The decorating of masks is one of the projects that the children in our Children’s Art Therapy Program create. But the concept of “mask wearing” is not unique to children. Adults too, wear “masks” everyday. When we are in grief, we tend to wear our masks most of the time. We try to protect our children from seeing our pain and our tears, we try to protect our spouses because we don’t want them to feel bad, we try to protect our friends because we don’t want to burden them and we protect our co-workers and employers because we don’t want our feelings to effect our work, or potentially jeopardize our job. There appears to be a lot of hiding the grief feelings a person HAS to feel in order to get through the grief process. So when does a person get to work on their grief? When do they get to sit quietly to reflect and to cry? Not giving oneself this time can be detrimental to their physical and emotional being. If a person feels that their grieving is taking longer than they think it should, it could be that the mask needs to come off from time to time. There is no getting around it – you have to feel to heal. You have to let your emotions fill you (whatever they are – anger, sadness, guilt, regret), honor them (accept them without judgment), and offer them release (crying, pounding pillows, journaling, performing a ritual or memorial ceremony – lighting candles, planting flowers).
I found a writing that describes this process beautifully. Unfortunately the author is unknown so I cannot give credit where credit is due, but I hope you enjoy it and take the message with you.
Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.
P.S. If you have found this article, or previous articles, helpful, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to the Bereavement Center. We are a non-profit agency and we operate solely on donations from the community. Any donation, no matter how great or how small, is greatly appreciated and will be acknowledged.
Please Hear What I Am Not Saying . . .
Don’t be fooled by me. Don’t be fooled by the mask I wear. For I wear a mask, a thousand masks, masks that I’m afraid to take off, and none of them are me. Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me, but don’t be fooled – for God’s sake don’t be fooled. I give you the impression that I’m secure, that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name and coolness my game. That the water’s calm and I’m in command, and that I need no one. But don’t believe me – PLEASE.
My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask, my ever-varying and ever-concealing mask. Beneath lies no smugness, no complacence. Beneath dwells the real me in confusion, in fear, in aloneness. But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it. I panic at the thought of my weakness and fear being exposed. That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,a nonchalant, sophisticated façade, to help me pretend, to shield me from the glance that knows. But such a glance is my salvation. My only salvation. And I know it. That is, if it’s followed by acceptance, if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself, from my own self-built prison walls, from the barriers that I so painstakingly erect. It’s the only thing that will assure me of what I can’t assure myself that I’m really worth something. But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare. I’m afraid to. I’m afraid that you’ll think less of me, that you’ll laugh, and your laugh will kill me. I’m afraid deep-down I’m nothing, that I’m just no good, and that you will see this and reject me. So I play my game, my desperate pretending game, with a façade of assurance without and a trembling child within. And so begins the parade of masks. And my life becomes a front. I chatter to you idly in the suave tones of surface talk. I tell you everything that’s really nothing, and nothing of what’s everything, of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine do not be fooled by what I am saying. Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying, what I’d like to be able to say, what for survival I need to say, but what I can’t say. I dislike hiding. Honestly. I dislike the superficial game I’m playing, the superficial, phony game. I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous – and me. But you’ve got to help me. You’ve got to hold out your hand even when that’s the last thing I seem to want, or need. Only you can wipe away from my eyes the blank stare of the breathing dead. Only you can call me to aliveness. Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging, each time you try to understand because you really care, my heart begins to grow wings, very small wings, very feeble wings, but wings.
With your sensitivity and sympathy, and your power of understanding, you can breathe life into me. I want you to know that. I want you to know how important you are to me, how you can be a creator of the person that is me, if you choose to. Please choose to. You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble, you alone can remove my mask, you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic and uncertainty, from my lonely prison. So don’t pass me by.
It will not be easy for you. A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls. The nearer you approach me, the more blindly I may strike back. It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man, I am irrational. I fight against the very thing that I cry out for. But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls, and in this lies my hope. My only hope.
Please try and beat down those walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands – for a child is very sensitive. Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well. For I am every man you meet. And I am every woman you meet.