Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Halloween Masks

Today's spookable activities got me thinking about masks, in particular how people mask their thoughts and emotions when dealing with others, and how much this can impact our relationships.

I can think of several common ways this occurs:
  • You're angry at your spouse, but you paste on a neutral expression and pretend everything is "Fine. Just fine." (I suspect most married folks learn to recognize "fine" as code for "I'm seriously ticked.")
  • You come home from work all stressed out, but you paste on a happy face so as not to ruin the evening for your family.
  • You wear your mask of civility when you're at the office, but come home and unload your true feelings on your spouse and kids. (I posted on this topic in Dismaying Story #36: Hurting the Ones We Love.)
Wearing an emotional mask can sometimes create problems. For example, it can be impossible for our spouse to work out problems with us if we hide them. This is a common thing to do, though, since it is natural to want to avoid conflict.

Keeping our emotions inside can also be a mature, giving thing to do in some circumstances. The second item in the list above might be one example. Also, we've all likely had the experience where we're annoyed about something, but we realize it is unimportant or is only because we are feeling bad physically at that moment (tired, hungry, whatever) so we let it go without saying anything. I'd rate that as a good mask.

This is a skill everyone should develop, learning to recognize when it helps to open up and share with your partner what's going on inside you, and when it would be hurtful and counter-productive to do so. I'm not aware of any magic formula you can use to decide which is which. In my experience, though, people in long-term relationships tend to become quite skilled at making this sort of decision, usually without even having to think about it.

Happily, today we can put on real masks for no other reason except to have some fun. I hope you have a Happy Halloween!


  1. Excellent post Andrew!! I call this common sense. I hope you have a Happy Halloween!!!!!!!!

  2. I like the header. Is it new..

    This is a good post. It's interesting to me that when we "mask" our feelings our facial expressions or body language kicks in and generally exposes them anyways..

    I did put your blog on my RSS feed list. I'll put an actual link to it on my link list as soon as I get a chance..

  3. Agreed- great post! :)

    What are YOU going to be for Halloween?

  4. Great post during this time of the year, Halloween and masks. People wear them everyday for many reasons. Mostly I wear them to hide my true feelings, especially if I don't want to hurt someone. But after wearing it with hubby, I have to come clean with my feelings.

  5. I'm like happy and blue 2...I wear my heart on my sleeve so my mannerisms, body language and facial expressions usually sing loud and clear what's going on, regardless of what mask I've attempted to put on or why.

    Even some of my smiles are distinctly unique that others have been so intuned as to read my thoughts depending on the grin on my face.

  6. I wear a sort of a happy mask most of the time when I'm out at home. And usually, I turn happy after a while :).

    But at home, I wear no masks at all. Well, yea, except for the couple of times when I have to force myself to wear one when one of my parents confront me to avoid asking so many questions about my current going ons in my life. Heehee...

  7. Good suff - as always!

    Your words about the "fine code" got me thinking. I know I do that too, but I have a reason, and I think it's a good one. I used to be one to speak up the moment I was annoyed...I complained, got miffed, pissed-off...you name it. If I wasn't "pleased" I made sure everyone knew it. But now (and understand I love and value my relationship with my husband sooo much) that when I feel annoyed - I put on my poker face and wait. I take my time and decide whether it is worth bringing up because I know it is traumatic for my husband to think he has failed me in any way (and then HE gets upset and WWIII breaks out!) I have learned that most of what bothers me is petty and of no long term significance. By picking my battles, I have more of his attention when I do lodge a complaint.

  8. Anonymous10:50 AM

    That's very true. I'm sometimes guilty of putting a facade to hide my true feelings. I sometimes hide behind a mask to avoid being judged and to steer away from misunderstandings and confrontations. You're right, it's not good to shield our true feelings. I've realized this many times. It's not an easy task but being honest about my emotions makes things more easier and less complicated.

    Hope you had a nice Halloween celebration.


  9. This made me laugh! Back when I was a single mom, and living with a roommate who was also a single mom, we ALWAYS talked about "putting on our HAPPY face". We were best friends and worked in the same office building, though different departments. So sometimes we were leaving work and putting them on before we got home to the kids ... and other times we were leaving the kids and putting them on before we got to work! LOL! But that was when I first really realized HOW MUCH TIME we spend wearing masks!!! And I would have loved to teach my kids NOT to wear them ... but the fact is that they are "required" by society! And so I taught them how to wear them WELL... *sigh*

  10. Interesting distinction between good and unproductive masks. I hadn't thought of it quite that way before.