We all want to fit in and be accepted, but at what cost? Personality masks can help us blend in with the crowd and protect ourselves from criticism or rejection, but requires that we cover up our unique, authentic selves.
Meet Pete – he is facilitating an important annual meeting at work, busily greeting attendees with a smile and a few words as they head to their seats. He looks put-together, confident, and excited, but inside, he feels completely shattered – unbeknownst to his colleagues, his marriage ended a few months earlier, and his life is radically changing. He’d like to tell someone, or even take a week off just to process it all, but Pete has learned that in his company, he must “keep personal business personal.” So he has decided it’s better just to pretend like nothing is happening. His parents always told him to “fake it until you make it,” so it’s not like this is the first time he has hidden how he has really felt.
Pete is engaging in a common but exhausting social practice known as “masking,” hiding his real emotions in order to protect himself and cope with hardship. While masking may help us handle our responsibilities or safeguard our vulnerabilities in the short-term, if this is habitually used to get through our day-to-day lives, there can be significant consequences to overall mental health.
What is a Personality Mask?
A personality mask is a different external identity that you assume in order to fit in or protect yourself from harm or trauma. Your mask is not a reflection of your authentic internal self, but a construct that you use in order to be accepted and secure.
Why do people use personality masks?
People don a mask to better fit into inflexible, demanding, or potentially risky environments or situations. Discrimination, rejection, fear, bullying and violence all fuel masking. For example, if you move into a new neighbourhood where people value wealth and status, you may avoid talking about your working-class roots and change the way you dress or act around your neighbours. Or, if you are in a social situation where you are with a group of people who can be critical or condescending towards you, you may be self-deprecating or make jokes at your own expense in an attempt to ward off their comments. For people who are neurodivergent, social pressure and a lack of understanding of neurodiversity tend to fuel masking in many different types of social situations.
Symptoms of Masking
Not sure if you are masking more often than you are letting your true self shine through? Some key signs of habitual masking include:
- Physical fatigue
- Emotional exhaustion
- Feeling like a hypocrite
- Lack of satisfaction with your job or studies
- Negative feelings towards yourself; not liking who you are
These feelings indicate that you are having to suppress your genuine self in order to get through your days, and that you are struggling as a result. This important realisation is the first step towards getting the support you need to embrace your authentic self.
What are the Different Types of Personality Masks?
Depending on the root causes of a person’s unease or insecurities, the type of personality mask they take on will vary. Here are a few of the most common types of personality masks.
1. The People-Pleaser
If you are wearing this mask, you are often tying yourself into knots trying to make everyone else happy – except yourself. Highly dependent on external validation, and often grappling with some deep doubts about your own worth or abilities, if you’re wearing this mask, you are avoiding interacting with the person you most need to – yourself.
2. The Social Butterfly
You’ve got a million friends, and you are seen as an affable, outgoing person. But do any of these “friends” really know who you are? If you find yourself maintaining only superficial relationships with those around you, you may be wearing this mask in order to avoid rejection or judgement.
3. The Victim
People using the victim mask tend to have a very fragile sense of self-esteem, and attempt to protect themselves by always finding a way to blame others for their problems. Not only does this damage relationships, but it also creates obstacles in developing the accountability and resilience needed for personal growth.
4. The Bully
The bully mask is another mask meant to hide weaknesses or vulnerabilities. People with this mask often act out by belittling or abusing others. In reality, many people with this mask have been abused themselves, and struggle with low self-esteem and self-doubt. They may bully to try and keep people away from them, feeling afraid or unworthy of relationships.
5. The Loner
You are detached and aloof, declining social invitations and refusing to participate in work events. Some people may characterise you as a snob, while others may see you as simply shy. The truth is, you are not sure of how to interact with people, and are fearful of how they may see you or if you’ll be accepted. With the loner mask, you avoid these interactions to protect yourself from the emotional pain of rejection.
6. The Clown
You are gifted at making others laugh, and are quick with a joke or witty comment. People say you are always smiling, but is this just a personality mask? If you’re laughing on the outside but feeling sad or empty when you are alone, you may be masking in order to hide your vulnerabilities.
7. The One in Control
Your house is impeccable, you are always on time, and you constantly manage the people around you. After all, if you weren’t around to help everybody stay in line, it would be complete chaos – right? People with this personality mask often feel an underlying lack of security or stability that they try to assuage by controlling everything around them – including the actions of others.
8. The Unbothered
You are the picture of calm regardless of what’s unfolding around you. You are stoic even in the worst of circumstances, and people often comment on how “strong” or “even-keeled” you are. Typically, people wearing this mask are suppressing their emotions, fearing that they’ll be judged or that people won’t understand what they are feeling.
9. The Perfectionist
People wearing this mask will try to be the best at everything they do, craving acceptance or praise from others and building up a sense of self-worth built solely on accomplishments. This is an exhausting mask to keep on, and doesn’t allow space for the wisdom and self-reflection gained from mistakes or failures.
10. The Self-Deprecator
The first to put yourself down – albeit humorously – or deflect a compliment, you believe that criticising yourself is just beating others to the punch. While your sardonic self-reflections might be played for laughs, they are really a self-defence mechanism, and may be an indicator of low self-esteem.
What are the Consequences of Masking?
Masking in certain short-term situations, particularly if there is time for processing and reflecting afterwards, doesn’t usually create negative effects on a person’s mental health. However, if masking is habitual, or people feel that masking is necessary in order to be accepted or maintain a job or social position, this can be very damaging to someone’s overall wellbeing. Persistent masking is often accompanied by feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety, and may even cause people to lose touch with their true selves. This can set people up for significant mental health and self-esteem issues which can affect all aspects of their lives.
How Do I Take Off My Personality Mask?
Shedding your mask can be a joyful and energising process – and may feel scary as well. After all, most masks act as a way to protect ourselves, shielding us from the emotional pain that others can inflict on us. Personality masks are sometimes formed in response to unresolved trauma, abuse, or mental health issues. For people who have worn a personality mask for a long time, it can be difficult to break the habit of masking without professional support.
Cognitive behavioural therapy can be an extremely useful tool in unmasking your personality and living as your authentic self. During CBT, you’ll explore the root causes of why you are masking, gaining a better understanding of what’s driving that behaviour and how to begin to change the patterns of thought that reinforce it. CBT focuses on helping you become aware of negative responses, feelings, and behaviours and to learn how to respond to these situations in a more effective way.
Letting the Real You Shine at The Dawn Thailand
The Dawn Wellness Centre and Rehab Thailand offers highly personalised treatment for a variety of mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, and trauma. Our mental wellness programme has been specially designed to help clients gain a deeper understanding of their symptoms, and learn skills needed to effectively manage their conditions. Clients leave The Dawn feeling healthier, happier and well-equipped to deal with life’s challenges and embrace life’s joys.
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Call us today to learn more about how we can help you discover and embrace your true self.