Your Life: Masks are coping mechanisms for adults

Charlotte Lankard: We put on masks as coping skills, and they serve a purpose. Some are for fun, some are intentional and others are there for us to truly hide behind.
BY CHARLOTTE LANKARD clankard@opubco.com Published: October 29, 2013

Most children only wear masks at Halloween or when they're playing dress-up, while we as adults wear them much more often.

An adult's mask may not be a character from a TV show or a caricature of someone in real life. It may instead be a sarcastic remark to keep people at a distance or a bored face to make someone think we don't care. Or we may hide behind outward appearances — a designer bag, the latest mobile phone, the car we drive.

Then there are those words we say when asked, “How are you doing?” — and even in the midst of a difficult time, we will answer with a smiling face, “I'm doing fine.” We have learned to be cautious about telling people how we really are, because we've done it before and it's been met with an awkward silence or an inane remark, and we walk away wishing we'd kept our mouths shut.

Or maybe it is the words “I don't care,” when the truth is we care a great deal, or “I am so helpless,” when we think we have to be needy to get someone's attention.

Don't misunderstand. I am not finding fault with wearing masks. We put them on as coping skills, and they serve a purpose. Some are for fun, some are intentional, and others are there for us to truly hide behind, which is sometimes a wise thing to do. Unfortunately, we keep wearing them out of habit and often much longer than needed.

Masks also come in the form of labels we put on ourselves. Failure. Unlucky. Stupid. Handicapped. Crazy.

The problem with labels is from the time we attach a label, we are in a relationship with our expectations and not with ourselves.

As we move toward Halloween, instead of choosing a mask to wear, perhaps we might consider removing one instead.

Charlotte Lankard is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice. Email her at clankard@opubco.com.