When I'm talking about masks and seeing behind them (or removing them). What I mean is the moment you show or reveal who you really truly are, to another person. In my own experience, removing masks is the key to being close to someone, and THE critical element to forming a lifelong, unbreakable true friendship.
It's a very special thing. It's my favorite thing in this crazy world of ours.
I've thought (and talked) about this a whole lot. My working theory about friendship relies on two interrelated concepts. Both resting on “disclosing (or revealing) vulnerability”
1)Trust (especially “feeling trusted”)
2) Feeling understood
Obviously showing anyone the true person beneath the mask requires trust. Does that mean you need to have known each other for some time to build that trust? No, not necessarily. All that's required is that you (or they) make the decision to trust .“A Leap of Faith” is always required. The less evidence you have that the person is indeed trustworthy...the bigger the “leap of faith.” The bigger the secret the bigger the leap. But...
The bigger the leap, the stronger the initial bond.
My First Peak Under a Mask
I first saw behind a person's mask when I was 12 years old. Before that, I didn't realize we do indeed all have a public mask we wear.
The 7th grade was the first year it was fully, 100% 'OK' for the guys and girls to be friends. Until then friends to me were the guys who I played football with at recess. We had fun, but in terms of emotional intimacy...two guys of that age just aren't going to connect (and really, in 90% of cases in my life, it's been me connecting with a female friend. In my experience dudes...just don't let their guard down enough around EACH OTHER to get behind their masks).
I remember that one "talk"--the very first 'real talk' I had ever had. A good female friend of mine and I were walking somewhere after school in April. We were being 12.... flirting, talking, laughing... the usual stuff.
I don't remember how it came up exactly, but it was quite natural and unplanned. She told me, that she had suffered sexual abuse when she had been even younger; at the hands of a friend of the family who babysat when she was younger.
The initial thing I remember feeling first, was shock--I knew about child molesters of course, "Stranger Danger" (most of you are too young to remember that). But these things didn't happen to people I KNEW. It especially seemed unreal to me that this could happen to someone so happy, fun, gregarious, funny, popular, kind, such a wonderful person.
About a second later I experienced the strongest emotions that I, personally, had ever experienced up to that point, crash down on me. It was an un-processable mixture of: sympathy; anger; sadness; the desire to comfort; the desire to protect; the desire for revenge; helplessness; and of course, I'm still shocked.
As she and I stayed out and talked for a couple of hours an unbreakable bond was forming between us. I swear I could almost SEE this bond it as it was forming. It was a bond based on trust. Everything between us, was different now; and would always be different between us, from this point forward
I remember feeling indescribably honoured. Literally indescribably, beyond words. I knew we were good friends, but she was a very popular girl, I also a lot of other friends too. Of ALL of her friends (some of who she had known 5 times longer than me), she chose ME, and nobody but me, to entrust with the GIANT secret she had never told another soul.
She said it felt really good to finally talk to somebody about it. She told me about how all alone she had always felt with her pain. There was some crying and comforting, and hugging. I think it's safe to say she felt better for having finally let out that secret she had been holding in for years.
Disclosing or otherwise revealing one person's most vulnerable of vulnerabilities has been FOR SURE the root of many many very close friendships. It really has been how every I've ended up becoming close with anyone I can claim to have ever been close with.
In other words. ALL of my significant friendships since 12 years-old have, sooner or later involved: One or the other of us “taking a leap of faith” and telling the other one something you don't really tell anyone. Something that leaves your soft vulnerable underbelly exposed. You willingly are giving the other person the power to do as they please with your secret. That person COULD be a nightmare-come-true for you if they wanted to. They are free to tell other people your secret, or react in a way that makes you REALLY wish you hadn't trusted them. The person being trusted is well aware of the power they are willingly being given over the happiness of the person trusting them.
The Strongest Bonds are Delicate
This bond is strong. Half made up of feeling you've been entrusted with something sacred, the disclosure; the other half is made up of a feeling of “being understood” or at least “being listened to”.
Personally, I feel like these bonds are pretty much unbreakable. Actually, let me rephrase that. These bonds are extremely unlikely to break. They are in fact fragile. Betrayal is all that's required to break them. But once formed, I've never seen it break.
The reason for this is...that “bond” is like a continuous cycle. Each of you, continue to show the other person your other vulnerable points with no fear whatsoever they'll betray you. You've trusted them already with bigger things before. They prove themselves every day they don't betray the trust you've put in them.
