When Hiding Keeps us from Authenticity

This week, Dan and Rachael discuss how hiding keeps us from being authentic. Sometimes hiding can be an outright refusal to let others see, and other times, our hiding can be harder to notice. In the episode, Dan and Rachael talk about the ways we hide, how to let others know and see us more, and the freedom that comes with that kind of authenticity.

Episode Transcript

Dan: Well, we’re to our final killer of communion. And again, I’ll be glad to say, this has not been an easy series as I’ve been thinking about my own life. And as we come to this final category it’s a doozy. Some psychologists have referred to it as the false self, the ability to project a facade, a mask. And again, let me underscore: we’re not talking about being masked on behalf of others, covering the potential of infecting other people because of CoViD. So hopefully masking is not being heard in that way. But the idea that I wear a mask is from Greek theater that indeed the actors seldom showed their own faces. And it actually had a term that we use today called hypocrisy, but it wasn’t so much, “you’re a hypocrite. You claim to be this, but you actually are that.” No, to be hypocritical was wearing a mask in the theater to project a particular role. And so what we’re going to step into today is the consequences of living with a mask that actually hide your face from yourself. But as well from others. And it may be less dramatic as rage or scapegoating or sabotage, but it’s a silent killer. It’s the C02 built world where you suffocate, in one sense, in your own inauthentic nous. So as we step into this again, the last thing I want to do is to kind of point my finger at hypocrites or those who wear masks because what I want you to hear is I don’t think it’s possible to be a human being growing up in even good, normal, broken families and not take on roles that fit you and don’t fit. You are in some sense, a mask that is comfortable. You’ve worn it for a long season, but on the other hand, uh it is suffocating your face and your life and your heart.

Rachael: Yeah, I mean when you’re saying that, Dan, I’m just thinking about, surely all of us can relate to experiences or moments or places where we are asking where we’ve learned what it is people need us to be in order for us to get our needs met in the sense of, especially as young Children, you know, what’s expected of us? How are we meant to function? How are we meant to soothe someone else? How are we meant to entertain? How are we meant to bring humor? I mean, there’s just so many ways we could put language to what it is we’re talking about, but I think I think about that experience of where who you are and what you actually want and need is so far from what you present to the world around you that it almost feels like people would be shocked to know who you are, who you really are. But it doesn’t feel like that’s an option. And quite frankly, I think we see this a lot right now in positions of leadership and or just places where there’s a high demand and maybe there’s been a certain style of relating that prioritizes this is how you have to be. You know, when you say that, for myself, I think it doesn’t always look can sound almost like you’re talking about something like really devious and manipulative and I know you’re talking much more about really just the places where we’ve been fragmented and we’ve hidden away parts of ourselves and presented something else. So it can even look really positive. Like, you know, I’m a two on the enneagram and I know we’ve talked a little bit at times on this podcast about the enneagram, but the two is the helper, the nurturer. And those can be like really beautiful good feelings that someone else is experiencing but also they can be abused in a way where I’m only helpful or nurturing and my needs just exist so far away and then before I know that there could be an explosion of resentment because this hidden part of me that actually also needs to be like and I have needs too and I need help and I can’t always be available to you and that’s been a long journey. But that’s a certain kind of hiding or masking. that’s not like this very, you know, like “i’m going to hide these parts of myself.” It’s like a “I want there to be love” and I think the only way there’s gonna be love for me is I have I have very little need and if I’m very resourceful to other people that’s a kind of hiding or masking something that’s a part of you that doesn’t really have space to exist but could slowly kill you over time. I mean, I think your language of like slowly kill you is such a good troubling phrase.

