Removing the mask that hides you

Photo by John Noonan on Unsplash

I can only consume limited quantities of Brené Brown at a time. Because she writes things that cut so close to the emotional core that they can leave me feeling naked and afraid. But I truly hope you read this article of hers.

She speaks about the two halves of our lives where the first half is about trying to be perfect instead of human:

“it seems as if we spend the first half of our lives shutting down feelings to stop the hurt and the second half trying to open everything back up to heal the hurt

She says the second half can start as early as one’s thirties and as late as one’s fifties, if at all. As a fifty-something, count me in the “late to the party” club.

In the last three years or so, I’ve been lowering my mask to certain people in my life. You know, the mask we use to project a more perfect version of ourselves to the world. The mask that says we have our shit together as a colleague, parent, spouse, friend, sibling and child of our parents. We wear the mask because we crave acceptance and recognition that we think can only come by wearing it in the first place.

Of course, lowering the mask starts with one’s self, by admitting all the ugly truths about ourselves. Our flaws. And the shame that Brené Brown writes so well about. Shame about our past failures. And especially the shame of traumatization which so many, if not all of us, bear.

As I became more aware of my truths, I began to share them with others. By “getting real”, as they say. Slowly, carefully. Only to a couple of friends at first, by sharing raw emotions such as how I was on a path to divorce.

The fear of lowering one’s mask is visceral, especially at first. But as Brené and other wise people say, the reward can be exceptional. And so it was.

Next was to start a partnership with a therapist. It doesn’t get more real than that, at least if you’re committed to that process.

Fast forward to today. I’ve let many people in my life see the me behind the mask.

Yesterday, I told my life story to a new-ish friend during a rideshare to a hike with our club. I told her the real life story, not the version of wearing a mask. It was matter of fact and contained the hard truths. No lump in my throat emotions welled up as I described my dad’s apparent PTSD from World War II and the effect it had on me and others.

What I’ve found is that taking off the mask causes others to take off theirs. I’ve learned some profoundly moving truths about those I’m closest to. Recently, a former colleague and friend of 20 years was in town. I shared some of my “unmasked” story. In turn, she shared something with me that only a handful of people know about her. What a privilege and an honor to be allowed to know her in that way.

Without exception, my relationships have deepened through these mutual disclosures. And you kind of get addicted to the high of intimate connection. This has the effect of sustaining the vulnerability and sharing over time.

I’m not done with this journey. Not everyone is allowed to see me fully unmasked yet.

Work is especially tricky. Unmasking oneself takes time and time at work is limited and fragmented across a lot of people. You have to invest in relationships in order to be known and understood. This isn’t a briefing document you hand out and expect people to “get you” as a result. I’m still trying to figure this one out. I suppose every incremental disclosure moves me towards an unmasked state.

I’ve started the work journey with how I talk to my own team. I talk about the importance of their mental health. I told them about my own mental health and depression, and welcomed them to learn more on this blog.

Scott Galloway inspires me in this regard. Even as he writes about topics like business, politics and world affairs, he weaves in personal truths like few others do. It appears that he’s his authentic self at all times including in the public domain.

I imagine that if I could reach a destination like Scott, life will be at its richest. Thankfully, we have role models like him and Brené to inspire and guide us.

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