What is “masking?”

I recently did a podcast on masking but I can’t get it out of my head! Now that the concept is so fresh and real to me- I feel like I’m seeing it everywhere!

Listen to my podcast episode here:

Why do we need to feel like we need to hide from our true selves? What makes it challenging for us to be vulnerable and real? Unleashing your real-ness takes vulnerability and courage, yet why? Peeling the layers away from what you’ve hidden from is freeing, yet it’s also incredibly difficult in a society shaped by “norms.”

I understand the law and order idea to this too. Yes, having expectations is valuable most of the time, yet WHAT expectations and how they are enforced is what should be explored.

Now, let me revisit the term “masking.” The Neurodiversity Association defines “Masking” as concealing neurodiverse traits in order to fit in. (What is neurodiversity? – Neurodiversity Association) With this definition alone, it demonstrates the ‘conformity’ behind the idea.

I validate the real-ness behind ‘masking’ for our neurodiverse children and adults, yet are the neurotypical humans creating this need to mask? Exploring this potential is powerful. How can our neurotypicals (who may not empathetically understand the neurological challenges of others) be more comfortable with differences? We need to build experience and understanding to be more inclusive in conversations and experiences. Honest and true- we have more in common than you may think!

So let’s go there. We all hide from something. We all try to make others comfortable and hide our struggles. I mean- think of a world where we could embrace our honest nervous system navigation. We’d support each other and be more comfortable with what we’d be going through and recognize that though we may be different- we’d still be valued as an INDIVIDUAL.

Let’s think about the different ways human beings “mask.” Then we will explore how neurodiverse minds are challenged by masking.

First, I think of our Black Lives Matter movement right now. They’ve been challenged with the social masking due to systemic inequities throughout our history. This impacts their behavior (heightened stress response), trust (in leadership and systems) and everyday interactions. I strongly believe that putting the intergenerational trauma of racism on the table is important for UNIFICATION. Let’s be real. Systemic change is needed. Equity should begin to be the norm. Taking this mask off takes vulnerability for ALL races. Yet- it’s possible. Let’s have a conversation to lead to correction and direction.

Next- I think of our soldiers who return from war. We do not have a well-designed system or reintegration into society. They have gone through radical nervous system training for survival and then to come back to the ‘free society’ and have to rewire their nervous system without support creates masking behaviors. By not recognizing the impact that soldiers experience when they return from combat is encouraging unhealthy masking behavior. Let’s effectively (and quickly) create systems of support for our honorable Veterans. PTSD is more prevalent than identified. Let’s support their nervous system healing.

american flag under a cloudy sky
Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

Lastly, lets explore how neurodiverse minds have ‘masked’ their neurodiverse traits around neurotypically designed systems and expectations. Essentially, we all have a nervous system activated looking for cues of safety and danger. We are unconsciously scanning our environment seeking predictability and comfort. When our nervous system sends signals to our brain to react and respond to what our senses are processing, it creates our behavior and engages our level of response. Do we flock, freeze, fight or flee when we signal a behavior that’s uncomfortable or unfamiliar? Truth be told- your physiological response (body reaction) oftentimes creates the discomfort that creates masking behavior in neurodiverse individuals. That, and… potentially your language, tone and interaction as well. Oftentimes, unintentionally.

Therefore, I give you a small challenge that’ll reap widespread reward. Be aware and attune to your nervous system response (body and mind connection) when experiencing an uncomfortable behavior in yourself and others. When doing this, you may realize that you may be demonstrating ‘masking’ behavior and/or encouraging others to ‘mask’ theirs.

Again, it all comes down to creating unification amongst our differences. By no means should we be divided because of our discomfort. Let’s seek to understand. Let’s accept one another when going through something not-so-easy. Let’s build inclusive systems and expectations. Let’s empower Sensational Synergy by seeking to understand ourselves and each other better.

Here is a well-written article about Autism Masking. Read this for understanding, yet explore how these behaviors can apply to all neuro-profiles. Understanding-Autism-Masking-and-Its-Consequences.pdf (lifestreaminc.com)


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