Neither of you is now worried about: “what's the other person going to think if I tell them this or that” because you've already seen that this person has shown themselves to be understanding, caring and loyal. You 'feel understood'.
This revolving wheel of feeling trusted with a vulnerability on the one end, and understanding on the other, which, in my experience creates intimacy. Once you start seeing what the other person “is really like” when they feel they trust you enough to truly relax and be themselves.....congratulations, you've seen behind their mask, and have a real friendship.
Final(ish) Random Thoughts
It doesn't have to be something as serious as my friend's disclosure to me. The key is that the disclosure leaves you vulnerable. It still leads to the same bonds.
I will say, that the bond is proportional to the level of “being trusted” felt by the receiving person. It doesn't have to be the biggest secret in the world....but it works faster the “more serious” the disclosure.
It's also relative. Some people (a lot, in fact, most people) have been through something or other that's pretty horrific. But if it's YOUR worst secret, and the person being trusted can sense that...It doesn't really matter “how big” it is compared to other people.
The Best Part
So, whoever you are, reading this....here's the thing. You're thinking about your own big secrets you hide. I guarantee you you would be amazed at how near-universal pain and suffering are among the people YOU know, and those who have yet to cross your path.
The most common result of a disclosure of YOUR big secret vulnerabilities that you never tell people about?
A disclosure of THEIR big secrets. In fact, this is almost always the case.
People Can't be Trusted?
People, in my experience would take a bullet before they'd betraying someone who places THAT high a level of trust in them. Maybe it's because I'm making wise choices in who I connect with (I doubt it...I'm open to getting to know anyone...sometimes they end up being not great people, but I've never had to reveal a vulnerability to sense someone's an idiot).
I've NEVER had this go wrong for me, personally. Although I won't guarantee your own results.
I've been blessed with many many wonderful friends at every point in my life. I seem to find good people everywhere I go. Including GAG.
I'm basing this on the 30 or so people who--at one point or another, in one place or another-- I was lucky enough to call a real friend. I could call up each and every one of them today, and even if the bond between us has been inactive for years and years...it never breaks.
My Friend 17 Years Later
I was happy to be there to see her get married 4 years ago. We have both been doing our own thing; living our own lives, in separate cites; and each with our own friends we spend our day-to-day time with. But we never lost touch. She and her husband are so very much in love...it's a little disgusting. They also have a beautiful daughter.
Since I met her when we were 11-years old, she has always wanted to be a doctor. That never faltered. She moved away from everything she knew to study on the other side of the world, for nearly a decade total to do it...but she's is indeed a doctor today. She's a Pediatrician and loves what she does. We would always get together whenever she'd fly back to visit her parents here. When we'd see each other, it was like we could pick up the strength of our bond no matter how long it had been since we last saw each other.
My life has been filled with love and close bonds formed based on what I felt happen between myself and my all-of-a-sudden first TRUE friend. It makes me happy to know she's so happy. You really couldn't imagine a happier, healthier person. She's like a ray of joy walking around making everyone. around her happy. Then again, she's always been that way.
Wrap It Up Already
I have friends like that scattered in a few places. Like I said, about 30 people I would say I've been fortunate enough to call true friends. No matter how long it may have been since we last spoke, I know that bond is there. I know 30 people would gladly drop everything, if I asked for their help (of any kind) and I would do the same for them. Even if we have lost touch and haven't spoken for years. Every now and then, I will get a call or an e-mail from one or another of these friends and we'll catch up, get together if we can, and that bond is there. Still. Instantly.
Then there are a whole lot of people who I've made a significant connection with based on this self-reinforcing wheel of “being trusted/feeling understood' ...many on GAG. Many more in real life. GAG does lend itself to starting this process.... since many questions are asking about situations which requires people to disclose part of their vulnerability.
This began as my answer to a question posted by: Agape93
I also owe credit to my very best GAG friend, she lives in the future, and she's wonderful. (you know who you are, and you are indeed part of the 30). She is responsible for articulating the “feeling understood” as being part of this concept (this whole thing).
Waaaait....what about relationships!!!!!!???
Yes, the same sort of thing is at play with trust and being understood.....but....with a WHOLE lotta other factors thrown in....making it complicated enough...to say.......mmmm....kinda.....but not really.
If you actually read all of that, thanks, and you are quite a trooper. I hope it helps someone or other. If not, That's ok too. I've had this concept in my head since I was 12. I've always wanted to try to articulate it.