Celebrating the Real Self Behind the Mask & Spiritual Psychotherapy (Purim)

by Dr. Simcha Sheldon

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This article appeared in “Connections” magazine, Israel. February 23, 2007.

Celebrating the Real Self Behind the Mask & Spiritual Psychotherapy

By Dr. Simcha Sheldon

© 2007 All rights reserved.

Purim is a holiday in which we celebrate the hidden and the revealed. Esther, the name of the heroine of the Megilla, is related to the word Hester – hidden. The Hebrew word for world – Olam – is related to the word Ne’elam – hidden. The world is full of illusion and it is our task to reveal the truth.

The world is full of masks and every mask comes with opportunities for revelation. As Hassidut explains a mask is the klipah which conceals the goodness inside. In contrast to Purim, when we are conscious of our masks, the rest of the year, we subconsciously walk around with different kinds of masks. We wear them to hide who we really are deep inside, sometimes from ourselves and sometimes from others.

We also create masks that we project onto the faces of others, based on our own prejudices, illusions, or slander that we have accepted, rather than be willing to see their true positive selves. Sometimes it is difficult for us to acknowledge any of the positive truth about another in whom we are invested with negative thoughts or beliefs, as it would require for us to admit our mistake, apologize, or open our hearts and forgive.

The world of Truth (Emet), balanced with loving-kindness (chesed) is the recipe for a healthy life. The masks that we wear often conceal or obscure our inner goodness, and keep us from relating – with ourselves, our families, our friends, with life, with Truth. When we cut ourselves off from Truth and loving-kindness, we can (G-d forbid) end up with pain, dysfunction, rage, depression, anxiety, despair, and many other physical and psycho-emotional maladies.

People have many reasons for wearing masks. Some are afraid that they will be disliked, made fun of, judged, of rejected if others knew who they really are. Others find it difficult to allow themselves to be who they really are because they were continually criticized when they were children or from other past traumas. Some were taught that projecting a particular persona is the ‘right thing to do’, or that one ‘should not’ let anyone know how one really feels. Unfortunately, too many people actually dislike or even hate themselves, and most of us are somewhat ashamed of our mistakes.

Masks cause us to feel lonely, alone, and alienated; and sometimes cause us to see ourselves as fakes and impostors. They encourage us to be distrustful and distant. They impede us from experiencing true friendship, love, and intimacy. They keep us from facing ourselves and each other with respect, dignity, and appreciation, and can even lead us into experiencing life as surrealistic. Even worse, some of us become so accustomed to the masks that we stop realizing that they are masks. A person cannot really be and feel shalem (complete), or b’shalom (in inner peace), or b’achdut – (unified) with him/herself or with others, if s/he is wearing masks.

Many individuals (sometimes couples and families, as well) walk through life disconnected from their true selves and therefore have difficulty feeling emotion and relating properly. They feel like something essential is missing. They may seek stimulation in inappropriate ways in order to feel alive, including overeating, smoking, or over-working. Others try to avoid the pain of depression through addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, food and even internet surfing. Some masks come with the high price of psychosomatic and psychogenic medical problems, when the body or mind becomes wounded from the conflict between the deep desire to and intimidating fear of being real.

A word about the internet: The internet is world where so much is revealed and yet so much is masked. Thousands hang out for hours in the chat room world of masks, looking for unreal, unhealthy intrigue or ethereal, fleeting cyber-companionship.

Some masks are “small” and just hide, perhaps, a not very significant aspect of ourselves. However, sometimes masks are quite “large” and hide very significant, sometimes quite unhealthy parts of who we are. Examples include, a person who seems to be quite religious and observant, who in private has many basic spiritual doubts or does not believe at all; a person who projects an image of being happily married and yet is experiencing a marital crisis. Some very good, loving, spiritual individuals, suffer from and are agonized by SSA (same sex attraction), or homosexuality even though they are faithful to their spouses and do not act out.

Living with a mask can feel like living in hell. The healthy removal of the mask and learning how to be authentic in a healthy way, can give a person a renewal of life – for it can feel like being re-born into a healthy self.

Usually, medical and psychological help is sought in times of crisis – with a certain element of coercion. Less often do people seek preventive help or assistance.

There are simple and enjoyable self-help steps that you can do – by yourself or together with someone you trust – to help remove the masks: Think introspectively about which things you are afraid to let others know about yourself. Ask yourself if you wearing any masks regarding these issues. If you are, imagine yourself without the masks and notice how you would actually feel, and how others would respond if you were more honest. Play out scenarios of social interactions if your true self were revealed, considering both the short term reactions which will inevitably be one of surprise to long term implications, which ideally could be one of self-acceptance, and acceptance by the other. Ask yourself if you have a need to please others at the price of not being your true self, and if so, see if you can you eliminate that need.

You can also ask yourself if you have any deep existential questions or personal development and identity issues that need clarification, in order to know more who you really are. Ask yourself if your motivation for wearing the masks is low self-esteem or the need of approval from others or if you are manipulating others for personal gain. Ask yourself what you need to acquire or change in order to be more real, and proceed obtaining and making the necessary changes.

Many individuals can make quite a bit of progress working independently. Others who suffer from particularly difficult childhood (and other) experiences can benefit from professional healing and guidance.

Therapy can help transform a life of masks into a life of truth, wholeness, and shalom in many ways. It helps a person to recognize, identify, understand and heal the traumatic or just emotionally painful events from the past (sometimes still occurring in the present) that causes us to put on the masks of protection in the first place. Therapy helps us to understand and to utilize healthy ways of protecting ourselves. A good therapist can provide a safe and healing relationship and environment in which the patient can experiment and see what it is like to take the masks off, without the fear of rejection, anger, unwanted expectations or obligations. Therapy can help us to increase self-confidence so we feel more comfortable showing and being who we really are.

It is interesting to note that for many, masks are actually a ‘negative hypnotic state’, acquired from a traumatic experience. Hypnotherapy can be very effective in freeing a person from these negative unwanted dynamics. Self-hypnosis can also help a person  in making the transition from the mask to the real.

No one is perfect; most of us have a lot of healing and growing to do. Self acceptance is the necessary starting point for taking off our masks. It is healing to deeply know and understand that Hashem created us uniquely so we can be accepting of ourselves and of others.

As we celebrate Purim and see everyone’s masks, may we be motivated to respectfully share our true Tzelem Elokim (G-dly image) with ourselves and each other. Purim Samayach!

Dr. Simcha Sheldon is an Israeli licensed Clinical Psychologist, Medical Psychologist, and Hypnotherapist: a U.S. Licensed & Israeli Certified Marriage, Family, and Child Therapist,  and a  Clinical Member of the Israeli Society for Sexual Medicine, Israel Medical Association. Dr. Sheldon practices in Hashmonaim.

(08-976-1056). www. drsimcha.com


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