When we’re children and we get our feelings get hurt, we first attempt to block the pain by stopping our breath. Next, a conclusion will be made that will lead to defenses that aligns with the Personality Type.
Our primary essence of courage, love or wisdom determines our Personality Type, which will correspondingly be a Will, Emotion or Reason Type. Be careful to not mistakenly conclude that only Reason Types are smart, only Will Types have willpower, or only Emotion Types have feelings. Everyone contains the essence of all three divine qualities, but we each lead with one.
Will Types will conclude, “I don’t need love,” and use aggression to overtly control and push away the other. Emotion Types will conclude, “If I submit, I’ll be safe,” and use submission to covertly manipulate the other. The Reason Type will conclude, “I don’t matter,” and use withdrawal to escape the other.
What began as a defense of the inner child is taken over by the Big-L Lower Self that incorporates these defenses into a mask that demands love. The Will Type will use a Power Mask and attacks to get its way, the Emotion Type will use a Love Mask and become submissive or sickly sweet, and the Reason Type will use a Serenity Mask, detaching and rising above it all.
The Guide calls our defenses “pseudo-solutions,” because they don’t actually work. Human beings are well designed to respond in the event of an actual threat. Adrenaline kicks in and we have an instinctive reaction that narrows our attention and focuses on survival. The problem here is that emotional pain is not a real threat. Feelings will not kill us.
So if the threat of pain is an illusion, the defenses created to fight this threat are equally unreal. Our defenses and masks are made up of nothing more than ineffective strategies that only succeed in further separating us from our real self.
Worse yet, the perpetual defending against an illusory enemy activates our physical system to continually produce a fight-or-flight response. Over time, the elevated cortisol level in our bodies is actually harmful. If we remain in such an activated state, we are then less able to respond in a real life-threatening event. [Read: How Does Fear Fry our System?]
The bottom line is, when we are defended behind our mask, we are not in truth. So nothing can be solved by “trying harder” to improve our mask. In the end, when it comes to navigating life, strategy never works.
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”
– Henry Ford
The mask is the outer layer of our being, and it uses blame, victimhood and judgment to deflect everything away from the self while crying a false pain that says, “Don’t do this to me, life!” The real pain is our blindness that keeps us alienated from our own self.
The Pathwork Guide sometimes refers to the mask as a “superimposed conscience.” This is because the trickster Lower Self takes a Higher Self quality and distorts it, incorporating it into the mask. So it may have a quality of “goodness” or “rightness,” but it also always has a quality of fakeness.
Creation of a Mask
- Child experiences pain.
- Child makes a decision to avoid feeling that pain. For example, “I won’t need. I won’t get my needs met anyway.”
- Child fears it is unacceptable, unlovable: “I need to not have needs.”
- Child creates a mask to appear lovable.
- Mask shows phoniness.
- Mask brings the rejection originally feared.
- Child feels more unacceptable.
The Way Out
- Accept ourselves as we are.
- Release the fear of not being loved.
- Let Higher Self qualities come through.
- Let people be attracted to our essence.
Before looking at masks and defenses in greater detail, consider what the reason is for learning to understand ourselves from this perspective. The goal here is to increase awareness. We cannot change something in ourselves unless we see it. So we need to learn how our psyche defends itself. In this way, we begin to take responsibility for how we show up in the world, and how we unknowingly contribute to the problems we face.
In general, we each tend to align primarily with one of the three defenses. However, we may use one type of defense in certain situations and another in others. When we realize—unconsciously, of course—that our mask isn’t working, we may try changing strategies: “If being aggressive doesn’t work, I’ll try sucking up.” Withdrawing is typically a last resort, after trying the other defenses unsuccessfully.
It can be easiest to recognize one’s Personality Type by looking at what mask, or defense, is used most. Being overly identified with one’s mask, however, will make it harder to give it up, and therefore harder to give up the false ideas it hides. It will also keep us from finding the real divinity that is being hidden.
For example, in its essence, true serenity is the ability to be truly objective because we do not avoid experience and emotion. We are not so involved in ourselves. Healthy power is the power to master ourselves and difficulties without proving anything to anyone. When we gain mastery, we do so for the sake of growing, not for the sake of proving our superiority.
In its essence, love is not a means to an end. In genuine, not-self-centered love, we will communicate love and understanding in healthy interdependence. Love will not take the place of missing self-respect. Following are the ways in which these divine qualities get distorted into a mask and used as a defense:*
Power Mask | Aggression Defense
Will Types have Courage as their primary essence. In distortion, Will Types use Aggression to overtly control others. They cover this up with an attacking Power Mask.
