Beneath the Mask

By Tinamarie CoxFebruary 19, 2024

I was meant to be someone else.

I became this person to feel more acceptable to others. To feel safe within the status quo. To feel worthy of love and affection. I allowed fear of negative feedback to determine who I showed up as in the world.

The world was a stage and I was determined to play my role “correctly.” It was more important to fit in, be easy to get along with, and appear “normal.” To not show anyone my true feelings, my odd little quirks, and my struggles.

But masking the truer elements of myself left me feeling empty, depressed, anxious, and without a sense of who I really was.  I had spent a lifetime hiding behind the face of someone that somebody else wanted to see. And even though it had gained me company, I still felt alone. I was exhausted by every social interaction. Worn out from creating all the versions of me that weren’t actually me.

The more I heal, the more I find that I am not the person I thought I was. This person was created. Manufactured. Sculpted. Underneath all the layers, I am different. I don’t like the same things she likes. I don’t think the way she says I should think.

I don’t want to be the person she is.

How can I describe it better than that?

I spent my childhood creating masks to wear. I have always been artistic and creative. The camouflage part was easy. The hard part was deciding which mask was appropriate depending on the person and the situation. I desperately wanted to be whoever someone else wanted me to be.

I thought that was how I’d be loved.
And I needed to be loved.

Mother would see herself in me because she needed a mirror.
Father would see another fool adoring him because he needed to be the greatest.
Brother would see a second mother because he needed to be doted on.
Sister would see a shadow when she looked at me because there was no star brighter than her.

The more I heal, the better I understand I will never please them.

Carrying around all these different masks kept me feeling temporarily safe. Never fully secure. I remained hypervigilant. Always on the edge and ready to jump into the next role. I was listening to tones, watching body language, and paying close attention to my surroundings. I had to be prepared to change, shift, and adapt at a moment’s notice.

The roles I played for all these years nearly killed me. Drove me mad.

The more I heal, the easier it is to embrace the importance of putting aside these burdensome fears. Leave the manufactured person behind. Love my “weird.”

I am discovering things about myself like an archeologist. Digging up the common ancestor from deep within the earth. All these characters I have played stem from a single girl. The original mold.

There is a version of me I hadn’t allowed myself to be. The one and true version that is me. Because she hadn’t been shown that she could be loved. Not even by the ones closest to her. Not in a way that nourished her and helped her to thrive.

And because I refused to love her, too.
I couldn’t love her because I judged her by everyone else’s needs and standards.
I thought their love weighed more than mine.

I thought their love was worth stitching together a puppet in all the colors they wanted to see. But all it did was bury me. Trap me in time. Keep me small and underdeveloped.

Uncovering pieces of myself is sometimes confusing. Almost like deja vu. Familiar but not completely tangible, like a dream. It’s strange knowing I am the one who locked these parts away. I chose to ignore the basic ingredients that make me who I am. It’s frightening and depressing to look at the bones of what was. Study them and see the essential nutrients withheld. Imagine what could have been. Understand what should have been. To know I could have grown differently. To realize I allowed myself to be poorly pruned.

And that fills me with resentment and bitterness. I don’t know how to rinse the taste out of my mouth. I don’t know if I want to. I feel strength in anger. It helps me work through the levels of grief. Because I grieve for the person I lost in the hustle and the aspects of childhood I didn’t get to experience. I am mourning the years that are gone forever, wasted on pleasing others. Worried about how many years are left.

Under all the layers, I find the original version is littered with scars from all her sacrifices for the good of the family. Because common blood bound me like a heavy chain. I dragged it wherever I roamed until I finally sank like an anchor. I sank into a dark place and pretended she didn’t exist anymore. Even though we were one and the same, I convinced myself she was wrong to exist. She was born too different. She was unworthy. She was unloveable. She was too much. She was not enough. There was no place for her on the surface. She deserved to sink.

How very mistaken I was. All along I had thought the problem was me.

And when I examine her now, I can see how innocent she was. How many things weren’t her fault. How much better she deserved. How worthy she was of unconditional love. It was never her job to live in a way that made everyone around her more comfortable.

She brings tears to my eyes. I would do anything to go back and hold her. Tell her all the things she longed to hear. Warn her of all the things she shouldn’t accept as normal. To spare her all the years of struggling with her sense of self and worth.

I would be a sun and a rain cloud for her. And I would watch the little seed of a girl germinate, punch through the layers she was buried beneath. I would cheer her on as she sprouted and stretched up taller and taller. I would celebrate her as she bloomed vibrant and beautiful just as she was meant to be.

Healing is a slow process as I learn to be myself unapologetically and explore all the aspects I was taught to feel ashamed of. My goal is to be authentically me. To not hold myself back or hide behind masks. To appreciate all that I am.

You are not weak for wanting or needing support. If you’re seeking professional help, we encourage you to use TWLOHA’s FIND HELP Tool. If you reside outside of the US, please browse our growing International Resources database. You can also text TWLOHA to 741741 to be connected for free, 24/7 to a trained Crisis Text Line counselor. If it’s encouragement or a listening ear that you need, email our team at [email protected]

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Comments (6)

  1. Abby Hoffman

    Wow. This is beautiful. Thank you so much for sharing!

    Reply  |  
  2. Sarah

    This was published on my birthday, and honestly, it was just what I needed to read. I could relate to all of this. As a woman who just turned 36, suddenly I realized not once have I ever prioritized myself. I was always trying so desperately to fit in, and seek validation from others just to feel something. Thank you for sharing your story. The beauty of TWLOHA is knowing that we’re not alone in this world. I, too, will no longer hide behind any more masks.

    Reply  |  
  3. Andrea

    Perfectly written and understood from one scarred soul to another.

    Reply  |  
  4. Noel

    Just recently diagnosed autistic and I was late diagnosed with adhd as well. I’m in the midst of a career change following losing both my in laws, an ex, and having a passive attempt myself. Now with these new diagnoses, I feel like I never truly knew who I was because I so heavily masked. All that is to say… thank you for sharing this. It feels good to be understood ♡

    Reply  |  
    1. TWLOHA

      We are genuinely so proud of you for going down a new path where you can learn who you are and exist in a way that feels true. We can imagine you are dealing with so much grief and pain, so please know you are allowed to need help and support along the way:

      Reply  |  
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