Recognizing The Person Behind The Mask

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If I could share 500 words to inspire, this is the important wisdom I'd want to pass along to others...

  • Most of us wear a kind of mask, a persona that hides our deepest thoughts and feelings, and presents a polished, controlled face to the world.

    Much of the time, we interact mask-to-mask with other people. There’s a place for that. But remember times when someone saw through your mask to the real you, the person back behind your eyes. If you’re like me, those times were both unnerving and wonderful.

    Even though it’s scary, everyone longs to be seen, to be known. Besides the ways that seeing the person behind the eyes benefits others, it’s good for you.

    And it’s good for others, too. When someone gets that sense from you, that he or she exists for you as a person – not just as a pain in the neck or as someone to manage to get through this meeting, dinner, bedtime routine, phone call, or sexual experience – then it’s much easier to take care of the matter at hand, whatever it is.

    Sensing the deepest layers in people can nourish you in other ways, too. For example, I had a relative with a big heart but a difficult personality that drove me a little crazy. Finally, I started to imagine that being with her was like looking at a bonfire through a lattice covered with thorny vines. I focused on the love shining through and warming my own heart, and didn’t get caught up in the vines. That helped both of us a lot.

    This week, with different people, get a sense of the person behind the eyes. It’s not a staring contest; it can actually help to look away so you’re not distracted by surface details. (While I’m using the word “see,” of course you are also hearing the person behind the words, sensing the person embedded in the body sitting across from you.)

    Take a moment to relax and set aside your case about the other person, and open yourself to the person down in there somewhere, maybe rattled and defensive and acting in ways that are problematic, but really just yearning for happiness and some way to move forward in life.

    Notice how this recognition changes the course of an interaction – perhaps softening it, making it more authentic, leading to a good resolution more gently and quickly.

    As an advanced practice, you could even raise the subject with someone, of the degree to which you feel seen (or not) as persons by each other. That kind of conversation can transform a relationship.

    Last, enjoy being a person yourself, the channel through which your life streams – with some of the richest streaming being the other persons all around you.

    Rick Hanson

    Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a psychologist, Senior Fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, and New York Times best-selling author. His books are available in 26 languages and include Hardwiring HappinessBuddha’s BrainJust One Thing, and Mother Nurture. He edits the Wise Brain Bulletin and has several audio programs. A summa cum laude graduate of UCLA and founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom, he’s been an invited speaker at NASA, Oxford, Stanford, Harvard, and other major universities, and taught in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on BBC, CBS, and NPR, and he offers the free Just One Thing newsletter with over 114,000 subscribers, plus the online Foundations of Well-Being program in positive neuroplasticity that anyone with financial need can do for free. For more information, please see his full profile at

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    1. Janelle
      Janelle says:

      I think I personally have a hard time allowing others to see the real me. I get caught up in the way ” I think” I want each person I meet to see/view me. My thoughts limit the way I can build real relationships with people. It’s so crazy how I let myself believe what I really don’t have answers to. For example i’ll meet a guy and assume that if “act this way” “dress this way” “talk this way” “present my self this way” … he will instantly like me more, when really who’s to really know. By conforming to my own thoughts of what others think of me, I am masking my self from others and my own existence. You’r article was a reminder to myself to seek deeper and to interact with others unmasked. By doing this it leaves so much more room for peace, comfort, and open honest relationships. From now on i’ll try to always remember to “take a moment to relax and set aside your case about the other person” however in this case, myself. Thank you for sharing.

    2. Sidonie
      Sidonie says:

      Thank you, Rick, for showing the way… I feel blessed, happy, and grateful to have seen you twice at the WUF, felt seen by you too…. it has created an invaluable, sustainable bond I cherish!!! Keep showing up and taking in the good, dear friend! Wishing you well. Namaste xxx

    3. Matt
      Matt says:

      A lovely and important inspiration! I accept your challenge; I have a difficult weekend coming, an ideal opportunity for this practice.


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