Behind The Mask

Behind The Mask

by Dennis Rozema


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781450283571
Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
Publication date: 01/26/2011
Pages: 112
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.23(d)

First Chapter


Adolescents in Hiding
By Dennis Rozema

iUniverse, Inc.

Copyright © 2011 Dennis Rozema
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4502-8357-1

Chapter One

HURT Where It All Started

"It hurts so much when all you want is someone to care that you're crying hysterically, helplessly, that your life is a mess, and they don't. All I want is someone to care."

The mask didn't just show up one day. It grew over time. It may have developed over a short time, or it may have taken years, but it started growing in the past. And it usually started because of some kind of hurt that was experienced. There are a lot of ways to be hurt, but if the adolescent doesn't deal with that hurt, the result is the same. She ends up with pain so deep that it makes her want to hide. Hiding seems necessary at the time, and the best way to hide and still appear to be okay is to hide her hurt behind a mask.

When someone is hurt, is in pain, or has experienced trauma, she eventually feels anger. The anger is there because she has not expressed the pain. When you just think about it on a small scale, it becomes obvious how this works. If someone has his new bike stolen when he is five, he cries. He may even get angry. But if he never cries and holds it all in, his anger would eventually grow. As more hurt happens, which it does for all of us, he learns to just keep hiding it. As he grows older and deals with larger hurts, he has to either let it go or form the mask that hides it. The larger the hurt, the more important it seems to hide it.

Many people experience trauma in their lives. If someone has learned to hide his feelings, it is because the trauma he experienced becomes something important to hide. I have known kids who have completely fallen apart because their girlfriend or boyfriend of two weeks broke up with them. At other times, I have known kids who have suffered through unimaginable difficulties and had the skills to deal with it well. It is not the people on the outside of an event that determine it was traumatic; it is the person who experiences it that makes that determination.

Trauma and other hurt come in a lot of forms, and it builds on itself. Experiencing a painful event causes pain. Thinking in negative ways about the event and its pain leads to feeling anger. The troubled adolescent can hide the anger and hurt or act it out. Acting out the anger inappropriately causes more negative events, which cause more pain, and on and on it goes. Hiding the hurt leads to the cheerful or neutral mask. Acting the anger out creates the angry, defiant mask. How the adolescent thinks about and perceives events is the key to understanding and learning to let go of the mask. I will talk a lot about thinking later in the book. Some examples of trauma, hurt, and pain and the thinking that goes with them are quoted below.

"I've kissed two cousins and have slept with my brother. I was between 8 and 10 years old. Gosh, I've been waiting to say that out loud for so so so long. One time, we made a tent under the ping-pong table, and another time, we did it in one of our box forts. Wow. The more I write, the angrier I get. Who teaches this shit?" "Everything good is so temporary, and all the shit, the bad stuff, is permanent. It hurts so much when all you want is someone to care that you're crying hysterically, helplessly, that your life is a mess, and they don't. All I want is someone to care." "I can't stop thinking about her. I have to accept that she is no longer here, but I can't. I can't let her go. The more I think, the harder it gets, but I can't stop. What's wrong with me? Everyone else seems okay, and here I am all fucked up. The only relief is when I'm high." "He asked the right questions today. I can't tell him. I hate to lie. He has been so good to me, but if he knew what happened, what would he think of me then?"

Hurt needs to be expressed. When it is expressed through inappropriate anger, it leads to more hurt. Expressing anger in constructive ways allows the anger to dissipate, but it may not allow someone to understand and express the hurt. Being willing and able to actually talk about and experience the hurt gives that person the ability to actually let the hurt go. I understand it is not an easy task, but with the proper help from family and friends, it does happen. When family and friends are not enough, it is time to seek more professional help. Without that help, hurt and anger spiral downward until the person is depressed.

ANGER Lies between Hurt and Depression "The angry me is very much awake. I'm starting to listen to what it is saying to me too. I think the angry part of me is right: I should self-destruct."

Anger and Violence

Hurt may be what lies behind the anger, but it is often anger that people see. Anger can be kept behind the mask, or it can be the mask that hides the hurt. When the anger gets expressed, it usually causes more hurt due to the consequences of angry behavior. This cycle of hurt causing anger and anger causing hurt builds until the person loses the ability to think calmly enough to make any kind of positive change.

"There must be a very angry person on the inside of me that wants to release its fury but doesn't want to hurt someone else so it attacks itself, which is me. The problem is that I don't know how to calm this angry person down. I don't know how to get in touch with that person. And I have to find out soon before it manages to self-destruct."

