How Have We Been Hiding from the World?
Updated: Jun 24, 2019
'Life batters and shapes us in all sorts of ways before it’s done, but those original selves which we were born with and which I believe we continue in some measure to be no matter what are selves which still echo with the holiness of their origin…
This is the self we are born with, and then of course the world does its work. Starting with the rather too pretty young woman, say, and the charming but rather unstable young man who together know no more about being parents than they do about the far side of the moon, the world sets in to making us into what the world would like us to be, and because we have to survive after all, we try to make ourselves into something that we hope the world will like better than it apparently did the selves we originally were. This is the story of all our lives, needless to say, and in the process of living out that story, the original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.'
– Frederick Buechner, Telling Secrets
One thing is true about the state of humanity in general, and men in particular: in the process of growing up, we develop a self that is different than the one we were born with. This is nothing short of a tragedy, and, to a degree, is endured by all people.
Due to one reason or another, we often grow up feeling ashamed of the person we see ourselves to be, or are made to believe we are by the world; this results in a inner, often subconscious vow, which in time gives power to the forces that drive the formation of the self that, though not fully genuine, would ensure our acceptance by the world.
An example of this would be a boy who, true to the heroic nature of all boys, rises up and tries to defend his friend from a bully; he is beaten and shamed, and he never tries to do it again. In his mind, he is a coward, and even though he grows up to be nice to everybody, something of his true nature is lost behind a facade of niceness, and even though he may be seen as a nice man, he is in fact, merely a man who is too weak to be anything else.
He hides behind his academic success, and secretly fears those who appear stronger and more confident than him.
Another example would be of a boy who, much like myself, tries to join his peers who play football, but is aware of his awkwardness and inability to be agile and skilled like them; he is ridiculed and mocked, and never plays football again. Thus, a game that could have brought him much joy, health, and a way to establish close relationships with other men in the future, is taken away from him...
In adult life, this man avoids not only football, but every other form of collective sport activity; he hides behind a self that claims to have no interest in such things, and, on a more superficial level, even believes it.
The list can go on...
A boy whose intellectual abilities are not nurtured by his absent father, is one day mocked by that same father for being 'stupid'; being naturally athletic, the boy turns to the only other thing he has left: sports. And so, even though he grows up to make a living from his sport involvements, a large part of his true nature remains undeveloped and hidden (and so inaccessible, which only reaffirms, over and over throughout his life, his belief that he is indeed stupid) and, just like all men, goes through life hiding behind a mask of a tough, athletic hero, while deeply missing something of his essential and good nature.
* * *
All boys have lived that story. All men have carried that wound.
This is the wound of rejection.
It is suffered by every boy in the world, and is covered, bandaged over, and masked, by every man that walks the earth.
No man has escaped it; and because of it, much goodness has been lost, and much masculine potential has remained hidden.
All because of the wounds we have suffered; all because of the rejection of our world: parents, peers, teachers, and our own little selves...
In his best-selling book for men Wild at Heart, John Eldredge writes:
From the place of our woundedness we construct a false self. We find a few gifts that work for us, and we try to live off them... I became a hard-charging perfectionist; there, in my perfection, I found safety and recognition."When I was eight," confesses Brennan Manning, "the impostor, or false self, was born as a defense against pain. The impostor within whispered, 'Brennan, don't ever be your real self anymore because nobody likes you as you are. Invent a new self that everybody will admire and nobody will know."' Notice the key phrase: "as a defense against pain," as a way of saving himself. The impostor is our plan for salvation.
* * *
But the wound of rejection is not our biggest tragedy; nor is the false self we have covered it with. What really is tragic, however, is the fact that, by putting a mask over our wounded self as children, we allow that self no expression — and that tragic condition carries over into our adult life.
By believing the lies of the world, and choosing to hide our true selves, we lose sight of who we really are:
The boy who tried to fight off the bully, was indeed a hero.
The boy who was shamed out of sports, did indeed have an athletic side.
The boy who was shamed out of exploring and developing his intellectual abilities, did indeed possess them.
Yes. In an attempt to cover our shame, we have covered our glory instead. In an attempt to conceal our inadequacies, we have done away with a whole person inside us — the boy who should've been nurtured and developed into a powerful, good man.
No wonder we sometimes feel empty inside.
A tragedy indeed — but not the end of our story.
Because he is still there, waiting to come out and live.
Because that boy inside of you, with all his talents, passions, and gifts, is still waiting to come out and finally become the man he — you — always wanted to be.
In his iconic book Iron John, best-selling author Robert Bly writes:
Our story gives a teaching diametrically opposite. It says that where a man’s wound is, that is where his genius will be. Wherever the wound appears in our psyches, whether from alcoholic father, shaming mother, shaming father, abusing mother, whether it stems from isolation, disability, or disease, that is precisely the place for which we will give our major gift to the community.
But before we can get to the hidden boy within, we must ask ourselves: what have I covered him over with?
How have I tried to shield myself from the rejection of the world?
What is my false self, the mask that I wear?
With much respect,