Masking - Covering up one's own natural outward appearance, mannerisms and speech in dramatic and inconsistent ways depending on the situation.
People with Personality Disorders often suffer from low self-esteem, or have an inconsistent self-image which shifts depending on their inner emotional climate. Since that can change rapidly if they are susceptible to mood swings, they may sometimes represent themselves publicly in quite inconsistent ways.
This practice of altering our behavior or mannerisms is of course familiar to most people. Almost everybody consciously or subconsciously puts their best foot forward when they want to make a good impression on family, co-workers, authority figures or large social groups, and most of us adjust our behavior for different contexts such as cheering at a football game as opposed to sitting in a meeting. However, in some people with Personality Disorders there is a marked inconsistency, involving rapid cycling and an acute intensity of Masking which is beyond typical.
How it Looks
- Sudden changes in voice, vocabulary or geographic accent;
- Situational changes in physical mannerisms;
- Wearing different clothes - copying exactly the appearance of another;
- Using different names, depending on who is being talked to;
- Changing taste in food, interests etc;
- Rapid, inexplicable changes in political views or religious beliefs;
How it Feels
It can sometimes feel a little creepy to watch someone close to you morph right before your eyes when the phone rings or when someone else comes into the room.
It’s also common to feel they are being hypocritical or fake. You may feel angry if they are so nice or so humble and accommodating to one particular person while they show a less attractive side to you. It’s common for Nons to hope that the person who is Masking will be “found out” eventually.
Sometimes, it feels embarrassing to be a family member or spouse or partner to someone when their Masking is obvious to others. You may feel humiliated to be associated with them and fear a loss of respect, contempt or ridicule of others.
How to Cope
While it may be tempting to pull off the mask, it’s important to remember that each person has a right to their own thoughts and beliefs. It is important to remember your stuff is yours, and their stuff is theirs, and remain more focused on yourself and your own behavior. Where a person’s masking does not affect or harm you, it is best to leave it alone; if however a person’s masking does create harm for you (for example, involves either emotional or physical abuse), it is important to get yourself to safety.
What NOT to do
- Don’t try to Thought Police or pull off another person’s mask.
- Don’t waste energy trying to figure out which version of a person is the “real one”. The real person isn’t either the “good one” or the “bad one”, it’s the sum of them all.
- Don’t stay in a room or a situation where you are being hurt or abused by another person. Politely and calmly move to a safer place.
What TO Do
- Talk to others who understand Personality Disorders about the situation. Chances are they will recognize Masking.
- Try to keep a stable and consistent view yourself and deal with the person as the sum of all their parts - not just the side you are seeing at any given time - good or bad.
- Focus on your own behavior and build healthy relationships with others who will deal with you consistently and respectfully.