“Be yourself!” or how your masks collect dust

“Be yourself!” or how your masks collect dust

“Be yourself”. One of the messages we’re literally bombarded with nowadays. From self-help books to TV commercials, this message appears again and again. It sounds positive and empowering, right? So what’s my problem with it?

be yourself: terms and conditions

No one actually means it when they say “Be yourself!”. What they actually mean is that you are encouraged to be yourself as long as being yourself is within their parameters of what is acceptable, good and useful according to them. Think about it: do you truly, honestly want every person you know to be themselves? Would you encourage serial killers to be themselves? No? I thought so.

Nine times out of ten, when people say “Be yourself!” what they actually mean is “Be a better version of yourself by becoming more like whatever I admire and consider useful and acceptable”.

It is a frightening thought that man also has a shadow side to him, consisting not just of little weaknesses- and foibles, but of a positively demonic dynamism. The individual seldom knows anything of this; to him, as an individual, it is incredible that he should ever in any circumstances go beyond himself. But let these harmless creatures form a mass, and there emerges a raging monster; and each individual is only one tiny cell in the monster’s body, so that for better or worse he must accompany it on its bloody rampages and even assist it to the utmost. Having a dark suspicion of these grim possibilities, man turns a blind eye to the shadow-side of human nature. Blindly he strives against the salutary dogma of original sin, which is yet so prodigiously true. Yes, he even hesitates to admit the conflict of which he is so painfully aware.

Carl Jung, “On the Psychology of the Unconscious” (1912)
 
 The encouragement to be yourself is based on the premise that your true self is purely positive and full of light. And -despite the new age pressure to persuade us we are all love and light and kindness- this is not the case. Human nature isn’t purely light and rainbows.

no one has just the one self

People have many masks, many roles they play in life. Think about it. Are you the same person with your friends that you are with your competitors or the co-workers who are trying to get you fired? Are your friends the same people in all their relationships? I think most people have had this one friend who is a great guy and an awesome, honest, dedicated friend, but will treat all his girlfriends badly, lying to them, cheating on them etc. There are teachers who do an outstanding job with their students, inspiring them to express themselves and learn and become better and better, yet not all of them are necessarily good parents. They are just not the same person at home that they are at school.  One of my favorite teachers back in high school, the person that supported me the most in all my endeavors, had a son who ran away from home more than once because his father found everything he did useless and unimportant and he couldn’t stand having his dreams shattered and mocked like that on a daily basis. There are women who are sharks when it comes to their career, yet they are powerless against a violent husband at home. While it’s true that not everyone has such vast differences in attitude in different aspects of their lives, the truth remains that we are not consistently the same person in all aspects of our life or in all our relationships with other people.

The problem is that most people truly believe the have just one consistent personality. So when there are vast differences in their reactions or their ethics between the different roles they play, the frantically try to find a way to explain all of these in one single consistent way.

WHO ARE YOU?

The constant attempt to fit everything into one consistent personality with consistent, explainable reactions in all situations across the spectrum stems from our deep-rooted belief that our personality traits are innate characteristics. The truth is that we are who we are largely because of our environment. Even our emotional reactions have largely been formed by our environment. Even if the assumption that who we are is mainly a collection of innate traits and not something born out of our interaction with our environment were true, we have likely lived many different lives and we were a different person in each of them. Furthermore, he person we are now likely has not much to do with the true nature of our soul. As a person born with vivid memories of at least one past life, I can tell you that -despite certain similarities- I am a vastly different person in this life compared to who I was in that other life. Not only in my reactions, but in the way I perceive situations and the way I experience different emotions in my body. But the truth remains that who I was in that life is just another mask, the same way I have a “teacher” mask and a “student” mask and a “daughter” mask etc.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT

Returning to the original statement “Be Yourself!”, the problem it creates in my opinion is that it pushes the “one consistent personality that explains everything” idea. People frantically try to find themselves, when many times their problems would more easily be handled if they tried to lose themselves instead. We are more fluid than we consider ourselves to be. We don’t have to stay locked into each and every bit of personality we have created for ourselves. We can change in small ways and we can change in big ways. We can train ourselves to react to situations in different ways. We can be whoever and whatever we want to be. People often think that if they want to change themselves, it must mean that they don’t love and accept themselves the way they are. But being willing to change, being willing to try your different masks or create new ones as you see fit, being willing to accept the inherently fluid nature of ourselves, this is true acceptance of self. It’s not losing yourself, it’s discovering how much larger yourself is than what you imagined. How much more you are than you thought.

 

Couple in love at the 2010 Carnevale in Venice
Image Source

Masks are fun. We can play with them. We can have as many of them as as want. We don’t need to create one mask to rule them all, one mask that has the best traits of all masks so that we can always wear the one and discard the others. The masks you choose to consciously create for yourself now are no less “you” than the masks you unconsciously created in your childhood or in your teen years to define “you”. They are not fake because you created them, you only think they’re fake because you didn’t consciously create the ones you’ve been using until now, so you assumed they were “the real you” when they were truly nothing more than masks you don’t remember creating for yourself. There’s no single mask that is “the true you” because you are all of them, and none of them are truly you because you are a spark of the infinite and they…well, they are just masks.

 

 

 

 

2 Comments

  • Ophelie

    January 21, 2016 at 9:55 pm Reply

    Very inspiring and eye-opening article! I love the way you ‘unmask’ the reality about all the masks we have to wear throughout life…

  • […] In a previous post I talked about the different masks we wear and how we can take advantage of these masks and even create new ones to suit our purposes, instead of letting the existing ones define us and limit us. For most people though, this is easier said than done. The most limiting thoughts, behaviors and attitudes tend to be the ones we’re most blind to. There have been situations in my life I spent years trying to change, trying everything I could think of to no avail, only to realize (or have a spirit point out to me) one simple attitude/behavior that was what was keeping me stuck. Most of the times when this happens, it’s something so obvious that I cannot believe I couldn’t see it for so long. Everybody else would probably be able to see it right away if I had asked for someone else’s help, but for me it was so ingrained an attitude that I just couldn’t see it at all. It wasn’t even taken into consideration, it was a default system setting I wouldn’t even have thought to examine. […]

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