The Trick or Treat Trap

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“Trick or treat, smell my feet, give me something good to eat.” I remember singing this as my friends and I bounced down the street, pillowcases in hand ready to amass enough candy to gag an elephant. By the way, “Smell my feet…” what the hell was that about anyway?

Halloween. One of my favorite times of the year and a perfect metaphor for what a lot of us struggle with, self-identity. In my book, I talk about monsters and how they are a manifestation of our fears and perceived shortcomings. In this case, it’s our perception of what others want and need. We change who we are to appease or be appealing. It can be as simple as pretending to be happy and can even include changing our look or appearance. Just like at Halloween, we put on a mask and get candy.

In other words, we appear like someone else and are rewarded. We are Pavlov’s dog looking for our treat. In this case affection or acceptance.

We learn this lesson as kids on Halloween but it’s reinforced by the school system. From grade school, all the way through high school we are required to fit a mold. Pick a career and make life choices based on an antiquated system – all before we’re 17! It becomes so entrenched that it’s hard to break as an adult. It becomes so familiar we accept it.

It’s not just about the school system but that’s where it starts. As we get older we adjust our personality to suit the situation. We are one way with our family and another way with friends. And still another person at work. Why do we do this? It’s not laziness because being genuine is hard. It takes work… but not as much work as being a chameleon. In my case it was to avoid conflict. I would change to diffuse a potential argument or confrontation. Anything to avoid a fight.

In relationships, we change who we are to attract a partner. We wear a mask. And it works in most cases. The trick is that it becomes impossible to maintain this façade for any length of time. How many times have you heard “They aren’t who they seemed” or “You’re not the person I thought you were.” We are afraid that if someone we love sees our true self  they will cease to love us. That we are less desirable. So we feel that we need to be someone else in order to be rewarded with love.

So inevitably, like the day after Halloween, our mask comes off. And we all know what happens next, aside from the sugar high, we feel down. The praise, affection or confidence that we felt while wearing our mask disappears. We feel empty. The reason is that the feelings we sought out by wearing the mask were achieved through deception. We weren’t our genuine self. Deep down we know that and that is what brings on the empty feeling.

Why do we wear a mask? What drives us to that decision? Our monster. When we look at the monster that we have created, it is full of attributes that we assume others want or expect to see in us. So we create the mask/costume to match those expectations. It’s not us and we know it. No amount of candy will help this. It’s no treat. It’s the trick and a trap.

So, take of the mask. The reward will be people that love the true you. And that’s the treat. Just like getting the full-sized chocolate bar and not the box of raisins!

Robert SmithComment