My Mask, My Self

"I think your next step into power is letting go of being a good girl." When my therapist, David, said this to me recently I registered two things. First, surprise.  Anyone who knows me knows my fascination with the dark side. From music, to movies, Stephen King novels and my newly purchased skull ring (thanks NOLA), good or nice wasn't a label I felt like I was trying to live up to. I have a potty mouth. I can be critical. The thought that I was functioning from some place of "good girl" made me bristle. Yuck. I don't wanna be good...I'm a badass. 

Secondly, because I was so averse to hearing what he was offering I recognized that it might be a "guilty as charged" moment. So I decided to be a detective in my own life and do some investigating. To live with myself for a bit and consider what he was saying, was I unconsciously acting from "gotta be good" as some old defensive way of being? Turns out, yes. I was, and that doesn't make me a phony or weak. It makes me human.

We all have ways of trying to fit in to receive love and supportive connection from family and friends. These mostly unconscious traits, behaviors, and habits start early, usually in our family of origin, and can drive how we function and operate in our daily life. Consider your life. What roles do you play that earn you recognition, respect or love? Do you strive to be a good student, caring person, rebel, leader, clown? Do you feel like you need to show up in this way, and if you don't you'll be cast aside or ignored? Building consciousness around how we show up with our masks of good girl, or go-getter, or comedian gives us a new way...a way that includes choice rather than a feeling of have to.

For me showing up as "good" takes on an "I'm here for you" aspect. A former co-worker of mine nicknamed me the cruise director. Need an ibuprofen? Directions to the store? Help holding the door open? Where to buy your yoga mat? I got a solution for it all! The problem though with always being the good girl who knows how to get things done is that it's exhausting. My energy is all up in my grill and I'm so busy tending to everyone and everything outside of me, I can forget me. As I come to know this defensive way that I can be in the world I can (occasionally) slow myself down and ask myself some grounding questions. Do I really have space to help out right now? Do I really have the time to pick up another class to teach? Answer that text? When I'm operating from a place of unconscious defense I feel like I HAVE TO do these things or people won't like me. This is all part of being a good girl. I HAVE TO is the mantra. This pattern leads to fatigue and a sense of emptiness inside. So, what to do? 

Getting to know the roles we play is an important first step in healing. We can’t address what we don't see. What's key as we explore the ways that we show up that come from pressure and fear of rejection is that we don't then beat ourselves up for our masks. Holding onto certain roles is all about survival and having a place, it's human, not wrong. Once you notice a mask or two pay attention to how your body feels when you are in your role. Is your jaw tight? Back tense? Is your energy all in your forehead? These body symptoms can help you know that you're operating from a defensive place rather than an open hearted one. The best part of all of this noticing and building awareness? Once you know that you can sometimes say NO to being a leader, or good girl/boy you can start to loosen up the mask and listen to your body, your mind, and energy instead. Under this compulsive way of being, what do I truly need?

Beginning to move from this automatic place of defense will give you more fuel in your tank and help you have better boundaries. Giving yourself away a bit less as you become more aware. We will likely never shift completely away from our masks, it's part of being human, but at least we can have a bit more agency around the issue.