Have you ever forced yourself to smile?
Do you often play a game of 'pretend' around others?
Are you afraid to show your raw feelings to the world?
If you answered "yes" to any of the above, you have worn a mask at some point in life. No, not a physical one; a metaphorical one. It's what many actors do, and unfortunately, what a lot of people (like myself) do on a regular basis. The only difference between the actor and the non-actor is one person is making a lot more money from it than the other.
If you're a professional actor, you have nothing to worry about. Keep at it. What you SHOULD worry about is if the "act" never ends.
For people who are content with life and have never had to put on a "brave face," you might be asking: "Why do you do this?"
That's a good question. Some of us who are pros at masking their emotions often don't know the answer. Sometimes we aren't aware we're doing it until afterward; it's like an instant response for some. Let me give you a broad reason why we mask our emotions: social expectations and the fear of the consequences of certain emotions being broken.
For example, let's say you're at a wedding of a loved one. You're single and bitter about being single even though you have convinced others you are "better off alone." The wedding crowd is full of people you know with their families. Your desired attitude is "all of this is bull" but the mood of the room is "love is all you need." Do you grin and bear it? Or, do you express how you feel without a care?
Since I've gone through something similar to the scenario above, I can tell you what I end up doing: faking it.
"Okay," you might be saying, "but why is this such a problem?"
Because, my dear reader, it is not good for you. It's not healthy to restrain from expressing your emotions.
For every moment one withholds themselves of emotional expression; the greater the need becomes. This continues until the need is expressed in an explosive matter. It is going to come out one way or the other because there's a limit. Then, it's 'wash, rinse, repeat' on, and on, and on until there's nothing to 'wash' left.
Not only does this put a strain on your mental health and well-being, it can have plenty of effects on your physical health too. Since a lot of stress is added to the boiling brew of needed expression, the body will suffer too.
Too much stress can harm the body's physical health by developing illnesses. One can develop:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Menstrual problems
- Sexual dysfunctions
- Skin and hair problems
- Gastrointestinal problems
On top of all that, more mental issues may develop from stress if it doesn't already exist.
"Wait a minute," the devil advocates begin, "if all you're saying isn't a guarantee of 'wearing a mask', then why is it such a big deal?"
It's a big deal because nobody who is pretending to be happy on a daily basis is getting better from it. They're slowly getting worse. When you express your emotions (in a healthy way), you get the relief of that action. Guess what tends to happen to those who can't express themselves?
That seems like a bit of a stretch but it's really not. Think about it. How many suicides are considered shocking and unexpected? How many times do people comment on how "they looked happy?"
Suicidal people tend to be great at "putting on the mask" because they want to keep it a secret. They'll hide it as best as they can. It's a very shameful and scary thing to experience. The way people react to such a thing can be very damaging.
How do I know?
Because I have been suicidal.
I'd like to make it clear at this point that the core problem of suicidal ideation is NOT masking emotions. That's not what I'm saying. What I AM saying is that expressing your emotions plays a huge role in treating suicidal ideation. It's a necessary tool and without it, there's little chance of survival. No emotional expression in psychological treatment is like having no surgical equipment during surgery. It's ineffective.
Considering there's so much to lose than to gain, why where the mask?