During the midst of agonising depression, I was an expert at facades. Years ago, I remember lying in bed with my then-girlfriend, riddled with anxiety and despair before a social event. She was one of my sole confidents, one of the only people I’d managed to sidestep the shame and stigma of mental illness. Feeling free to express my emotions, I’d explain the unbearable sense of being unable to cope; “I can’t do this,” I’d tell her, as my world trembled on the brink collapse. She’d respond in love and support, gently urging me to be open and honest with my friends. I’d give her a look. “I can’t do that.”
She’d be amazed as, when it was time, I’d transform. I’d stand up, walk to the wardrobe, and slip on my deliberately sewn cloak of illusion. I’d walk out of my room, smile on face, bounce in step, and the stage was set — it was time for me to act carefree, not a worry in the world, the joker, confident, sociable. During interactions, I’d expel great energy to hide any loose stitching in the illusion, any signs of anxiety or sadness would be covered up by a joke or a deflection or more shots or a cheeky line.
Our Personas Hide Who We Truly Are
For anyone experience mental illness, this carefree, happy garment will be familiar. We’re so afraid of sharing our true selves to the world, a self we truly believe is flawed, damaged and unwelcome, we’d rather act out a persona. It’s win-win, right? If the persona is rejected, you can bask in the glory of a job well done. “Muahaha, my persona has been rejected, but little do they know it isn’t the real me.” Carl Jung identified the persona as follows:
“A kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”
To varying degrees, we all hide behind personas. Though it’s more evident for those trying to “hide” mental illness or a perceived imperfect self, we all chop and change the way we act depending on environment or the people we are surrounded by. Though Jung highlights the importance of a flexible persona in adapting to society, for most of us, our personas lead to use acting in ways that aren’t true to ourselves.
A huge step for me was becoming aware (during therapy) of how my carefree persona was making things worse. Stepping into the carefree garment was an attempt to protect myself against the emotions I was feeling. This barrier between myself and my emotions turned into denial of those emotions. This lack of acceptance added inner-tension — and a heap extra suffering.
It affected my behaviour, too. If feeling in a low mood or low on energy, instead of thinking: “It’s okay, I won’t be anything I’m not and that’s fine,” I’d stress about how challenging it’d be to appear energetic, friendly, carefree. That’d convince me often to avoid social events. Curiously, I’ve also noticed that embracing these so-called “negative” states actually leads me to entering social situations and having a much better time; I don’t waste energy hiding myself, so I can connect with people in whichever way is relevant at the time.
The Importance Of Congruence And Self-Actualisation
Humanistic psychologist and all-round hero Carl Rogers notes the importance of congruence and self-actualisation. In a nutshell, Rogers believes our main purpose is to become the person we are truly meant to be. In his words:
“The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualise, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.”
The experiencing organism is who we truly are in any given moment, not who we feel we need to be, or should be, in any given moment. During my own personal and spiritual growth my personas have begun to melt away. Of course, they are still there, but I’m getting closer and closer to being at ease, and in tune, with who I am. If I feel low on energy, I accept it. I don’t try and be the life and soul if my life and soul are in need of some downtime. I don’t try to please others by being upbeat if in doing so, I overextend myself.
Most of us tend to have an idea of how we should act. The beliefs of how we should act are formed during our upbringing. Generally speaking, they don’t serve us as they encourage us to act in a way incongruent to our inner world. Maybe it’s the belief you should always appear happy as you don’t want to bring others down. Or the belief you should always be nice.
A significant belief I had exacerbating depression and anxiety was closely linked to the concept of masculinity. Big boys don’t cry, and strength is always remaining emotionally “stable.” Thus, the facade attempted to mould my emotions to fit this concept. I was then judging myself based on how accurately I lived up to this concept. Obviously, I never did.
You Don’t Have To Be Anything For Anyone
As I’ve moved from a facade which was essentially a survival tactic, I’ve noticed the multitude of facades I’ve easily slipped into in many situations. They’ve caused my anxiety, stress, and depleted my energy. As per Rogers belief all humans have immense potential to blossom and be in our own individual ways, having the courage to remove the mask doesn’t make you selfish, or uncaring. It enable us to channel our humanistic traits, authentically. It allows us to connect with others. It allows us to embrace part of the contract of being human is being flawed, imperfect.
Remember: You don’t have to be funny. You don’t have to be happy all of the time. You don’t have to be full of energy. You don’t have to be smart. You don’t have to always get things right. You don’t have to always be nice. You don’t have to know what you want. You don’t have to always have the courage to seek the things you do want. You don’t have to always be thinking of others. You don’t have to always say yes. You don’t have to spend time with people who bring you down. You don’t need to always be loving. You don’t have to do what your parents want. You don’t have to do what your peers expect of you. You don’t have to do what culture expects of you. You don’t always have to be strong. You don’t have to “man up.” You don’t have to “stop being so sensitive.” You don’t have to be perfect.
As Don Miguel Ruiz writes in The Four Agreements:
“Just do your best — in any circumstance in your life. It doesn’t matter if you are sick or tired, if you always do your best there is no way you can judge yourself. And if you don’t judge yourself there is no way you are going to suffer from guilt, blame, and self-punishment.”
Removing facades take immense courage. But in doing so, you self-actualise. You live in congruence with who it is you really are. In taking this courageous step, you’ll realise instead of unveiling something hideous and undeserving, you’ll blossom.