What Mask Do You Wear?

As I was showing her into the room for the start of her session last week, a client asked “how are you?”.  I launched into an extensive account of what was going on in my life, including my concerns about my cat’s digestive issues and my feelings about Brexit.  Half an hour later, she got to talk about her stuff.

Of course, this didn’t happen.

Although I strive to be authentic and transparent in my responses to clients, it would be highly inappropriate and unethical for me to talk about myself in this way.

I simply replied “I’m fine, thanks”.

A mask is what we choose to show others and it hides from them – and ourselves – what we’re really feeling.

We all have to maintain some kind of professional mask in our jobs as it’s usually inappropriate to behave at work the way we do with friends or loved ones.

But what about in other areas of our lives?  When do we reply “I’m fine, thanks” when, in reality, we feel the opposite?  When do we risk dropping the mask and talking honestly about how we feel?

Wearing a mask generally isn’t about deception;  it’s about protection.  We can learn to put masks on very early in life in response to our experiences, particularly negative ones.  A mask is what we choose to show others and it hides from them – and ourselves – what we’re really feeling.

People whose eating is emotion-driven often feel that they’re not allowed to show what they’re really feeling, especially if they’re struggling, and this can contribute to a sense of isolation.  Food becomes a way not only to suppress difficult feelings but to compensate for a lack of support.

So what are some typical masks and what might really be going on when people say “I’m fine”?

  • The Happy Façade: “I’m struggling but I don’t want to talk about it in case I make you feel uncomfortable.”
  • The Brave Face: “I’m struggling but there’s no point talking about it because I just have to carry on.”
  • The Carer: “I’m struggling but there are people worse off than me so I have no right to complain.”
  • The Joker: “I’m struggling but I’ve got to laugh about it otherwise I might cry and never stop.”
  • The Strong One: “I’m struggling but I’m not going to talk about it because vulnerability means weakness.”

Of course, there are times when it’s appropriate to put on a brave face or lighten the proceedings with a joke.  It just becomes an issue when we do it all the time.

“But I can’t tell people what I’m really feeling because I don’t want to burden them”, you might say.

As human beings, we long for genuine engagement with others.

I get it.

You hate the thought of being one of those people who constantly moans and takes no personal responsibility for their issues.

But there’s a pretty big halfway house between saying absolutely nothing and delivering an extended monologue about all your complaints with no empathy for the person on the receiving end.

Because what’s the cost to us of continually hiding behind a mask?

The cost is we miss out on meaningful connections with other people.  As human beings, we long for genuine engagement with others, it enriches our lives and eases our loneliness.

But if you’re always wearing a mask, people aren’t really meeting you – they’re meeting The Mask.  In taking the risk to drop The Mask and reveal a little of our vulnerability, we allow people to really meet us.

More than that, we give them permission to do the same.

***

I was partly inspired to write about this topic by a post I read last year from fellow blogger Devoted and Divorced, entitled “Valley Walking: Living Inside Out” (click on the title for a link to her post).

In it, she beautifully articulates how she simply couldn’t maintain any kind of mask following her divorce, and instead had to allow herself to be “stranded, exposed and vulnerable”.  The result surprised her and it may well surprise you too.  It’s a stunning piece of writing which I would encourage everyone to read.

***

“What Mask Do You Wear” is the topic for the next eatonomy group session.  For details about the group please go to the Community page.

Food for Thought: The Risk of Authenticity

“Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real.  The choice to be honest.  The choice to let our true selves be seen”. – Brené Brown

It’s a lovely idea, isn’t it?  We have the choice on a daily basis to be genuinely who we are.  It’s often what we yearn for – to have the courage to be ourselves, regardless of what other people think.

But…

What if.

What if people don’t like us?

What if people tell us we’re wrong?

What if we risk being ourselves and we get hurt?

Continue reading “Food for Thought: The Risk of Authenticity”

Gentle Reminder: It’s Just Food

Some food has a higher nutritional content than other food.  Some food is produced more ethically than other food.  Neither of these facts can be disputed.

What is up for debate is how helpful it is for you psychologically and emotionally to label food as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “unhealthy”.

If you consider one food more off-limits or “naughty” than another, which one are you most likely to reach for when you’ve had a bad day?  Or when you need a pick-me-up?  Or when you want to treat yourself?

Put it another way:  we don’t binge on broccoli.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: It’s Just Food”

Expert Insight: What We Lose When We Diet

“I started each new diet with burning enthusiasm – this was going to be the diet to beat all the others, this time I was really going to lose weight and keep it off forever.  I never did.  Every single diet ended with me regaining all the weight I had lost, plus a few pounds extra.  What I did lose, I had not intended to lose – I lost time, I lost energy, I lost me”.

Dr Cherie Martin, “Naturally Slim Without Dieting”

It breaks my heart when I see a young woman on Instagram hating herself for not being able to stick to her slimming club’s diet plan, dreading her next weigh-in and vowing to do better tomorrow.  What will tomorrow bring for her?  More of the same and, in all likelihood, a life-long messed-up relationship with food.

Perhaps you were once that young woman.

I was.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: What We Lose When We Diet”

How are You Going to Eat for the Rest of Your Life?

Listen.  Can you hear that?

That’s the sound of people everywhere falling off the New Year diet wagon.

Maybe you’re one of them.

Maybe you bought into the much-touted idea that enjoying yourself at Christmas is ‘sinful’.

Maybe you felt you must make ‘amends’ by starting some self-proclaimed diet guru’s “no fail, instant weight-loss, guaranteed results, easy 12-week eating plan”.  (If I sound a bit angry, I am, because these people make my job so much harder).

Maybe you now find yourself out of control with food.

I’m sorry if that’s the case.

It’s not your fault.

Continue reading “How are You Going to Eat for the Rest of Your Life?”

Food for Thought: Make Glorious, Amazing Mistakes

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.  Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it”.  ― Neil Gaiman

Continue reading “Food for Thought: Make Glorious, Amazing Mistakes”

How Can You Make Sure You Have Fun at Christmas?

“And so this is Christmas, I hope you have fun,
the near and the dear ones, the old and the young…”
– John Lennon, “Merry Christmas (War is Over)”

Ah, Christmas – an enchanting season of celebration and wonderment…and hectic shopping trips and online deliveries, endless food preparation and overeating, feeling bloated and uncomfortable.

Wait, let’s try that again.

Continue reading “How Can You Make Sure You Have Fun at Christmas?”