Mask Homework – Part 2

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:

  • Determined
  • Satisfied
  • Interested
  • Puzzled
  • Apologetic
  • Optimistic
  • Concentrating
  • Thoughtful
  • Happy
  • Curious

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:

  • Anxious
  • Frightened
  • Cautious
  • Lonely
  • Frustrated
  • Hurt
  • Exhausted
  • Surly
  • Sad
  • Guilty
  • Withdrawn
  • Suspicious
  • Miserable
  • Exasperated
  • Undecided
  • Regretful

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.

8 thoughts on “Mask Homework – Part 2

  1. I can so relate to your lists! For so long I was always the “happy, outgoing, do it all, never show weakness/emotion person”. Part was because I also was punished for ever showing emotion, part was because vulnerability meant someone could take advantage of me, and part was because if I wasn’t like this, no one would like me. So I thought…

    Then I found a couple of great friends who saw the brokenness and still accepted me…little cracks in the “armor”. Letting out any emotions is a rollercoaster at first…extremes…but over time begin to even out. Through your healing, you can help others heal…keep pressing on

    You’re never alone…

  2. I totally get this. The people I’m close to get a wider range, partly because there were times in my life when I just couldn’t hide some of the inside emotions, and partly because I’ve got different parts, some of whom are more open about emotions, and who trust those people well enough to show them a range.

    But most of the time, I’m very careful about how my emotions show up. It’s one of those automatic, habitual kinds of things, and I have to consciously stop doing it if I want to stop.

    Thanks for sharing the exercise; I might try it when I get the emotional energy to do so.

  3. WOW~you have a really great blog! I’ll bet it helps sooo many people, and I appreciate that you put yourself out there like that!

    *THANK YOU!* for all of your help and ideas with my gray problem! (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  4. Wow… I never really expected this sort of feedback. I think I’m getting warm fuzzies now.


    Rindy… I’m thankful for the two online friends I have who have seem through the mask. Or I guess I should say who’ve I let see something other than that mask. Every time I talk about this stuff with them (or even if I’m just having a bad day) it really scares me. I wonder if they’ll hurt me. Part of my mask is a defense mechanism. Don’t show them the real me because if they reject me, it can’t be for who I really am. Ick… Does that even make any sense?

    JA… I think it’s natural of us to want to hide what we really feel like because we’ve been punished for it in the past. A large part of moving forward is learning that bad things don’t always happen when we show who we really are.

    Sandi… Thanks for dropping by. I’m glad we were able to get your formatting issues figured out.

  5. Ugh…

    I know that I’ve been totally MIA.

    The only reason I’m actually posting this is because it’s 7:30 am and I can’t sleep.

    I need to start packing as I leave for Korea on Tuesday.

    I promise a blog entry before I leave.

  6. Its always been hard for me to get connected to how I’m actually feeling from one moment to the next so I applaud your efforts in getting to the bottom of your own feelings. I know its not easy. But you’re doing a great job and I know you’ll get there. Just never give up.

    Hope Sent,
    ~ Ani

  7. Ani…

    Thanks for dropping by. It’s extremely difficult for me to get in touch with my feelings. Right now, it’s like I’m only scratching the surface. I know there’s a long way to go. And that’s frightening.

    But I keep on keeping on.

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