“I'd rather be honest and authentic and disappoint some people than to exhaust myself trying to keep up the façade of perfection.” ~Crystal Paine
So many people walk around each day masking their true feelings because they are considered the “strong one,” “the upbeat, bubbly one,” or, since they give so much of themselves supporting others, they’re not seen as having any emotions other than happy. If you’ve ever felt like you had to hold it together all the time to keep up a façade for others, there’s freedom in letting people know that you have feelings too.
Keeping it together has always been my thing. You know the phrase “never let 'em see you sweat”? Well, even in my worst moments, I would keep it all in place and poised for the public, but I’d be secretly dying on the inside, because of the pain or challenges I was going through.
It can catch some people off guard to see you be real, revealing that you don’t have it all together, and at times their responses can leave you wounded. I know that feeling all too well.
A few months back, I attended an event to support a colleague and I bumped into someone I knew well. He asked me how I was doing, and I responded honestly with “I'm hanging in there, but I'm fine.”
He immediately made a face and seemed disturbed by my response. He said, “Woooooah, you gotta change that. You sound too defeated and that's not what I want to hear from you.”
He went on to say, “What you said makes me want to back away from you and go the opposite direction. It’s too much for me. You must always answer with a positive response.” He then went on to provide ways for me to respond in the near future.
What this person didn’t know was, I was feeling down and discouraged because I felt I wasn’t as far as I should be in my life and business.
I had poured all of myself into doing things to get the business running consistently; however, whenever I looked at all the effort I put in and saw things not happening as quickly as I thought they should, I felt as if I’d failed. So, it was a tough time as I sorted through those different emotions.
At first, I felt lousy about my response, because with me being considered the “upbeat, strong one,” always smiling and helping others to feel better, there is an assumption of how I should be at all times. I thought I had somehow let that person down by revealing my true feelings in that moment. I also felt embarrassed, because I’d exposed a small part of myself and felt like I was rejected and told how I should sound.
But after I thought about it, I realized I was fine with my response because it was a genuine answer. I am on a path of making true connections with others, and I no longer want to “act” and pretend to be fine when I’m not.
While this person didn't have any ill intent and actually thought he was being helpful in telling me how I should respond, it clearly made it uncomfortable for me to open up to him the next time around.
It made me think about why some people try to force others to hide behind a mask. Why do people expect you to always be “on”?
This was a moment for someone to find out what was truly going on with me, to find out why I seemed so down and to make a true connection, instead of offering me another mask to wear in his presence.
This led me to wonder, when we ask people “How are you doing?” are we really open to an honest response or are we looking to hear the template response we so often hear, “I'm fine”?
I also thought about how many people wear a mask every day or keep a façade to avoid showing their humanity and potentially making others feel uncomfortable. The people we interact with every day are carrying worries, concerns, and emotional pain within, and we cannot ask them to put on a fake smiley face and tell them to be on their way. These people need someone to truly see them.
If you sometimes hide your true feeling behind a mask, here are a few ways to begin opening up.
Practice honestly connecting with people, even if you start small.
As psychotherapist Barton Goldsmith wrote, “When you open your mouth, you're also opening your heart. And knowing that someone truly hears what you are feeling and understands you is soothing to the soul.”
If you’re not accustomed to opening your heart to people, start small by sharing one thing you’re thinking or feeling but may be tempted to keep inside. Opening up to others will allow you the space to be yourself, and from there you’ll clearly see who’s willing to receive what you have to say with an open heart. You’ll also begin to forge deeper relationships through your honest connections.
Also, be the person who allows others the space to just be, and offer support and guidance as needed. Ask about their lives, and let them know you’re happy to be a nonjudgmental ear. Giving people room to share pieces of themselves lets them know you’re there for them and they can be honest with you.
Allow yourself space to feel.
Many times when we avoid sharing our feelings with others, it’s because we haven’t given ourselves space to identify and process our emotions. We try to cover them up or engage in activities to mask the pain, but they don’t go away when we do this. Left unprocessed, our feelings tend to leak out in other ways. For example, we may overreact in unrelated situations.
Give yourself permission to feel whatever you feel, without judgment, and learn to recognize when you’re lying to yourself, telling yourself you’re “fine” when you’re not. The first step to being honest with others is being honest with yourself.
Be kind to yourself.
We tend to beat ourselves up when we do not respond, act, speak, or think how others believe we should. This can put pressure on us to shift to meet everyone else's needs without truly acknowledging our own.
Get in the habit of checking in with yourself and meeting your emotional needs, whether that means processing your feelings in a journal or practicing self-care. The more you respect your truth and your needs, the better you’ll be able to communicate them to others.
It’s a heavy burden to hide behind a façade or wear a mask. Allow yourself to experience the freedom of being authentic in each moment and making genuine connections with people who can receive your feelings.
There’s power in putting down your super hero cape, being vulnerable, and sharing your truth. You don’t have to hide, pretend, or feel bad about not always being the “strong one.” You’re not weak, you’re human, and you never have to apologize for that.