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  • Brendan Stec

The Masks We Wear

"I can't be ridin', ridin', round that open street I need tints (windows tinted) I need tints"

- Anderson Paak, "Tints"


Think about the last time you were brutally honest with someone. It probably took a lot of guts to cut through the pleasantries and tell the individual exactly what you think about them, for better or for worse. Afterwards, you felt relieved. You finally let down your guard and released a build-up of emotions you typically keep repressed.

Situations like these make us realize how often we wear a mask to shield our true, sometimes ugly emotions. Aching to place ourselves in the best possible light, we know exactly what to say to our boss, significant other, or parents to appear diligent, friendly, and confident. We learn the importance of smiling to disguise our envy or contempt of people we work with. On social media, we design a seamless profile that highlights our attractiveness, accomplishments, and endless confidence. We avoid people who are openly hostile, arrogant, or blunt, as they make us uncomfortable.

Thanks to the masks we wear, most of our social interactions seemingly occur at the surface, where we hope to avoid revealing the insecurities, envy, and aggression that are buried within us.

Without masks, our world could never function smoothly. Our masks motivate each of us to appear as our best selves, allowing the social interactions that govern our personal and professional lives to carry on productively each day. But it would be naïve to forget that more often than not, the people we work with, get drinks with, or look up to are putting on a show. That may be ok in situations where we know the person well enough to trust them, but what if it's someone you're just getting to know? Are they charming because they deeply want something from you? Are they curt or sarcastic because they're secretly insecure or intimidated? It's important to know that everyone tints their windows to a certain degree.

Sometimes people's masks fall off under certain circumstances: when they're stressed, tired, in love, or drunk. The person who is normally so polite suddenly leaks out hostility or envy. The person who is popular and normally appears so confident actually has a soft, self-conscious side. It's important to realize these situations aren't merely flukes or unusual turns of character. The person is simply revealing a side of them, the "Shadow" as Carl Jung would put it, they normally hide under their mask.

During common interactions with people, you can see through people's masks by paying attention to body language, which is much harder to disguise. While there are many types of body language cues, the like/dislike cues are the most common. They can help you understand a person's true affinity towards you:

Dislike cues: A person who dislikes you may smile or appear to agree with your ideas, but will unconsciously squint their eyes or purse their lips at statements you make, will keep their arms folded and neck tense, will turn their feet and torso away from you, and will maintain a tense posture. If they praise you for one of your achievements, the compliment will emphasize your good fortune or the amount of money you will be making. It will simply be too hard for them to praise you for your old-fashioned hard work. If you approach them suddenly and catch them by surprise, their face will hold a brief scowl before they put their mask back on and force a tight smile.

Like cues: A person who likes you will be much more natural and relaxed in your presence. When they smile, it will involve all of the muscles in their face and will create crow's feet wrinkles next to their eyes. Their lips will appear more full and their eyes will widen. During a conversation, they will nod along to what you say, their voice will be animated, and they will lean slightly towards you with anticipation. They will remember things you mentioned several minutes before and will relate to them in some way, as if to mirror you.

Of course, body language cues don't exist virtually through texts and social media. Through these channels, it's much easier for a person to mask their true emotions. They can appear more friendly and helpful to you. To themselves, they can more easily pretend to be the person they hope to be: attractive, supportive of the right causes, excited for others' accomplishments, hard-working and on the come-up.

But everyone has a side of them, a Shadow, they'd rather keep hidden. Maybe this side of them holds opinions they'd rather not share or a feeling towards you that is unpleasant. That's ok, the masks we wear, which shield our undesirable qualities, help us function successfully in society, where smooth relationships define how we work, raise families and socialize. It's crucial not to complain about mask-wearing or constantly refuse to play the game. No one is too good for it.

At the same time, it's helpful to remember that not everyone is as they appear. When making decisions about who you work for, hire, or befriend, seeing through a person's mask will give you a feel for their true character. You can more clearly decide whether the individual is worth your time and energy or not.

This is information that is always better known sooner rather than later.


"I guess I just feel like Nobody's honest Nobody's true Everyone's lying To make it on through I guess I just feel like I'm the same way, too"

- John Mayer, "I Guess I Just Feel Like"


Further Reading:

1) The Laws of Human Nature by Robert Greene

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