Behind the Mask

by Karen L Jefferson

It is no longer Halloween, but there are many masks still in place.

The mask that some survivors wear is that of a chameleon. It is a mask borne of necessity.

The mask helps them to be invisible or invincible. Perhaps a mask of strength when all they really want to do is be held and comforted. Or a mask of indifference when they crave for someone to show they care. It can be a mask of calm instead of the inner fear they might inhabit. The fear that their abuser will find them, repeat the abuse, or that an ally or loved one will discover the abuse and not like/love them anymore.

While the mask is a protective tool that was handy to have while being abused, it can persist into adulthood even after the abuse has ended. As with all masks, it makes it tough to breathe and vision is not as clear as it could be.

When a survivor begins to heal it is my hope they can also remove the mask. Be their true self- sharing their fears and joys, displaying their strong self as well as their inner child, showing healthy emotions grounded in the new reality of safety, support, and emotional well-being.

If a survivor has not disclosed the abuse, their loved ones may not understand the mask even though they see it daily. On the surface, everything seems happy – when underneath there is a seething anger leaking out at random times. From the ally’s or loved one’s perspective (allies or loved ones could be a non-abusing friend, lover, co-worker, family member) there is no correlation to the anger or danger the survivor is feeling relevant to the current situation, yet a knock-down-drag-out fight occurs, leaving the ally bewildered.

Hopefully, the mask can be removed and the haunting memories fade over time with healing that never ends. Allies will see beyond the mask. They will see the loveable one…the person that is strong and resilient and deserving of happiness.

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