Pretending to Pretend

Pretending to Pretend

Our daughter used this phrase “I am pretending to pretend” in a poem she recently wrote titled “I Am”. She couldn’t say where the inspiration for this line came from, but it made me think of the times when she had a class that didn’t go the way she thought it would.

In these cases, when the activities she has to do are not what she had expected from the class description, she will often put on a mask for the duration. Then, at some point in the future, we will discover her true feelings—and often, she does too.

Do your children sometimes wear a mask? Do you?

A Mask to Pretend

I found her phrase to be quite insightful into the idea that we sometimes pretend to be enthusiastic about something we don’t really want to do—like icebreakers, small-talk, or doing something “just one more time” when it’s already the tenth time and we need to go to bed. 🙂

I remember first encountering this sort of masking being described in the context of a personality test our company once did. It was an interesting experience and people felt some “truths” about themselves were revealed. I don’t recall any personal details, but the idea of masking stuck with me.

The basic idea is that when you are stressed with responsibility or anxiety, subjected to the demands of your job or school environment, or subjected to the scrutiny or expectations of others (public speaking/networking, leading a team, performing, etc.), you tend to emphasize or trend towards alternate personality traits in order to better handle or defend your “self” in that situation—you put on a mask and present a different version of yourself, one that you (perhaps unconsciously) feel is better suited to what is needed at that moment.

At home or in the classroom, we have to consider that our children might rather be doing something other than the “fun” activity we are trying to make them do. This might be an overly specific art project, practicing their piano, working together in a group, playing pretend in a school play, etc. Just getting through a school day in general can be tough. Knowing—or worrying—that they will be somehow chastised if they let their feelings or preferences show, they might get through it by wearing a mask.

When they come home, to their “safe place”, the masks drop off and they are exhausted from the amount of energy they have expended to maintain the mask. Then we wonder where the melt-downs are coming from over minor issues like their favourite PJ’s are in the laundry, they need to have a bath, or that we were just asking how their day was. “It was FINE! OK? I already told you!”

Masking for Good

Masking can be helpful though. It can help you draw out aspects of yourself that need encouragement to develop. This can make you stronger for the next similar situation. But, taking them off is also important. Everything in moderation! Just being aware of this natural tendency for masking can help your child (and yourself) better understand and manage this important tool—for the good.

“There is no one alive who is youer than you!” – Dr. Seuss.

Some of what we tell our daughter, in this regards, is:

  • Don’t let expectations control you
  • Make room for who you are… who you really are
  • Stay happy with who you are as you change and grow
  • Be the better you that you want to be, not who you think you have to be

We have found that reading together and role-play games are helpful for exploring and discussing the pros and cons of different personality approaches to a situation. Story-telling and poetry are also excellent tools for drawing out feelings for discussion—that’s how we got “pretending to pretend” after all. 🙂

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