In my healing practice I work with many conscious people who are looking to attract healthy relationships into their lives. They tend to instead attract repetitive dynamics that create confusion, sorrow, heartache, and painful endings. In virtually every one of these clients of mine, I notice some distortions in the use of their spiritual energy.
As you probably know, your spiritual energy is the source of your deepest inspiration in life. It brings with it a sense of purpose, deeper meaning, and transcendence. It has the potent WOW factor and most likely is what gets you up in the morning. If, however, this amazing, transcendent, wise aspect of you has become aligned with what we call in Brennan healing “the mask,” it will not typically bring you any happiness.
It will instead reinforce and prolong the underlying pain and suffering that your mask self has been trying to protect you from.
Let’s say, for example, you have experienced the pain of feeling rejected by someone important to you in the past. A mask self can develop as a tool to help you avoid feeling the sting of the rejection. Instead of feeling and accepting how painful it was, perhaps you tell a story to yourself and others (with a smile) about how that relationship was a great learning experience. This is what we might call a serenity mask. While there may be aspects that really were great for learning, the serenity mask feels a little inauthentic and sugar coats what you really went through in order to make it more palatable for you and others. It is your psyche’s attempt at self-protection, yet it prevents you from fully processing what happened and, therefore, being able to fully move on.
You might identify whether you are in a spiritual serenity mask right now by asking yourself some questions about how you really feel about a difficult situation in your current life. Are you angry about it? Sad? Confused? Scared? Often the spiritual serenity mask doesn’t allow you to feel those feelings. Instead it tries to tell a hypnotic story about how wonderful life is and how it was all meant to be. Underneath, it is afraid to lose control of the emotions, to risk vulnerability and the pain of facing oneself in areas where you don’t feel totally put together or sure of what is happening.
The danger of the mask is that the more you invest in it, the farther it takes you from your humanity, from your ability to feel a wide range of emotions, and to be in touch with yourself in an authentic way.
When it comes to wanting fulfillment, masks don’t work well! If what we want is an authentic, soul-satisfying connection with another human being, masks tend to get in the way and keep us stuck in semi-comfortable, not-quite-the-real-deal modes with ourself and other people.
This might look like someone who acts generous, loving, kind, and compassionate even when their partner is walking all over them and being abusive. True compassion in such a situation would move towards the person actually protecting herself! She could assert a boundary, say no, or leave the relationship entirely. However, in the serenity mask, she will instead swallow her real feelings to appease the out-of-balance and out-of-control partner and maintain the relationship, regardless of the real cost to her wellbeing.
In this way, the mask tends to prop up outmoded and unfulfilling modes of relating. It is at work in relationships that last long past the point when intimacy was no longer there, and in out-of-balance connections where one or both people aren’t truly feeling fed by the partnership. In spiritual people, it moves towards denial of what is with a spiritual twist with statements like “I’m following guidance!” “We are meant to be together!” As the person bulldozes their partner. Yikes!
Living in the mask can cause us to lose the barometer of reality, allowing behaviors that aren’t authentic to who we really are. When someone is fully invested in their mask persona, it can be very frustrating and challenging to get through to them. It is like talking to a wall! Literally, the mask walls them off from reality. It is painful for relationships and doesn’t lead to lasting fulfillment.
I write about these examples not to make you feel bad or ashamed of your own mask, but to help to illustrate how the mask self can sneak up on us when we think we’re being good spiritual people by always seeing the silver lining or believing the best about a situation. It is my belief that the truest, most spiritual thing to say is sometimes: “that sucked!” or “this is not working for me.”
Help: How Do I Get Out Of this Thing?!
Getting out of the mask and into authenticity is simple, yet challenging to the part of us that is invested in keeping things feeling safe and looking good. The first step then is really to want something deeper for yourself in your life and relationships. When that is your intention, the mask becomes less interesting.
The second piece is to start to become more familiar with your authentic emotional self, and noticing little red flags that might indicate that you’re starting to ‘get masky.’ For me, I’ll find myself wanting to say things that I think the other person wants to hear rather than what I really think. That’s an indicator for me that I’m trying to avoid an uncomfortable feeling or potential confrontation. While this may be ok once in a while in a social setting, in the context of deeper relationship it starts to drive a wedge between you and the other person. Your false persona starts to invite their false persona, and you end up with two masks relating. Usually this gets more and more uncomfortable until one or the other person explodes! Or, you get a long-term phony relationship (which is probably the more painful outcome!).
I find a helpful tool for this issue in relationships to be an understanding of our five basic emotions. Getting in touch with one of these five basic emotions at any moment is the quickest anecdote for coming out of the mask self. Those 5 basic emotions are:
Which one are you feeling right now? Is there an underlying fear running through your system? Some sadness? Joy? Many of the emotional/mental constellations that we create are complex, but coming back to the basics can be very helpful. For someone who is running full-tilt with a mask persona to stop and just admit, “I’m afraid right now” is so powerful. It starts a trickle of truth moving.
When intending to come out of the mask self, you can start to feel in any given moment, “which of the five basic emotions am I feeling?” This can take you out of convoluted rationalizations and complex layers of stories about your experience, and just get you feeling what is.
See if little by little, day-by-day, you can allow more space for your emotions to be. When you are at peace with what you feel, true transcendence starts to become a possibility. See if you can relax your mind’s rationalizations, and just feel the rawness of the emotional self, without all of the control and walls of the mask. As you do, you’ll start to notice that you actually have more energy! The mask is a lot of work, so coming out of it can really free up your creative flow.
The benefit of doing these exercises and practicing this in life is that you will start to get real relationships, with real intimacy. It’s a great trade-off to propped-up dysfunctional connections that don’t actually feed you!
As you get going in this practice, notice how having more of your authentic self shifts the dynamics you find yourself in. Only when there is freedom to express yourself and to show up as you are will relationships actually nourish and support you. Before this happens, relationships will simply add to the strain of living in the mask self.
I wish this kind of authentic love and connection for you, in all of your relationships. I hope these tools help you with the holiday season as well! Nothing like being with family to trigger your mask to come out!