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Masks We Wear: Struggles of Being Ones Self

Introduction

This poem is written by Loh Keng Soon, a TESL student from UPSI. This poem is
taken from the book Mirror: Reflections of Ourselves. I have chosen this poem as I
can relate to it easily and I am sure most people can too. This poetry summarize how a
person who is an introvert have a hard time fitting in with society is feeling. The
author has put up a facade or a mask to fit in with others. As he was doing this, he
realized that he was not being real to himself and all was done in order to interact
normally with other people. He sees these complications about himself as a game
that needs to be played but deep down he felt the dishonesty in his own character and
self.

Identity crisis would be the poems main theme. All the negative words used in
this poem suggest that the poet is unhappy with himself and how he has portrayed
himself in front of others. He is aware of what he was doing with himself:

Im watching myself interact,

Playing the fool,

Making the jokes,

Laughing out loud,

Talking the talk.

(Stanza 1)

He was merely playing a part in society and every action that he made is only
mimicry of what he saw others do. I felt that the author was only doing so as he
wanted to fit in and want to be accepted and it this made him uncomfortable. In
society, there are norms and certain rules that have been made for everyone. If these
norms and rules are broken by others like the poet who must be slightly different, they
will be severely judged. Someone who faced that ordeal would not want that to
happen as they could not handle the judgmental comments thrown at them. Therefore,
they hide their true selves by pretending to be something they are not. By constantly
doing this, it would be understandable that someone would feel uncomfortable,
depressed, and sad. Our identity is important to us and to alter that in order to fit in
with societys expectation can make someone feel foolish. That is what the poet is
feeling in this poem.

In this poem, the poet speaks of the difficulties in being himself with other people.
However, there are lots of factors that have made him this way. For example, perhaps
his individual struggles with the society. To see yourself succumbing to societys
expectations of what and who you must be and how you must act in a certain way can
make someone feel like a fool. The poet has been pretending so long that he now sees
the lies he has painted by himself:

Im seeing the lies I portray,

Knowing the pretense

(Stanza 2, line 6 and 7)

The psychology behind these two lines suggested that the poet is tired of pretending to
be something or someone he is not. It is exhausting to live an inauthentic life (Susan
Sparks, 2015). It is just not that but pretending to be something or someone you are
not takes a lot of energy especially if you do not enjoy doing it. We then get tired and
started to forget who we really are. For example, the poet is aware of his actions and it
must tires him but he seems to be having a trouble in taking himself out of the
situation.

This poem uses acting and games as symbols to create an idea that the
poet is merely pretending and it was all a show:

Playing the game,


Feeling the hypocrisy,

Watching the show.

(Stanza 2, line 7-10)

The word game in this poem suggest that he only sees what he was doing to
himself as a game where he and other people are gamers or players. However, in a
game there is either winning or losing and the poet appeared to want to win this game.
The only problem is this game is played by only him and no one else. He might see
the situation and other people as a challenge which made him think that he was only
playing a game. Other than that, another symbol in the poem is show. In this poem,
the poet was watching the show. The show where he has put together himself and
also performs in front of one audience which is him. In this line, the poet can be seen
as an actor and director of his own show where it ends with him being disappointed.

Apart from the words game and show, the poet also used the word battle in
his poem:

The battle I contend with,

The scars I hide,

The pain I feel,

The truth I cant tell.

(Stanza 3, line 15-18)

The world battle is usually associated with war, bloodshed, bombing, struggle,
and combat. It is a word used by many to describe what they are going through is hell
and hell is a horrible place to be. Once again, this poet was going to war with
something or someone and it is most likely to be him. From this battle, he gained
scars and pains where he hides and keeps it to himself. The word scar in line 16
suggested that the poet was hurt from his own actions or from his own battle. These
scars are his mementos which bring pain to him and he cannot tell anyone about it.
Hence, the line The truth I cant tell.
From this poem, few issues can be seen. For example in stanza 3 line 11 until 14:

Im hoping I cant be seen,

The real me,

The fear I have,

The sadness I know

(Stanza 3, line 11-14)

In a cultured society that favours perfection and accepts anyone who fits inside
their little box. However, they expelled the ones who are not and judge them
mercilessly until that person is shaped to fit in their tiny box of expectations and
perfections. This poet is the victim of this cookie cutting treatment from the society.
Everyone wants to present a version of their best selves and even if the poet shows his
true personality, that would be his best self that he is showing. And he does not want
others to see him that way for the fear of getting judged.

The poet is putting on a mask as a faade to protect himself. He has uncertainty


about him showing his true self to others. He has doubts and he is afraid to open up to
people and to be himself. Perhaps somewhere along his life, there have been people
who criticized him for being weird and different and this made the poet bitter. This
might be the cause that made the poet to put on a mask. The poet wants to fit in and
he cares what people think of him, so the mask is the only thing he can achieve all this.
Despite all that, it caused him his happiness and only brings nothing in his life. The
poet does not want to show himself and yet he is sad and fearful.

Another possible reason why this poet is using a mask is that he is a man.
Societys views men as someone who is strong physically, mentally, and emotionally.
Men are portrayed as a protector and any sign of weakness would not make them a
man at all. This toxic portrayal of men has become one of the many reasons why most
men tend to be emotionless and are unaffected by anything. Men are humans and
humans must have emotions. That is inevitable and cannot be changed based on
someones sex. This poet sees that issue and have unfortunately fall into its
convention.
Conclusion

There are lots of psychological theories that can be identified in this poem. Some will
see the poet of the poem as having a mental issue or just having issues with himself
which involves his confidence. Everyone have this and it is just not a mere mental
issue that can be the root of the problem. Defending and protecting oneself can also be
a reason behind the entire pretense. Humans have the natural tendency of pretending
that they are fine and alright when in reality they are not. Other than thinking that we
are strong, we also do not want to show our weakness in front of others.

Bibliography/Reference

Sparks, Susan. 2015. The Masks That We Wear (online)


https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/laugh-your-way-well-being/201510/t
he-masks-we-wear

Leinwand, Laurie. 2015. The Masks We Wear: Could They Be Good For Us? (Online)
http://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/masks-we-wear-could-they-be-good-for-us-
1020155

McLeod, Saul. 2014. Theories of Personalities. (Online)


https://www.simplypsychology.org/personality-theories.html

Hall, Karyn. The Emotionally Sensitive Person: Wearing Masks. (Online)


https://blogs.psychcentral.com/emotionally-sensitive/2012/01/wearing-masks/
Appendix

MY OTHER SELF

Im watching myself interact,

Playing the fool,

Making the jokes,

Laughing out loud,

Talking the talk.

Im seeing the lies I portray,

Knowing the pretense,

Playing the game,

Feeling the hypocrisy,

Watching the show.


Im hoping I cant be seen,

The real me,

The fear I have,

The sadness I know,

The battle I contend with,

The scars I hide,

The pain I feel,

The truth I cant tell.

Loh Keng Soon

(Taken from Mirror: Reflections of Ourselves, 2017)