Do you ever wish you could just be yourself? Do you feel like you portray yourself differently to the outside world compared to who you are on the inside? Do you feel like you are “false” or “a fraud”?
If you do, you are not alone. I used to believe that certain personality traits were “good” and others were “bad” or just not valuable. As a small child I was emotional, living in my feelings and very vulnerable. I was drinking in the world like a sponge but my world at the time was limited to the environment I grew up in. Over time I had received enough feedback in response to my emotions. I started to believe that the personality traits that I had, were not appreciated. More often than not, it seemed that they led to emotionally painful consequences. So I began to believe that I was not a good enough person and that I needed to change my personality.
Day after day I lived in sadness, hurt, fear and hopelessness. I remember crying every day as I went to school. People would constantly ask “why are you upset”? I would tell them I felt sick because they seemed to understand “sick” and therefore crying was justified. I felt I was a terrible burden on people, like I was dragging them down just by being around. Most of the time, I longed to be at home, alone in my room. At least there, I wouldn’t have to experience the questions, funny looks and whispered conversations about me when they thought I wasn’t listening. After a while, people stopped asking questions and my friends, teachers and worst of all, my family seemed to have forgotten about me. At least that’s what it felt like.
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I still remember the day when I decided, life had to change. I was sitting on my bed, looking out my window. I remember saying to myself “I don’t want to be like this anymore”. That was the first day I consciously decided to put on a mask. I was 10 years old.
Fast forward 15 years and on the surface, you would see a completely different person. According to everyone I knew, I was the toughest person they knew and could handle anything. I didn’t cry or show any hint of vulnerability. As far as people were concerned, I had no needs and was completely self-sufficient. I didn’t need anything from anybody and was happy to do everything on my own. Nothing ever appeared to affect me and I certainly didn’t feel fear or weakness. I was rewarded for that mask often in the feedback I received from others. People thought I was really strong.
The problem was, I was treated exactly like you would expect. I received no attention, affection, thoughtfulness, kindness or consideration because of course, everyone thought I didn’t need or want any of that. Putting on a mask everyday became more and more of an effort. I could never seem to connect deeply with others because I knew that they didn’t know the real me. I was afraid that if they did, that if I let them see me, they would walk away.
After 15 years of wearing this mask, small cracks started to show, and the cracks just got bigger. If I was put under a small amount of emotional pressure, my emotions would spill over, and tears would roll. I would cry at the drop of a hat and I would often be found in the toilets trying to hide the fact that I was vulnerable in any way. I had come to the point where I couldn’t keep it in anymore. I started to experience a feeling like my insides were pushing against my skin. I felt so restricted, I wanted to get out but my skin was almost like a barrier, stopping me from escaping.
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The mask that I wore for 15 years had worked, until it stopped working. I wore this mask for so long that I forgotten who my real self was. I didn’t really know because for so long, I hadn’t let her experience anything without the mask on. Have you ever felt like you’re hiding a part of yourself from the world? Maybe the mask you put on is literally a mask of makeup, covering up what you don’t want others to see. Maybe it’s just someone you portray yourself to be, but deep down you know it doesn’t feel right.
What is a mask really?
A mask is a solution to a problem, a way to cope with certain aspects of ourselves or of life. We all have some form of coping mechanism, some that work for us and some that don’t. I like to think of wearing a mask like playing a character. While you wear that mask, you can be whoever you want, a completely different person. Sometimes that can be helpful for us when we are learning and expanding our comfort zones so that we can grow. But other times it’s not helpful and it can actually stop us from growing. It might be a problem if, like I was, you’re wearing a mask to hide the parts of yourself that you cannot accept, because even if nobody else can see those parts of you, you still know that they are there. You can’t hide from yourself.
When I first realised this, I was thankful for the mask that I chose. It helped me get through some of the toughest times of my life. I know that there could be situations in the future where it could serve me to put that mask back on, except this time it will be a choice and I can take it off when its no longer required.
What mask do you wear and why?
Do these masks serve you or hinder you and how?
How comfortable would you be to take them off?
What people are saying about Emotion Academy:
"After many years of training, courses, and counselling in various forms I thought I had certain aspects of my life sorted. Yet completing Emotion Academy showed me that I had been running away from my emotions and not facing them. After Emotion Academy, now I have the tools to engage with myself and win the internal battles once and for all - Neil Welsh, Victoria
Learning to let go of expectations
After more than 15 years I slowly started removing the mask. I’d love to say that I had a great epiphany of how fantastic my real self was and took my mask off in one fell swoop like the dramatic closing act of a play, TA-DAAAAAAAA!!!! But that’s not what actually happened. I began taking the mask off, partly because it was the mask that was now causing me pain and partly because it seemed like it was going to come off on its own eventually. I just couldn’t keep it on any longer.
At first, I began to speak the words of how I felt, expressing my truth just a tiny bit. I remember people who knew me being shocked, they had no idea. Even these seemingly small admissions changed the way they related to me. I became more human in their eyes and they began to pay attention and consider my feelings. I also started to feel more connected, more in tune with others and it felt good.
This also led to coming out of the “emotional closet”. Because I had begun to explain in words who I was, people no longer expected me to behave in a certain way. Because I felt less of an expectation to fulfil my social role, I began to let my emotions out just a tiny bit more.
You get to choose
I started to make small conscious choices like:
“If I feel like crying in this movie, I’ll let one tear out, even if it’s in front of someone”. Then the next time I would move up to 2 whole tears! Last week I went to the cinema, sat next to a couple of complete strangers and cried my eyes out without a care in the world. I was still crying as I walked out of the cinema and I was still crying out in the foyer 5 minutes later. What can I say, that’s how I roll now.
I even started singing along loudly in the car, even if I didn’t know the words or if I thought I didn’t sound great. As small as it sounds, that was a huge step for me too, because it was a way that I could explore different emotions and feelings through music, and do it in the company of others. Plus I got to practise using my voice, which for so long I had let stay silent. This was really fun for me because I’ve always enjoyed music, but I never felt confident to sing along in front of other people. I learned to relax and just have fun with it. I’d make up words if I forgot them and laugh at myself when I sang super high notes. My friends and I would sing along and laugh together. It was so much more fun than what I had expected.
Melisa Grigg - Head Coach & Trainer
Melisa was stuck in sadness for 15 years, hated her job, was overweight and her relationship had just ended. Melisa inspires people with her story and now teaches how she sorted her life out. She worked out how to be happy and how to lose over 30kg of body weight. In simple steps she teaches how you can stop procrastinating, find confidence, stop being so sad and finally start to find true meaning and purpose in your life.
The more confident I became in expressing myself, even just a little, the more adventurous I became too. I started to try new activities like dancing and stand up paddleboarding. I even went to a self defence class, which for me, was really outside of my comfort zone, but I leaned into it and remember to just have fun.
I kept doing this until I felt comfortable being myself.
Have fun and keep going
So my question to you is, how badly do you want to be yourself?
If you could be yourself, what would that give you?
What are you holding back?
Even though removing masks can take a little adjusting, I can tell you, it’s been so worth it for me. Remember, you don’t have to take it off all at once, just take your time to get to know yourself again like I did. All that’s required is tiny little micro steps. Over time you get more comfortable, your micro steps will be not so micro anymore. And most of all, remember this is supposed to be fun!
Get silly with it, laugh at yourself and know that everyone else is probably so caught up in their own worlds and masks that they’re not even looking at yours. These days I’m pretty good at speaking up and expressing myself in so many different ways. I really enjoy getting curious and trying out new things. I have made some great friends along the way too, and I feel secure in our friendship, knowing that they like me for me.
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