What's behind the mask

Be yourself, everyone else is taken. ~ Oscar Wilde

It’s interesting interacting with people when most of their faces are covered by a mask. So much non-verbal communication takes place via the face and I feel like I’m missing out on so much not being able to see people’s faces. Certainly people-watching (a favourite past-time of mine) is a thing of the past. For now.

Humans are experts at interpreting faces. We constantly, over the course of a lifetime, develop this expertise,” says Alexander Toderov, a psychologist and neuroscientist from Princeton University. His research shows that people respond nearly instantaneously to new faces, forming judgments about other people’s character, emotions and attitudes in less than a hundred milliseconds. “Different parts of the face signal different emotions. The mouth is where most anger is expressed, disgust is signalled largely from wrinkling around the eyebrows and nose,” explains Toderov. That said, we use the whole face to interpret other people’s emotional states, which is why wearing masks can present some social and cultural obstacles.

Behind cloth masks
Generally, we can read subtle facial cues well in people we know and love, such as friends and family. But we’re not as good at reading strangers’ faces. When covered with a mask, we may not notice a person’s smile and may easily attribute negative emotions to the smiler. Smiling eyes are not that easy to interpret, I’ve realised, they’re only evident with a wide grin.

Behind emotional masks
Most of us wear emotional masks, which started way back in pre-historic times when it was necessary for survival. Wearing emotional masks continues today, despite it not being necessary for survival. For example, insecure people often hide behind the mask of name-dropping. People who feel powerless may hide behind the mask of being a bully. People who don’t feel loved, often hide behind a mask of anger. We may mask our debt to pay for lifestyles we can’t afford. We pretend things are fine at work when our jobs are on the line. We pretend things are okay in our relationships when there is distance.

Why hide the truth?
One of the most common reasons for wearing emotional masks is fear that the world is going to find out our truth. Or worse, that we are going to have to confront our emotions of not belonging or not being good enough.

Self-study is one of the themes I visit frequently in Found and Lost, book one of the GREAT WAY SERIES. The protagonist, Lucy Lewis, spends more than a decade trapped in a cave with a renowned Buddhist monk. With nothing to do but meditate, she realises her true self and is able to understand and heal from the trauma and emotional wounds she experiences as a baby. With that comes powerful transformation. We can learn a lot from Lucy.

Three reasons to shed our masks
And I don’t mean our COVID masks.

  1. Achieve our full potential
    When we know ourselves and live authentically and truthfully, we can achieve our full potential as we are able to bring all of ourselves to every task. Let’s not allow our masks to sabotage our greatest potential.
  2. It’s exhausting to live an inauthentic life
    Putting on a different mask for different people and situations is not only tiring, it can also lead to us forgetting who we are. Rather than always trying to be someone you think people want you to be, live your truth.
  3. It’s liberating and healing
    Wearing emotional masks mean we withhold parts of ourselves as unworthy. But in relationships, we can’t be truly healed unless we offer up all the pieces. Everything in our lives is short-changed when we choose to hide behind our masks.
  4. It’s our life’s purpose
    The Dalai Lama XIV said it best, “we can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves”.

What I’ve learned about myself from behind the cloth mask

  • I am grateful to all healthcare professionals who have been wearing protective masks for years to protect their patients.
  • Wearing a mask shows respect to others, it immediately says, “I care about your safety and wellbeing”.
  • A nod and a wave is no substitute for a smile, but it can have similar effects.
  • The eyes truly are the “windows to the soul”.
  • Masks can be stylish and fun.
Subscribe to my newsletter

Join the reading club, for interesting information on my books, upcoming book tours, the publishing world and my life as a writer.