I have been thinking about all the masks I have worn in the past and those that I have been wearing lately.
In the past, and until relatively recently, I had a plethora of masks I used to wear.
I had masks of confidence, perfectionism, fearlessness, bravery, carelessness, strength, victim, intellectual, knowledgeable and I even had a mask of woefulness and martyrdom.
Oh, yes, I wore a lot of masks and I know there were many more, although those ones spring immediately to mind as I write this. From a very young age I learnt to wear my masks, because I needed to hide.
I suffered a terrible trauma and was controlled and manipulated from a very young age until my early 20’s and during that time I wore many masks to get me through. Some masks I was definitely shown to wear and others I simply learnt to wear through fear, shame, anger, pain, guilt, embarrassment.
Some I wore consciously others were completely subconscious.
I was wearing them to feel better, to hide, to become a different person depending upon the situation or the people I was with, to appear confident, clever, carefree, impress, happy and so the masks became my identity.
I was frightened and so I learnt to be what I thought I needed to be, what people wanted me to be, what I felt would be the easiest mask to wear and the safest persona to put on.
By the time I was released from the control and manipulation I was in my early 20’s and I didn’t know who I was, not truly, deeply or at a cellular level.
I had no idea how to be me. I didn’t know or understand, not truly, my own loves, dislikes, fears, values, beliefs, dreams, goals, personality or passions. I actually didn’t really know who I was.
I wore masks and I expect you wear masks too. Your reasons may be very different to mine and not even come from a place of trauma, you have just applied them over the years. I suspect that on many occasions you don’t even know you are wearing a mask, it has become second nature and perhaps, like me, you have worn it for a very long time.
I wonder, though, how would it feel to stop wearing your masks? To show the real authentic and unique you? Are you afraid? Are you fearful of showing the real you? Do you even know the real you?
Are you tired of wearing your masks?
I didn’t realise I was so tired wearing all my masks until I was so ill a few years ago and I didn’t have the energy to put any of them on.
The thing is do you want to wear the masks you are wearing. Or do you want to remove them?
When I had my breakdown and hit burnout, I took off my masks. All of them. I didn’t have the energy to pretend to be anyone other than completely exhausted with a poorly mind.
I stopped hiding from my husband. I was honest around my children, as much as any self-respecting parent would be. I was vulnerable. I was raw. I released myself from the layers of make-up and coiffured hair. I ceased trying to be perfect, strong, clever, able. I stopped apologising for having no energy to do much of anything or wanting to go anywhere.
I let down my guard. I put down my draw bridge. I was just me, just Elizabeth.
And it felt good. I felt a sense of relief actually. I was being uniquely me.
From this place over the last few years I have been able to rebuild myself. For most of the time over the past few years, since my illness, I genuinely believe I have been more me than I have ever been. From the point of my breakdown and burnout I was able to stop. Well, I suppose I didn’t have a choice because my mind and body simply wouldn’t work for me, they stopped and so I stopped.
I did return to my job for about 18 months, however, during that time, I assessed my life, I evaluated everything, and I identified what was important to me and slowly I began to see a new Elizabeth emerging.
I believe it was at that point in my life I was finally becoming genuinely me. I was learning to live as me, as Elizabeth.
As I reflect back, when I was released from control and manipulation in my early 20’s I had to learn to make decisions for myself. However, I ended up putting on a carefree and couldn’t really care less mask. I drank too much, partied too hard, didn’t look after myself, didn’t really care much, and I ended up back in controlling and manipulating relationships of the, as I told myself, romantic kind, although clearly, they weren’t.
What I was doing was trying to deal with being set free from the years of control, but I did not really understand what it meant to be free, so instead I put on masks that lead me down a self-destructive path for a number of years.
I did find a few masks in my late 20’s and 30’s that put me on a path of achievement, success, determination, numbing and pretence. I found a calmer way to live and as near to normal life as I believed I had to live.
It was only when I had my daughters that I started to make sense of me. I woke up. I found a reason to become a better person. I found my why, my two incredible daughters. At that point I knew I wanted to be the best I could be for my daughters, to protect them, love them, to bring them up to be the most amazing humans they can be and deserve to be. To give them the best. To do that though, I had to start with me.
