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  • Writer's pictureGavin Conochie

Masking Our True Selves

A key part of developmental trauma involves learning to hide what we really feel. It is not safe to come into contact with our parent/caregiver with our authentic feelings on display, because to do so is too threatening or provoking for the parent and risks creating a rupture in the attachment relationship, either through punishment or withdrawal on the part of the parent.

So we learn to hide our true feelings behind a mask - a mask that we are always fine tuning. We learn to present what the parent needs to see. We show only those aspects of ourselves that reflect well on the caregiver, that don't make them feel uncomfortable or threatened – not too needy, not too happy, not too sad, or angry, or bored, or frightened, or.. anything which might challenge the parent’s sense of self, or the way they need things to be.

Depending on how much of a defensive mask we have had to adopt, we may grow into adulthood having largely lost touch with who we are. Maybe we have had to hide so much of ourselves that we now carry a sense of unreality. We feel detached from the world sometimes...or most of the time. Life...our sense of self...feel foggy.

There is a numbness at the core of ourselves that scares us, but which we are frightened to challenge, because we are afraid of what we might feel, think, or do if we were to allow ourselves to ‘thaw out.’ It’s not uncommon in this situation that we turn to addictions - overwork, alcohol, substance abuse, gambling, dangerous sports, food, video games - partly as a way of feeling alive, ironically, but also to keep ourselves numb, detached from the self that we are frightened to come back into contact with. Because the message we have received our entire childhood – sometimes overtly, and sometimes not so obviously – is that who we are is wrong, or bad, or not enough.

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