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A Better You
by Jo Ann Fore

Behind the Mask:
Being Real in Relationships

Wonder Woman, Captain America, and Bibleman. Batman, SuperGirl, and Spiderman. We stand in awe of such amazing people who possess a strong moral code, and often risk their own lives for the good of others. With extraordinary powers and abilities, these people often have a number of enemies they defeat, repeatedly. They are noted for feats of courage and nobility.

Superheroes – those with supernatural power who combat evil – maintain a secret identity to protect their friends and family from becoming targets of his or her enemies. They have distinctive costumes and almost always don a cool mask to disguise them.

There’s only one problem: They’re not real! I hope my candor doesn’t shock anyone. But, it’s all fantasy fiction. And while the fantasy lives of superheroes are entertaining; it’s important not to confuse this practice of disguise with everyday life.


Unless you are a superhero, it isn’t practical to hide behind a mask in relationships. Yet, in an attempt to gain approval, many people live their lives behind one. Ironically, approval gained in this manner often becomes the source of rejection when the mask comes off, and it always comes off. Healthy relationships should be devoid of the pretense that comes from wearing a mask.

Masks are cumbersome. The energy it requires to maintain one takes away from the natural joy of life. Yet mask-wearers often justify the burdensome routine of keeping their true selves hidden.

Masks can be deceptive, presenting themselves as positive attributes. It is a good thing to be successful, humble or nice, right? And confidence, beauty, and physical stamina certainly aren’t bad for us. However, it becomes a problem when we become consumed with these character traits – these masks – because we think they alone are the source of our acceptance. We believe these things – beauty, niceness, exercise – are what help us to measure up, and we learn to hide behind them.

Masks are a hindrance to developing a strong relationship. The person we become involved with falls for someone we’re not, and it takes a lot of energy to maintain a false persona for the length of the relationship. It’s much better to be real from the onset and save the relationship from the angst.

What about you – are you hiding behind a mask? Is the fear of rejection too great of a risk for you to be real? Are you concerned if others saw you as you really are that they wouldn’t like you? Are you tempted to don your mask rather than risk transparency?

Here are some suggestions to take off your troublesome mask:

» Be authentic. Learn to be yourself. Don’t become what you think other people want you to be just to fit in. Let people judge if they like what they see. The ones that do are relationships worthy of your time.

» Be honest. Don’t portray yourself as something you aren’t. If you are naturally nice and hospitable, your actions will reflect it. But if you do something nice just to gain approval and you become resentful or feel unappreciated, you aren’t being true to yourself. Keep everything you do and say fair and truthful.

» Be open. Refuse to wear a mask. Stop the pretense and risk being vulnerable. Don’t keep so much of yourself hidden. You can overcome the fear of rejection by maintaining a respect for yourself, regardless of treatment from others.

» Be willing to leave things as they are. Don’t twist circumstances to suit yourself. Don’t try to manipulate situations into something they aren’t just to present yourself more favorable.

I don’t believe there’s a mask capable of concealing one’s true personality anyway – not over the long term. I believe that whatever we attempt to hide will eventually be revealed. Step out from behind the pretense in the beginning of the relationship. It makes for a much stronger, easier, and deeper relationship for you and your partner. A more intimate bond is free to develop. Your partner can relate to you better when you’re real.

Unlike superheroes, you are real. And you possess good qualities as well. But if you hide behind your mask too long, you may forget what those are. Remember: There’s joy in a relationship that gives you the freedom to take off the mask.

Jo Ann Fore welcomes your comments about this article or suggestions for material you would like to see in future articles. Email her at: A Better You is published every Saturday.

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