This is one of the quotes that helped me realize how much the person behind the mask could help others understand what it is like to live that life. Obviously, this is a very angry person, but at the same time, I know she was a very intelligent and compassionate young lady. How frustrating it must have been for her to feel such rage and not know how to deal with it, to want relief but not to want to harm herself or anyone else. So many times, I have seen how frightened kids are when they don't know what they might be capable of doing. They can actually see themselves in the horrible stories they see on the news. I have been told more than once how scary it is that they can understand how school shootings could happen.

Some of those kids are just angry, violent individuals who are not wearing a mask at all. They are wired differently. The angry, violent person people see on the outside is no different from the sociopath who lives on the inside. The adolescents I am talking about in this book—the ones wearing a mask—look like sociopaths, but they are wired the same way any of us are. When they perceive having been attacked or hurt, they strike back. As adolescents without fully developed brains and usually little parenting to help them, they don't know how to constructively act their feelings out.

"I don't care. I hate them all. They don't care about me. Why should I give a shit about them? I wish they were all dead. I could kill them all!!! If you put a gun in my hand, I swear I would do it."

It can be hard to know the difference between, whether an angry adolescent is depressed, or is acting out more as a sociopath. How often have we found out after a violent incident that the person who committed the violence was known to be depressed and either was in or had been in therapy? It is easy to look at that from the outside and think that someone didn't know what she was doing. "Why was that kid allowed to be free if they knew what he was capable of?" It is not my place to get into a debate about the right and wrong of any of those situations. However, I will say that I know it is a very fine line. It's very difficult to know when someone will actually act out. As with the suicidal adolescent, it is important to listen carefully. When a loved one has reason to be concerned, he should ask for help. Even professionals ask other professionals for their opinions in these kinds of situations. The loved one shouldn't take on himself all the responsibility for these potentially dangerous kids. Whether they threaten suicide or violence, no one wants to end up feeling responsible for what could potentially happen.

I often encourage clients to write: about their anger or other feelings, about what was happening when they felt those feelings, and about how they acted out their feelings. You're reading some of that writing as you go through this book. When someone starts getting specific in their writings by naming people they want to hurt or by describing in detail what they want to do, they are crossing a line that needs to be addressed—just like when the suicidal person has a plan and knows when, where, and how he will kill himself. Loved ones need to react. Kids need to make sure someone—an adult they trust—knows what is going on. Adults need to make sure a professional knows what is going on. Then a proper evaluation can be made to determine how serious the situation is and what the appropriate response should be. Taking advantage of your school's counseling department can be a good place to start letting someone know what is going on and what your concerns are.

Some kids can write some pretty scary things.

"So don't be surprised when I hit your kids with my fist. What's a conscience? I don't even know what the fuck that is. I'll kill you and chop you up into little bits."

When what the troubled adolescent has written scares himself, as it usually does when he reads it over, he should ask for help.

"Am I normal? I can't believe the fucked up shit I write. Obviously, I need help."

Statistically, this kind of violence rarely happens. But it does happen. This points out again why it is so important to listen and understand what is behind the troubled adolescent's mask. When the adolescent is understood, people can help themselves or others let go of the mask and learn to trust and love again.

Taking Anger Out on Themselves

Anger comes from being hurt. The anger that leads to shootings is often related to hurt from being bullied. The victim of the bullying has a person, or people, or place to direct their anger toward. The anger other depressed kids feel is no different, except it usually comes from the past. They know it is not fair to take it out on others. Sometimes they believe their only alternative is to take it out on themselves.

"As for me, I'm depressed, I'm drunk all the time, and most of all, I'm going nowhere but down quick. I have no one to blame but myself."

In the last several years, cutting has become a more and more common way to express these angry emotions. Some think this behavior is a suicide attempt. Most often, that is not the case at all. Cutting is usually an expression of emotion. The adolescent believes that those emotions cannot be let out in any other way. Although not the only emotion, anger is a common source of this urge to cut.

"I just ripped open my arm again. I did not use a knife to cut it; I just ripped off the scab. It's bloody. I hate to be this, but I am so pissed off, and there is a definite part of me that would love to take a knife and rip the hell out of my arm."

It may be hard to understand, but often, cutting is seen by the cutter as a positive thing. It releases emotion, and the pain actually feels good.

"I feel very much like cutting my arm again. I really am sick, that doesn't seem like a 'normal' person. Why would I enjoy hurting myself? I hate it, but I like how it makes me feel. I really am fucked up."

When cutting does not make things better, which it never will, something different has to happen. That angry person has to find a way out. One way to stop feeling anger is to stop feeling at all: make that final decision and end a life that seems to be only painful.

