Mel Schwartz, LCSW

#065: Tear Off Your Personality Masks

Episode 065 of the Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz presents the concept of “personality masks,” those restricting behaviors based around our fear of acceptance.

In this introduction, Mel explains…

  • …how personality masks keep us from living authentically
  • …what we talk about when we talk about authenticity
  • …why being honest about our fears is empowering
  • …the positive feedback loop of vulnerability and authenticity

What would your life be like if you stripped away your personality masks? Have you done it? Leave a comment!

Want to watch this episode?

Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #065

Hi everyone, and welcome to today’s episode. I’m going to be discussing a concept about the masks we wear; the things that block us from being genuine and authentic, and I’m be going to begin by sharing with you how I first came to this self-awareness, actually before I became a therapist, in a prior life of mine.

I was at the mall one day, by myself, just browsing around, shopping a bit, and I found myself outside of a shoe store. Looked in the window at a pair of shoes, found them interesting. I went in, I looked at them, I tried them on; I walked around… and I didn’t buy them.

Not unusual in and of itself. I went on and did some other things. Half an hour later, I found myself back at that shoe store looking at the same shoes, and I stopped and I thought to myself, “That’s odd. That’s not like me. That’s not my style. I’m spontaneous. I like it, I try it on, make sure it fits right as comfortable, I buy it, but I don’t contemplate like that and consider it.”

So I thought, “What’s going on here? Why, if I like these shoes, am I not buying them?” And the insight came to me, which is: I liked them, they were comfortable, but they weren’t my look. And I began to think about it. And I asked myself a brand new question, you know, one of those questions that are insights? And the question was, “Why am I so invested in my look?”

You know, we all have looks in terms of what we’re comfortable with in terms of appearance, but here a pair of shoes, I wanted those shoes, and I just couldn’t buy them. They weren’t my look.

And I began to reflect on that and think to myself, “I need to break free of this.” That look that I was so invested in? It was an image, a display. It was how I wanted to be seen. I began to think of that as a mask, the part that blocks us from just being able to be ourselves, being genuine to ourselves.

So I began to explore this notion. Number of years later, I started to become a therapist and learn that all of us, virtually all of us, wear masks except for someone who is uniquely authentic. And I’m going to explain it a little bit about what I mean about authentic or authenticity.

But for now, let’s just stay with this concepts of masks for a moment.

I find through my experience as as a human being and my relationship with myself, with friends, and as a therapist, that masks express some part of ourselves that don’t feel comfortable, secure enough, just in touch with ourselves and not worried about what other people think of us. A common denominator for the vast majority of people is that we hide or disguise or embellish some part of ourselves to make sure that we’re not thought of as odd, unusual, or to seek approval, or to avoid disapproval. So we actually start to develop personality traits to cover up an insecurity, a wound, part of ourselves that doesn’t feel okay enough. If we lived without any fear, without any self-doubt, or any insecurity, there’d be no need to wear a mask.

Now, I’m not suggesting that this means that we should be insensitive or callous to what others think of ourselves, but we don’t wanna betray ourself for the purpose of inducing someone else to see us in a certain way.

When we do that, that is what I call “other esteem.” You’ve heard me speak of this before. Other esteem means I’m not okay with me unless you’re okay with me. So I’m going to betray my own genuine self and try to get you to like me or approve of me, or not be critical of me.

So masks come from fear. The fear of not being good enough, not being worthy enough, not being lovable enough, not being smart enough, not being attractive enough. It’s about something lacking. At least it’s in our thought that there’s something lacking in us.

So you can hear people who are very arrogant, overly confident, need to be the center of attention. Those people are wearing a mask. Arrogant people, boisterous people like that are people who have an insecurity that they’re not enough. So they compensate and go in the other direction and act out in an aggrandized way.

Some people who feel insecure and not enough head in the other direction, they’re at the back of the crowd. They think before they speak, they struggle with how they’re seen. They may be timid.

In my work as a therapist and a marriage counselor, I see how the masks the two individuals wear, the insecurities, the self doubts, the parts of ourselves that we are compensating for, create havoc in relationship. They become fodder for conflict and right and wrong.

You see, underneath the mask is vulnerability. Now, as a culture, we think the word vulnerable means weak. I’m proposing it means just the opposite. Vulnerability means if I feel insecure, if I don’t feel good enough, if I express that, then I’m not in hiding any longer. Now that starts to look like authenticity — starts to. If I’m not in hiding, if I reveal my insecurity or my self doubt, at least I’m not betraying myself. I’m removing the mask that’s covering it up.

Now, if I’m not betraying myself, I still have to become more genuine. Two things happen: I’m no longer setting the other person up as my judge. That’s a great thing, because that creates genuine self-worth and self-esteem. Number two, whatever that insecurity was that I’ve been hiding and not wanting other people to see, once I reveal it, it starts to lose his grip on me. The way to overcome your insecurities and your fears is to open up and share them, because they lose that life force and energy when you suppress an insecurity, it clings to you. There’s nowhere to go. It doesn’t release itself.

So this is all about the move, the growth toward becoming authentic. So let’s look at the word authentic or authenticity.

The word authentic, it usually speaks to something that’s not counterfeit. Typically, we don’t use it about people. We can say that a work of art is deemed authentic. What does that mean? It’s not counterfeit. It’s not genuine. How many people do you know that you would consider truly authentic? The answer might be none or very, very few.

Authenticity, I think, is a primary meaning and purpose in our lives to evolve and grow toward becoming authentic. What could be more gratifying? What better way to spend your life than learning to be authentic?

So authenticity means seeing the masks you wear, whatever they may be. Where am I insecurities? Where am I covering up? Where am I hiding and disguising? Where am I not speaking my truth (selectively)? See the mask and understand the mask exists because of fear.

Now, take the fear and begin to reveal it. You don’t need to make an announcement to people, “I’m afraid,” but take the thing that you’re afraid of and begin to share it.

I remember giving a talk one evening, an overcoming fear by embracing the fear. A person in the audience, an elderly woman, raised her hand meekly and said, “I have a fear of public speaking.” I brought her up to the podium behind the microphone and said, “Share that now so everyone can hear you.” And she did so and I left a number of seconds passed, and then I asked her, “How are you feeling?”

She said, “I’m not feeling so afraid anymore.” She revealed the fear of public speaking. The masks that we wear inhibit us. They imprison us. They block us from authenticity.

Now, if you want to grow and evolve and get the very best out of your life and have relationships on deeper, more genuine, complex levels, which are not boring and rote, where we’re sharing the same old transactional words back and forth… when someone says to you, “How are you?” You don’t just smile and say, “Good, how are you,” and nobody’s speaking truth to each other.

We reveal, we inquire, we become authentic. We become real. Ask yourself, what are the masks I’m wearing? Set your intention to overcome those masks.

You can find other episodes that I’ve done on authenticity and removing masks in my podcast, and you can read about it in The Possibility Principle.

We’re going to be talking in the next episode about vulnerability, self-esteem, and other esteem, primary topics in this area, and how they impact us in our relationships.

I hope you’ve enjoyed today’s episode. Thanks for listening in and until next time, be well, and try to be authentic and let go of those masks.

See you soon.

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