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The Mask

The survivor mask


Most rape and sexual abuse survivors report feeling as though they go through life wearing a mask. This mask is usually whatever is socially acceptable to others: smiling, happy, okay, doing fine.

Under this mask all the normal rape trauma processes are continuing on. These include OCD, DID, Eating Disorders, Self Injury and PTSD. They are painful and they are not fun to look at. Survivors cover this with a facade that other people might find more acceptable.


Survivor poetry on the 'mask'


A Mask

The me you see may not be me.
The face you see may not be mine.
The me you see is what you want to see.
A mask, a covering of time.

The me you see is crying inside.
The face you see covers hurt again and again.
The me you see has so much to hide.
A mask, a covering of pain.

The me you see wants to be so real.
The face you see wants to crumple and cry.
The me you see has to much pain just to feel.
A mask, a covering of why.

Please look beyond the me that you see.
Please look behind the face thats on show.
Please look and find the hurt, the real me.
And remove the mask, just let me go.

by Therise



The Mask

The happy smile and joy filled eyes
Draw a veil over my emotions,
So while I remain in turmoil,
The outside world will never know,
Remain ignorant to the
Scars littered on my heart

I wear the mask, not for others,
Rather to protect myself from them
And their questions that probe my soul,
Innocent questions cut so deep
It's easier for me to hide
Ignore the pain and hurt

After so long, the mask wears thin,
The truth begins to show through the cracks,
Working desperately to restore
It back to its former glory,
Energy once reserved for life
Now used fighting to exist

by m/s


Educational sites

Sexual Abuse Symptoms

"Feeling as if you are wearing a mask or that people don't know the real you"


Poems from nonprofit sites

AFTER mask poem (scroll down)

We Wear the Mask poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)


Personal sites

My Mask




"Masks have many functions. You can hide behind them, disguise or decorate yourself with them, and use them to achieve a desired effect. Many incest survivors, disliking what they percieve to be their "real" selves, will carefully cultivate another image -- one that they feel is more acceptable, attractive, or self-protective.

The purpose of these assumed identities is to hide what the survivor thinks are his character flaws, and to "fool" other people into liking him. The problem with masks is that they conceal the positive as well as the negative. Masks are rigid and unchanging. They always look the same, and the wearer appears to have the same response to all situations.

A mask can also offer clues as to what lies behind it. For those who are willing to look carefully, masks can reveal as well as conceal. Your choice of a persona tells a great deal about your self-image and the way you percieve the world.

Male survivors have brought a variety of images into the incest recovery groups. (One group member even suggested the actual wearing of masks during the group. It would be interesting to see what the choices would be.) Some of the more familiar masks include:

Blustering - Filling the room with words, "ragtime" speech that leaves no room for anyone to pierce his fragile defenses.

Ominous - Silent and glowering, presenting a dark image of barely repressed violence and great physical strength.

Invisible - So silent and self-effacing that he seems to disappear before your eyes.

Intimidating - Intelligent, glib, sharp-witted, and so psychologically savvy that no one dares challenge his verbal barrages.

Angry - Radiating rage, criticism, and intolerance -- attacking to keep from being attacked.

Outrageous - Shocking in word, appearance, or behavior - using the bizarre to create protecting barriers.

Placating/Pleasing - Being so nice, caring and helpful that all the attention is directed towards others.

Comedy - Relying on superficiality, banter, and irrelevancies to distract attention from his underlying pain.

Tragedy - The Lost Cause. Presenting an image of such severe disability that no one is likely to attempt such a Herculean task as trying to help him.

Polyanna - The rosy pretense that everything is just fine - a mask usually constructed of the most insubstantial material.

Teddy Bear - The warm, comforting, nonthreatening, amorphous (and usually asexual) creature that is the opposite of Ominous.

Academic - Retreating into his head to keep from riskier contact with the emotions - often taking the form of writer, lecturer, or analyst. Tries to be observer, explainer, or cotherapist in the recovery group.

All of these masks are probably familiar to you. You may be wearing one of them right now.

What they (and many other images) have in common is that they get in the way of face-to-face connections. They keep us from getting to know our natural allies. But fortunately, they tend of be insubstantial.

Built of flimsy materials, our disguises dissolve when exposed to powerful concentrations of caring and encouragement. As we spend more time with them, they become increasingly transparent, until not even the wearer can fool himself into believing that they still work.

We present our masks to the world hoping they will be pierced. There is tremendous relief in letting them down and revealing the true beauty behind them."

Lew, Mike (1990) Victims No Longer: Men Recovering from Incest and Other Sexual Child Abuse. Harper Collins Publishers, Inc. New York.

