When people look at me, they see an illusion. They don’t see the real me.
That’s true of you, too. Some of what others see in us is the illusion we project. Another big part of what they see — probably the biggest part — comes from their unconscious assumptions about human beings. And a bit of it is actual truth that leaks out through the cracks in the masks we wear.
You could spend your life studying one solitary person — as a full-time job — and still not understand every single thing there is to know about that person. Humans are too complex on the inside. We often have little understanding of ourselves. Even the best of us keep discovering new things that later seem obvious.
Since it’s impossible to know another person completely — and few are even interested — it’s natural that we would develop quick abstractions for those we see around us. We project what we want to see onto those we perceive as good or even ideal. We project what we expect to see (or fear we’ll see) onto those we perceive as bad. We go through life with this rough shorthand about others. It’s horribly inaccurate, but it’s good enough to allow us to survive.
Most people go through life believing they are known and understood by others — and that they know others, too. Some of us know better, though, and that leaves us feeling unbearably alone.
For some reason, that feeling of separation from others has become far worse for me in the last few months.
If you dealt with me in daily life — at work or as a casual acquaintance in public — you wouldn’t know that. I’m moving through the world on “autopilot,” continuing to execute the normal social scripts that everybody expects from me.
That’s the only way I know how to act. My childhood programming taught me to act in the socially acceptable way at all times. No matter how hurt or angry or confused I was, I had to pretend everything was just fine. And I learned never to ask for help, because that was weakness and also because I wouldn’t get the help anyway.
I’ve been isolating myself more and more for the last few months. It’s not clear exactly when it started. I don’t really mean physically isolating — since I’m still around a pretty good number of people at work and restaurants and stores — but psychologically. I’m not sure what’s driving this, but I feel as though I’ve been emotionally shutting down.
Even when I have things I need to say to others I care about, I’m remaining quiet lately. The people from whom I’d like to get normal help and support are the ones from whom I’m isolating myself the most. I have specific people I’ve wanted to talk with about what’s going on — some I could easily reach out to and some I don’t feel I could speak to — but I’m not even trying.
It’s not emotionally healthy — and I don’t know why it’s going on.
For the most part, I am nothing but an illusion to others. There are very few I’ve allowed to really know me and there are few others who’ve tried. The ones who seem to know me the least are those who take the bits and pieces that I present publicly and decide they understand based on that.
If you know me in real life, you know only the masks I wear. You see the illusions which I project — mostly unconsciously out of long habit — and little else. But because I have such a deep craving to be known and understood, I provide little keyhole views into my psyche through what I write here. You can’t even know whether I’m completely honest or accurate in what I present — or in what I see in myself.
It’s just a series of illusions. You see the masks I wear.
I want to reach out and touch you. Not most people. There are only a handful — fewer than half a dozen — who I even wish I could connect with. But I’m like a man with no mouth right now — but who feels the deep need to scream for help. And all anyone sees is the smiling and happy mask instead.
I have a lot to say right now. I have a lot to talk about. I need to talk to someone about trust and love and goals and sacrifice.
But I don’t know how to connect with that person I need. So I’m trapped inside, in a prison I’ve made for myself.
But nobody knows I’m trapped, because I keep projecting the right illusion. Wearing the right mask.