Taking off the masks we wear to find our real self

Before I go into this topic, under no circumstances do I expect you to come up with a quick answer to who you are. If you are unsure it is totally acceptable. Embracing the unknown and not trying to fill it with a false answer is a big step in the path of revealing your authentic self.

Generally we do play a lot of roles in our daily lives. Whether it be family roles or career roles this is okay as this is a responsibility you may have to maintain. However, roles that you invent based on false perceptions (ego) will reduce your ability to express yourself truthfully. These kind of roles are the ones created to fulfill an expectation you think society has of you. They may be subliminally conditioned into your brain by the media, with it’s distorted view on how you “should” be or behave. Here are some examples: the “alpha male”, “perfectionist”, “intellectual”, the “liberal”, “the victim”, the “know-it-all” etc… You need to be able to step out of your mindset just to see who you really are underneath these masks. This requires a certain degree of metacognitive awareness and mindfulness (I discussed these topics in previous blogs).

Here is an exercise you can do. Try to imagine who you were years ago before you played all these roles. If you can’t remember an actual event don’t worry. Try and just focus on the feeling of being free from judgement. You could pose a hypothetical scenario and question: “if there was no people in the world to judge you, what would you do?” Also more importantly, how would you be? Take time to reflect on this.

When you go through your day, try and observe yourself and be more conscious of when you alter your behaviour to suit others. Become really observant and spot the masks you habitually put on throughout your day. Do not judge this, simply be aware of when you change so that you can build your ability to detect this. Eventually once you get used to spotting yourself playing roles and putting on masks; you can ask yourself, is this change necessary? In some circumstances you may need to adapt yourself. For example, in a job situation you may need to be more professional but in other cases it may not be as necessary. The more you catch yourself playing roles the more it will save you a lot of energy in the long run, since awareness is curative in itself. Awareness exposes the artificial construct you created. Once you are aware you can chose to give it up. This will liberate you as it can often be tiring keeping up facades for others.

Another step forward would be to plan a random adventure, where you may get a glimpse of who you are outside your rigid routine. Therefore, in this freedom you can get an idea of who you are independent of the roles you carry. It is helpful to meet new people as they will often reflect who you are in the moment. 

In my experience, when I visited California and stayed there for a month, it changed my perspective. It offered a chance for me to really be selfish and be led by pure joy without the stresses of modern day life overbearing my mind. I really connected to the breathtaking landscapes over there, which renewed my sense of belonging to this earth. I also made a lot of new friends and connections whilst I was there. When I came back to the UK I was filled with regret and sadness. I felt that my life at home was dull in comparison and then all of a sudden, the reality I experienced in my holiday felt like a distant dream. However, it did leave it’s mark on me. It motivated me to be more open to challenging my initial fixed beliefs. It also motivated me to create a better life for myself. Eventually, through more self-exploration I realised that I could bring back the joy I felt no matter what my external circumstances are, by searching within for the feeling and by stopping my identification with the mental roles and stories I was replaying in my head. In my case, I was replaying the role of the “victim” and also the “workaholic”. So once I became aware of the fact that it was just a mental construction in my mind. I just let it be.

The key point to explore here is the fact that identifying with roles can be detrimental to your mental health. It serves you well to be more assertive with what you want. When you constantly play roles it disconnects you from your inner being, i.e. the person you long to be. You lose that sense of wonder, openness and spontaneity. Therefore you feel despair and you feel resentment towards yourself. This resentment is especially potent and brought to your awareness after your holidays. As we love how free we are during a holiday. I am here to say that you can feel that same level of freedom in your daily life. It takes commitment to reach this mindset. A commitment towards aligning yourself to what is your truth is, independent of the pressures other people put on you.

 You may feel it is hard to let go of your role, but I am not asking you you to abandon your responsibilities. You just need to become aware (through mindfulness) to the fact that the role is not the real you, therefore you don’t need to take it as seriously. Even if you still find yourself in a situation that you don’t prefer, you can still be at peace with it, since you know that the event itself is not representative of who you are. This is a mindset that I realised through continually working on myself through meditation.

It is especially the case that those who suffer from mental illness often wear masks to disguise their true feelings. Therefore, I feel the practice of awareness and breaking old routines, can be powerfully healing for them. As it will release the emotions they trap inside. If you know a relative or friend who suffers from mental illness, make them feel comfortable around you so they can feel secure to express their truth. At the same time, stay true to yourself. Be free. Focus on what you want, rather than what you don’t want.

All the best,

Azeem.

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