We all wear masks, hiding parts of us we do not want the world to see. What is make-up other than a mask to hide our facial flaws, camouflage to make us into something other than what they truly are? The types of clothes we wear are also masks hiding what is beneath, at least for some of us.
Sometimes we can discard these masks and show our faces and bodies with pleasure. However, to an abused woman, that mask is protection that seldom (if ever) comes off until something catastrophic pulls it from her face. Learning to let go of the shame and take off the mask, however difficult, is one of the most crucial steps towards a better life.
Masking the Shame
Why are we living this lie in the first place? Embarrassment is usually the main reason we hide who we really are and what is happening in our lives. We are too embarrassed to let anyone know that we are being emotionally abused. We feel we have no option than to present the façade to hide the real person and stave off questions.
Abuse Affects Everyone
Why are we so afraid to speak up, to tell the truth and stop living the lie? We often excuse the abuse of poor women by blaming it on poverty or their partners’ ignorance. However, women at all levels of society are abused. Middle class women are abused. Rich women are abused.
Abused women are often strong, vibrant, accomplished, smart women in our public lives, celebrated and applauded by others. Their partners are often upstanding pillars of society: church ministers, doctors, judges, lawyers, police officers, professors, all of whom are in trustworthy professions. However, in private, intimate relationships these women are completely different. They are emotionally abused.
Afraid of the Reaction
“I can’t tell anyone this is happening to me!” “No one will believe me!” These thoughts run through our minds. We are too embarrassed to tell anyone, because we expect people will judge us. Everyone loves our partner: his friends, colleagues, and especially our family members.
“She is a smart woman. How can she let him abuse her?” they think. “He comes across as a very nice guy, so he couldn’t possibly be abusing you,” they say. “You must be misinterpreting his behavior.” Anticipating these kinds of reactions, we let the embarrassment silence us.
Ripping Off the Mask
Removing the mask voluntarily does not usually feel like an option for abused women. We have long since forgotten who is behind the mask. We have become so used to pretending that all is well and living a lie that the lie has become reality. We are safe, protected, and comfortable in our discomfort.
The catalyst that forces the inevitable removal of the mask sometimes comes at a steep price, leaving us exposed and vulnerable. Maybe we are the catalyst ourselves, or maybe the catalyst is outside of our control. Whatever the reason, we are forced to face up to a new reality, an unfamiliar way of being.
There is much at stake for emotionally abused women who speak up. Some of us could lose our place in society, our lifestyles, and even our children. Abusers are sometimes powerful enough to take us to court, brand us as liars, and win. We then become separated and isolated from everything and everyone we once knew.
Even if we leave, starting over from scratch and in unfamiliar territory can be more frightening than maintaining the status quo. So we stay in untenable situations until the abuse increases and eventually kills us.
It doesn’t have to be that way. At some point you will discover that you are more resilient than you ever knew you were. You will realize that you deserve better and can no longer accept or tolerate the abuse. You will insist on forging a better life.
When this happens, you are ready to show your true face. This is when women find the courage to take the mask off, face their pain and fear, and unapologetically declare (as Howard Beale fittingly proclaimed in the movie Network), “I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!”
The road to freedom might be difficult, but it will be worth it when you are finally comfortable showing who you truly are. When you take your mask off, you are no longer encumbered. You are free. You have committed, by any means necessary, to becoming a strong, vibrant woman. Joyful. Bold. Determined. Unashamed.
It’s time to rip off the mask!