
- Academic: Retreating into his head to keep from riskier contact with the emotions. Often taking the form of a writer, lecturer, or analyst. Tries to be observer, explainer, or co-therapist in the recovery group.
- Comedy: Relying on superficiality, banter, and irrelevancies to distract attention from his underlying pain.
I wouldn’t say that I wear any one of those all the time, but I think it’s fair to say that I wear a combination of all 3 masks at one time. Either that or they are so interchangeable that I can quickly switch them out at a moment’s notice to compensate for any situation.
For example, at work, I wear the Comedy mask and the Pollyanna mask. I crack jokes with co-workers and interact as if everything is fine. I never, ever, let on that I carry a boat load of anxiety, guilt, and pain inside from my past. I’ve gotten very good at this over the years, and I’m quite adept at keeping everything on an even keel in the office.
The same can be said when I’m with friends. Since so few of them know any part of my past, I never let on that anything is bothering me. At least not on purpose. I have been told however, that I carry a look of sadness and pain on my face. Some have picked up on that, and if they ask me about it, I just change the subject or respond with the obligatory, “just a bad day” speech. That usually does the trick.
Hey I didn’t say that was healthy, but that’s what I do.
The Academic mask, that one really comes out if I’m around someone who wants to confide in me or asks me for help. I will offer advice and listen, and explain what I think as best as possible. I may relate it in some ways to my own life but I’ll never let on that I’m doing so. Some of my close friends, the few that I have, tell me I’m very easy to talk too and have that “helper or fixer” personality.
That’s pretty much me on a daily basis, hiding my true pain to everyone. Especially those that are close to me. I don’t confide in my family, and there’s only 3 friends that have any idea of what my past really entails. Even they don’t know the whole story, not by a long shot. My therapist is the only one, and while she’s encouraging me to reach out for more of a support system, I’m just not there yet.
In reading this book, I never realized that I do wear these masks, and that this is a common thing for survivors of past abuse to do. The author goes on the indicate however, that while these masks can conceal the negatives, it also conceals the positives about us. To me that means that while we think we are protecting ourselves, we are also hindering the healing process. I don’t know if that’s the full message he’s trying to convey but that’s how I see it.
At the end of this section, he mentions though there is hope for those of us hiding behind these facades. The more we are exposed to powerful concentrations of caring and encouragement, the masks will break down and become increasingly transparent until they are no longer of any use.
Now trust me, I’m not about to let my inner pain out for the world to see just yet. Although I suppose that’s what I’m doing with this website, but for the purposes of this discussion I’m referring to letting in my close friends and family to help me heal. I still have a long way to go for that.
I don’t find it very difficult to sit behind a keyboard and share my thoughts, on the contrary, it’s quite therapeutic. To actually open up to someone in person, fully, other than my therapist…well let’s just say the masks are still up.
All credit for Information referenced goes to Victims No More – Mike Lew.