With Halloween approaching, I started to think about costumes and masks. The fun of playing with masks (and costumes) can be witnessed by watching kids and some adults who know how to play! They love Halloween because they get to dress up and play different roles or characters, like the video I received last night of my nephew. He is dressing up as a dinosaur this year and in the video, he was roaring and shaking his tail and stomping around like a dinosaur. He was, for that moment, a dinosaur! That’s the fun part of dressing up – being able to “play” someone or something else for a while. This trying on of different characters or roles is fun and can teach us a lot about ourselves and others!
This got me to thinking about the masks that people wear daily, myself included. It struck me how sometimes these masks become such a part of our identity that the thought of taking them off is too much to bear, it is like they are no longer a mask but they now define who we are.
In this case, we are no longer playing a role – we are that role. When we over identify with a role it is no longer a mask, rather it becomes a part of our identity. We start to define who we are, and judge ourselves based on the idealized version of the mask. This is where we get into trouble! It’s like we lose ourselves and struggle to become this idealized version of the mask. The problem here is that we lose who we truly are, and define ourselves by the a role we play we stop embracing all of who we are!
For women, masks that we wear are “good girl”, “nurturer”, “good wife”, “problem solver”, “beauty queen” or “good mother”. For men, common masks are “provider”, “protector”, “good father”, “good husband” and “can shoulder anything”. There are countless other masks that we wear but these are some of the common ones that I have found. Again, none of these are harmful or negative, if we try them on at times, but when they become a definition of who we are, they are out of balance and that is not healthy for us.
An example for me is that, for as long as I can remember, I have always identified with the mask of a nurturer, that’s why I went into the human services field. For many years I was Tara who helps people, Tara the social worker! I so strongly identified with this role that I am sure that is how I introduced myself (or at least made sure in the first couple minutes of conversation I made that clear). While I was proud of the work I was doing, I now recognize it was out of balance I had lost “Tara” and I was just Tara the social worker. In my mind, my job defined me. This imbalance resulted in working late hours, taking calls and texts from clients in the evenings and on the weekends, always going above and beyond to see my clients succeed and when they didn’t, I was taking their failures as my failure. “I should have done more” and “bad nurturer” was the message. The thing is, when we over-identify with a role, this gives our inner critic fuel to start berating us because we have not measured up. On the other hand, if it is just a mask that we wear (at times), then there is room for mistakes and a perceived failure can be viewed as what they are a mistake, rather than, “you suck”. This also means when it comes time to change the role you are not faced with an identity crisis. You are still you…just changing a mask! I am sure lots of you can relate to this. Too many of us over identify with our careers. We think we are what we do, we let our work define who we are! But…we are more than our careers, we are friends, mothers, artists, wives, sisters, daughters … the list is endless!
That is where I am now. I am Tara. I have many different roles, but before all of them I am me! This is a much healthier, happier place to be. It allows me the freedom to choose when and what masks I will wear. The best part is when the mask comes off, I know who I am without it, my mask no longer defines me!
Good Mother Mask
Another mask that I often see women over identify with is the role of “good mother”. This is definitely an important role, but if you have convinced yourself that you can’t be anything but a “good mother” then you are out of balance.
- Does the thought of not baking the cookies for the bake sale (even though you are tired or sick), bring on shame?
- Does the act of being late to pick up your kids send you into throws of negative self-talk and guilt?
- Does the thought of your child not being perfect, make you feel like a failure?
- Or probably the most common – Do you run yourself ragged taking care of your kids and feel guilty if you take time for yourself?
I would suggest then that you have over-identified with the “good mother” mask. If this is you then being a good mother is no longer a mask, it has become a defining part of your personality! When this over identification happens, you are determined to succeed at the role at any cost! A mistake feels like failure, at a core level! You are no longer you, the person who is a mother, rather you are MOTHER. The role has become your identity!
The truth is, you were a whole person before you became a mother and you still are! Mother is a role you play, an important role for sure, but one among many others. You are still you, at your core – “good mother” or not. If you have over-identified with this role, it won’t feel like that, it feels like the role of mother defines who you are, and that is not healthy!
Don’t Forget Who You Are!
This Halloween when you are considering a costume, take a minute to consider the masks that you wear daily. Are there masks that you wear that have become too entrenched? Masks that no longer feel removable? Masks that you feel define who you are? Then it’s time to start looking at whether they are serving your overall wellness!