Camouflage face image 21 Apr 2018

Anxiety / Treatment

A lit candle in daylight. A moggy in a dappled wood. An iguana coloured in perfect harmony with its jungled surroundings. A face in a crowded sea of faces.

It is wonderful thing to be able to be and yet not to be perceived or singled out.

There is a fit between us all which allows us to merge into a safe anonymity, a collective identity behind which our individual differences and eccentricities can be quietly hidden. We can be members of different kinds of associations or classes, from football supporters to baby showers, politics, or an interest in the weather; happily allowing our uniqueness to shine through only to a few trusted others and only when we want it to. Close friends, partners and children may ‘really’ know us a little bit more, or think they do, but in the end, do we even ‘really’ know ourselves?

Living in a world of other people, as we do, and also being shaped by it, as we are, as we make our way through a process of developmental change called life, it is sometimes hard, if not impossible, if we are honest, to know who and what our ‘true’ selves are without at some point running up against a brick wall of counter-truths which somehow give the lie to them.

So, we do what we can to fit in with what we hope and think best expresses what matters most to us. We can, if we are lucky, find it easy to shift from the domain of the personal to that of the group. Unless we are too rigid and inflexible either for reasons over which it is our fate to have little or no control like autism, cerebral damage, or intellectual disability, or an over-attachment to a collective ideological belief provided and shored up by institutional ‘isms’ such as politics or religions, and over which we can have some control.

But if we are anxious in social settings and lack confidence in relation to ‘the world of other people’ it is understandable that we want to conform to, (or equally conform by rebelling against), societal expectations about how we should behave. From how we dress to how we speak and the activities we participate in, there is a fitting in, a camouflaging, of our individuality that we feel we need to protect by so doing. But adopting and adapting camouflage to protect our private, deeper sense of self does not mean that this public face, or persona, is inauthentic. Unless, that is, we lose touch with or disconnect awareness from our underlying sense of our whole individual personality, private, naked, camouflaged, public, known and unknown. Under those circumstances we might find ourselves doing something harmful to ourselves, perhaps developing an eating disorder or an obsessive compulsion or even putting ourselves at risk of going mad.

So, don’t worry if your public persona does not completely or ‘truly’ reflect or express your inner sense of who you are, or even that it seems to morph and shift depending on whom you are with. We all need a persona with which to interact with the external ‘world of other people’. You don’t become an inauthentic liar having one and using it even though it does indeed shift and morph.

That lit candle in sunlight is still a wick dipped in wax with a flame on top!

Blog written by Caroline Cairns Clery, Family Psychotherapist at The Surrey Centre


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