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The Cost of the Mask


When We Should and Shouldn’t Fake a Smile

Have you ever heard the piece of advice, “Fake it ‘til you feel it”? Putting on a smile is one approach that can work wonders to get us out of a funk, but in some cases, heavier emotional baggage can be harder to shake.

Putting on a smile when we really feel sad acknowledges that negative feelings are undesirable, and sometimes the solution is that by realizing that we can be happy, then indeed we can. However we’ve all been hit with a diverse range of challenges and setbacks whether it be rows in the family or a dream that went pear shaped. Over time these can stack up and memories of embarrassment or failed ventures can leave emotional scars.

How we approach each situation matters, or else our means of ‘coping’ can be destructive in itself. Sometimes, dwelling in our sorrows just makes them worse when they could go away on their own. Other times, failing to accept and express our feelings as they are and putting on a mask of what we and others want to see comes with the cost of not being where we’re really at. How do we differentiate between a “got up on the wrong side of the bed” kind of day and a serious bout of sadness (and everything else within that spectrum)? And how do we handle each one properly?

When It’s Best to Embrace the Mask

A lot of us want to escape our problems, and sometimes we can! Usually this is because our problems don’t exist in the first place, and a simple change of attitude or perspective can make everything look brighter. Let’s say we had an unpleasant morning, as tends to happen now and then, and it affects our mood (which in turn affects the rest of our day). Putting on a happy front can be just what we need to get out of that chain reaction.

If we feel we can create our emotional reality, it’s worth a shot. But sometimes, by doing so, we may be missing an important cue of a deeper issue that we need to be aware of—inside ourselves or in our greater environment or relationships. That’s when the mask can get dangerous…

When It’s Best to Embrace Life’s Challenges

When we wear a mask we can push aside the fact that tough moments ever happened, but our masks are only short term solutions; they are not a cure to everything. When we carry too much baggage around and attempt to go on like it doesn’t hurt, what can happen is that these setbacks remain unresolved and pile up to catastrophic effect. The result can be that we become bitter, shameful and live life with a shattered self-image.

When we put our masks down, express our hurts or struggles, we present others with our most authentic self, and we open up the doorway for them to do the same. While it can be uncomfortable and forced, relating even on the unhappy notes is a key aspect to developing authentic relationships with others. Connecting with God, our family, friends and community provides a foundation from which we can recover: in sharing with others we accept life’s challenges and don’t play the illusion that they aren’t there. We learn that negative emotions are not inherently bad but are a means to identify aspects of our lives that need love and change. Through communication we learn to frame our setbacks into a proper perspective.

Our mask also comes in the form of seeking temporary happiness for ourselves, rather than lasting happiness in loving relationships. Treating ourselves to a cup of coffee or a new item of clothing can cure a gloomy day, but not a gloomy year. In the long term, can happiness exist if we’re not sharing it? When happiness is self-contained, it doesn’t have that reflective momentum of when it is freely flowing between people. When our sadness is all contained within the world of “me,” finding a solution cannot reach the ultimate level of connecting to others. Father Moon, founder of the Unification faith, illustrates the importance of other people in our lives, “Just as love is not for our own sake, so happiness and peace are not for ourselves. Just as love can never exist without a partner, happiness and peace cannot exist without another person. All these can exist only in the context of relationship.” Extending our focus beyond ourselves and creating loving relationships can open a channel for change to happen.

How have you found effective ways to deal with your setbacks? How have your lows helped propel you to peak performance? Who do you find it easiest to share with? Speak with a close friend on a genuine level, and come back here to share your communication tips with us all!