"The thing about having something hidden in your past is that you spend every minute of the future building a wall that makes the monsters harder to see. You convince yourself that the wall is sturdy and thick, and one day, when you wakeup and the horrible thing does not immediately jump into your mind, you give yourself the freedom to pretend that it is well and truly gone. Which only makes it that much more painful when something like it happens again, and you learn the concrete wall is really as transparent as glass and twice as fragile."- Jodi Piccoult Keeping faith

Survivor quotes:

"My life is just a facade. I want to take off my mask for a while and hide in reality not behind it." Lisa O.


"I go through the motions like a robot, programed by someone else.

I have many many masks, which one will I wear today?

I rarely get to wear the angry... What's the point if I can't wear the mask of my choice? I am at the point where I cover a mask with another mask.

I don't know what's under these masks? If I take them off what will be under it?"

"I am sad. I don't want to have to face reality anymore, it's just to much work. This mask I sport is wearing out and I am in search of a new one. I can't promise the new one will look as nice as this one." D.


Journal Articles

Smith, Marilyn E.; Kelly, Lillian M. (2001). Issues in Mental Health Nursing. The journey of recovery after a rape experience. 22(4), Jun pp. 337-352. link

"The purpose of the study was to discover the meaning of recovery from the perception of the victim, how recovery is experienced, and what contributed to the growth and recovery of the woman who has been raped...The thematic structure of a woman's recovery from rape comprises 3 main themes: reaching out, reframing the rape, and redefining the self."


Wood, Gale Goldberg; Roche, Susan E. (2001). Representing selves, reconstructing lives: Feminist group work with women survivors of male violence. Social Work with Groups, 23(4), 2001. pp. 5-23.

"Emphasis is on the role of resistance and protest in developing one's own self representation and proclaiming it in definitional ceremonies."


Ryan, Julianne Jacob; In: Teaching and Counseling Gifted Girls. Johnsen, Susan K.; Kendrick, James (2005). Behind the Mask: Exploring the Need for Specialized Counseling for Gifted Females. Waco, TX, US: Prufrock Press, pp. 79-88. link

"As gifted children grow into adolescence and adulthood, they often experience the need to create a make-believe self to inhabit in the everyday world in order to hide their individuality and uniqueness...Of greatest importance, they should be assisted in peeling away the mask and discovering who they are so that they may eventually learn to accept and like that true self."


Glass, James M. (1993). Shattered selves: Multiple personality in a postmodern world. ; Ithaca, NY, US: Cornell University Press, . xx, 177 pp.

"he juxtaposes the actual suffering of women whose fragmentation of self originated in unendurable experiences of rape, incest, and physical abuse,"


Höder, Jürgen; Zeitschrift für Klinische Psychologie (1980). Artificial facade-bound behavior, psychological complaints, and the effects of chronic illness. Forschung und Praxis, 9(4) pp. 281-288. link

"Results reveal a strong relationship between being unreal/presenting a facade and negative feelings as a consequence of falling ill."


Katz, Dian (2001). Take Off That Mask. Lesbian News, 27 (4), p59, 1p

"Focuses on necessity of expression of one's feelings. Removal of emotional cover-up; Prevention of mask of expression of feelings to relationship; Frustration of partners as result; Importance of speaking mind honestly and respectfully; Emphasis on the effectivity of healthy communication to relationship."


Mestel, Rosie (1996). Behind the mask. New Scientist, 4/27/96, 150 (2027), Emotions p10, 4p,

"Focuses on human emotional deception. Psychologist Paul Ekman's effort to identify emotional signs; Brain regions controlling voluntary and involuntary facial expression; French anatomist, Duchenne de Boulogne's observation on the difference between a `real' and `fake' happy smile."


Hertlein, Katherine M.; Viers, Dawn (2005). Put on a Happy Face. Viers, Dawn; In: The couple and family therapist's notebook: Homework, handouts, and activities for use in marital and family therapy; Binghamton, NY, US: Haworth Clinical Practice Press, 2005. pp. 115-119.

"(from the chapter) The goal of this activity is for families to recognize and express emotions that they keep buried from one another and, often, even from themselves. Helping family members to create a symbolic mask allows for the expression of covert and overt feelings and actions. This can help family members more readily identify and communicate about a broad range of feelings and emotions."


Best search terms for databases / articles: facade and coping, Self Concept and rape, Self Concept and DE "SELF-perception" and sexual,

related search terms: *Counseling; *Gifted; *Human Development; *Special Needs; Ability; Conformity (Personality); Self Concept, *Disorders; *Neurosis; *Personality Traits; *Social Behavior , SOCIAL adjustment, *Rape; *Self Concept; *Self Help Techniques; *Survivors; Existentialism; Phenomenology; Victimization, *Dissociative Identity Disorder;


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