Masters of Illusion

“Hush, Dorothy,” whispered the Tiger, “you’ll ruin my reputation if you are not more discreet. It isn’t what we are, but what folks think we are, that counts in this world.”
— Frank Baum, The Road to Oz

Early on, we unconsciously learned to present certain things to the world (like a powerful man in sunglasses) so the world will accept us. Oscar-winning director Barry Jenkins sums this up brilliantly about the transformation of his character Chiron in his film Moonlight, "Over time some people become less and less themselves and instead turn into this thing that they feel like they need to be in order to survive."

So we hide in plain sight. We keep our true selves tucked away beneath layers and layers of the false images we portray. Carlin Flora's Psychology Today article, "Unlocking the Vault", dives into our propensity to hide. She interviews Barry Farber, Professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, who explains, "A struggle plays out constantly between a wish to be known and helped on one hand and the avoidance of feeling the shame of acknowledging pieces of ourselves we're not pleased with." Like the Tiger, we want to present ourselves in the best possible way that causes others to think highly of us because that is what "counts in this world". And somehow, being human with faults, fears and wounded histories doesn't fit into that equation so we bury those parts of us into the recesses of our soul.

To quiet the noise of incongruence between the mask and the man, it’s easier to assume the mask is the man.

To hide our humanness, we put a lot of energy to maintaining these facades. So much energy is given to employing these covers and keeping them in tact that we can't hear what is happening inside us.

To quiet the noise of incongruence between the mask and the man, it's easier to assume the mask is the man.  We lose track of who we are and unknowingly allow the self-protective ways of relating to take over. You wear this mask long enough and become known this way so it seems foolish to take it off. If you took it off, who would you be? Would you even recognize yourself? And would you be accepted without it? 

Yet, you're tired. You're tired of being different things to different people. It's exhausting wondering if you'll be exposed. Ultimately, it's lonely being a stranger in your own skin. Something inside longs to breathe, to connect, to love, to belong, to be known. That part wants to be real, wants to be authentic, wants to be true. Being true means accepting yourself as human and loving and seeing those parts you deemed unworthy. 

We can only test the climate of authentic revelation in a safe environment of compassion, kindness, patience and understanding. Without this, the masks and the belief of their necessity will be reinforced. As you shed those false layers, you'll come face to face with the painful reasons that caused those layers to originate. This uncovering is uncomfortable and can feel disruptive but it is necessary. You're knocking down what you've falsely built your world around in order to rebuild something true. This is wildly vulnerable.

But if you are willing to give yourself the gift of your own humanity you will learn like the Skin Horse, that "real" is a "thing that happens to you". When you are really loved, then you become real. Becoming real takes time "but once you are real you can't become unreal again. It lasts for always."

That sounds like a comforting invitation to me. Will you accept what being real can offer you?

Once you are real you can’t become unreal again. It lasts for always.
— The Velveteen Rabbit

Tiffany Dang

Tiffany Dang, LPC, Austin, TX