There is an art to being authentically ourselves without disregarding the needs of others.
The “express route” to being maskless that my ex was taking (see my earlier post masks and fears) seemed to be about two principles. Firstly being spontaneous and selfish about doing what he wanted – on the grounds that much of our kindness to others comes from fear of what they will do/say if we are not kind. (I think the idea was that once you got over your fear you’d start being genuinely kind, but it was never very clear to me how this was supposed to happen). And secondly, saying the first thing that came into his mind – presumably on the grounds that not saying it would reflect some form of self-censorship.
Writing about this makes me realise just how bizarre an approach to authenticity and masklessness this was!
It’s certainly important to be aware of your wants and your initial reactions. But we’re complicated creatures, and what comes out first isn’t necessarily the reaction that is most true to us. And if we’re not careful about how we express ourselves, there’s huge scope for misunderstanding. There’s also a huge difference between honesty and bluntness. We’re social creatures, and some degree of filtering and consideration for others is vital for oiling social wheels.
(Of course there are times when we need to take care of ourselves, and sometimes that means gently telling others that we can’t help them. But there are ways of setting boundaries in a compassionate and sensitive way – explaining why we can’t do something without blaming the other person for wanting it.)
I can’t be sure that these were the approaches he was taking – but going by some of the comments he made about my behaviour or his, I’m fairly confident that they at least featured in his thinking. I also don’t know whether these approaches to masklessness came directly from the course or were his interpretation of what they were teaching.
Either way, his approach to being maskless seems to have been painful for both of us.
From his side, he was putting huge effort into being “maskless”, and was probably genuinely hurt by my reaction to what he thought was his real self. But what I was hearing from him was unfiltered fear, defensiveness and later annoyance, and I had almost no time to get used to the transition from masked to “maskless”.
I never rejected him, but I would not and could not hide my distress (which was probably more difficult for him to cope with than rejection would have been!) And I didn’t, until it was too late, challenge the idea that what he was showing was genuinely his maskless higher self.
His approach to honesty caused other problems too. When he asked me a serious question, I dug down deep into myself to work out what I was really thinking and feeling, and then took more time to find the right words to communicate my thoughts with minimum scope for misunderstanding. Unfortunately he seemed to interpret the time it took me to reply as me being dishonest and defensive, editing my reactions and words to manipulate or please him! I eventually realised that there was nothing I could do that could restart communication between us.
In the end he cut off from seeing me and his other friends, apparently only able to be “authentic” with other people from the same course. (in itself a very disturbing sign).
So I don’t know whether his attempts at being maskless became more successful. I rather doubt it, given the weird and counterproductive way he was going about it.
What is the point of taking your masks off so quickly that you are unable to cope with interacting with people? Or, put another way, what does honesty mean if you’re not communicating?
I still think that it’s good to try to remove the masks and fears that stop you interacting openly and honestly with others – but shortcuts like these are dangerous. If you deal with the fear, the mask will fall away on its own; but if you just try to take off the mask without dealing with the fear, your “authentic” reactions will be defensive and fearful. And, as I have learnt to my cost, very hurtful to those close to you.