Photo by Betsy Biddle Lange
Recently, while on a lunch break at a national conference, I visited the exhibit hall for vendors. There, I found smartly clad experts in technology hawking the latest “must have” gadgets and programs. There were experts on HR and office machines; staff appreciation gurus and even a dog petting station to relieve the stress of (I reckon) being in a conference.
I strolled through the booths trying not to make eye contact, which would begin the dance of persuasion from the vendor. At the back of the hall, I was amazed to find that a high end department store was offering professional makeovers. Feeling like the poster child for poor makeup habits, I found myself hovering around the stall. Soon I was called over by a pretty young woman who enticed me into a chair with promises of amazing results. The catch? I would have to agree to purchase three product afterwards…
Of course I would.
But, I thought: in for a penny. In for a pound.
I remained still while she removed my current make-up. She repeatedly remarked on how beautiful my skin was.
Sure it was.
She applied a 60.00 primer to my skin before the foundation, insisting to me of how absolutely necessary a good primer was in preparing the skin to receive the foundation.
??????? I never gave my face the option of rejecting the foundation. Who knew faces had these rights?
The makeup artist artfully dotted and blended foundation onto my receiving face, explaining that she was using the preferred method of application to cover my blemishes.
Blemishes? I thought she said I had perfect skin?
The entire process took about 45 minutes and ended up costing me 150.00 . I wanted to sleep in the make up for 3 days afterward to cover the cost. But, of course, I washed it all off in the shower that night.
My blemishes emerged again in full view again.
Isn’t it amazing…and a little sad…how much money we all spend annually to hide our blemishes from the world?
8 billion dollars in the US alone.
And that is spent just trying to hide our facial blemishes.
What about our internal blemishes?
I have heard it said that everyone wears a mask to cover their true selves.
If you think about it, we are all actually juggling three looks: the person we show to the world; the person we show to ourselves; and the person we truly are inside. We often dont even have a clear, unbiased understanding of our true person because of the coping skills we have adapted to keep this picture blurry to our conscious mind.
You might think that means people think they are perfect, while hiding a monster inside. That may be true for some. But many people put on a mask of perfection because they think they are monsters inside, when that is not their true self.
A good example could be made with victims of abuse (especially sexual abuse). Victims very often take on the blame, internally, for what has happened to them. Their minds, grappling to understand why someone they love and trust is hurting them, decide they must be defective. There must be something wrong with them, an ugly blemish, if you will, to cause this abuse.
A girl, victimized by sexual abuse, learns to create another face…a better face. She may portray herself to be quiet and compliant or in the other extreme: loud and rebellious. Both of those foundations could crumble at any minute revealing , not the monster she thinks she is, but the hurting child of her true self.
Unchallenged, these three faces can travel with her for the entirety of her life, causing identity confusion, crisis and dysfunction. The struggle to keep wearing the outward face wears on her every day. She often makes poor choices based on who she thinks she is inside: promiscuity, even prostitution and trafficking.
NOT BECAUSE SHE LIKES IT
But because she thinks she deserves it.
And this same woman is also prone to choosing life partners that will not only perpetuate the abuse on her but often on her children.
The cycle will continue on and on until someone can help her to take off all the carefully applied (now quite cemented on) makeup. Helping her to reveal, not the monster she believed to be, but a damaged child still curled up in the fetal position.
Here is the message for Social Workers.
Look beneath the carefully constructed exterior!
You may encounter her when you receive a report that her child was molested. She appears to not believe the child or goes out of her way to believe the accused. Your first reaction to this “face” is that she is “in on it” or “doesn’t care about her child”. Shame and blame thoughts rise to your cortex.
I challenge you to pause. The answer may more likely be that this mother cannot admit to herself that she didnt see any signs. If the report was true, her self blame would kick in convincing her that she caused her child to experience the same victimization she herself, had endured. No. It was easier to tell her conscious mind that it couldnt have happened.
SHE WOULD HAVE SEEN THE SIGNS!
Engage her around her love for her own child. Talk with her about the cycle of abuse. Show understanding. As she begins to see your sincerity she may allow you to slowly whittle away at that cement hard foundation. It is not a quick process, but if you are consistent and supportive you can find that scared child within. You know, and are equipped to provide trauma services to her child. Help the grown victim also face and address her own abuse, learning interventions and strategies to move through the trauma. In that way, you are able to not only help the child victim to begin healing, but also you are creating a chance for a more safe and emotionally stable reunification.
We all use metaphorical makeup to hide some inner blemishes. Knowing this will help us to be slow to judge others for the face they choose to show. It’s easy to make assumptions from a distance. Move closer. Look with understanding and make an effort to see behind the makeup and the self believes. Look for the person within.