Let’s talk about the things we hide behind.
There are so many ways to avoid being seen, noticed or interacted with in this world. And each tactic is more fascinating and seductive than the next.
That’s human nature for you. We’re all expert at using things to protect ourselves from criticism, punishment and vulnerability. We have been conditioned to quell many of our top fears, like the fear of annihilation, the fear of losing autonomy, the fear of separation and the fear of ego death.
I remember the first time I learned about this phenomenon. I was in my twenties and spending most of my time traveling around the world, giving speeches about wearing my nametag. One of my mentors gave me feedback on a recent presentation, and he asked me the following.
Do you always wear sandals when you’re on stage?
My answer was yes.
He replied, cool. I don’t actually have a preference either way. Just make sure you’re wearing them because you want to, not because you’re hiding behind them.
Boom, talk about a gut punch. I wasn’t sure how to process his remark in the moment, but something about the observation chilled me to the bone.
What does that even mean? How does someone go about not hiding behind something?
There’s no simple, seven step process for doing so. It’s mostly a matter of intention and attention. And so, rather than offering instructions, let’s see if we can work backwards.
Below are four common things people hide behind, myself included. After reviewing them, we will tease out the common traits and reverse engineer a framework that you can use going forward.
Item number one to hide behind is our story.
Big word there. Story suggests complex, nuanced psychological ideas like personality, identity, ontology, the self, and so on. It’s more than a simple account of past events in our life, but also the narrative about the evolution of our growth.
Now, knowing our history is central to knowing who we are. But the past can’t be our exclusive way of understanding ourselves. This can easily slip into a pervasive defense that’s based on what we used to be, not who we are in the moment.
We can over identify with our past to such an extent it negative affects our present. And to hide behind our story is to take distant and neutral position, without having to acknowledge all the ways in which we’ve changed.
Are there stories you’re hiding behind because you don’t know who you would be without them?
It’s a bitter identity pill to swallow. And yet, there’s a difference between something that identifies us, and something that defies us. Each of us can trust that we’re bigger than our past and learn to live larger than our labels.
We can decide that whoever we were before is important to the degree that it brought us here. But we are the ones who choose the path forward. We are a human being who notices the moment, not a victim of our case history.
Next on the list of things we hide behind is other people.
Specifically, other people’s needs, wants and expectations. I’m reminded of a wonderful passage from the old testament:
We can come boldly to the throne of grace and find mercy in our time of need.
Preachers use this verse in sermons as an invitation to approach god with confidence, but we don’t necessarily have to involve the big man upstairs to gain value from scripture.
I see this verse as a reminder of the importance of being accountable to our own needs. Rather than codependently hiding behind other people’s circumstances as a convenient excuse to avoid confronting own problems, we accept the fact that we have needs too.
This is a tough one for people pleasers. Because it’s deeply gratifying to optimize our lives around being in service to others. Deny our needs in favor of others makes us feel useful, noble, even holy.
I don’t know if god really exists, but if he does, he probably loves codependents.
Point being, if we spend our days hiding behind what we think other people want, need and expect, it’s almost certain we’re not getting our own needs met. It’s unwise, unhealthy and unsustainable.
And people do this all the time, myself included. We hide behind our beloved veil of false modesty. Our charades of philanthropy. We perform perpetual acts of service for those we love, and even for those we don’t, and then one day it hits us like a ton of carbon emissions.
Have you ever heard of healthcare terminology like compassion fatigue and secondary trauma?
These are clinical conditions. I was reading a book on healthcare stewardship, and how nurses won’t slow down enough to be curious about what is happening within themselves. In their line of work, the research suggests, they can’t ignore the transformation that takes place within them as a result of exposure to the suffering of other living beings.
And if they don’t take time to rest, reflect, release and recharge, they will burn out faster than a strand of cheap holiday lights.
Eventually, we all need to step out from behind other people needs and pay ourselves first.
For our next thing we hide behind, let’s get physical. Let’s talk about objects.
This example is particularly resonant with me, since I have been wearing my nametag all day, every day, for over twenty years. And along my journey, there have been many occasions where people accused me of hiding behind it.
Which is a counterintuitive concept, because wearing a nametag is, in many ways, the polar opposite of hiding. It actually forces me to be seen, noticed and interacted with. The sticker makes me an order of magnitude more vulnerable than the average anonymous person.
I’m putting myself out there with my real name that anybody can call out at any time. And believe me, people do just that. Especially some of society’s more undesirable individuals.
When was the last time you had a belligerent homeless man yelling your first name while chasing you down the street? So much for hiding.
But that example relates to the physical realm. What about the more psychological aspects of hiding? Is it possible that wearing a nametag for so many years has become my own little security blanket? My own little comfort object to hide behind that justifies my behavior?
