We spend the better part of our lives creating brilliant disguises, masks that hide how we really feel, what we really need, and who we really are. We do this for a lot of reasons: to get approval, to please others, to feel loved, to be safe, to be invisible.
Sometimes the disguise is called our brave face and it serves us well. When we’re in front of a job interview panel, our brave face helps us portray confidence in our capabilities instead of showing the self-doubt that creeps in. When we meet a new friend we hide our insecurities and the deeper parts of us until we know them better.
I used to tell my kids to “fake it until you make it.” It’s not the best advice for living an entire life but in certain situations, like giving a speech in front of class or interviewing for a job, it can work. Act brave to get through the scary stuff, and maybe we won’t be scared anymore.
All The Time
Regrettably, we wear the disguises all the time. Not only to be brave and confident, but when we want to fit in, hide, defend ourselves, or avoid pain. We wear them when we want to make others happy and when we feel weak and scared but want to seem strong. We think we need the masks. We believe if others knew our lives, our fears and thoughts and quirks, odd habits and fixations, our tendencies, questions, and addictions they’d stop liking us, ignore us, or worse…..avoid us.
So we hide behind our masks. And this hiding prevents the very things we want the most: to be seen, heard, known, and loved.
The truth is – genuine relationships require we reveal our true identity. An intimate partnership can’t happen with a brilliant disguise; close friendships either. The façade affects our parenting and frustrates our children. The disguise makes us unapproachable and guarded. We become judgmental, angry, and exhausted.
The disguises, no matter how brilliant, may keep us from harm some of the time, but will hinder love all of the time.
How do we stop wearing our masks? When we’ve lived with them so long how do we know the difference between our true selves and the brilliant disguises? How do we begin to find out who’s behind the mask?
Who’s Behind the Mask?
I wrote about this first over ten years ago, and I’m still finding out who’s behind my brilliant disguise. I believe it’s a “rest-of-my-life” kind of work. It’s incredibly painful and makes me vulnerable. Still, I do the work.
If we want to be known and loved, authentically and deeply, and if we want to know and love others the same way, the work to find out who we are without our masks is necessary.
Dr. Alison Cook writes in her upcoming book The Best of You, “At some point, you have to stop hiding, rip off that invisibility cloak, and start showing up in your life. Healing starts by saying, ‘I want to see what you see, God. I want to become more of my true self with your help.'”
When we’re tempted to think that this work might be a selfish endeavor, I point to what Jesus said was the greatest commandments: Love God, and love others as you love yourself. Learning to be who God created us to be, working to show up as the most whole and loving versions of ourselves, is one of the greatest gifts we can give the world.
This work is an act of love to God, ourselves, and others.
While this work is a deeply personal one and unique to each one of us, there are benefits to learning about ourselves with others. The course I wrote and recently taught helps prompt us toward the work of knowing ourselves. It was a beautiful experience to watch women begin to understand their stories better and work toward healing together.
My work also includes mentoring individuals who want to learn more about themselves, God, and their purpose. Learning who we are, diving deeper into our stories, and finding out how to move toward healing and wholeness can be part of our spiritual formation. Dr. Alison’s book will be a helpful resource for me as I continue to learn the most fruitful ways to guide others in integrating this work into their spiritual practices.
When we discard the disguises, wonderful things happen. People connect with the authenticity and see something familiar. Some of our fears are lifted. We recognize we’re not the only ones with that past or those thoughts. We learn our fears and weaknesses are quite common. We all feel less lonely which makes us more willing to take the mask off again.
We find out we’re brilliant without the disguises.
Do you want to get started on your journey now? Dr. Alison’s book is available for preorder. Go to her website for more information.