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A Word about Masks

A Word about Masks

Healthy and satisfying human communication depends upon many factors, verbal and nonverbal.  We listen to peoples’ words and tones of voice.  We also observe body language signals to supplement the words we are hearing.

Everyone learns how to read these cues, but therapists are trained to be acutely observant of verbal and nonverbal signals.  We pick up on a wide variety including:

  • Facial expressions, head movements, nodding, arms and hands
  • Eyes, pupil dilation, length of gaze (eye contact)
  • Body location, territorial space, social space, intimate space
  • “Paralanguage” indicators such as loudness, tempo, pitch and inflection

So, what is the impact on the quality of our communication if most of the population are wearing physical face masks?

First and foremost, masks make it impossible to pick up on the full range of signals that we are accustomed to sending to  and receiving from other people.  We are necessarily limited, therefore our relationships with others are limited.

Now, the analogies are obvious.  Physical masks are one thing.  Emotional masks are another entirely.

People wear emotional masks for a wide variety of reasons:

  • Lack of Safety
  • Insecurity and Feelings of Inferiority
  • Trauma
  • Narcissistic Tendencies
  • Power Needs
  • Many more

It is easy to see that when one or both people in a relationship are wearing some sort of mask (even if that mask is not visible), the quality of the relationship is necessarily limited.  

One or both are hiding something, usually something very important to their identity, and this inhibits their ability to fully connect with anyone!

50 years ago, Jesuit priest John Powell wrote, Why am I Afraid to Tell you who I Am?  The answer is simple and one with which each of us can identify.  

I am afraid to tell you who I am, because if I do, you may reject me, and that is all I have!

The alternative to masks?  

Authenticity and Genuineness!

Of course, this does not mean we are authentic and open with everyone in our lives to the same extent. 

Some people are simply unsafe!

But I challenge you to think about this:  Am I hiding something from the most important person/people in my life?  Something that may be keeping me from fully connecting with that person?  What might happen if I decided to be more bold and open?  What might happen if I decided to push through my anxieties and fears and show my partner the real, genuine, authentic me?  You might be pleasantly surprised!

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