The Masks We Wear

People are often said to have a dual nature, which by itself means little, and the context varies widely. In a very basic way it is true, but duality is just the beginning. In reality our natures are multifaceted.

We act one way with our friends, another way at work, another way with our family, another way with our love interests, and a whole different way completely when alone. Some facets line up more congruously than others, but they all have their discrepancies.

So when we try define ourselves which “self” do we use? Which is the truest self? Or is it bits and pieces from each? I have read more than once that the quality humans find most attractive is symmetry. While that was referring to how we perceive beauty in people, is there a way we can attain more symmetry in our lives?

In truth, all of these parts can be a part of one whole, well grounded, “symmetrical” person whose core is solid and recognizable regardless of which facet is peered through. A lofty and difficult goal to achieve. One which straying from is all too easy when the course changes toward dangerous waters are incremental and sometimes imperceptible.

Continuing on this course, changing masks throughout life to be increasingly different people, wears on an individual. The bigger the differences, the more taxing it is. It comes from the little lies told to make all the pieces seem to fit nicely together; we want to feel like our personality, spanned across our entire lives, is completely congruous with itself. The greater the disparity, the greater the desperation to connect nonexistent dots.

James Ensor Self-Portrait with Masks (1899)

The masks serve purposes, but we can be haunted by them.

In fact, we are best at believing our own lies. Our need for that congruity is so great that despite having functioning memories, we will begin to believe those little lies as they multiply.

The range of these lies is immense. Their power immeasurable in our lives and the lives of those around us. They can make you believe something about someone else to keep your own version of yourself intact in your mind. Within your consciousness that idea or belief about another person becomes fact. How much influence do you have over that person? Maybe they begin to believe the revisionism as well.

This insidious path all begins with a person trying to keep their own record of themselves straight. It’s more common that you might think; it has played out in some way in nearly every relationship of any type.

I speak from what some may consider extreme personal experience—extreme, but not unique. The function or benefit this has served in my life is being made aware of it. We all have to wear different masks at different points in our life; that’s the nature of it. It should be noted that this is not all bad, and not everything need be made to meet up. The challenge in that regard is accepting that fact.

While I do not know if greater congruity in and of itself can create happiness, I know without a doubt that the lack of it can create unhappiness.

  • Mike Kinville

    Well said. I think that the saying “To thine own self be true” is a good touchstone. I have made honesty to myself one of my highest goals, and I’ve worked at it for years. Self deception has its own distinct “signal”, and with practice it becomes easier to spot. With practice it loses some of its seductive appeal.

    • Z.

      Some, but not all I would wager. Reality management through self deception must feed into some aspect of the survival instinct.

      • Mike Kinville

        Consider a shrew; unquestionably adept at survival, unlikely to engage in managing a façade. Perhaps there is “social survival instinct”…consider those our society holds up as worthy of emulation; performers and politicians. If you define this as success, than a well managed façade isn’t “nice to have”, it is integral.

        • Z.

          I was speaking more in hypothetical terms than meaning you specifically.

          The well managed façade becomes an interesting topic when considering social media, and through it public access to celebrities.

          • Mike Kinville

            I took
            no offense when I thought your comment was specific to me. It’s a good reminder that my actions are not intrinsically linked to my ideals.

            As to the management of public perception, a good recent example is Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman’s efforts to brand his persona. He appears to be working to place himself as celebrity beyond his ample athletic prowess. Richard has a brilliant mind, and he would be a good case study on the phenomenon that you refer to.

            With a little more thought, again consider the shrew. A
            rodentologist would likely tell you that the shrew’s behavior varies based on the social situation it is in; primarily seeking a mate and establishing territory. Is the shrew masking itself when it varies its behavior?

            Extrapolated back to the human condition, a facet might be considered a true representation of an aspect of the self, while a façade, like a mask, may bear no resemblance to the person presenting it. This takes me back to truth.

  • Jes Kinville

    I find that people are often very multifaceted. For myself, I have found that, like a gem, all those facets can be part of the whole. I spend time discovering which of those facets accurately show me for who I am and which ones are unneeded facades that I have built for the sake of hiding my truest form. I am in a process of allowing my outsides match my insides.

    • Z.

      I think we all are to a degree, but what I think is prevalent is people doing the opposite of what you are attempting; building up the facades instead of tearing them down.

  • TheRiz

    Good post. My entire blog concept is essentially focused around the idea that we do things that are good/bad, selfish/altruistic, etc. But once we learn to blend those things, and learn from our actions, our true “self” begins to emerge.

    • Z.

      A vital component would be accepting what we find to be good or bad as part of the “self” and defining it within that context before moving toward change.

      For example: I had long known I needed to lose weight, but it wasn’t until I really looked at myself and included “being fat” as part of who I was that I really realized deep down the extent to which I needed to change. Well, not just fat, but that I was less because of it.

      Of course, mileage may vary, some people fuck themselves over for good by way of self-acceptance.

      Thank you for reading and commenting. I’ll give your blog a look.

  • Wald

    I never act completely the same with anyone person.

    No one is equal and not everyone gets the same exact treatment – still there are things about me and my personality that are consistent across all facets of me, myself, and I.


    • Z.

      Which is only natural. It is that consistency that is often lacking.