We all wear masks some of the time. We adopt ways of being that are necessary or appropriate for the roles we are performing. Who you are as a family member is probably not who you are at work or when you are socialising. These kinds of masks can be effective, protective measures that help you get through aspects of your life. They can also be exhausting burdens. Too much time feeling fake can undermine your sense of who you are and crushes your spirits.
To what degree do we become the people others expect us to be? Are we playing out roles we have chosen, or ones we’ve been cast in, perhaps even without our knowledge. Handing out roles is one of the ways in which families pass trauma through generations. Family stories can sorely limit who you are allowed to be and this can be incredibly damaging.
Are you playing the part of ‘cog’ in the theatre production Crushed To Death By Capitalism? Are you playing a role based on how your society views your gender or sexual identity? Who are you allowed to be? What is forbidden? How much of yourself do you feel obliged to hide?
How much room do you give other people to be authentic with you? Are you using techniques like minimising, or toxic positivity to stop people sharing anything that might make you uncomfortable? Do you punish people for not knowing things, for being anxious or for getting things wrong? If you do, then they have to learn to be dishonest with you around anything difficult. How do you treat other people when they act outside of their designated role? Do you have room for that, or do you want everyone else to stay in their neatly labelled boxes?
Many adults seem to me to be involved in a great deal of pretending. They dress the part, learn the lines, collect the correct props. They do what they are supposed to do according to the people around them. Where the props and costumes are expensive, many even imagine that the performance makes them important. That they have more rights than other people. That laws do not apply to them. Some of these make-believe games are seriously out of control.
Authenticity is not something we can pursue solely as individuals. It’s something we have to do collectively, making space for each other to be real as well as questioning when and how we fake things. Sometimes it’s ok to fake things. Sometimes the job requires pasting a cheery fake smile on your face and making other people comfortable. But we should think carefully about the roles we ask other people to perform.