The more I learn about anxiety, the more I realize just how widespread a problem it really is. There are millions upon millions of people all over the globe struggling with some sort of chronic anxiety disorder, often more than one type. Seeing how much people are suffering makes me really sad sometimes. It also pushes me to understand and overcome the limitations my own anxieties are still placing on my life.
One thing I’m becoming more aware of — and more pissed off about — is how often my own chronic anxiety is caused by hiding who I really am. Hiding how I really feel. Hiding my true self behind an emotional mask of what I think other people want me to be.
“The most important kind of freedom is to be what you really are. You trade in your reality for a role. You trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel, and in exchange, put on a mask. There can’t be any large-scale revolution until there’s a personal revolution, on an individual level. It’s got to happen inside first.”Jim Morrison
Characteristics of People with Chronic Anxiety Disorder
Anxious people tend to be intelligent, sensitive people. The world is a pretty brutal place that doesn’t have a lot of sympathy or patience for sensitivity. As a result, sensitive people often develop emotional coping skills called “avoidance masking.” Wearing an emotional mask is a way to protect the hurt parts of us that feel abused, rejected or misunderstood by the world around us.
I’d hazard a guess there’s not one person with chronic anxiety disorder who hasn’t hidden their true self behind an emotional and/or behavioral mask at one time or another. It’s a very effective coping strategy for protecting the sensitive parts of ourselves from a callous world. The only problem with pretending to be something we’re not is that, in the end, it makes our anxiety worse.
There’s nothing wrong with hiding what we really think or feel in certain situations. That’s part of being a sane, rational adult. But when we make a habit of hiding our true reactions too often, over time we lose touch with our real thoughts, ideas, and feelings. We can end up not knowing who we are anymore. We’ve lost touch with our true selves, which is VERY anxiety-producing, not to mention exhausting.
Some common emotional masks anxious people tend to wear include:
- The People Pleaser Mask. This is where you bend over backwards to make sure everyone else is happy. People pleasers (like me) are terrified of being emotionally attacked and do whatever it takes to make sure everyone likes them out of fear. Then we feel angry at ourselves for being afraid. We can do this so often, we don’t know what our own thoughts and feelings are anymore.
- The Angry Mask. Anger feels more powerful than hurt, fear or sadness and can be used to avoid these painful feelings. Anger also keeps people away and protects from feeling vulnerable. Most people would never guess that those who use anger to cover up their sensitivity are often deeply hurt on the inside. Emotionally sensitive people who use the mask of anger tend to be lonely and have major problems with self-esteem.
- The Happy Mask. Another way to protect yourself is to behave as if you’re always happy. No one ever knows when your feelings are hurt because it seems like nothing ever gets you down. You joke and smile even when people behave cruelly or are insensitive towards you. Fake happiness covers up your REAL feelings.
Overcome your anxiety and stop hiding your true self
If you’re tired of living with chronic anxiety, one way to overcome it is to start dropping your emotional masks and show the world who you really are. Here are some steps you can take to do this:
- Make the decision. You first have to decide you want to drop your “avoidance mask.” You must be committed to taking this action even though it’s painful. Letting go of your mask is not easy. It will help you succeed to realize this going in. Taking one small step at a time will probably work best. For example, you could decide to speak up about which restaurant you’d prefer for dinner as one initial step.
- Focus on self-awareness. Spend some time asking yourself what you really think and feel. It’s likely that you’ve lost touch with your feelings and preferences, so ask yourself and experiment and they will come back to you. Accept whatever comes up and trust that it will pass. Consider writing down what you liked and didn’t like each day as a way of getting back in touch with yourself.
- Be visible. Start expressing your opinions and thoughts gently and with kindness. Notice if you have the posture of someone who is trying to hide. If so, stand up straight and let yourself be visible.
- Face what you’ve been avoiding. Accepting your internal experience instead of avoiding it will allow you to check to see if your feelings have any base in external reality and to choose healthier, more effective ways of coping. Facing the external fears will help you overcome those as well. Being rejected or criticized by others is not pleasant, but you will find out you can survive it. Take small steps, and make sure you have support.
Living with chronic anxiety disorder because you’re constantly hiding your true self is no way to live. It takes time (and courage), but you can learn to break the lonely, isolating bonds of chronic anxiety disorder. I’m going to keep working on it, and I hope you will too.
15 thoughts on “Chronic Anxiety Disorder: The Price You Pay for Hiding Your True Self”
You know whats even better? When you try to make it known you’re very not okay, and you tell and share with the people you trust, and then they kinda just ignore it and don’t care . No one cares about your problems is the one lesson i have gathered from life.
