The Masking

Wikipedia defines masking as a way a person hides their true personality as though behind a metaphoric mask. In psychology an individual can camouflage their natural or true personality or behavior and this is referred to as masking. Masking can be due to conforming to cultural expectations, social pressures, abuse or harassment, authoritarianism with parenting and/or due to rejection and emotional, physical or sexual abuse. Commonly people hide behind masks when the experience is shameful or hard to talk about. I sometimes ask, does the inside feel what your outside is showing? If your answer is no this might be worth exploring.

In art therapy masking can show up in many metaphors. One example is a white face or a veil that shields the face beneath it. Other examples are drawing self as an animal, a tree, a flower, a fish, a mountain or almost anything besides a human.

A dominant temperament, humor, or two different temperaments or three to four main temperaments in the same individual can be a mask for emotions they are afraid or embarrassed to express. These are often explored in therapy.

An angry face can be a mask for many emotions under it, such as hurt or embarrassment. I often explore the anger iceberg with clients to demonstrate the masking of emotions under anger. Anger is the part of the iceberg that is above water and the other emotions are under water in the iceberg. The emotions hidden under the water on the iceberg are often labelled as showing weakness by some. The iceberg is a good metaphor for hiding emotions. If you are hiding emotions and than bursting into anger this might be worthy of exploration.

Often in art therapy we use metaphor to explore different concepts if there is reluctance to talk about a trauma or painful experience. Talking thru the metaphor can help ease the embarrassment and shame that people experience. This is when masking is helpful.

A person can display a mask that represents their past hurt that they can’t talk about. Carl Jung referred to the mask as a persona. The persona is what a person projects to others when they hide their real self. An example of this might be a controlling person who makes sure others keep their promises so they won’t be betrayed. A depressed person might hide behind a smile, or a person might appear very confident to hide that they are very afraid and the true emotions are hidden from others. Carl Jung had names for his personas such as “good mother, warrior, small child. There is a concept that is sometimes used in therapy called acting as if. If you are afraid of some experience and life puts you there, you can “act as if” you aren’t afraid to get thru the moment. That too is using masking for the positive.

Perhaps the addictions in our society could be looked at as a mask for psychological pain.

Our topic in art therapy groups has been the mask recently. We have art therapy groups for adults on Fridays at 2:00-3:30pm and 6:30-8:00pm at my Belmead office but have put them on hold till September. Please call 780-232-1055 if you are interested in attending in Septmber..

Irene Haire, BSC Pharm, MC, RCAT Registered Provisional Psychologist with an Art Therapy Specialty is in private practice in Edmonton at The Belmead  Professional Centre 218-8944-182 St Edmonton, Ab T5T 2E3 780-232-1055 web: www.edmontonpsychologistpros.com   E-mail  info@edmontonpsychologistpros.com