Dan: Well that’s why I used that notion of slow suffocation. You know, and then to go and you are such a generous human being. And the very thing that is most revelatory of the goodness of God in our lives can also become a mask that keeps us from other realities. Like Becky’s and nine on the enneagram. And as a peacemaker, particularly a nine, can often hide a face of hurt or anger or misunderstanding because of the deep, deep, deep deep commitment of creating blessing. So, and I’m an eight, an ambivalent eight, and most people, a lot of people read me as very intimidating. That’s the mask I wear. And am I, I’m thinking sometimes I am but a lot of times there’s a whole lot more tenderness than will sometimes be seen. So if we can keep coming back to this theme that it is so subtle, but in some ways therefore more dangerous. And often I think it actually creates what we were talking about in our last episode. A lot of times this fuels our own, that self contempt because the mask may work, but it feels so inauthentic that nobody can bear what’s actually going on in me, including me. And as a result, the mask feels true. I know the mask is false. And yet how do I take the mask off when I’ve got a role that has worked for me and my family and then shall we say extended well beyond my family of origin into dominant core ways of being with multiple friendships, dating, eventual marriage. You know, and I think one of the gifts for me at a very, very, very young age was my dearest friend, Tremper Longman, knew that my intimidation was just bullshit. And he laughed. He just constantly laughed at me when I would get puffy and serious and intimidating. And he just thought it was hilarious. And we had some very ugly interactions that I thought should have made clear. The mask is no mask, it’s real. You know, and he would kind of like do what happens in the Wizard of Oz. He peaked by the curtain and go even as a 13 year old, you’re just a middle aged man, balding and overweight. You know, come out and join us. We’re going to have a good meal. So I think that’s part of the frame.

Rachael: I love those stories, though. That’s a good one.

Dan: Well, it’s part of you know, coming to ask maybe one of the hardest questions of “what’s real about me?” Because there’s so much false, so much broken, so much untrue and so much true and so much solid that it is so easy and this is a phrase that I would hope would linger for a while. We are so used to comparing ourselves to what we’re not than in one sense glorying in who and what we have become. So I think that notion of yes, I’m meant to be like Jesus and I’m pretty far from it, but I am like Jesus. There is something in me that really is like him. Now, can I begin to own what’s real. Not be deceived there isn’t unreal, but also not that allured to that which needs yes, does need to be changed and will one day be changed, but captured, So I think that’s one of the questions that a person wearing a mask cannot engage and that is are you in awe of who you have become? Are you grateful for who you have become? And that sense of not worshipping ourselves but worshiping the one who has created, recreated for us to become who we are. So trying to discern what is real from unreal for my standpoint can’t be entered well without worship.

Rachael: Yeah, absolutely. And I think another reality that has to be present, I would imagine there’s many people listening going man, that sounds awesome. I would love to do that, but it doesn’t feel safe. And so there’s also a reality that sometimes we hide and we mask because of danger or because there’s real, there’s a real reality that we have been told who we are isn’t lovely, isn’t good, isn’t worthy. And so in some ways how to find what is real, sometimes we need, even if it’s not the kind of safety and goodness that were like most men for most long for we just need enough safety in order to be able to even discover what might be most true. Like in a very simple way because I’m also acknowledging, yeah, I just have a lot of privilege to discover who I am because I’m not under lots of systemic threat form. I mean there’s some for sure as a woman. But I remember when I first started doing some work on myself on who is the real me. I was a really nice person, but like nice in a way that probably people that did know themselves more would be like, we don’t really trust her, like what’s going on there. And in some ways it was a form of codependency, right? It was a nice city. And I remember someone saying in a kind of a practicum training engagement at The Seattle School when I was in seminary, “do you like being angry?” Okay, because you know, if you’re a nice person and you’re trying to be nurturing and you know, not even kind but just nice and anger is not a welcome emotion and it’s certainly not something that can be present even if you have every right in God’s given green earth to be angry. And I remember I said no, but I smiled, no, I don’t like being angry, but I totally smiled. And this led to such a disturbing but like very wonderful season of discovering actually, you know what, I wasn’t very nice in my truest self and that didn’t mean I wasn’t profoundly kind, but I needed to just I needed to make room for pride to me that felt like if you bring this, there will be no love for you, there will be only be exile. And again, is that always fully true? Sometimes. Sometimes it’s fully true and sometimes it’s that felt sense that we have that we developed from a really young age. So I do think that sense of like there has to be some sense of safety to begin to discover and to make space for a more authentic self. And sometimes that means stepping out of certain relationships or communities or just needing a kind of sabbatical season from having to be very public facing. So I think it can be some of the most courageous and holy work that we do

Dan: and let me just push back for a moment if you don’t mind. That’s safe? That interaction at that practicum was safe?

Rachael: Well, no, but it’s safe in that someone was kind of like, hey, there’s room for your, we’re not, you know, like we’re not afraid of you. And I think there was that sense of it was being invited. So that yeah, that did feel more safe.