And that was when I slowly and painfully begun to remove some of my masks.
At that point I started to look deep inside me. For the first time I felt able to identify with my values, my beliefs and my needs. I started to honour me.
And more importantly, for the past 18 months I have truly been on a journey of self-discovery. A journey of stripping away masks and identifying with my true self.
Since leaving my corporate job I have been able to really ask myself some deep and soulful questions. I have been courageous, vulnerable even, and truly turned inwards to find me and identify with my core values and beliefs, dreams and passions.
I feel more me today than I have ever felt. I am on my journey, it is far from over, but I am truly being Unapologetically Uniquely me! I am the best version of me that I can possibly be right now, and I am so excited to continue on my journey.
How do you become Uniquely YOU and remove your MASKS?
My journey of self-discovery and removal of masks has been incredibly painful, difficult, tough, challenging yet also releasing, fulfilling, satisfying, peaceful and is still a continuing journey.
I do, still, sometimes don a mask; it is a hard habit to break and sometimes I do so consciously to give myself a confidence boost to get through something I am fearing and other times it is not until afterwards that I realise I wore a mask subconsciously. I know that on occasions I am still protecting myself in part and when I consciously put on a mask, I feel better able to cope with what I am facing. The beauty is though, that even when I slip a mask on unconsciously, I am noticing that I have worn it and I am able to learn from why I wore it.
Wearing a mask protects us and allows us to hide our vulnerability. My masks have certainly protected me in the past. However, the masks have kept my true identify hidden and at times I have not known who I am or sometimes even recognised myself. By removing my masks, I am becoming Elizabeth, Unapologetically Unique! I am genuine, happy, fulfilled, calm, strong, passionate and I know that I deserve this.
I have recently met people who knew me years ago in my teens and 20’s and also colleagues from my last corporate role just a few years ago and they have all commented on how different I look, that I look happier somehow, peaceful and calmer, that my face appears to have a glow.
I know the secret behind what they see externally, and it is because I am stripping away my masks, connecting with my inner being and stepping into my true self.
If you are lost behind your masks and actually don’t want to wear them anymore, then it is time to take them off.
So, what can you do, how do you become Uniquely YOU, and remove your MASKS?
1. Start to look deep within yourself, be still and quiet and notice what you feel, what words you hear in your head and any sensations. This is not about who you think you should be or what you do this is about who you truly want to be. Be true to yourself.
2. Allow yourself to know that vulnerability is a good thing and not a bad thing, or something to be avoided. Start small and let yourself be vulnerable. Let others see the real you.
3. Nobody is perfect. In fact, I do not believe in perfection, because it is very much a thing that is in the eye of the person judging or doing. One person’s perfect is very different to another’s. We are all human and allowing yourself to show yourself as you truly are, as the saying goes, “warts and all” enables you to have genuine and supportive relationships with others.
4. Let go of the feelings of shame and guilt.
5. It is never too late to change or start again. Regardless of what has gone before, who you have pretended to be, whatever mask you have worn. It is absolutely OK to change and start again.
6. Open up, allow others to know how you feel about whatever is going on in your life. You do not need to be strong. You can ask for help and support. It is not weakness to need help.
7. Admit when you don’t know something. Asking questions, getting an answer wrong, failing, making mistakes, that is all part of being human, being real, being genuine.
8. Know that you have a right to be here and treated respectfully, and so does everyone else. You are no better than anyone else and they are no better than you. Treat everyone with respect and dignity in the way that you wish to be treated and be humble.
9. It’s OK to have an off day, to need some quite time, to say no, to say yes, to put yourself first, to be a little grumpy. Learn to love yourself and respect yourself and let yourself off the hook.
10. Be curious about yourself and others.
11. Finally, from point 1, accept what comes up. You will know when you feel connected to your true and genuine self. You will feel a sense of calm. The masks will be less, and you will be more. Enjoy removing the masks and stepping into your Unique Self!
It is time to be Unapologetically Uniquely YOU!
It is time to take off your MASKS!