What's Behind the Mask?Feb 13, 2023
I dedicated 2022 to dismantling my inner people pleaser. Now let me preface with saying that being a people pleaser is not inherently a bad thing. It isn’t something we should hate about ourselves or secretly be ashamed of. And I am certainly not suggesting it’s a character “flaw” that one should try to remove and cut out of themselves. No way. We are who we are. Every person is a bundle of quirks, behaviors, coping mechanisms, and personality traits that make us unique.
It is however our responsibility to recognize if our tendencies to please and appease come at a cost to our own well-being. If we are doing for others and giving in such a way where we are continuously left empty and drained, it’s definitely time to do some inner work. This type of behavior is typically connected to childhood trauma where we had to please to survive. We learned very quickly that if our family was happy, we were safe. This set us up to become the people pleasers we are today.
Plus at some point in our childhood, this behavior was needed. And it worked. We made it! We survived. However, we are no longer in those same situations but the pleasing behavior continues because it’s now so ingrained that we think it is part of our personality. The truth is, it’s a trauma response and not our personality. And that’s where I had found myself last year. All I had known was crashing down around me, showing me that it was time to upgrade how I navigated this life.
On January 1st, 2022 I dedicated my year to uncovering, dismantling, and healing the pleaser. I allowed myself lots of grace to make mistakes and the forgiveness to see all the yucky parts that floated up to the surface. Without force or resistance, I simply allowed myself to notice the people pleaser in action as she arrived in different situations.
As the months rolled on I was shocked to discover that there are about ten levels to dismantling the pleaser. She showed up in the obvious spaces, but surprisingly in spaces I was never aware of. Each time she showed up, I just rolled with it, did my best to be kind to myself, and allowed the years of deeply embedded survival program the space to unravel and release.
One of the most recent layers I discovered is the performative mask we don on a daily basis to exist in a world where we never truly feel safe. It's so natural to wear this mask that there is truly no awareness that it's even there. It isn’t until it begins to slip that we become aware that something isn’t right. The mask is safe, it's comfortable, and the longer it’s there the more it becomes necessary for survival.
Over time though, something begins to unearth within us, hinting to the fact that are not being true to ourselves. There is a sense of being fake or inauthentic. This creates an internal struggle that we feel but don't understand. So we press on with what we know...the performance.
We get so good at this skill that it starts looking like our personality. People start expecting it, questioning us anytime we are not performing at our typical level of energy. The performer has become their performance, getting lost in the illusion of keeping up with the game.
As time marches on though, our energy begins to diminish because of the effort it takes to hold up this heavy mask and never let it slip. Eventually, bringing the people pleaser to a real choice point in life: continue to try and hold it up or let it crash to the ground. And we might go through a few rounds of this struggle, barely realizing it's an actual choice. But by some miracle, and more than likely after completely being forced to surrender whether we like it or not, our body breaks and the performative mask falls away.
It's not until it's gone that we suddenly realize it was there all along. We are stripped bare but we are free. Exhaustion has won and we no longer care if people see behind the mask. The immediate shock of losing our cover can send the people pleaser into a dark place, questioning everything they thought they knew. A sort of identity crisis creeps in, making them wonder who they are and if they even know themselves.
But with time, being kind, being gentle, and seeking support if needed, the people pleaser can come out of the darkness with a renewed sense of self. There is no longer a desire to perform. Authenticity sets in and the craving to be true to oneself is greater than the desire to fake it in life. They are now willing to let any false constructs, relationships, or behaviors fall away. Making room for what is real, for what is true. Making room for what feeds their soul and nourishes their life.
So here’s to the journey of remembering who you truly are!
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