We are adjusting and re-adjusting to living in a new normal during the pandemic of COVID-19, and wearing a mask is no longer a once a year thing we enjoyed during October for Halloween parties.
This got me to thinking. Since we are now putting on our daily masks for health and safety and having to socially distance from those we used to hug and feel close, how has this shifted the masks we wear internally in all our relationships?
Many of us often hide the real versions of ourselves in a relationship for fear that if the person we're with, they truly knew the person behind the mask that they might run away in fear. These masks inevitably become embedded and morphed into our ideal selves. Our masks become the version of ourselves we project to the world to be accepted and even loved by others.
Un-mask to Allow Others to See You Authentically
This is sometimes difficult for us to do, as it requires us to be vulnerable and allow our true selves to be seen or heard. For us to be vulnerable, it involves risk…and yes, it's scary but absolutely necessary if you want to be truly known and loved. When we step into vulnerability, we rid ourselves of external expectations often installed by societal norms.
Social normative messages are the unwritten rules that shape a lot of human behavior and often meant to influence choices we may find in everyday forms such as various advertisements like magazines, daily news, and so on.
Normative messaging may be defined as the use of influential people that leads us to conform to be liked and accepted by them. Some may even compare it to early childhood bullying on the school grounds…conform, or else.
Are There Negative or Positive Impacts Masks Have on Relationships?
When we look at children, we understand they have not been exposed to the amount of normative messaging that society thrusts in our faces daily. They are pure and curious and remind us of when we were fully vulnerable and able to express our full selves.
Healthy children are full of vigor and peace and are doing things that bring them joy continually. Of course, our upbringing and caregivers had a significant influence on how we developed over the years. But, did we ever measure society's influence?
When did we start to depart from the full self and separate into the ideal self and the true self? This all depends on your personal experience. Sometimes children learn to please their parents or peers to get acknowledgment. We take all of these experiences and store them in our brain into adulthood, which then crafts an articulate version of the ideal self - who you feel confident exposing to the world outside.
Think about a time when you were shy, and the mask you developed to function normally amongst those around you. Perhaps the time you gave a presentation in front of a crowd, and the ideal self you wanted to convey. We do it in our jobs every day, in our communities, and yes, …most of all in our relationships.
Every time we find ourselves out of alignment with our true selves, we start to get anxious and develop a mask as a coping skill to develop an ideal self that we project out into the world. That anxiety pushes us further from our sense of integrity and unencumbered selves, so we develop a perfect self that will be less injured if exposed.
We See These Versions of Ideal Selves
The successful career-driven individual seems to have it all together.
The well-groomed individual who appears to have a sense of balance in their lives.
Oh, and don't get me started on the masks we wear in the dating realm! (Ok, to be honest, that might have to be a completely different article in itself.) But seriously, if we look at all the data out there on current online dating profile trends, most lie most about their age, height and weight…all just to impress the other party in hopes of obtaining a second date. Really? It's not to ensure the success of a hookup, but merely to ensure that the person you connected with might like you enough to meet up.
I also find this behavior eerily similar to what we do with our resumes and potential employers. I only bring up online dating statistics because sometimes it defines how we act in general amongst the masses and how we choose to portray ourselves. Crazy, right?
We'll look into online dating in more detail in future posts, but when it comes to masks, it seems like it's ingrained in us to try to impress others with skills, material goods, or physical prowess.
When Meeting Someone New: Are You Hiding Behind a Mask or Authentic?
I invite you to sit with a curiosity about how you might encourage others, even those we are emotionally intimate with, to take off their masks. It may surprise both of you, and you may end up learning more about one another, inviting in a deeper connection.
If you are struggling with wearing masks on your own or in your relationship, we are here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Relationship Therapy. We also have Online Couples Therapy and Online Couples Workshops right now!
This blog post was written by Nikki Nolet, LMFT.
Nikki specializes in sex therapy, intimacy, and relationships with both individuals and couples. Nikki helps partners and individuals build their trust, reconnect through safe and effective communication, and reignite the passion in their relationships by exploring re-emerging patterns, looking at attachment in our relationships, and creating a lasting connection that serves your relationship. Nikki holds a safe space for her clients, where she works with individuals, premarital couples, and couples in relationships.
Nikki is a Prepare/Enrich Facilitator, a Certified Accelerated Resolution Therapist, an Advanced Certified Imago Therapist, and working towards a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology. Nikki often incorporates Imago Therapy and Sex Therapy together in work with her clients, helping them reconnect with the erotic connection for which they may have lost familiarity.
Her private practice is online and caters to clients of various geographical locations who need more flexibility and enjoy having the convenience of therapy from their chosen location. If you'd like to know more about Nikki, you can learn more at www.nikkinolet.com.