Updated: Apr 5
Putting on a mask allows you to assume the identity of another person. Sometimes we make up a fictitious character or pull traits of someone we admire and claim them for ourselves. But why? Why pretend to be something you are not? Is it because you’re afraid people won’t befriend the real you? Could it be that you are conditioned to making people like you in exchange for their attention?
As a licensed clinician, I’m going to share three common reasons I see in my practice that blocks a person from being their authentic self and how you can start practicing authenticity today!
Why Do You Have A Mask?
Have you ever been to a themed birthday party or costume party where you needed to dress the part? I remember being invited to my girlfriend’s 30th birthday party with a Bollywood theme. I didn’t have anything resembling traditional Indian clothing, so I went to my local Indian fashion store and purchased a beautiful green and gold lehenga choli. They helped me accessorize it and boosted my ego in all kinds of ways. On the night of the party, I looked stunning. Princess Jasmine vibes! I felt like I had adopted a small piece of the Indian culture. For one night, I got to pretend to be something I wasn’t. Imagine if I had to do this every day. Each day I opted to be something else because I wasn’t comfortable with myself. The question I want you to ask yourself is why do you need this mask?
In my practice when I pose this question, 80% of the time I would get a combination of responses that centered around the belief that they weren’t good enough. After further exploration I also find that my clients have been wearing a mask dated back to their childhood. The younger version of themselves felt like they needed external validation and approval to ward their self-esteem. In a childish attempt to hide insecurities and self-doubt putting on a mask became the remedy. Over many years of keeping up this false image they developed a distorted view of themselves and often felt very empty.
What Prevents You From Being Your Authentic Self?
Caring What Others Think
Nod your head if you’ve ever felt like your opinions or thoughts were wrong solely because someone disagreed with you. I know people are entitled to their own opinions, but man, does that feel personal. Your head immediately becomes flooded with self-reproving thoughts such as “Maybe I didn’t explain myself correctly?” or “They probably think I’m stupid for thinking that way.” You then become enthralled by your thoughts for the rest of the day with a mission which is to prove to them that you are intelligent. I remember being in a relationship with a guy whose mother did not favor me much. I was constantly worried about what she thought of me because I wanted her to like me. I wanted her to see that I was a good fit for her son. I needed her to know that I was a good person. In the process, I did things that made me extremely uncomfortable. I racked my brain constantly with mundane thoughts such as what to wear around her based on what I thought she would approve of. I grew dependent on her feedback because I didn’t want to disappoint or not meet her expectations.
Every time I valued her opinion more than mine, I lost a piece of myself. I didn’t believe that I was enough for her to like me. Being true to yourself is more fulfilling once you learn how to validate yourself. It’s satisfying to hear from someone “you did amazing on that project” but to know that your project was great based on your strengths and abilities is more profound. You have to recognize your own value even if people don’t verbalize it. Placing too much concern on what others think of you can cause anxiety and inhibit personal growth.
Think back to the earliest memory you have of your parents giving you permission to choose something and you ended up choosing what they liked to make them happy. For me, it was trying out for the praise dancing team at my mother’s church. I know you can’t see my face but just know it’s giving utter disgust. I did not want to be a praise dancer and wear those white leggings, white leotard, and white skirt and get in front of the whole church to mime. Yea I said it! I mean that’s what it looked like to the eight-year-old me. But I did it anyway because I saw how proud it made her feel just talking about it. Now, back to this people pleasing thing. Let’s break this term down together. My mother is a person and I did an act that would please her. So, I think everybody at some point has done something to please another individual for various reasons. The reason I would like to highlight is for acceptance. I’m referring to those of you that don’t believe that in your most natural state you can establish a connection with others. You believe you must do things to win their approval. Not to be confused with altruism as typically you do want something in return. You’re a people pleaser because you want to feel loved, valued and respected.
Being a people pleaser diminishes your identity. It’s like you’re saying, “I’m not enough, so let me borrow a few character traits that I think you will like.” The key to unlocking your authentic self is by shifting your mindset to place a higher value on self. When your focus is on being true to you then you will consider yourself first and began to learn how to meet your own needs. I challenge you to answer these 3 questions:
What do you want to accomplish?
How do you want to live your life?
What makes you happiest?
Suppressing Your Feelings
Suppressing your feelings is a way for you to conceal your emotions. This type of behavior doesn’t happen overnight but rather over the course of some years. At some point in your life, you felt it would be best not to share or admit when you were experiencing a negative emotion. Suppressing your feelings can have a numbing effect. You are creating a partition between your heart and your thoughts. It’s a way to keep you safe from emotional connections. The downfall is that hiding your emotions keeps you separated from your true identity. You can’t effectively process that thing that keeps hurting you if you refuse to acknowledge that you are hurt. Similar to your relationships, you can’t expect someone to be empathetic if you always have on your fierce mask.
6 Ways To Be Your Authentic Self
Being your authentic self is about emotional freedom. It’s about loving yourself first.
Here are a few recommendations that can jumpstart your journey to authenticity.
Check in with yourself before making a commitment or agreeing to something. Sometimes we feel pressured to respond in favor of the person making the request because they are right in front of you, or we believe they need an answer right now. Ask if you can give them an answer later and do a check in with yourself. Think about whether this is something you want to do. If you must answer right away, then trust your gut feeling. Normally if you’re uncomfortable with doing something your body will let you know.
Work on a few solo projects. Nothing major. Perhaps starting with a hobby like gardening or taking a dance class. The goal is for you to make decisions for yourself based on what you like. You don’t have to consult with anyone about their feelings or opinions, you can just do it because that’s what you want.
Vocalize your concerns. You are just as important as the individual you are trying to appease. Your feelings matter and should be expressed. So the next time something doesn't sit right with you, speak up!
Learn your values. Your values are like a roadmap to all the things that are important to you. I recommend making a list of your 10 most important values. When in doubt about the best decisions for yourself you can always fall back on your values.
Think positive. Your inner critic can be a real beast and it loves to come out when you step outside your comfort zone. Stop those negative thought patterns and be more encouraging and compassionate to yourself.
Seek professional help. Sometimes you may not be sure about who you are because you haven’t had the opportunity to explore that. You could also feel like you’ve lost your identity and don’t know where to start to find it. If you have a difficult time recognizing who you are it’s okay to ask for help. You can speak with a licensed clinician about your identity concerns and work through any barriers that prevent you from being authentic.
Meet the author Brittney Eluett