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Lesson 2: The Masks We Wear

Many of us are familiar with the saying, “What you see is what you get,” but do we really live this way? Are we the type of people who have nothing to hide and live a completely transparent life?

Whether we can admit it or not, many of us live our lives through a series of masquerades. We have an extensive array of masks we put on and take off without giving it much thought. We may not even recognize when and what masks we put on, especially the masks we’ve worn for most of our lives. Our masks, in the moment, serve a purpose. What purpose do they serve?

As I went through the process of healing from a broken marriage, an eating disorder, and alcohol abuse, my eyes were opened to the fact that I had been wearing masks—not just one mask, but several masks—since my teen years. Masks that were used to cover my pain, shame, and fear. I not only wore masks that covered my feelings, but masks that helped me become someone else: someone I thought others would like better, someone more fun and sexy than the real version, someone who could become what others wanted.

I was 16 years old when I started wearing masks. I had been dating Steve since the beginning of my sophomore year. A couple months into my junior year, Steve broke up with me. There were new freshman on campus and Steve was interested in someone else. I was devastated. I was heartbroken. I felt lost and alone. This was the first time I remember thinking, “I’m not enough.” I felt worthless.

Not wanting to show my devastation, I put on the mask of independence and confidence—my identity was no longer shaped by having a steady boyfriend. In fact, I recognized that putting on a flirty and especially friendly mask with all the guys provided a constant stream of admiration and attention I had never before experienced. At the time, I had no idea how much power and pain would come from wearing masks.

Jesse

When we live our lives hiding behind a series of masks, we are attempting to avoid reality. We convince ourselves that if we maintain this charade long enough, then others will accept our masked reality. We become so determined to sustain the masquerade that we create justifications of our behaviors: we attempt to deceive ourselves in order to preserve and protect what hides behind the mask.

Raising awareness is the first step in changing our behavior. We all have used excuses to justify our behaviors—to rationalize our need to stay hidden behind our masks.

In the table below, list three justifications that are most characteristic of your behaviors. Then, list the painful truth: the fear behind your behaviors.

Like Jesse, in an effort to cover the painful feelings developed through an experience, many of us unintentionally put on masks. In an effort to cover her feelings of worthlessness, Jesse put on a confidence mask. To hide her feelings of abandonment, she put on a mask of independence. We do the same thing. The pain we experience— the reality of our situation—becomes too much to bear and our masks become our means of escape.

Why do we wear masks? We are hiding from our fears, failures, and shame. We are hiding from the fear of feeling worthless or not being enough, not recognizing the consequences that will follow. We are hiding from the judgment and condemnation from others. We are hiding from ourselves—the person we see in the mirror, the person we don’t want to be alone with, the person we have become. Ultimately, we are hiding from God.

Wearing masks or hiding is nothing new; it has been a part of human behavior since the beginning of human existence. We see the first example of this behavior in Genesis 3, where the serpent is tempting Eve to eat of the forbidden fruit. After giving into her desire and sharing with her husband, “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness. So they sewed fig leaves together to cover themselves.”4

When God came looking for Adam and Eve, which He did regularly, they hid from God. Their shame not only caused them to hide from each other—cover up a part of their identity—but hide from God. One author offers this perspective:

Adam and Eve’s entire frame of reference is one another, and God, in His perfect, unspoiled garden. But one decision against
God changes their brain to believe they have something wrong with themselves and they need to hide. This is what shame does
to all of us! It tells us, with no logical basis, that we are broken and we better hide.

It’s easy to look at this example and think that Eve had everything any woman would want: a perfect husband, the perfect father, and a perfect living environment. What more could any woman want? But have we ever thought about what motivated Eve to eat from the forbidden fruit—what caused her to be vulnerable to sin?

Looking Ahead

Complete the Group Check-In, Self-Care lesson, and Change & Growth Analysis in your
Unraveled: Weekly Tools before the next group meeting.

Assignments