by the Rev. Peter K. Stimpson

QUESTION: Do some people hide behind masks? Why do they do that?

ANSWER: A secret in life is that all people feel insecure. Masks are ineffective solutions to the problem of insecurity, either trying to fool others by pretending to be superior, or tragically fooling yourself by acting inferior.

The masks we wear on Halloween, we can take off at the end of the evening. The personality masks that hide who we are become harder to take off as each year passes, as if we begin to believe the web of lies that we have been spinning. Hence, my advice is to take your mask off, realizing that your true self is far more beautiful than any mask, no matter how bejeweled it may be.

Here are but a few examples of masks people wear everyday:

1. The Snob: This person puts himself up by putting you down. They narcissistically throw in your face the fact that they live on the right street, drive the right car, or know the right people, the not-so-subtle implication being that you do not! They often define themselves by what they have vs. who they are.

2. The Workaholic: This person defines self by what they do vs. who they are, compulsively working long hours due to feeling short on self-esteem. They endlessly tell you about how much they have accomplished on their job, what their title is, how many people are under them, or how much they make, the implication being that the firm would fold without them. They have a hard time relaxing, taking work home with them, and even converting fun into work, wanting to shoot the lowest score in golf so as to feel high.

3. Macho Man: This person hides their fear of you by making you scared of them. This is yesterday’s bully from grade school, who today controls by making you feel uncomfortable, perhaps by yelling or being "in your face" during an argument. When people back down, they feel powerful. But, when people back away, especially a spouse, their paranoid fear of rejection shows itself in jealous accusations of infidelity, and a cynical worldview that is a definite "turn off." The more assertive the spouse becomes, the more abusive the behavior becomes, often escalating to slapping and hitting.

4. The Martyr: This person manipulates by feelings, drawing such a "poor me" picture, that you find yourself drawn to doing things for them. However, after the sixth crisis in two weeks, you duck when you see them coming, as you see them as a "bottomless pit" of need. As we all want to help others, this person then just moves on to the next "sucker," never realizing that they do not have to act sad to become happy.

5. Shy Guy: This person avoids social situations, having to be dragged to a party, where they hover on the fringe of conversations, studying people to discover who is "safe." If either slightly rebuffed or ignored, they retreat to their corner, complaining enough until their spouse agrees to go home. While very talented, they often put themselves down, and are overly dismayed if they make a public mistake, each goof reinforcing the decision to hang back for fear of embarrassment.

6. The Clinger: Someone who judges him or herself to be weak, and accordingly, clings to someone else whom they think is strong. They passively allow this person to make important decisions for them, such as buying a house or car, or determining to which school the children will go. Instead of depending on a mythical hero, they need to discover their inner worth, and nervously and gradually stand on their own two feet.

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