What is Masking (Personality)?

Introduction

Masking is a process by which an individual changes or “masks” their natural personality to conform to social pressures, abuse or harassment.

Masking can be strongly influenced by environmental factors such as authoritarian parents, rejection, and emotional, physical, or sexual abuse. An individual may not even know they are masking because it is a behaviour that can take many forms.

Masking should not be confused with masking behaviour, which is to mentally block feelings of suffering as a survival mechanism (refer to Defence Mechanism).

Brief History

The term masking was first used to describe the act of concealing disgust by Ekman (1972) and Friesen (1969). It was also thought of as a learned behaviour. Developmental studies have shown that this ability begins as early as preschool and improves with age. In recent developmental studies, masking has evolved and is now defined as concealing one’s emotion by portraying another emotion. It is mostly used to conceal a negative emotion (usually sadness, frustration, and anger) with a positive emotion.

Causes

Contextual factors including relationships with one’s conversation partner, status differences, location, and social setting are all reasons as to why an individual would express, suppress, or mask an emotion. Masking is a façade to behave in certain ways that would help one hide their emotions and represses emotions that are not approved by those around them. Because a person wants to receive acceptance from the public, masking helps disguise characteristics like anger, jealousy or rage – emotions that would not be considered socially acceptable.

Situations

  • Personal space: Varies with individuals could be masking emotions to those close to them or strangers.
  • Setting.

Gender Differences

Masking negative emotions differ for each gender. Females tend to have an advanced ability when hiding their negative emotions towards something they dislike as compared to males. One of the possible reasons as to why females are able to mask their negative emotions better is society’s pressure that a girl must act nice.

Ethnicity

Masking also differs between cultures. Some studies state that certain cultures tend to moderate their expressions of emotion while others show a greater amount of positive emotions and expressions.

Autistic Masking

Some autistic people have been described as being able to “mask” or “camouflage” their signs of autism in order to meet social expectations. This may involve behaviour such as suppressing self-calming repetitive movements, faking a smile in an environment that they find uncomfortable or distressing, consciously evaluating their own behaviour and mirroring others, or choosing not to talk about their interests. As masking is often a conscious effort, it can be exhausting for autistic people to do this for an extended period of time (socially, but also in work contexts). In addition to making the person appear non-autistic or neurotypical, masking may conceal the person’s need for support. Such autistic people have cited social acceptance, the need to get a job, avoiding ostracism, or avoiding verbal or physical abuse as reasons for masking.

Research has found that autistic masking is correlated with depression and suicide. Many autistic adults in one survey described profound exhaustion from trying to pretend to be non-autistic. Therapies that teach autistic people to mask, such as some forms of applied behaviour analysis, are controversial.

Signs and Symptoms

Each person masks their emotions differently. During one’s childhood, an individual learns to behave a certain way when they receive approval from those around them and thus develops a mask. The individual is “not conscious of the role they’ve adopted and is projecting outwards to people they meet”. In some cases where the individual is highly conscious, they may not know that they are wearing a mask. Wearing a mask takes away energy from a person’s consciousness and, in the long run, wears out their energy.

Masking tendencies can be more obvious when a person is sick or weak, since they may no longer have the energy to maintain the mask.

Consequences

Little is known about the effects of masking one’s negative emotions. In the workplace, masking leads to feelings of dissonance, insincerity, job dissatisfaction, emotional and physical exhaustion, and self-reported health problems. Some have also reported experiencing somatic symptoms and harmful physiological and cognitive effects as a consequence

Masked Emotions

  • Emotions that are usually concealed:
    • Anger.
    • Anxiety.
    • Disgust.
    • Disinterest.
    • Embarrassment.
    • Fear.
    • Frustration.
    • Sadness.
  • Emotions that are expressed in place of the concealed emotions:
    • Amusement.
    • Boredom.
    • Contempt.
    • Frustration.
    • Happiness.
    • Interest.
    • Sadness.

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