Dan: Well, as we have in story workshops and certainly in our Narrative Focus Trauma Care, we invite people to engage their story. And again, I’ve said this many times, we are desperate to have someone read and engage something of the truth of our true selves where we’ve been harmed, where our own beauty has been compromised. And yet the moment we step into those stories, asking people to come into the truth, as much as there is this deep desire to be read and a relief that comes when I get to take the mask off. On the other hand, there’s a hell of a fight to keep the mask on and to be able to say you’ve not read me well. That’s not true, that’s not true, that’s not true. And that push away. But also the invitation in, there’s a lot of ambivalence about taking the mask off. And to find the real. Again, not to say it’s that ever 100% clear or that we will ever be perfectly pure, but nonetheless, there can come to be a point where you start listening. Listening, not just to others, but listening to your body. You know, as somebody who grew up in a fairly, I say with a euphemism, fairly dysfunctional world, it’s not a high surprise, I have a very high tolerance for pain. How come? Well, in the midst of highly traumatizing environments you can’t be that aware of what your body is feeling. And so I’m masking, to a large degree, requires inattention or outright labor of denial of what your body is experiencing in different moments. The nausea, the disgust, the fear, the anger because all of that will disrupt the role that you’re playing in whatever system you happen to be in and knowing that most people, families, let alone worlds, there’s only so much attunement, frankly, very little. Not a lot of containment other than the commitment of don’t disturb me. And when that is the case, absence of attunement or containment. And certainly we’ve talked about this before, when there’s not the ability to repair, then it becomes more inevitable that the mask feels like it actually fuses to your skin to a point where you really can’t make a quick discernment as what’s real and what’s not. And I think in some ways it requires a safe but dangerous world, like therapy. A safe and dangerous world, like a really well led group or at least in my 13 year old self, a remarkable enough human being to be able to just go, you’re like the wizard of Oz. And yet hold that not against me, but with and for me, even though at times it needed to be against. And all that to then come back to say, I don’t think we can discover the real and begin to remove the mask until we’re safe enough in relationship where somebody has a better sight of us than we have of ourselves.

Rachael: Oh man. I wholeheartedly agree, which again feels tricky because it’s like, well then are we just yeah, trusting someone else too much. But I think it is such a mutual invitation. Like, I mean when you’re talking, I’m thinking in that particular season I was mentioning, I was invited by a mentor to fast from helping relationships. It’s literally the language that was used. “I think you need a season of fasting from helping relationships.” And I remember her saying, “and it’s going to feel a little bit like dying, like you’re going to feel like you’re dying.” And I remember being well that’s very dramatic, you know, and her invitation was you know, you keep basically when your codependent and a helper and you’ve been then you’re surrounded by people who need you because that’s a little bit the negotiation you’ve made, but they actually can’t see you because you in some ways exist to help them. It’s very lonely and very exhausting. And so her invitation was, she actually called me weird. She was like you’re actually really weird and you need to wait for the people who will see you in all of your particularity and idiosyncrasies and just really delight in you. And if you can fast from helping relationships like no volunteering, no kind of befriending someone cause you think you have something you can offer them or you can save them. I mean I was a real check on my like savior complex. Anyhow, and I did feel like I was dying and I just remember that season being such a sweet one because it even involves like the simplest things like yeah, you know and it was a therapeutic, there was some therapeutic elements. So also like we were doing some story work in younger stories but there was almost this sense of like what are the textures you actually love if you get to determine that without anyone else deciding what’s your favorite kind of food. And that sounds like so basic and elementary. But there was something so liberating about being invited to like you said listen to my body to let parts of me speak that I found out actually were quite loud and had a lot to say. And it was not always like lovely and it was kind of a messy season of finding voice and giving expression.I think that’s a little bit what you’re talking about. Those invitations that were, someone sees that you’re weird or you know that you are, there’s these lovely things about you, um, that you haven’t been quite able to see yourself even though once you get acquainted you have known them all along. And it’s more that kind of experience.

Dan: Beautifully said. Look what we’re saying is, as subtle as it may be, living with the mask is like kissing your partner through plexiglass. The symbol might be there, but the sensuality, the joy, the taste, the life, that good making out is meant to offer can’t occur with that wall between the two of you. And yet the price, and you put a few words to it, the price for that keyword repentance. Not, not feeling bad, not attacking oneself, but actually saying I want more. I want more of what it is I was made to be, I want more of what my being can offer and I’ll take the risk of this period of confusion, uncertainty, making decisions. I don’t, I thought I like this food. I really don’t. And then to be able to go, I just ordered $10 worth of food. I’m not going to eat it. That’s a freedom that again, the life of the Gospel calls us to a kind of playful failure to actually become richly successful in the wildness of what it is we are to be, and to become.