This is a continuation of the therapy assignment I started here.
So part 2 is to talk about why I put the feelings where I did and my overall thoughts on the exercise.
Feelings that I show to the world:
I noticed that almost all of the feelings I put on this side of the mask can be lumped into the general category of “positive feelings”. These feelings go along with how I want other people to view me. I don’t want people to think I’m a victim. I don’t want them to think I’m weak or helpless. I want them to see me as strong and confident, even when I don’t feel that way inside.
Emotions like curious and interested are part of traits that I greatly admire in other people. I had teachers who encouraged me to ask tons of questions. Many of my science teachers had those traits and were quite influential in my life. Even though I teach English for a living, I consider myself more of a math/science person. I’m always reading about the latest findings in biology or cosmology. And I’m always trying to ask questions about what I read and then see if I can find answers to those questions.
I really do have a hard time showing other people when I’m sad or upset. I put on a happy face because I’m afraid to show those feelings. I’m afraid that people won’t like me if I’m sad. And I’m afraid of being punished for showing any sort of negative emotion.
I’ve shown these feelings to the world for so long now, I sometimes wonder if people who know me (but don’t know about my past) would be surprised to see me not happy and confident.
Feelings that I keep hidden inside:
What I notice most about this list is that in contrast to the outward facing feelings, these are mostly “negative” feelings. Maybe negative isn’t the right word. Feelings that don’t feel good might be a better description.
Growing up, I was punished for showing sadness or anger or frustration. I learned very early in my life how to hide those feelings. I still do for fear of being punished. Somehow, rationally, I know that none of my friends would yell or hit me if I showed them how I felt inside. But the rational knowledge doesn’t always mitigate those engrained patterns. And I tend to fall back into the mindset that something bad will happen if I cry or get angry.
So many of these feelings go back to childhood. I didn’t have many friends growing up. In fact, I still don’t. I often feel all alone. I feel like nobody in the world would care if I dropped off the face of the earth. Of course, that’s not true (I think). But it’s the way I feel inside.
I frequently blame myself for the bad things that happened to me. I feel so guilty for not telling anyone or not fighting back. I feel guilty for lying when a school guidance counselor asked if everything was all right at home.
I think the one feeling on this list that bothers me the most is suspicious. I go through periods when I feel like the entire world is out to get me. I know it isn’t. So again, it’s one of those cases where my feelings and my knowledge are out of sync.
Thoughts on the exercise:
The one thing I notice about the world side of the mask as compared to the inner side of the mask is that the placement of the feelings is very orderly. On the world side, the feelings are arranged neatly around the edge of the mask. In contrast, the ones on the other mask are very jumbled up. This mirrors quite well the way I present myself versus the way I really feel. I look put together on the outside but I feel completely jumbled up on the inside.
I have to admit it was an interesting exercise in general. It forced me to sit down and really think about what I was feeling. It forced me to think about the face I present to the world versus what I really feel inside. I always knew that I was a different person on the outside than I am on the inside. I just never sat down and saw how different. I never saw how much I try to look socially acceptable on the outside when I feel like absolute crap on the inside.
I have a couple online friends that I’m working on showing those inside feelings. Nothing bad has ever happened. But the fear is still there. If one of them asks “Are you on?”, I’m more likely to say yes than admit how anxious/scared/sad/upset I am. But in real life, I answer “I’m fine.” almost 100% of the time.