You know exactly what everybody wants you to be — and you have a different mask to present to each one of them. You have a script to follow to make every audience praise you.
At work, you perform as expected — even better than expected — and you get attention and praise. But nobody ever knows the real you.
Among your friends, you have a different script. They expect you to be some particular thing — and you perform perfectly based on what they expect. But none of your friends ever know the real you.
At home, you know what your family expects to see from you — and you perform that script perfectly, too. But unknown to them, not a single one of them gets to know the real you.
In the moments when you allow yourself feel anything, you are bitterly lonely.
You have other audiences along the way. You know what each audience expects. You perform exactly as they expect. They praise you and they tell you that you’re great. But nobody ever sees who you really are.
Inside, there is a lonely and unhappy person who desperately wants to be known and loved for what he or she really is — but you never allow anyone to know that person.
I’ve seen this pattern many times with successful people. I used to think they were just shallow, but I now understand it’s more complicated with that.
Most of them were driven by the need to be loved — and what they figured out was how to be praised instead. That was as close as they ever got to real love. It required no vulnerability or risk of any kind. As long as they impressed others — according to those people’s standards of success — they received attention and praise.
Writer Beatrice Chestnut says this sort of pattern leaves these people feeling lonelier and more unloved.
“When you create an image to get love, what gets loved is the image,” Chestnut wrote, “not necessarily the person behind the image, which intensifies the [person’s] conviction that they can’t be loved as they are and necessitates the construction of an image to get the love.”
Living life behind a mask leaves you unavailable for someone who wants to love the real you. Even if someone figures out who you really are — despite your best efforts to hide — you won’t know how to let that person love you.
It’s hard to love someone who is attached to his or her image, because that person is so accustomed to projecting what he or she wants the world to see that the real person — underneath the carefully constructed image — gets lost.
If you live behind such a series of masks for long enough, you no longer even realize you’ve abandoned your real self.
The only solution is to abandon the masks — and to get back in touch with who you really are.
You deserve to be loved for what you are. Not for being a successful person. Not for meeting all the right expectations. Not for being a “winner.” Not for looking “perfect.” Not for impressing anybody.
But to be loved, you have to abandon your masks. You have to stop being concerned with what others think. You have to let someone inside. You have to be vulnerable and trust that someone will love what you really are.
There is a lonely and emotionally hungry person at the core of every individual who wears a mask. You will never find enough praise or approval to meet the need of that person at your core.
Only real love with change anything — and that can’t happen until you stop trying to hide and open yourself to the love you’ve been craving.
Note: I’ve recently been reading Beatrice Chestnut’s book, “The Complete Enneagram.” I’ve found it very insightful.