“I’m not good enough”-Masking the truth

There is no creature on earth more adverse to vulnerability than a teenager. Teenagers become very adept at hiding their true feelings for fear of judgement, humiliation and rejection.  In order to keep themselves safe, they wear masks, pretending to be or feel what they think others would want them to.   They use the masks as coping mechanisms to help them fit in with the crowd and to deal with the expectations placed on them by teachers and parents, as well as the fear of rejection from their peers.

Last fall, I did a lot of coaching in the first few weeks of school as students prepared to audition for this year’s musical- one that requires a level of emotional depth from the actors that we have not required before. Without speaking this out loud, they sensed it, and they were anxious. I had several students who asked the question, “What do I need to do to nail my audition?” Great question, and I loved the enthusiasm with which they wanted to learn and grow to be artists who are more effective storytellers. They were expecting me to give them tips about breathing, or vocal technique, or character motivation, but because this year’s musical requires great acting, I told them that they would have to be willing to feel their feelings in front of the audience. Not just pretend to feel them, but REALLY feel them.

 

This is frightening for kids who wear masks all day. This would require them to take the masks off-the pretty girl mask, the smart girl mask, the goofy boy mask, the sweet girl mask. Adults wear masks too, we are just more covert about it and good at rationalizing it. The truth is, it’s much easier for us to intellectualize our feelings, than to be vulnerable and express them. However, when an actor intellectualizes a feeling in a scene, he is disconnected, keeping the audience at arm’s length, and the performance is two dimensional, a copy of the emotion, rather than the real thing. The audience is unable to connect with the character because the actor isn’t being truthful- sort of like wearing a mask.

 

masks

 

As we coached through scenes, several students were staying “in their head” with their masks securely in place. So, I asked them this question- “What is the thing in your life that is your greatest fear?” “When you are a wreck, what is it that you are a wreck over?” The answer was the same from every student I asked the question: “I’m afraid I’m not good enough.” Now, every actor who has ever auditioned for a show has this fear, but as I probed deeper, they weren’t really talking about their acting, singing, or dancing skills not being up to par. What they meant was they were afraid THEY weren’t good enough- good enough at anything, devoid of a sense of worth, feeling like a total failure. These are popular, smart, beautiful, girls and guys and yet this is how they view themselves. My heart broke for them. I would have killed to be as well put together as these kids when I was their age, seriously.

 

One would think that the fact that these kids are growing up in a Christian environment would be a help in finding their security and identity, but sadly, for some, it can sometimes exacerbate the problem. As Christians, we can sometimes feel that there are good or acceptable emotions and bad or unacceptable emotions, and that we can only express the good ones- love, joy, peace, etc…  Anger, sadness, and anxiety, are emotions we should try to avoid, and if we feel them, we should keep them hidden-behind the mask- because God wouldn’t like that we feel this way. Where in the Bible did Jesus ever say- “Pretend to be joyful, even when you are not?” Jesus was not a “fake it till you make it” kind of guy. And, by the way, God knows how we feel whether we say it out loud or not. Nothing can be hidden from Him. There are many examples of people in the Bible who experienced times in their lives when they were holding on by a thread- David, Jeremiah, even Moses had insecurities. Pastors, parents and teachers don’t consciously tell kids to hide these emotions, but somehow they come away with the idea that they should.

 

To make matters worse, the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter culture we live in is proliferating this illusion that, at least in our friends’ lives, everything is fine, it’s all good, we’re happy ALL THE TIME. Nonsense. Now, I’m not advocating that we pour out all our troubles on social media, I’m just saying that these outward, everything is always great posts we read every day, encourage our students to keep the mask on and pretend everything is okay, when in fact, they are comparing themselves to everyone else, and what they feel is- I’m not good enough.

 

So, what is a Christian teen supposed to do with all this stuff they feel but can’t express out loud? And where, at the end of the day, do any of us get our worth? When are any of us “good enough?” The truth is, we aren’t, and can never be apart from the grace and mercy of God. We have value because He loves us, not because we love ourselves or because others love us, retweet us, envy us, think we’re cool… What talent we possess, He put there, we were born with it, we didn’t even choose it for ourselves. It is our responsibility to work at it, developing the talent, taking it as far as we can, but because it comes from God, how can we criticize it, or be jealous of what talents others possess? Comparison with others is a ridiculous waste of time and will always lead us to a false sense of worth. God gave each person his/her unique gifts and each person shines as no other can.

 

At a time in a teenager’s life when all they want to do is fit in and be like their peers, it is countercultural (and sometimes social suicide) to be who you really are, to live authentically in front of your peers rather than pretending that everything in your life is perfect. Kids think the mask provides security, but it is actually the thing that creates feelings of doubt and insecurity. If people really knew who I was and what I felt, they would reject me. It is the enemy who keeps us in a constant state of fear and insecurity and who tells us that taking that mask off is a dangerous thing. When adults wear the mask, we communicate to our kids that living in fear of what other people think is okay, and we teach our kids to not trust us, or that we really wish they were different people than who they are. The mask hides the truth of God in us, and in the process, keeps us isolated, discouraged and living in fear. But, we know that the truth shall set us free.

 

Seib, Al –– – 124142.CA.0515.fisher.ALS Century City, CA. Actress & author Carrie Fisher will be one of the judges on Fox's reality competition "On the Lot" which sought submissions from aspiring filmmakers, selecting 50 to appear on the show. These semi–finalists will discover the magic of moviemaking when they are brought to Los Angeles to visit a real–life film set for the first time and must endure a rigorous Hollywood Boot Camp, says the Fox website. Carrie Fisher, one of the judges talks about the movie biz, and, perhaps, the show for a sunday Q&A at the Intercontinental Hotel in Century City.

As I am writing this, I just heard that Carrie Fisher passed away. She will be remembered as a woman who was not afraid to let others see who she was- the good and the not so good. She had no fear of being vulnerable in front of people and she often poked fun at her failures with a wit that was so endearing. We respected her courage and perseverance through many difficult circumstances, and because of her transparency, she gave others with similar struggles hope. She once said “I don’t want my life to imitate art, I want my life to be art.” One could easily substitute the word “truth” for “art” in her statement to illustrate my point.

 

For Art to impact its audience, it must be true, and for a person to impact the people around them, that person must live truthfully, and for that to happen, the mask must come off. There is no greater freedom as an artist than to create truthfully or as a person to live truthfully. The truth ALWAYS sets us free!  Truth leads to beauty and goodness and God is glorified in it all. As educators, parents, and mentors, we need to first be a good example of living truthfully before our kids, and then encourage them to do the same, being ready to accept them as they are and who God created them to be. To live truthfully is all that is required- to be good enough.

1 Comment
  • Jodelle Owens
    December 31, 2016

    Very thoughtful. How can we reassure teens that they are good enough if they trust God?

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