An Argument for Not Wearing Masks
The movie Home has this climactic scene where the alien creature, wreaking destruction on the whole world, is unveiled. Rather than a war-hardened killing machine, the creature comes out of its protective suit of armor and looks more like a small squishy starfish. As I thought about it, it is a pretty common ploy in movies. We see it in any mech war type film, Ironman, Voltron, and even Star Wars. Darth Vader is unmasked, the image of the dark lord is replaced by a geriatric life-supported old man who wants to make peace with his son before he dies.
Every time this story-line takes place, the hardened shell is something impenetrable and even scary. And every time the tender creature within is seen, it evokes connection and compassion. You see where I’m going here?
When I work with guys in recovery from sexual integrity issues I see all kinds of masks, all kinds of protective armor. Each of these masks serves a different purpose. There is the tough guy mask, which shows strength and self-reliance. There is the smart mask, which shows pride and control of emotions. There is the church mask, which shows depth and purpose to life. There is the sports mask, which shows passion and allows safe connection with others (even if there is relatively little connection in watching sports). The list goes on and on.
The problem with masks is that our true self is never known. And we cannot be accepted if we are not known. Said in the affirmative: we are accepted only as far as we are known. And our hearts cry out to be known so that we can be accepted. So many of us go through life longing to be fully known and accepted, but there is a profound risk in being known—the risk of rejection. Instead of taking the risk, we settle for a substitute, a false intimacy. We settle for things that provide temporary relief, but in so doing make us mask up even more.
For those of you who question if you wear a mask here’s a couple questions to ask:
1) How am I at accepting compliments? Most individuals who wear masks cannot accept compliments. Compliments make them very uncomfortable. The mask wearer hears a voice in the back of his head, “That was nice of you to say, but you wouldn’t have said it if you only knew the real me.” There is an internal conflict because they know the compliment is targeted toward the mask, not the inner person.
2) Can my friends from different groups gather in the same room and me still feel comfortable? When we are authentic, we are the same person no matter what environment we are in. Mask wearers are chameleons, pleasing whomever they are around. If we present one way to one group of friends, then a different way with a different set of friends it gets messy really fast. Gather all of those friends together and we won’t know which mask to wear.
At this point, you might be saying to yourself, “This is great Nathaniel, but I’ve been struggling with this for years. I barely know who I am without my masks. How does this actually work?” I’m glad you asked…
How to take off your masks in four easy difficult steps:
1) Commit to honesty. This is foundational for building trust, and it is also foundational for us to take off our masks and be authentic. If you truly want to be fully accepted, then you must be fully known…warts and all. Have a hard time with lying? Read this article.
2) Recognize what the masks are giving you. Your masks are there for a reason. You employ them for protection, for acceptance, for approval…the list goes on. At the deepest levels, those masks can tell you something about the legitimate needs of your heart. Look at the masks closely and discover more about the deepest parts of who you are.
3) Meet that need in an alternative way. It is not wrong to want to be accepted, to be safe and protected, or to find approval. But how can you find acceptance in legitimate ways? How can you find protection and safety without faking strength or running from intimacy (because it doesn’t feel safe)? How can you find approval without needing others to constantly reassure you? It takes such courage to go to our loved ones and say: “I feel scared and worthless. Would you please tell me that I matter apart from what I do?”
4) Nurture your true self. As we take off our armor and reveal our tender self, we then have the opportunity to do significant work on ourselves. If all of our emotional energy is spent fixing, maintaining, and managing our mask, we have no energy left over to do the real work of nurturing our true self. As we give up taking care of masks, we begin to take care of the parts of us that matter most. We begin to do the deep work of recovery.
We need to believe our most tender places ought to be honored and shown to others. We need to believe when we are vulnerable we will not be crushed, but instead be nurtured. My experience of taking off my masks is scary and sacred. I still have deep insecurities when I show my wife my fear, and insecurity, and weakness, and racing thoughts, and sadness, and grief, and…But it is also a sacred place because there is this beautiful moment when I lay it all out there and she sees me and accepts me. And if our wives aren't in a place to accept us because of the devastation, we have to be able to rely on other men.
If you need help taking off the masks, or help figuring out who you are without them, please contact us. We want to help!
Blog Post by: Nathaniel Gustafson (click here to see more about Nathaniel)
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