How to drop your mask – even when it’s scary
Remember how excited you got about Halloween when you were a kid? It was so much fun to decide what you were going to be and what you’d wear.
Dressing up for Halloween has its roots in centuries old Celtic tradition. The Celts put on scary costumes and masks to hide their true identities from evil spirits intent on causing them harm.
I still see lots of people wearing masks, pretending to be someone or something they’re not in order to protect themselves. Only it isn’t just on Halloween.
If I’m honest, there have been times over the years that I’ve hidden the real me behind a mask.
Do any of these disguises sound familiar?
- Good Girl: I embraced this persona way back in grade school. It seemed innocuous at first. Live up to other people’s expectations and then bask in their approval – a win-win! All I had to do was follow the rules, get good grades and be a model citizen. But there was a dark side to my childhood people pleasing. It set a pattern that I unwittingly carried into adulthood. The price for pleasing everyone else was steep: I started to lose touch with who I really was and what I really wanted.
- Perfectionist: This mask is tricky because perfectionism often masquerades as having high standards. I’m all about striving for excellence, but the drive to be the best can become self-destructive when it leads to nasty habits like being overly critical (of yourself and others), procrastinating because you have to make things just right and reveling in your workaholic tendencies because they’re proof of how indispensible you are. But trying to be perfect takes a toll. It results in mental and physical exhaustion from chasing an impossible standard and straining to keep up the facade of perfection.
- Superwoman: Do you have a cape and tights in your closet? While I absolutely believe you have special powers, the reality is that none of us can do it all. But if you’re anything like I was, that may not stop you from trying! Taking care of your career, family, health and all the other demands in your life while never looking stressed or admitting you need help is a seductive image. But pretending you can do it all comes at a cost. While others see the “smiley” mask you’re showing on the outside, you can feel like a fraud on the inside.
The truth is, it can feel pretty vulnerable to show up every day as your authentic self. Others will judge you. And maybe – terrifying thought – they will find you lacking in some way. It feels so much safer to present the face you think the world wants to see and not risk that kind of rejection.
But there is an internal struggle that rages within us when our values – who we are at the core – are in conflict with how we’re actually behaving. We may be able to rationalize the compromises we’re making for awhile, but something is always out of sync and true happiness eludes us.
It’s time to drop your masks – even if it scares you (and it will). It’s also very liberating!
Here are 5 steps that can help you start letting go of who you think you should be so you can start showing up as who you really are.
Step one: Get re-acquainted with yourself. If you’ve gotten into a pattern of keeping other people happy, you may have lost track of what’s really important to you. Brainstorm a list of your values and what matters most.
Step two: Find the disconnects. Compare your values to your actions. Are they in sync? Notice any misalignments. Hint: they’re usually areas where you feel frustrated, unhappy or conflicted.
Step three: Take a baby step. Once you know where the biggest gap is, you have a place to start. What’s one small thing you could do to get more aligned? For example, if self-care is a value you’ve been ignoring, take a walk, meditate or plan a healthy meal.
Step four: Appreciate your progress. Since you’re a successful woman, you’re probably used to getting quick results. Change is a process that requires time and hard work. Give yourself credit for the efforts you’re making and the small victories you’re achieving along the way.
Step five: Be kind to yourself. I know from experience that being authentic can make you feel pretty naked. What if other people react negatively when you speak your truth? If that happens, remember – the person whose respect and love you need the most is your own.