Who Do You Want Me to Be?

MAsks

Sometimes I receive emails from acquaintances I knew in my early years. They usually start by expressing their deep concern for me and what I went through. Each message like this is healing because validation and concern for my situation was something I desperately needed as a child. But their next questions are more challenging. “Should I have known?” “How did I miss the signs?” The answer has always eluded me. I really have no response.

I know I was an extremely anxious teenager and young adult. Even when my children were toddlers, I remember having panic attacks. Anyone who was paying attention would have noticed I was anxious. However, most people aren’t paying attention. That is why this work is sometimes referred to as “building awareness”. In addition, there are so many anxious people in the world. And in high school, I am sure I behaved like the average teen.

I was caught somewhere between hyper-arousal and dissociation. While I had a habit of studying every aspect of a room and the people around me, a threat (even a small threat) could send me somewhere else, almost as if I was day dreaming. And yet, nobody knew it. If I missed an entire lesson at school, I could teach myself the information at home. I was able to hide my dissociation because I am lucky to be book smart. My grades never faltered despite my dissociative nature. And nobody could see what was happening on the inside. To them, I seemed like a normal person, albeit a little stressed.

The constant analysis of my surroundings was my most prominent survival mechanism. It provided me with the knowledge that I was relatively safe, or not, but it also provided me with the information I needed to play my role. I was an actress. I had a role to play in each scenario and I could usually figure out my role within seconds. I did whatever it took to ensure that I was accepted as normal, and more importantly, that I was safe.

I realize now that I deserved an academy award for my performance … a thirty year performance in which I developed a series of masks that fooled the whole world. I became exactly who every person wanted me to be. And that was different for every person. My answers to questions were carefully pieced together to ensure that I responded in the perfect way. My house was spotless because I had learned that appearance mattered most. I dressed professionally all the time. I never showed too much skin so as not to appear like the slut I had been told I was. Of course, I also did not want to invite unwanted advances, since I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to turn them down.

I hit all the major milestones. I went to college and finished in four years. I landed that first job out of college. The pay wasn’t impressive, but I kept that to myself. I married the perfect man at the perfect age and bought the perfect house. To the outside observer, my life looked pretty good. But on the inside, I was falling apart.

Now that I am in recovery, there are some days that it seems impossible to come back to the real me. I get frustrated by my lack of self-understanding. But other times I can give myself a break. I realize that I have spent most of my adult life as an actor on a stage. I have never let down my guard. I have never stopped studying my surroundings and the faces of those around me. I have exhausted myself by evaluating and adjusting my behavior constantly to meet the needs of those around me. In case this sounds selfless, it wasn’t. I was only trying to stay safe. When I am willing to admit my constant efforts to hide who I am, it is not surprising that I can no longer access the real me.

I understand that most people wear a mask to some extent. We all grow up with messages about expectations from society. We all have an “understanding” of who we are expected to be. However, for many children, the message is consistent. It doesn’t change on a daily basis. It may even be possible to isolate the message in our psyche because it has been repeated so many times, eventually removing the mask that was worn to meet the expectations of others.

In my case, the mask had to change constantly. It would morph almost every day. And the mask took over my entire being. It was running my life. The mask was me. There was no original self left. It was buried behind years of soul destruction. Honestly, my original self seemed lost forever.

And so I continue to try to find myself. I remove one mask only to find another. I ask myself what I want and get an answer that doesn’t seem quite right. I find myself living in my logical mind, but struggling to understand what my heart wants. When I feel like I am getting close to a real answer, the confusion sets in and the panic returns.

I want to be whole again. I want to be the person I was born to be. I want to remove the masks … all of them. I want to resuscitate that part of me that seemed to die so many years ago. I hope it’s not too late. I hope I am not lost forever.

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29 thoughts on “Who Do You Want Me to Be?

  1. This post reminds me of a song sung by Scottish singer Susan Boyle that contains the following lyrics:

    “Though I may not know the answers
    I can finally say I am free
    And if the questions led me here
    Then I am who I was born to be
    I am who I was born to be’

    Thanks for another thoughtful, insightful post. Keep writing. Keep sharing. One day we all be the persons we were born to be. Every new day is one day further from the trauma that served to detract us from our destiny. And every new day we are one day closer to our destiny. ♥

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  2. I completely relate to the words & feelings you write right now. U give me hope, inspiration and help me feel connected and remind me that even although in one sense we are alone, in another sense we are completely not. That gives me great comfort. Thankyou. . . Your writings are is a gift…

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  3. THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH! it was like you were writing my story and the feelings and thoughts I’ve had all my life.
    I was raised in a parent controlled trafficking situation and so I got really good at pretending during the day everything was normal and then at night or whatever I had to act like the “good girl” the “little girl” or whatever was wanted.
    Your blog has helped me more than I can even express.

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  4. I am doing inner child work right now! Thank you for writing about this so clearly! Lets do dig down past the masks and social expectations and find our true selves!

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  5. your words come right from my head, but in such a more articulate manner! thank you for writing this and sharing it. I related to so much of it in an almost eerie way. in a strange way it was like my body exhaled a bit when reading this in a sense of ‘yes! this is what it was like, I’m not crazy. someone else felt the same way!’ thank you from the bottom of my heart for that.

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  6. Wow, you are very open. I love it! Especially about the part about being whole. I believ this is what we all want and some are aiming for it. Atleast, I know that you and I are. I feel like I can say you and I because from reading this I have received a piece of you. Thank You.

    By the way, you are allowed to read and know a piece of me, but going to my blog to read, ” what does just ENOUGH sugar really mean”? we’ll it means, you are “enough”.

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  7. You write, “I hope it’s not too late.” I often find myself saying those words, too, wonderful if I will–or can–stop practicing the skills that kept me safe then, but no longer serve me.
    And the removal of one mask only to find another …and another …rinse. & repeat, like an endless set of those wooden Russian dolls. Or to paraphrase Gertrude Stein, what if there’s no there, there?
    Thank you for this post, and conveying so very well the long persistent legacy of abuse accompanying our days, our lives.

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  8. You could have been writing my story! Same kind of childhood, same kind of teen years, hidden panic attacks & dissociation, constantly adjusting myself to make sure I was safe. I am in my late 50’s & it’s still happening for me.
    Thank you for following Benzeknees. I’m sorry things are a little sparse on the postings right now, but for a number of reasons (including adjusting to med changes) I am unable to settle down to write. I hope you will stick with me, I think we could help each other in our journeys.

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    • Hi there, I found your site through Zoe. I am so glad you were there for her when she went to the doctor. I completely understand about sparse posting. We have to handle the self-care first. Looking forward to supporting each other.

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