The masks we wear, the social distance we keep (reflections on shame)


It seems clear that social distancing and wearing personal protective equipment such as masks slows the spread of COVID-19. So does washing your hands. I am not disputing that. Protecting yourself and others from disease is good.

But my friend Antony and I were wondering the other day how long many of us have been waiting for a reason to physically cover our faces and distance ourselves from others. Waiting for an excuse, that is, to more completely avoid being known by others, who might otherwise see us for who we really are.

The mask and distancing of social media is already established. Only 19% of respondents in one study reported that their FaceBook page accurately represented who they are, and a great many lied outright--men especially (43%) [click here for this and more]. But this only goes so far.

One parent asked me why modern teenagers see it as virtually necessary to get drunk or high at gatherings. One teenager gave me an excellent answer: "It lowers the bar on conversation." That is, it's easier to avoid depth, easier to remain unseen and hide the fear of being unmasked and shamed.

Adults are no different. How often are anti-anxiety and mood-stabilizing drugs a substitute for therapy to address shame? In my experience, very often. But just like being drunk, it's really not that successful in masking the shame.

So, how many of us have been waiting for a valid social excuse to put on an actual mask and put actual distance between others and that shameful self that dwells in the shadows of the mind, the shadows we expend so much daily effort to avoid and ignore?

Truthfully, I'm not sure. But a lot of people who come to me for help report that this is how they live their lives. The difference between them and those who don't seek therapy is simply that they weren't willing to be fake any longer.

Please refer to my related posts "The Shadow of Shame," and "Fake Happiness vs. Mental Health." You can use the search bar on my blog to find these posts.