April 14, 2024
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April 14, 2024
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Removing the Emotional Mask

The holiday of Purim brings various images to my mind. I think of the characters in the Purim story, of the classic cartoons we have all seen in Megillot and books. I think of hamentashen and wine bottles. I think of scrolls and noisemakers. And I also think of masks.

Masks stick out in my mind as they represent the idea that an individual is hiding behind a false image. On Purim we don costumes and hats, masks and face-paint. This is to commemorate the hidden miracle by, in a sense, hiding ourselves. Additionally, it is to remember the idea that the decree for the Jews was “turned on its head” from death to life; we therefore celebrate by dressing up and portraying the opposite of ourselves.

I raise this idea because of what I see constantly, not only personally, but with others around me: to protect ourselves, we often wear different masks. One example would be a mask of joy while in reality the person is truly very sad. Another may take the form of an aggressive, perfectionist student who throws himself into his work to mask his real feelings of self-doubt and low self-esteem.

My mask began as a way to cope, but eventually transformed my body and mind. When an individual is working to make sense of negative emotions, either consciously or subconsciously, a coping mechanism is developed. This may include venting, journaling, or listening to music. Others turn to food; some people overeat when emotional or upset, and others under-eat. In any case, the individual is really masking a deeper feeling that often stems from insecurity, doubt, shame, or sadness. Think of a difficult time in your life. How did you deal with the situation? The method I suggest most includes making sense of and processing the situation, and speaking about it with someone whom you trust. There are other positive ways to deal with difficult feelings or situations, but there are also many negative ways, that serve as a mask. We hide behind these masks, sometimes unaware that we have even donned them; we believe that the negative behaviors we take on are “natural.”

When I began wearing my mask—developing my eating disorder—I was not fully aware of what was going on. I knew I believed that restricting food intake would somehow help, but I was not attuned to the purpose that my eating disorder served. Discovering the purpose of my eating disorder, why it developed, and what it gave me allowed me to move forward and fill this need in a healthy manner. At that point my mask had become melded onto me, not only onto my face but onto my entire body. There were moments when I felt that there was nothing left of me besides my mask, that it had completely taken over. But I was still there, and with the right help I was able to slowly peel it off.

When something difficult or stressful takes place I encourage you to take a step back and resist putting on the emotional mask, or take it off if you find it already place. Focus instead on processing and expressing how you feel.

As the joyous holiday of Purim approaches I look forward to dressing up in costume in a spirit of fun and to commemorate the history of the day, and I encourage you to do the same. Don the mask on Purim but be careful to notice the emotional mask you may wear, and remind yourself to be comfortable removing it and expressing how you feel instead.

By Temimah Zucker

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