"The angry person is very awake inside of me. It makes me feel like tossing it all away. I mean, like, make a real and true attempt—and I would succeed if I tried. I can't get it out by speaking. It only seems to come out when I take a knife to myself. Maybe that would be better. I don't know. I feel so fucked up, I can barely stand it." "The angry part of me keeps trying to persuade me to do it. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't."

A better solution for dealing with all this anger is to better understand the hurt that causes it and then let it out in a safer and more constructive way.

Cutting and other forms of self-destructive behavior seem to help in the short-term, but in the long-term, these behaviors only make everything worse. Other behaviors such as punching pillows, pounding on beds, or punching bags offer less destructive ways of being angry. Even just talking and crying will help release the hurt beneath the anger and make the child feel better without the added pain and guilt.

"I talked about _____ today. Don't know why. But it just got around to that, because every time I get depressed, everything comes back to _____, and that's what I've been thinking about. I guess, deep down, that's a big part of my problem." "I find myself feeling more up than I have been for a while. I think because I acknowledge my anger. I think the more I let out, the happier I will feel if I let it out constructively."

Anger Wears People Down and Leads to Numbness

Often people who are so angry and depressed feel worn down. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to be so angry and keep holding it in. Most depressed people will describe themselves as tired all the time. Instead of facing life, they would rather just sleep. They may try to wear their masks of normalcy or happiness, but they can't hide their exhaustion.

"I couldn't go to school again today. I just can't get up. I told my mom that I felt sick, but I think she is catching on. I can't go on like this. Someone is going to figure me out, and I can't let that happen."

Sometimes that worn down feeling becomes so overwhelming that all that is left is numbness.

"I'm going numb, or at least I'd like to think so, because nobody's body can feel this pain like I do."

I hope you can see the relationship between the pain, the anger, and the numbness. The pain and the anger build on each other and lead to numbness. The more pain he feels, the angrier he feels. When he inappropriately expresses his anger, he causes himself more pain. That self-inflected pain comes from the internal and external consequences of his actions. That just leads to more anger. Eventually, some people have to feel numb to stop that cycle from continuing. Numbness is just another form of the mask that is trying to protect him from himself. Numbness can be brought on by the adolescent's own mind, or it can be brought on through external means, like using alcohol and drugs to feel numb. Alcohol and drug use will be talked about in more detail later.

At the core of all that anger is actually the pain and hurt from the past. To effectively deal with the anger, he has to actually deal with the hurt that causes it. He certainly needs to learn how to constructively express anger. But to let the anger go, he has to understand its origins and let go of the hurt that caused it. For most people, that is a lot harder than it sounds. Being angry seems to work just fine—that is, until the consequences mount up. When someone finally wants to deal with that angry person, he finds himself having to deal with the hurt person behind it.

DEPRESSION Spiraling Down

"If I keep this up, I am going to end up living on the street with nothing."

Think about the times you have been hurt. You most likely cried or got angry or both. If you were to hold it in, because you had learned at a younger age not to deal with those feelings, the feelings wouldn't go away. They would just stay inside and build up. As other hurtful things happened, emotions would build up more.

When someone holds in a lot of pain, anger, and fear, he almost has to become depressed. It's the holding in and building up of such negative feelings that create the need for a mask. That mask keeps others from knowing and keeps the person behind the mask from having to deal with the feelings. The energy to maintain that mask drains him and leads into depression. Feeling depressed is not pleasant. I guess that's kind of obvious, but ask anyone who is even moderately depressed, and she will tell you how much she hates it and how much it takes out of her life.

"I hate this. I go round and round and never really get better. I can't stand feeling like this. It is no wonder I want to die." "Just everything really sucks so much! And I don't even have any more tears." "Shit, I already feel dead, but I'm alive. I want to weep, but I can't cry."


Excerpted from Behind THE MASK by Dennis Rozema Copyright © 2011 by Dennis Rozema. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


Hurt Where It All Started....................3
Anger Lies between Hurt and Depression....................6
Depression Spiraling Down....................13
Alcohol and Drug Use It Feels Right for a While, But It Only Makes Everything Worse....................22
Fear Formed in the Past, Living in the Present....................31
The Loss of Love Perception Is More Important than Reality....................37
Choosing Life Instead of Choosing Death....................40
Confusion Starting Recovery....................49
Trust It's Their First Step....................54
Awareness Learning To Think a New Way....................57
Letting Go of the Mask With Love and Forgiveness, There Is a Light That Erases the Mask....................60
Recovery It Is a New Beginning, Not the End....................64
Discussion Guide For Behind The Mask....................79

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