I'm Ready.

a blog by Christina Bradley


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Unmasked

I recently wrote this essay for my English class and I noticed, while I writing it, that it would also work well as a blog. I hope you enjoy my take on vulnerability! 

Here it is!

I was such a quiet child. It wasn’t as if I didn’t have anything to say, I just didn’t talk. My mom would often ask me, “Christina, did you say anything at lunch today?” and I would always respond with a simple “no”. This was my response without fail, and it was true. I would sit at lunch, every day in middle school, with my “friends”, and not utter a single word. They would all be gossiping, chatting, and squealing (as middle-schoolers often do) and I would just sit in silence, watching. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk. I just didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if they would like me. My mom was deeply concerned. After responding to her question with a simple “no”, I would get a snack and go on and on about anything and everything to her: singing, soccer, school. It was obvious that I was not always quiet; I was just like that with my “friends”. This paradox was what worried her and she would scour the Internet searching for an answer, any cure for my quietness. The answer she never found: I was wearing a mask. A hard, durable, secure mask.

It was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t completely understand what was attached to my face until I came across a popular video on the Internet one day. It was a viral Ted talk by research professor and vulnerability expert, Dr. Brene Brown. After hearing her words of, “We are afraid of rejection [and] we wear a mask of defense to protect ourselves,”[1] I had an awaking experience. I had one of those moments when you know what someone else is saying exactly applies to you. I was hooked. I wanted to learn more. I was surprised and delighted at how elegant this metaphor described the human tendency, my tendency, to hide. Taking off the mask, being vulnerable, is a topic I have been avidly studying ever since hearing this talk. I finally understood why I wasn’t able to talk to my “friends. Brene Brown explained in her video that when we wear a mask “we cut ourselves off from the source of truly connecting with others”[2]. By wearing my mask, I was cutting myself off from my peers. This was my answer. My work was about to begin. That mask I was wearing started to loosen. I started to feel its presence: the weight it had on my face, my body, and my life.

I began my search for how to quicken the process. Through my endless hours of research, my many conversations about thistopic, and my obsession with self-help books, I concluded that the longing to connect with others is at the root of human desire. Many books on topics such as vulnerability and self-compassion, I have read, emphasize this fact; they also state, sadly, that our tendency to wear masks, to fear rejection, is one of our greatest obstacles, the monster blocking our ability to connect. After reading innumerable stories about people who have transformed their lives and after listening to countless interviews with spiritual teachers, they all seem to have the same thing to say. A revealing, unveiling event occurs when you finally realize that you are tired of wearing the mask. For me, I was tired of the stuffiness of the “plastic” in front of my face. I was tired of the small, oddly-shaped eye holes that blocked my vision of life. I was tired of the face that was not my own. When I finally realized that I had the choice to take it off, the shift that occurred was profound. The mask was thrown off and my true self, as messy, as sweaty, as uncertain as it may have looked, was finally revealed to the world.

True, it is not as easy as it may sound. Years and years of layers are not easily peeled away. Your mask may have become hardened and have molded to the features of the face. Realizing this seems to be the first step. It was my first step. The second step is the courageous one: the one that I am still trying to deal with. It is to use your strength to pull and peel those layers back, piece by piece. The sooner this happens, the better. Why wait? Many spiritual teachers say that the longer you wait to unveil your true identity the harder it becomes to do so. The longer the mold sits on the face, the more resistant it becomes to change. It starts to become easy to believe that the layers are just a part of your face, a part of who you are. Molded tightly, unable to be distinguished from the real flesh beneath it.

For the person who is just noticing their own mask, there are many ways to start this process. As a previous mask-wearer, and as someone who decided they no longer wanted to adorn one, I can say it is not an easy process, but it is completely worth it. It takes introspection and self-love. It takes courage and resilience. And funnily enough, it also takes smiles and silliness. Smiles to use as a tool to get past those moments of vulnerability and silliness to get others to smile along with you. We are not in this alone. We are all human. When one person starts to open up, and takes off their mask, they are able to help others out, to give them the best tips for peeling. A bond starts to form, naked face to naked face, journeying together.

How do you start? How do you find where the face begins and the mask ends? Observe yourself, observe your interactions. When do you feel most yourself? What are you talking about when you do? Notice whom you can feel free around, and continue interacting with those people. Start noticing your tendencies: your tendencies to get angry, to shut down, and in my case, to be quiet. When these tendencies arise, be aware of them, and try to take the mask off; try to be yourself. It takes effort, an extra step, an extra thought to notice the mask, but the more and more you try, the more and more you will notice its presence.

Sharing, I’ve learned, can also be one of the quickest and most efficient mask-peeling techniques. Many of the groups I have become involved with in college seem to have done their own, informal research on vulnerability. An activity called Hometowns has become a very popular bonding activity. This activity is like no other. It goes deep. This activity consists of one member sitting in front of their group, looking them in the eyes, and taking as much time as they want to detail their life’s story, what makes them who they are. Some may start out a little shaky. They may still be looking around at the others through those distorted eyeholes in their mask, palms sweating. As they realize that they are being listened to, truly listened to, the transformation begins. Word by word, story by story, their true form starts to take shape. They share things that surprise and delight, shock and amaze. Their life’s story, as they never imagined it could, affects others. Every stupid mistake and every dark detail can resonate with others. During hometowns, I found that I could talk about anything and everything, my mask far in the corner, my quietness gone.

During this activity, once one person shares and lets down their guard, the next person goes deeper, reveals more. As time passes, and more and more people start showing their faces, connections emerge. After close, intimate events like this, you may return to your false self because it’s safe. There is nothing wrong with this. The key is not to beat yourself up for choosing to put the mask back on. We all do this. The key is to notice that you have it on, and try taking if off occasionally. For me, I still put my quiet mask on from time to time. I don’t mean to, but it just seems to happen in certain situations. My mom calls it my “quiet mode” and during these times I feel that discomfort, that pressure on my face that I used to feel at lunch in middle school. But the difference is, I now feel it, I notice it, and I practice taking it off when it does return. As you practice doing this, as you practice being vulnerable, you realize that you prefer the feeling of your real face.

It may be true that we never lose the mask all together. We may all go into our own “quiet modes”. But hopefully once you realize these moments, they don’t become how you live the majority of your life. Hopefully, the majority of your life is spent being yourself, feeling free, and feeling connected. Vulnerability is the key to deeply connecting with others. If you yearn to find more human connection, to be loved for who you are, to feel free, try it out, find where your face begins and your mask ends, loosen it a bit, take a breath, and start your journey of unmasking.

 

References:

[1]Lisa. “TED Talk Tuesday: Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability » Soul Blazing.” Soul Blazing TED Talk Tuesday Bren Brown The Power of Vulnerability Comments. Soul Blazing, 20 Aug. 2103. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.

[2]Lisa. “TED Talk Tuesday: Brené Brown – The Power of Vulnerability » Soul Blazing.” Soul Blazing TED Talk Tuesday Bren Brown The Power of Vulnerability Comments. Soul Blazing, 20 Aug. 2103. Web. 12 Apr. 2014.