The Mask of Identity

Who in the world am I?’ Ah, that’s the great puzzle!

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It seems to me that I’ve been asking myself this question all my life. Somewhere inside I’ve always known that my authentic self is not who I’ve appeared as in my everyday existence. But this person I appeared as had slowly obscured the expression of my authentic self, until I couldn’t recognise myself in anything I thought, did or said. That was the point that I knew I had to die or change – and in some ways both.

It was the person I’d been appearing as that had to die. But it didn’t feel like it at the time. My entire mode of existence had to shift and it was pretty scary.

What you’ve been is not necessarily who you are.

With every waking breath, we learn that we have to do something, or be a particular way, in order to be accepted by those around us. And what we learn we have to be is often at odds with our inner truth. However, in the interests of self-preservation, we begin to pretend we’re what we’re not.

In trying to make sense of our life situation, we adapt ourselves to accommodate whatever demands we believe the circumstances of our existence make on us. And this is a fundamental point, because it’s not the demands themselves but the belief in them that we respond to. And it’s also important to see that what we believe is only an interpretation,

Before we have any intellectual facility that can question the meanings and beliefs we make for ourselves we become normalised to them.

There is a deep cultural imprinting process at work here that operates through the instruments of approval, acceptance, judgement, rejection, shame and guilt, amongst others.

What keeps this process going is the fact that everyone is inducted into it through their own attempts to make sense of themselves and the world they find themselves in. It’s a universal programming function that sustains and is sustained by cultural convention – pretty much whatever culture you care to consider. Compliance brings the rewards of acceptance and approval; non-compliance is discouraged – often painfully.

Where this leaves us is that if we want to be recognised we’re forced to conform to the prevailing conventions. If we don’t we’re ignored. A brief glance at human history tells us that we’ll be labelled unreasonable, weird, unbalanced or insane, and we can be silenced physically, should we challenge the conventions too strongly. All of which serves to keep us quiet. None of this is ever explained, it’s just how we read our experiences.

We invent a story that casts us in a role relevant to our life situation.

The story we invent for ourselves is the story of the individual, the story of self-identification: I must be this; I must be that that; I must be good; I must be bad; I must be weak; I must be strong… This list is endless, but whatever seems to fit the circumstances we find ourselves in becomes our normality. And it drives the authentic self into hiding, because if anyone knew what we truly think, or what we’re truly like, they’d have nothing to do with us.

None of this is wrong. It’s just how things are and it does no good trying to change it. We each have to see through the fabrication of our normalised identity for ourselves – and choose to change ourselves, if we dare. This is a path of personal transformation. It’s radical, but then, if it were otherwise it would not be so empowering.

Finding the courage to stop wearing the masks that our families and society are used to is not easy. We have to own up to the fact that everything we may have thought is mistaken. We have to face the fear of annihilation – this is the fear of the mind, or the ego if you like. The fear of annihilation arises as the identity we think we are begins to evaporate – as the personality we’ve been appearing as dies.

As I truly understand that the person I’ve defined myself as is merely a fabrication based on my (mis)interpretations of the world and my relationship to these, it seems as if my entire existence is under threat. The more deeply I’ve become attached to the roles I play in life (the false identities created from my need for acceptance and approval) the more intensely I feel the fear.

The trick to getting through this is to tune into the precious self that has always existed. This is the essence I am, the living innocence that I protect and hide behind the outward identity I portray. It’s the part of me that knows when I’m living a lie.

When I close my eyes and watch my breath disappear into my body this essence can be felt, still and strong. The reconnection can be quite emotional, and that’s the indicator of its validity. There’s no way that essence can be defined or squeezed into an everyday identity yet it’s who we are… and it’s OK to know it.

To be at peace with the mystery of this presence within is a significant step on the journey of self-empowerment. As we come to a place of acceptance with this the mask of identity falls away, and what’s left is the brilliance of our truth.

Altazar Rossiter is available for consultation, talks, interviews and workshop invitations relating to how we understand ourselves and spiritually intelligent perspectives.

His Wisdom of the Heart workshops provide a resource for connecting with our Spiritual Intelligence and opening the way to a clearer understanding of ourselves. They take us into realms not normally accessed in our everyday existence, but which resonate at a Soul level. They support us to give up the deadness of the comfort zone for the excitement of living.

Please visit for more information about him and his work.


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