When many people were children, wearing a mask on Halloween or to a masquerade party was fun. For an hour or two they could put on the face of someone else, giggle a lot about how they looked, and enjoy being someone else for a while. Then, after the party had ended, they would remove the mask, become themselves again and go home.
In this article, we’ll examine together the masks that people, myself included, who live with dissociative identity disorder, wear different masks, and never allow the “real me” shine through and why we do it.
Why Do I Wear a Mask?
A fundamental right of humanity is to feel safe in their environment and with themselves. However, after the betrayal and horror of severe and repeated child abuse, survivors find themselves constantly feeling the need to hide from others who may want to befriend or intimately know them. Instead, people like me wear masks to hide and hopefully fool others in an attempt to not get hurt like our caregivers harmed us.
DID further complicates the picture as survivors, like me who have lived through the torture of child abuse and neglect, must wear not one mask, but many. In fact, hiding away is a fundamental use of having many ego states. Although often switching masks to manage a situation seems automatic, doing so is actually a choice.
Before you kill me for that statement, hear me out.
No, we do not have complete or sometimes even partial control of when we will switch to an alter. However, since they are all me and I am them, I am choosing to switch to allow them to take over from me when I’m overwhelmed. I elect to put on a mask so my waking self can hide away in the safety of my mind.
The Problem with Hiding Behind a Multitude of Masks
I don’t know about you, but I don’t just switch to put on a mask in which to hide, I do it as me too. When I go into a situation where I feel uncomfortable, I have the amazing ability to choose instantly who it is the other person wants to see. Then I slip on that face and those actions to fit what they expect.
In essence, I lie.
Lying comes easy for a multiple. We are so hell-bent on protecting ourselves from dangers of the past that we lose touch with being real in the present. I know many of you will understand when I say that it is more than difficult for me to enter a room with people in it and remain real. Even with people I have been with hundreds of times. It doesn’t matter if I like you or not, I am a chameleon and will change my color to fit what you want to see.
I’m not proud of the lies I show people. Not at all.
If I do not show people the real me and relax to enjoy them, I miss so much in life. I mean, I have sat and watched others interact, and although I’m sure they are putting on a good face for everyone, they seem to feel safe being with others. It breaks my heart to understand that I do not ever feel safe unless I am isolated and alone even after three decades of treatment for DID.
If I can’t take my mask off and take my guard down, then I’m dooming myself to loneliness and others to getting hurt when I choose to hide from them. At the current moment, being my friend is very hazardous as one day I will walk away unless you chase me and then I may feel endangered even more.
I Feel Like I Don’t Belong, Therefore I Hide
In the movie Amadeus, the musician’s father shows up to attend a party wearing a two-faced mask. On the one side is the joker’s face, the other holds a sad countenance.
I have often identified with that mask as I understand how it feels to show my happy mask while inside dying behind the sad one. It is horrible to put on a smile and act comfortable while inside every sinew cries out for me to head for the door and run. I have felt the horrendous feeling of not belonging and wondered quietly in my mind if the people in the room would like me if they could ever see the real me.
Many survivors struggle with the feelings that we do not belong in the world at all. I know I do. I feel sometimes like I was a horrible mistake, that someone got their wires crossed. I feel I shouldn’t have been born or that I should have died at birth. I’ve even pondered if I were born in the wrong century.
Unfortunately, feeling like I have no place in the world and needing to constantly hide behind a mask (or several) leaves me vulnerable to thoughts of taking my own life since I feel I shouldn’t be here anyway.
Have you ever felt that way?
Taking Off the Mask and Leaving the Party
Lately, I have been trying ridiculously hard to remove my mask and leave my hiding place. I desperately want the masquerade party to end and to find the exit. I’m finding that task beyond me at this time.
To be frank, I don’t have the answer for how to take off the many masks I wear and leave the party, and I haven’t found a therapist who knows how to either. They have all kinds of suggestions such as find a group of likeminded people and join them, but they ignore the terror being with other people invokes inside me. It’s not as easy as “just do it”, I have layers and layers of hurt to find my way through to just get in the car to go, let alone arriving there.
I have tried to belong to groups. I have joined several churches, NAMI, and recently I joined a Star Trek club. In each of these groups, I found one fundamental flaw, they all involved other humans. Whenever people are involved, things are never as rosy or easy as one might think they should be. Each one has let me down in huge ways, leaving me no longer interested in seeking companionship.
I would rather live in a cave by myself in a place where few people ever go than to interact with other human beings. However, I keep hearing the words of Paula McNitt, Ph.D. who stated to me one day in her office, “Shirley, you’re going to find out most of us are pretty nice people.”
My Expectations Hold Me Back from Removing My Masks
Understanding and accepting that all humans are flawed and that no relationship is perfect has been a hard one for me. When growing up I’d fantasize about the wonderful friends I would have and how they would love me unconditionally and never fail me.
Obviously, those were only pipe dreams as humans are notoriously fallible.
The bottom line of this piece is this; I need to allow others to be flawed and not expect them to be more or less than they are as it is my own unrealistic expectations that keep me wearing my masks.
There is a quote by Asif Ali that goes as follows:
“Someone asked me, ‘Who hurt you?’
I replied, ‘My own expectations.’”
My God is this quote right on the mark.
It is my own expectations of what people are like and my fear that they will hurt me that holds me back from being the real me with them. I often have unrealistic expectations that the people I interact with are better and belong more than I do to this world. I believe they will automatically love me and want me to be their friend. I feel others won’t hurt me because they are perfect.
Or I believe the complete opposite of all these statements.
Either way, it is my own expectations of others that keeps me imprisoned behind masks that obscure who I am on the inside.
I Hope This Piece Has Resonated with You Today
The only way to defeat a problem is to know of its existence. Sometimes we want to blame others for our problems when all along it is something, we are doing to ourselves.
The initial abuse was not our fault.
The way we lived before we gained awareness was not our fault.
Now that we are becoming aware or have become aware things have changed.
It is our fault.
Removing our masks is hard and the only way to remove them is to acknowledge that our thinking and beliefs about ourselves and others are flawed, and it is up to us to remove our masks, no one else can.
I am going to start practicing removing my masks when dealing with other people. I have no problems not wearing it when I write pieces for people, I will never meet in person it is time I learn to interact in a tangible way with others around me.
Good luck to you in removing your masks because I will certainly need help removing my own.
“Being natural is incredibly empowering for women because it’s just who you are. You’re embracing all the beautiful things about you from your head to your toes. Because when you mask so much of your natural beauty, people don’t get to see that.” ~ Rozonda Thomas
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask.” ~ Jim Morrison