Masks or unique Masterpieces

 The question I was asked, and which I am contemplating, is whether my need to be considerate and kind towards others is a mask that belies my rage, neediness and destructive impulses or (as I have rephrased it) is my considerate behaviour just another aspect of my personality that adds to the vibrant complexity of the masterpiece that I am?  Of course, it would be easy to take either a defensive or aggressive position with respect to the question (my intial reaction was defensive despair) or I can do the hard work and really consider what it means to be who I am and how much I am prepared to own all the aspects of myself.   We are constantly told to “peel the onion” with respect to finding our true selves.  But, the question I have is whether it is possible to remove these layers or masks.  If we remove the oil paint from a Masterpiece are we not just left with a dirty smudged blank canvas.   So, in essence, are we good or bad at our core and are the actions we take hide these emotions a mask? 

Calvanist theory maintained that it was necessary to socialise a child because the mewling screaming infant is,  at the core, born bad, needy and destructive.  But is that really the case?  We know that the socialisation efforts of “spare the rod and spoil the child” are today considered particularly abusive and that children raised this way are frequently aggressive, destructive and abusive in their future families.  While children raised with love and care generally develop into well adapted, successful members of society. 

However, I believe that it is good to consider our diametrically opposed emotional responses, their origins and their effects on others if we wish to own them as part of the complex package that we are.  Therefore, given my background in psychology,  I have considered the assertion that I wear a mask from the perspective of my upbringing, which had some difficulties associated with it.  Clearly not as difficult as those of some but my difficulties required that I adapted to a Mom who had been severely abused and hurt in her life.  My mother could have been diagnosed with any number of DSM-IV personality disorders, but in particular there was an element of narcissism, which I am sure reflected her years and years of abuse in her family of origin, with her never really being seen for who she was (of course her parents came with their years of neglect and abuse – but that is another post).  Her pain became mine because I loved and needed her to see me.  I also learnt that one can never win with a narcisstic personality.  The choice is either to lose your mother, which isn’t feasible for an infant, or adapt – so I adapted by being solicitous of her love.  That adaptation may not have been a feature of my core self but now I believe that it is woven into the fabric of who I am.  This raises the question we are asking here:  does it make me false when I am considerate of those I love with respect to their time or their ideas? 

Thus, given the original critique of my overly solicitous behaviour, I do believe there is merit in understanding its roots and evaluating whether they still fit with the person that I am now.  Additionally, I believe that we all need to think about our responses to life as elements that reflect our rebellion or adaption to our families of origin.  These rebellions and adaptations are now woven into the fabric of who we are but they may be detracting from who we wish to be.   After years of being overly aggressive to the world in general,  I realised that I could  respond with understanding and love and accept others for who they were, not condoning but also not condemming.   The early aggression towards others and the final acknowledgement of other people and their pain, I believe, has made me the multifacetated masterpiece that I am today, designed and chiselled by all who have walked into my life.  Thus, while I believe we need to evaluate the emotional colours of our Masterpiece selves, we cannot strip them away.  They are part of the canvas of our lives and they give it the features that makes each of us unique and wonderfully different.

But, finally, I believe that my ability to be considerate is a strength that demonstrates courage and is powerful in the face of fear and pain. However, the critique is correct in the sense that sometimes when I love I am too solicitous of love and care because of the fear of not having or losing it.  But, I would hope that the people that I call my friends and lovers will love me beyond these slightly flawed splotches of paint that appear to mar the masterpiece that I am.   I like it that I can be considerate of those I love, considerate that my words my be cruel and unkind if said when the other person is vulnerable and sad and am convinced that it is not a falseness but rather a generosity that comes with realising that we all face pain and fears and I can be strong in my caring of others.  A masterpiece requires a life to be drawn over the canvas – it is the blending of hue and essence, over time, which make it a masterpiece.


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