This is really pissing me off because its too true. Im currently dealing with really bad anxiety because i have a really big test in 2 days and im 16. It like 1130 at night and i cant calm down at all. I love reading this because its true and interesting, but i also hate it because i know it true and wish there was something i could do at the moment but sometimes you have to deal with it because your family is a fuckin shitpile and so is the rest of your life. Thank you for posting this i enjoyed readin it sorry im rambling right now. 🙂
Thanks for reading and commenting Parker.
I’m very happy I found this. I will be 26 tomorrow jan 22 2019. I’m going for my road test wed jan 23rd its jan 21 st. At 1025pm I cant sleep. I never knew I had anxiety until a year after I graduated high school. I had a anxiety attack had no idea. I had many more after that on the way to work I would have to call 911 on most days. Or at work. 23 until now I haven’t had one. Knock on wood. My doctor earlier this year said I should drive it could help with anxiety I’m questioning it. Ever since I been learning my hair is turning white. Feel pains from stress. I’m not giving up I’m getting my drivers lisence hopefully I pass anyway. I’m gay I’m not ashamed of who I am I love who I am I hated myself for acting straight in front of my parents when I was high school. I mess up here and there in my driving lessons in my mind all the mess ups are replaying what am I going to wrong my performance anxiety goes through the roof when I’m waiting for the student drivers ed car to pick me up I physic myself out. I start breathing hard rocking back in fourth I try to calm down I know the car is mins away. There are days I feel awesome how my driving lesson went. There are days I feel so unsuccessful about how my driving lesson went. I thank you and appreciate you reading my comment.
Hello. I desperately need to talk to him but I can’t get a wordpress account and it’s about how I feel a higher power or my true self is telling me I’m not meant to like or believe most things from nature to spirituality or science or deep thinking or just liking basic things for what they are or learning or believing basic facts because when I try I get this overwhelming feeling that I’m not being my true self self and that who or whatever is causing these feelings will never stop until I be who I’m being told to be. I’ve had same sex feelings before but don’t want to be gay but also don’t know if that’s true or not and I feel this voice or my inner self or god saying you have to become that and love life not thinking deeply or liking most things deeply or passionate and I’m so scared that I look forward to sleeping because I don’t get bothered with these thoughts. I’m also consumed by white guilt and being jealous that poc are meant for most deep and cool things in my mind at least and I can’t shake this. It’s convincing me and I’m so scared I can’t like what I want cause then I get thoughts that say but you actually don’t want to cause a lot of things I was into because of others influences.
Awesome wisdom that resonates in my gut! Thank you for sharing your knowledge and experience with us, truly Excellent! This is exactly the place where Vulnerability meets Courage…the decision not to hide anymore!
This is great, thank you for writing this. I think a lot of people do this on different levels. My ‘mask’ has been firmly attached to my face for a while now. Time to let go of it I think
Hi everyone… I have a son with chronic anxiety whom I am beyond proud of. I just would like some feedback on what I can do to help and encourage without making it too difficult. He is doing amazing things now and I tell him how proud I am but I worry that this in itself can set him back if he feels pressure or fears failure. We don’t talk about it but acknowledge his diagnosis .. (that’s how he likes it)
It’s hard to be yourself when people are literally attacking you wherever you go.
Thank you! This article saved my life!
It is currently 2:01am. I’m 26 years old and I’m doing my usual stay up at night in bed on my phone reading/looking at things until my mind is tired enough to shut off on its own routine. Came across a few articles and sites including this one. Was thinking for a minute whether or not I should even comment but just told myself why not. I just wanted to say thank you for this page it really taught me many things about myself. I’ve been doing a ton of research lately looking up quotes, pictures, anything to feel a connection and spark to something. I knew I developed these feelings at an early age and now here I am. It was like I was searching to find myself after so long of “putting a mask on” and numbing myself to try and be a normal human being. I was used to that so now actually facing the whole truth and finding answers to what I’m dealing with helps. Not only that but most places where I read tells me what anxiety/depression means witch I can relate but doesn’t always give advice and tips to cope with it. I’ve learned a lot from this page about myself and gained tools that I can use and give me hope for the future… Now It’s 2:37am! Not used to writing my thoughts down felt like I just wrote an essay wow!
I feel an avoidance mask is diversion, asking people questions and getting others to talk about their lives and feelings diverts the emphasis on yourself
Well said,James. That’s exactly what I think too.
Really thanks for sharing with us your experience and what should can be done to overcome the avoidance masks!! I always prefer a happy mask and sometimes feeling lonely because of that …
You’re very welcome. This is an important issue that doesn’t get talked about enough, in my opinion.