Growing up in a nest of vipers… whoopsidoo, I meant, family of Narcissists and Sociopaths is an interesting experience – when you get past the fear and loathing bit of it. I got to observe them close up for the first seventeen years of my life.
It was interesting that even though I was the odd one out in our little family, I did not buy into their thinking or their philosophies. It was like I held my own inborn morals and values, secretly and carefully, hidden in my heart. I held onto my truth – believed in that truth, even when I could not believe in myself. I do believe that this helped me survive. It gave me some sort of rock-solid core to stand firm in the face of all that happened to me and around me.
(Side note – in later, more recent years, it’s been all the more heartbreaking for this reason when I found myself going so against my own dearly held beliefs, shoplifting food for binges. It will always break my heart, and it shattered me in a way that noone had been able to all these years – my own betrayal of myself. I felt like I had become what they were trying to make me.)
Something I saw a LOT was the donning of masks. Now, I do not mean the sort of masks you physically can wear – but still, I often find myself thinking of Roald Dahl’s book The Witches, and if you are familiar with this awesome book, you will understand why. In short, the witches of the title are children hating women with extremely ugly faces, hairless rashy poxy scalps, clawed talons instead of fingernails, squared off feet instead of toes, huuuuuge nostrils and very keen sense of smell – children smell like dogs droppings to them. Their life’s work is about eradicating children. In public, they look like really lovely ladies (all the better for sucking in hapless kids) because they wear wigs, realistic face masks, gloves, pointy shoes.. and cotton wool up their noses to stop them fainting at the smell of those awful unwashed children! Check out a clip from the movie here.
Every time we left our home, my family would don their masks. Not physically (although we put on our ‘good’ clothes and did our hair and all that) but you could almost ‘see’ them put on their masks. They became smiling, polite, charming, lovely people. They became virtuous, upstanding members of society. You would not begin to imagine the secrets their innocent facades hid.
I always found myself wanting to yell at people who didn’t know better “That’s not who they really are at all! It’s all an act! They are liars!” Their deception was actually so polished that had I done so, they would have scoffed and said something like “She really has problems you know, she’s not stable, don’t worry, she’s seeing a child psychiatrist..” and people would totally have bought that and thought even more of them, poor lovely people dealing with a crazy stuffed up kid… people who knew me better suspected more because they knew my heart, they knew that the way I was – scared, shy, withdrawn, crying often, dirty and scruffy, bruised – was not ‘right’. But they fooled everyone else.
I learnt young that life can be far more.. bizarre than fiction. You couldn’t make my life up. It was like being stuck in a bad soap opera at times. A bad horror movie at other times.
My point is, many of us wear masks in our every day life. We often feel extremely vulnerable, especially when our self esteem and confidence is already lacking. It’s not just bad people who wear these masks – it’s good people too. Most people have at some stage in their lives. How many times, for example, have you ‘put on a happy face’ to face the world when you have been truly miserable, or smiled while choking back anger? There you go.
In some cases, wearing a mask can be the way to be diplomatic and appropriate in certain situations – many of us have a ‘work’ persona where we are professional, courteous, pleasant, and we don’t allow ‘ourselves’ to really intrude into the work environment. And that’s much of the time very appropriate – we are there to do a job, most of the time our employers and customers don’t want to deal with the human side of us that has problems and emotions and feelings and can be up one day and down the next.
But what about other times? What about with our friends? When we go out generally, to the shops or the movies or to the park or anywhere really?
Do you find yourself often pretending to be happier than you are? Friendlier? Laughing along when you don’t feel like laughing or think it’s amusing? Do you pretend to be funnier than you are, more outgoing? Tough when you really are a softie at heart? I’m sure you all could add things we sometimes pretend to be. Because I’m sure we all have at some stage done this. But what about all the time, with people you are close to?
My thinking is that people who truly love you and care for you, love you for YOU – through good and bad, thick and thin. They love you despite any failings you might have and are prepared to stick around if you aren’t perfect. To accept you. Because who is perfect? I’m not. I’m sure you aren’t. I’ve never met a person who was. It’s humanly impossible. In fact it’s being imperfect that makes us truly loveable – because it makes us unique. It makes us ourselves.
If you don’t feel like you can be yourself around someone, I think it’s time to have a good look at them, and yourself. Why do you feel you have to pretend? Are you scared they will reject you, and why? And then ask yourself Is this a real fear? Or is this fear unfounded? Are my ‘failings’ that heinous? Chances are likely they aren’t – they are on a par with everyone else’s ‘failings’, certainly no reason to be rejected. And then ask yourself, would this person, or these people really be likely to reject me if I was my true self with them? It can be quite illuminating to ask yourself these questions.
If someone is likely to reject you for being your true self – are they are true friend? Are they someone who is really healthy or helpful to have in your life? Or are they soul destroying, spirit-draining? Or not very accepting people? And is it worth having them in your life?
Is it worth taking a risk and finding out, by dropping the mask and being you?
I truly think that struggling to accept ourselves is something that is part of and perpetuates eating disorders and many other problems that include poor self esteem and self hatred/loathing. And I’ve found that as I’ve started to be more accepting of myself, I’ve been able to be myself more. I’ve always been pretty straightforward, but I’m a people pleaser through and through, and have always tried to be the person I think people want, and to act the way I think they expect me to act. Not any more. These days, I’m pretty much me, all the time. I realised that if being myself wasn’t okay with someone, they weren’t going to like me anyway and I was better off knowing that, and that not everyone in our lives is going to like us and that’s okay. I’m never going to be perfect or please everybody, or agree with everybody, and that’s okay too. And it’s far less exhausting to live this way too! It’s refreshing, both for me, and I think for many people who just want to be with ‘real’ people themselves.
I don’t mean ditch your manners and let it all hang out. I’ll still observe social niceties. For example, if I don’t find someone’s joke funny, I’ll not be joining in with the tittering away at it. I’ll say so, or move on, or something more appropriate to the situation and how I feel.
And I’ve found that most of my friends still accepted me. In fact, the ones who walked away, weren’t truly friends, and I’m better off without them. Is it really worth compromising your own sense of self and your values in order to try and gain or keep someone’s respect? Life is too short.
And you deserve better than that.
I dare you – pick one person in your life you wear a mask for, and be yourself with them today. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Be yourself – because you are perfectly YOU, and there isn’t a single person on this planet who is better at being you