Rules | Never show vulnerability, dependence, helplessness, emotions • Always have a “fighting spirit” • Be aggressive, be strong, be independent • Don’t need, be tough.
Traits | Proud of achievements • Will is the master • God-like perfection • Invulnerable, self-sufficient.
Faults | Excessive demands, hostility • Need to triumph • Jealousy • Possessiveness • Domineering • Selfishness
Takes Pride In | Lack of warmth • Never failing • Achievement • Toughness • Aggression • Ambition • Not being helpless, gullible or dependent.
Childhood Pain | Not being seen, heard or understood.
Belief | I don’t need love.
Underneath | Helpless Child
Needs to die to feelings of | Helplessness
Love Mask | Submission Defense
Emotion Types have Love as their primary essence. In distortion, Emotion types use Submission to covertly control others. They cover this up with a sickly sweet Love mask.
Rules | Never assert or find fault • Love all • Comply • Sell soul to get sympathy, help, love.
Traits | Helplessness • “Modesty” • “Compassion” • “Sacrifice” • “Forgiveness” • “Understanding” • “Brotherhood”
Faults | Acquisitiveness • Greed • Appeasement • Compliance • Craving • Compulsivity
Takes Pride In | Not asserting • Being helpless • Failure • Weakness • Understanding • Modesty • Sacrifice
Childhood Pain | Not getting protective love.
Belief | If I submit, I’ll be loved, protected and safe.
Underneath | Deprived Child
Needs to die to feelings of | Rage
Serenity Mask | Withdrawal Defense
Reason Types have Wisdom as their primary essence. In distortion, Reason Types use Withdrawal to avoid others. They cover this up with a detached, above-it-all Serenity Mask.
Rules | Always look benign, detached • Never be affected • Always be objective, independent • Never commit • See both sides • Remain aloof.
Traits | Looks down on emotions • Reason is the answer, must understand • Reaction to defeat is denial • Ashamed of being affected, needing love, involvement, commitment.
Faults | Avarice • Rigidity • Prejudice • Preconceived ideas • Egocentric
Takes Pride In | Not being affected • Being detached • Being objective, responsible and independent.
Childhood Pain | Not being loved • Feeling rejected, hurt, disappointed and conflicted.
Belief | I don’t matter.
Underneath | Lonely child
Needs to die to feelings of | Pain
*Personality-Types Chart: Love, Power and Serenity as Distortions; Moira Shaw,1992.
At our deepest—or highest—level, we really are all connected. Or as they say, all is one. So when we hurt ourselves, we hurt others, and vice versa. As such, we do harm to others—just as we harm ourselves—when we are in our mask. Because withholding robs us of our feelings, submission robs us of independence and strength, and aggression pushes people away and openly hurts them with false superiority.
The pains, rejections, frustrations and disappointments we are working so hard to cover up and avoid seem incredibly personal to each of us. But they are really experiences shared by everyone. In fact, we have each come here to Earth to transform certain negative traits. In this way, we really are one. See if you can feel the dignity of this instead of getting bogged down in hopelessness at their discovery.
The version of our mask referred to as our Idealized Self-Image is intended to supply our missing self-confidence by showing the world an idealized version of ourselves. This, we think, is what will bring us peace of mind and pleasure supreme. It is characterized by shoulds and excuses, and unfortunately always leads to frustration.
We have a clue we are in our mask when we have an inner feeling of urgency. We can be on the lookout for statements from the mask that may start with “I must always…” and “I must never…” For example, “I must always figure everything out by my myself. I must never look stupid.” When our mask fails us—i.e., we think we look stupid in a situation—the feeling can be described as glass breaking inside. Ironically, until we bring this into our conscious awareness, we will resort to the unsuccessful tactics of the mask to avoid this feeling.
The moment we can identify that we are being defended and in our mask, our observer self, or mature ego, is now not trapped in it. In that moment, we can begin to pray to see the truth of the matter: “I don’t have all the answers. I can take a risk and be vulnerable. If I make a mistake, this will not kill me.”
Then we die to this truth, releasing the pain and fear that has gotten trapped in with the false demands of the mask. When we do this, the tension held in the body is released and our heart softens. The Guide tells us our prayers for truth will never be answered with a stone. Knock and the door will be opened.
Deep in our psyche we know that a more perfect existence is possible—but not here on planet Earth. We harbor a hidden belief that if we can become perfect—or at least pretend that we are perfect—we will get what we want. [Listen to: Why Flubbing on Perfection is the Way to Find Joy]
But isn’t it actually true that we feel much closer to someone who is willing to be vulnerable and undefended, letting us see their humanity? It is one of the ironies of life that we approach perfection the more we are honest and in truth about the fallible beings we are.