The greatest gift you can give to another is an unconditional acceptance of his or her unique presence. Another wonderful gift that brings hope is to hear what a person is not saying or what a person is not doing. The reality is that we all wear masks – masks that hide the truth of our individuality and of the deep hurts that we have experienced. The number of masks that we create depends on the frequency, duration, and intensity of the hurts experienced. Masks are defensive creations against having to re-experience the traumas of emotional abandonment, sexual violation, of ‘not being good enough’, ‘of having to prove myself all of the time’, of living under a tyranny of ‘shoulds’, ‘have tos’, of ‘having to do everything perfectly.’
Seeing with kindness what lies behind a particular mask can be an epiphany experience for the person who presents the mask. The person himself is not in a secure emotional state to do that and is reliant on another to provide the opportunity for what lies behind the mask to emerge. With the encouragement, gentleness, support and patience coming from the other, the individual who is masked can find hope and begin to see some or all of what he has had to hide away from those significant others who were not in a place to unconditionally love, understand, rejoice in his presence, celebrate his individuality, belief in his limitless potential and allow him to just be himself. Of course, these significant others wear a thousand masks and they, too, wait for liberation from their hiding places; they, too, need a liberator who brings kindness, affirmation, belief in and see what may lie hidden behind the multitude of masks.
Recently, a colleague gave me a copy of the poem Please Hear What I’m Not Saying by Charles C. Finn which so accurately encapsulates the foregoing. What the author captures is the lives of quiet desperation many people live, yet the fact that this poem has traversed the world many times over (even in pre-internet times) since being written in 1966 is a truly hopeful sign of our hunger for coming into consciousness of our amazing and unique being. I’m providing a shortened version of the poem which I feel you may like to read again and again:
Please Hear What I’m Not Saying
Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face that I wear. For I wear a mask.
I wear a thousand masks that I am afraid to take off, and none of them is the real me.
So don’t be fooled by me, I’m good at pretending.
I give the impression that I’m cool and confident, but inside, it’s different.
I’m not in command.
I’m often confused, lonely and desperately need someone to understand me.
But I hide and I don’t want anyone to know.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
I’m afraid to show the real me.
I’m afraid that you will not accept me.
I’m afraid that you will think less of me and laugh at me.
You see, deep down, I’m afraid that I’m nothing, that I’m no good,
And if you knew me, you would reject me.
So I play my game, my pretending game, and thus begins my parade of masks.
My life becomes a front to protect the real me.
I chatter idly to you about everything but tell you nothing of what’s going on inside me – my fears, my worries, my doubts.
So when I’m talking, please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying, what I’d like to say but I can’t.
I’d like to be genuine, honest and sincere, but I cannot without your help.
My trust grows very slowly, so you will have to be patient with me.
Each time you are kind, gentle and encouraging, each time you try to understand, I am given new hope and I start believing in myself in a new way.
You let me see its o.k. to be me.
So I can take off the mask and be happy in your company, I can let you see the real me.
Who am I you may wonder? I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man and woman you meet
What is very poignant in the lines penned from deep pain is the absolute terror of feeling deep down ‘I’m afraid I’m nothing, that I’m no good’ and ‘if you knew me, you would reject me.’ This deep defence of hiding one’s true and real self behind a mask of ‘I am unlovable, nothing’ is very powerful because every child reached out spontaneously to be loved, but when a harsh response, or impatience, or violence or not being picked up for hours on end, endlessly follows the child cleverly and unconsciously buries his amazing self. That self will remain buried until a time when he or she encounters unconditional love without and within.
The final lines of the poem are a wake-up call for us all – that we all wear a thousand masks and that it is only the person without the masks who creates the opportunity for others to become real, authentic and unconditionally loving. As a society, we appear to face quite an uphill struggle to create the relationship situations that foster being real rather than being masked.
Dr. Tony Humphreys is a Clinical Psychologist/Author and International Speaker. His recent book with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationship: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to today’s topic.