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Taking Off the Mask and Losing the Apologies

Updated: Dec 7, 2023

by Danah

Loving ourselves through the process of owning our story is the bravest thing we will ever do. ~ Brené Brown

As a behavior analyst, I work a lot with concrete observable behavior. The things people do that anyone can see, name, describe and the events that go along with them. The ABC’s: Antecedents or what happens before; the Behavior; and Consequence or whatever happens after the behavior. This conditioning is the reason why we behave the way we do. Of course, not all things are observable. I can’t see what you think or feel, but thoughts and feelings are undeniably real.

Reinforcement History

Throughout our lives we come in contact with countless contingencies, each time strengthening or weakening behavior whether we see it or not. This could loosely be called a “reinforcement history”. Which brings me to my thoughts today. Our behavior a history of reinforcement, or better known as our learning history. Children learn academics, self care skills, and social skills that carry them through their entire lives. We never stop learning. Among our parents and teachers, society teaches us what is acceptable and what is not. We are molded into a “best self,” but who’s best self?

It's Okay to Be Real

Today I sat with a girl who had made some mistakes, pretty serious things that we had to talk about. She wasn’t being lectured, but simply recounting what happened in a safe neutral place. And while sitting together she began to cry. Wiping tears from her eyes, I could only imagine what she felt. The presence of real emotion, invisible yet undeniable. We could call it remorse, shame, guilt, embarrassment, anxiety, frustration… what ever she was feeling, she is the only one who could give it a name. Throughout our talk she was allowed to cry. I let her know that it was okay. What has happened, happened and she can move forward. There were many positive and encouraging statements made. But what struck me the most is, as she walked out, she said “I’m sorry.” She was not apologizing for the content of the conversation, but rather apologizing for her emotion. Apologizing for crying. For feeling. For being real.

Masking Our True Selves

It was at that moment that I realized, her history tells her to keep her mask on. No matter how it was introduced, it was reinforced. Often we are conditioned to put on our best face, swallow the less desirable emotions, and show everyone the person who is happy. But the truth is “It’s okay.” Finding balance lies in the ability to manage the behavior that we can see and that which we can’t see. Beginning with self acceptance. Understanding that we are human. Perfectly imperfect and sometimes being perfectly imperfect in the presence of others. With my clients and in my yoga class, I strive to create a safe place for people to come exactly as they are. Feeling safe to bring what we can’t see with the naked eye.


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