Are You Wearing A "Social Mask?" Here's How To Break Out Of It And Be More Real
Halloween is great, isn’t it? A time where mainlining your bodyweight in refined sugar and dressing up as a post-apocalyptic zombie - or some sort of sexy cat - is socially sanctioned. But, away from the costumes and candy, it might also be a good time to work out if you’re putting on another type of mask with the people in your life.
Think of this as burying your true emotions, or trying to adopt a ‘life and soul’ persona, when maybe you’re more of a ‘intimate one-on-one chat’ character. So, why do we shape ourselves towards what we think others like?
Why do we pretend to be different to who we really are?
‘When you want to be liked and fall into people-pleasing mode, you try and be what you imagine people want. Say you’re at a party – you might think that a loud, witty personality is best,’ says Dr Jessamy Hibberd, a Chartered Clinical Psychologist and the author of The Imposter Cure (£12.99, Aster).
‘Humans are highly social animals. Almost everything we do – consciously or subconsciously – relates to our social standing and whether we are part of the 'in-group' or 'out-group',’ explains Robert Hutchinson, a leading empowerment coach and founder of The Authentic Life Company.
Straight up, we want to be what we think others are after because we’re wired, evolutionarily, to pursue acceptance. ‘Being ostracised is incredibly psychologically damaging, because in hunter-gatherer societies separation from the tribe meant certain death,’ adds Robert. But if cultivating alternative characters is hardcoded into us for a reason, then why is it a bad thing?
‘Look, we all tailor ourselves – you’re a different person with your best friends as to who you are with your boss as to who you are with your grandma. But if it goes too far and you lose sight of what you care about and what you’re into, it’s a problem,’ says Dr Jessamy.
HNP Guide Lucy Sheridan, a comparison coach at Proof Coaching and the author of The Comparison Cure (£14.99, Orion Spring out December 26th) agrees. ‘It’s okay to play the game a bit when it comes to social rules but, but it gets to damaging when we change who we are consistently. It’s draining.’
Why being real is better for your happiness and health:
Then there’s the reality that your faux OTT act isn’t fooling anyone. ‘People are incredibly perceptive around authenticity, and the likelihood is that the only person you are fooling yourself. The long-term cost is also that this behaviour is unsustainable, not being true to yourself can lead to feelings of anxiety and even to failed relationships,’ adds Robert.
He says that sticking to your core beliefs and expressing your true feelings deepens your relationships, gives you clarity on what matters to you and the courage to work for what you want. Plus, there’s the reality that authenticity leads to greater self-worth: you’ll appear more grounded and present. And, in terms of things people respond well to, that’s a social supernova.
Six ways to cultivate authenticity:
1 ‘Take up a morning practice of setting the intention ‘I am going to show up as my authentic self.’ - Lucy
2 ‘Start by finding someone you can trust, someone who you can be your real self with, and schedule regular meet-ups with them.’ - Robert
3 ‘Accept that putting on a ‘living my best life’ act is harder to relate to, for most people. If you show more of yourself, you’ll see that people don’t just reject you.’ - Dr Jessamy
4 ’Give yourself space to re-visit and reconnect with what your tone is, who you are, how you show up. It takes work for the mask to go away.’ - Lucy
5 ‘Finally, remember that if everyone you ever meet likes you, you’ll probably not end up liking yourself very much.’ - Dr Jessamy
by Claudia Canavan & Roisín Dervish-O’Kane, @allupinyourfeelings