Drop the Mask

Have you ever had someone tell you to “be aware of your face”? Have you ever worried that showing your feelings would make someone else feel bad? Have you ever smiled in agreement while silently screaming inside? Have you ever listened to the song, “Put on a Happy Face” and wanted to pull your hair out?

Facial expression is one way we communicate our feelings to others. When someone says or does something that brings joy and you respond with a smile, they know you agree with their message or feel happiness. When someone says or does something that brings up feelings of anger and you respond with a scowl, they see that you don’t agree or dislike what is happening. Perhaps they will stop the behavior or at least observe your disagreement.

Some of us were taught to hide our feelings behind a mask which contradicts them. When I was a kid, I was told to smile and show a happy face even when it didn’t match how I was feeling on the inside. I did that to make other people feel more comfortable. I often pretended to agree with others so they would like me. Before recovery, I didn’t know that it was OK to feel feelings other than “happy” or “fine” and certainly not to show them if I did. Angry feelings weren’t allowed.

Now I’ve been in recovery for several years. I am learning that I can have a wide variety of feelings and that they are ALL okay. I have a right to feel my feelings. All my feelings are valid even the ones that make other people uncomfortable. Now, if someone does something I don’t like such as violating my boundaries and I feel mad about it, I know I don’t have to smile. I don’t even have to hold a “neutral” expression. I can restate my boundary and my face may show my displeasure. When they see my angry expression, they might become uncomfortable. It’s OK. I don’t have to attack the other person. I also don’t have to hide my feelings.

I’m not saying rolling your eyes at your boss is a good idea. I understand the importance of respectful communication. What I am saying is that it is not my responsibility to take care of the feelings of others. I can feel my feelings and let others take care of their feelings. If someone doesn’t like the expression on my face, they can tell me that. I get to choose how I respond to that information. I do not need to change or hide my expression behind a mask to make others comfortable.


When someone pushes past my boundaries, I can feel mad. When I feel mad, I may show it on my face. It’s OK.

the 10th Step…

Step 10 “offers us not only consistency, but also continued progress in our continued relationships. Continuing to take our personal inventory keeps us ready to change our codependent behaviors. Some of our habits are ingrained. Our goal, however, is to make consistent progress. We look for familiar codependent behaviors and areas where our boundaries with others need strengthening.”
~CoDA Aqua Book page 68

So my daughter is now a teenager and the timing is a bit challenging as I am in menopause. It’s a perfect storm of hormones in our home at times. I’ve been carrying a lot of her feelings for her and projecting my old unhealed teenager yuck onto her as well. When I reflect on my day, often I am seeing how I overreacted out of fear, raged, tried to control, took on her responsibilities and later resented her for it, tried to shield her from consequences, gave unsolicited advice or direction, and of course, shamed and judged myself harshly for my mistakes. I get super frustrated with myself. I want to do it differently with her. Each morning I get in the car with the intention for things to be peaceful and supportive as we drive to school. By the time we get there, one or both of us are in tears.

I have recently learned that habits take much longer to break than one might think and forming new habits can be a long process as well. The info out there that it takes 21 days is actually false. Research has shown it can take between 18 and 256 days to make a habit depending on how complex the behavior and how habitual the person. Yikes. My codependent behaviors are pretty complex! This new perspective does give me more patience with myself as I try to change old behaviors into new healthy ones.
Little by little, one day at a time.

The CoDA book lists 10th step questions like:
Have we been feeling sorry for ourselves or isolated from others? …check.
Did we rage, overreact or passively abuse someone? …check.
Did we take on others’ feelings or responsibilities? …check.
Have we been controlled or manipulated by people, not said anything, and then resented them? …check, check and triple check.

These and other questions can help us take an honest look at our behaviors and feelings toward God, ourselves and others. Over time, we notice patterns and uncover the roots of our codependency. We can choose to respond differently. My habits are becoming clearer and I am working to change them. It’s progress not perfection. I can see that my lack of healthy boundaries with others is a big part of the problems in my relationships. I allow my daughter to cross my boundaries when she speaks to me harshly or I fail to enact consequences. I trample on her boundaries when I over caretake or demand that she do things my way without hearing her out. Parenting is difficult. Parenting as a codependent is crazy hard. I’m so grateful I have a relationship with a loving Higher Power so that I don’t have to go this alone.

I love the Step 10 prayer. It gives me hope. In this moment, I live my life in a new way… check.