A few weeks ago, my husband and I attended a Halloween party. In addition to the hayride, the food, and festivities, there was an array of costumes for children of all ages. There were masks, wigs, full-body armor as well as an endless collection of light-sabers, fairy wands and Dorothy-red shoes.
Yet in the midst of the festivities, I noticed a slight discomfort deep inside. It brought me back to a time in life where I, too, wore a mask. To be honest, I spent years hiding behind a mask of a different sort. I was terrified to let others see or know the real me.
My mask was the mask of my imposter, my counterfeit. It was a familiar mask, though. I had grown accustomed to its protection, comfortable with its confinement.
My imposter forced me to be everything to everyone, never let anyone down, perform the best, achieve to receive their applause and never, ever say no.
How did this happen? God formed each of us and knit us together in our mother’s womb. He designed our personalities and identities uniquely and sought only to delight in His creation.
As we grew and developed, we encountered a broken world full of broken people who began to impact how we experienced ourselves and the world around us.
The masks of our imposters began forming long ago as a way to deal with life as we knew it. Our masks kept us safe, protected us from ridicule, rejection, abuse, shame.
Yet anything that prevents us from living out of our authentic selves, prevents us from truly living. We cannot experience peace. We cannot be present in each moment.
Many individuals have lived behind their mask so long, they do not know it is a mask.
So how do you know if you are living out of your authentic self, or if you are living behind a mask? There are six clues that you might be living behind a mask.
- Do you find it difficult to say “no”? Authentic people have a strong sense of themselves. They know what that can and cannot do for others and are able to respectfully draw boundaries that enable them to focus their energies on what they were actually created to do. If you are saying yes to everything, you will most likely become exhausted and frustrated. You will not have the emotional or physical energy to do the things you were called to do and you will wander farther away from your authentic self.
- Do you find yourself editing your thoughts, feelings or opinions depending on who you are with? Authentic people are the same in all environments. They have done the work to know their own thoughts and feelings as well as their opinions and can hold them respectfully whatever their environment. If you find yourself changing your personality, your vocabulary, your opinions in different situations, you are most likely living behind a mask and will not develop a strong sense of self that will provide a strong foundation for your life. You will be forced to live as a chameleon and that gets tiring after awhile.
- Are you a perfectionist? Healthy individuals don’t have to strive for perfection to feel good about themselves. They have learned to accept their strengths and weaknesses. They no longer have to run from their weaknesses. They are at home with themselves, and others naturally feel at home with them. If you feel driven toward perfection, if you are harsh and critical of your mistakes, you will never experience lasting peace. This side of heaven, you will never achieve perfection. Come home to yourself. Let yourself off that hook. Breathe.
- Do you live in fear? Authentic people are not afraid. They don’t live in fear about what others think. They are at peace with who they are. They have learned to listen inside, to themselves and God, to discover their identity, their values and beliefs, and are on their journey of living out these qualities to the best of their ability. If you live in fear, afraid of other’s opinion of you, you will never be able to hear or believe God’s opinion of you. You won’t be able to formulate a compassionate and kind opinion of yourself. You won’t ever truly know who you are, nor will you be able to discover or cultivate your values and beliefs because you are more driven to live out someone else’s beliefs lest you offend or displease them. You will never feel the joy that comes in living out what you were uniquely created and called to do.
- Do you have a tendency to be defensive? Healthy individuals have already accepted their flaws and imperfections, therefore they don’t have to be afraid of criticism. They are able to reflect to see if criticism is accurate, to own responsibility, and determine what they need to do to in response. If you have difficulties listening to criticism, if you automatically become defensive at the slightest hint of disapproval, you will never be able to feel strong enough or safe enough with yourself to own responsibility for you. You will never be able to heal, to learn, to grow. You will never be able to lay down your walls and defenses that keep you safe. You will never be able to experience yourself as safe.
- Do you crave validation? Authentic individuals are not driven toward validation. They do not ask for it. They do not need it. Their validation comes from within. They know who they are, they feel passionately about what they do, and they pursue their purposes based upon their passion. If you are driven to accomplish, to achieve, solely for the applause, the pat on the back, the admiration, you live addicted to other’s validation and become stuck in a performance cycle that never ends. You feel elated and euphoric when it is there, and equally desperate and empty when it is not. God has more for you. There is a peace that is better than anything you can ever perform for, or merit. It is a peace based not on what you do, but based on who you are – even better yet, on whose you are!
If you continue to live behind a mask today, there is another option. You do not have to remain confined or limited to that which isn’t real. You don’t have to live in fear.
God has so much better for you. God wants to help you remove the mask, to get to know your authentic self and watch him/her grow stronger in the light of His love.
Let’s start with a few facts. The real you was created in the image of God. The real you was fearfully and wonderfully made. The real you is chosen. You are loved. You are called according to His purpose. You have a hope and a future. You are His beloved. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
When it comes to our identity, there truly is nothing like the real thing!