Absolutely. I remember attending a support group one night, which is the kind of venue where attendees often wear nametags. But at this particular group, they had a rule. No nametags. Anonymity was crucial for creating their container of safety, and also for preventing any sense of terminal uniqueness.
Before entering the room, the leaders kindly asked me to remove my sticker as a show of respect for the group’s confidentiality. And admittedly, this really bothered me. My ego chimed in and said, hey, what the hell bro? Do you know who I am? I always wear the sticker. How dare you tell me not to tell everyone my name.
I remember feel the fear welling upside my throat. Annihilation. Identity death. Loss of autonomy. No sticker means I don’t exist. Run now. Run as fast as you can and never come back to this stupid meeting with these nameless idiots.
But saner heads prevailed. I decided to get over myself for an hour and stop hiding behind my precious curtain of specialness. These people didn’t care what my name was. They cared less about the nametag and more about the heart behind.
That next hour of my life was beautiful. I had a wonderful time and learned a lot. Obviously, I never went back to that lame ass support group again, because screw those controlling jerks and their bullshit rules. But you get the point.
Ironman said it best in his final movie appearance.
If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.
What objects do you hide behind? Are you making a conscious effort not to use props and offer a pure and vulnerable expression of your true self?
It’s counterintuitive, since we live in a world where almost anybody can hide behind their anonymity and commit horrible acts to others. But sometimes it’s good to be stripped naked of everything and confront what remains.
Item number four on our list of things to hide behind is my favorite, which is logic.
The last refuge of the cowardly and unimaginative.
For starters, let me just say that I am a huge fan of logic. Despite being the classic right brained creative whose livelihood centers around his ability to throw off the shackles of logic and exploit the resources of imagination, I see the allure.
Logic is just so clean, useful and beautiful. And as I collaborate with more engineers, developers, designers and technical people in my career, I have learned ways to improve my own logical capabilities. In fact, during the pandemic, our country could have used a little more logic and a lot less emotion.
Because fear was the predominant energy, thanks to the powers that be, and we citizens spent three years in a perpetual state of trauma where our rational decision making capacities were utterly disturbed. The results of that were catastrophic.
Lesson learned, there’s a balance. We must identify moments when we’re using logic to move the story forward, and when we’re using it to hide. Sometimes our over reliance on logic in certain contexts indicates a reluctance to confront deeper emotional aspects of our situation.
It might be stemming from a lack of courage or an avoidance of vulnerability. What’s more, leaning too heavily on logic can stifle creativity and limit possibilities. Sometimes we need to mentally play uninhibitedly outside of the constraining rules of logical forces like social norms and common language and popular society.
It’s like these people who watch science fiction films and have the nerve to criticize them for being unfeasible. I read these reviews all the time. Some home schooled idiot who hasn’t had sex in a decade thinks he’s a professor of film studies. His review goes like this.
This movie is a complete departure from even the most basic understanding of time travel principles. The plot presented in this film is so unfeasible that it becomes an insult to the intelligence of its audience. The parallel universe sequence in act two is filmed in such a convoluted and arbitrary manner that it becomes impossible to suspend disbelief. And don’t get me started on the characters themselves. They are beautiful but thinly developed vessels used to clumsily deliver clunky dialogue about poorly conceived scientific theories. Save yourself the disappointment and seek out a film that respects its audience’s intelligence.
Now, when I read a review like this, all I can think to myself is, wow, this person is hiding behind logic. Congratulations for not feeling anything. Good for them and their logical arguments.
But sometimes a movie needs to be something you surrender yourself to. Sometimes you need to leave logic at the door, let go of your addictions to rules and rightness and taste and restraint, and just let the operatic ecstasy of this art completely own you for two hours.
I cherish movies that do that. I love nothing more than a film with exquisite acting, beautiful shots, inspiring music, and a poetic script, but I still have no idea what the hell is going on.
It’s good practice not hiding behind logic. It’s an exercise in letting go.
Look, in life we will be faced with many difficult and uncomfortable situations that require empathy, vulnerability, or deeper understanding. Relying solely on logic won’t save us. It might distance us from the messy emotional or personal aspects of the issue. But running away from our fears and insecurities is a form of cowardice.
We’re braver than that.
In summary, there are four things we hide behind. Story, people, objects and logic.
What do all four of these things have in common? All of them serve as shields, protecting us from criticism, punishment, and vulnerability.
And while the hiding mechanisms provide temporary relief, in the long term, they hinder personal growth and genuine connection.
If we want to discover our true selves, we should consider the things we’re hiding behind.
You’ve heard of playing hide and go seek?
Well, this game is called seek and no hide.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
What’s your favorite way to avoid being seen, noticed or interacted with in this world?