Who Was That Masked Man? Psychological Self-protection in an Age of Masking

Stepping out of my home early Tuesday morning, I stepped into a strange world. Nature wore a mask of fog. Not me, mask free. Well, unless you believe I am a man of false faces.

We outfit ourselves with disguises. One mask fits atop another. Some use different camouflage depending on the set of friends nearby.

For the dress conscious, clothing plays its part in the costume, hiding that which we don’t want revealed. Rather like an actor’s stage makeup or Halloween for the kiddies.

The coverups take many forms. First, there are the ideas we don’t share. Next come the beliefs we don’t believe, but repeat to get-along.

Feelings and weaknesses are on display without trickery, the ones of which we are aware and those too crushing to accept.

Sometimes the concealing tarp drapes over our opinions, while secrecy extends to our plans. For example, the-intention to rob a bank.

Our face covers save us from relationship troubles, too. Remember four-months-ago when you recognized someone at a distance, a character you wished to avoid? Now you can cross to the other side of the street without hesitation or worry.

Time and circumstance have transformed the meaning of our action, changed it from a dis to distancing.

Alcohol has long been a tool like a self-protective armor plate. “Take a drink, you needn’t think,” says the bottle. “Dispense with your memories and feelings. I am your magic potion. I’ll erase your internal maelstrom – for a little while.”

Denial pursues this end, too, shrouding all our mirrors so we can’t recognize who we are, what we do. Others admit themselves to themselves but rationalize the necessity of being so.

Remember Salome? The girlish teen was Herod’s step-daughter, the child of his wife in the age of Jesus. The regent wanted the erotic young woman to dance. She did so with seven veils at the start and none at the finish.

The temptress then accepted payment for her star-turn: the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter, the better to kiss a decapitated man. The watchful Herod found the latter so disturbing he had her killed.

Removing veils can be a risky business.

Back to the present, our century encourages coverups via computer technology.

Are you uncomfortable on the phone? Want to dump someone? Turn away and send a text.

Are you bursting with unexpressed electoral anger or racism? A fake name and an itchy Twitter finger will fire the ballot bullet.

How about flirting or infidelity? The online world offers a digital dodge and a new name to hide behind.

A therapist is challenged by those patients who have never been unmasked. The sun never reaches their pale faces.

Take one mask off and you’d find another, masks on masks, layers piled up. The wearers have never seen themselves. The person underneath is a mystery.

And yet there is hope. Here is an example, a fellow I’d treated for some time.

Q: What price do you pay for the psychological protective equipment you employ?

The gentle soul lowered his head. His shoulders trembled as he wept.

A: Everything I want in life, friendship and love. I act like I’m a spy, in the shadows, on duty 24/7.

The door to recovery thus opened.

Like Tuesday’s lifting fog, a new day in my client’s life took a peek at possibility. The more we depend on masks, the less we own the joy of recognition and acceptance by another.

He discovered his disguises hid the best of him.

My advice? The next time you remove a cloth mask from your face, ask yourself this: Am I still wearing a mask?

Until then, donate what you can to a food bank.

The top image is Paul Hartland Carnival. Composition with Two Masks, 1934, by Lazlo Moholy-Nagy. Next comes Mask, 1919, by Marcel Janco. Finally, Lady Taking Off a Mask, 1906, by Konstantin Somov.

17 thoughts on “Who Was That Masked Man? Psychological Self-protection in an Age of Masking

  1. I love this so much, Gerry. It’s awesome.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. She had blue skin,
    And so did he.
    He kept it hid
    And so did she.
    They searched for blue
    Their whole life through.
    Then passed right by–
    And never knew.
    Shel Silverstein, “Masks” from his book Everything on It

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Joan Chandler

    The urge to wear a mask that supports our favorite charity, or school, or politics tells us that we may hide behind our masks but we still want people to know who we are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • drgeraldstein

      Indeed, Joan. Such a mask reveals a part of oneself. Does it disclose what is most personal and reveal something about which one is insecure? Even if not, there is some courage here and, depending on those who will see the mask, some danger in our politically charged time.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Beautiful post, Dr. Stein. I’ve shed a lot of masks over the years.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is an exceptional piece, Dr. Stein, one which caused me to catch my breath on a few occasions. How correct you are about masks. I present as friendly, outgoing and reliable, but remove this mask and there is an anxious, insecure woman just trying to get through the day. My name here is a mask…at least it does not cover racism, or any other “ism” that is a detriment to our humanity. Safe safe in Chicago…I adore your mayor!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. gb fragmented gumdrops

    Alternate personalities are masks, and so even my masks have masks. There are layers. Even when I think that I have managed my dissociation, the management of it becomes a mask. I am numb yet feel and see images inside. It takes me a while to figure out social cues. My masks are me, or have become me, like the impressions that are left on physicians’ faces after wearing their form-fitting N95 masks for hours on end, day after day, week after week. It becomes a means for survival, lest you risk exposure to potentially fatal pathogens. When the mask has a name and it becomes your only friend, it becomes more difficult to let go. It is easier to trust in a mask than it is to risk another betrayal trauma by trusting in another person. My mask is both a shield and a confidant. It blinds me and keeps me imprisoned. It created more masks to defend its being. At least one mask remains, if not more.


  7. drgeraldstein

    The complexity of living in a complicated world, in which all possibilities exist, is infinitely difficult. I’ve yet to meet anyone who has achieved mastery.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. drgeraldstein

    I expect that there are more people who can now identify with your need for safety than there were last year. Cold comfort, perhaps, but the virus has been informative – at an enormous price.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Interesting thoughts….
    Hubby said he never liked the firefighter veil and was glad when it came off a few hours after I came home from shift. I’d call it a shield though. 🙂
    Stay safe…


    • drgeraldstein

      Thanks, Laura. I just read about your interest in storm chasing. I suppose one way to think about the virus is that it is chasing us. An interesting time. Be well.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s