Wearing a Mask

Wearing a Mask

October 30, 2014

by:  Kelly Killian

Kelly KillianAs Halloween approaches and children begin to pick out costumes, they pick out a new “personality” to try on for a day.

It makes me think of our kids.  So often what you see is a mask that they are wearing for the occasion.  It is not the true personality of the child.  It is the personality they wear for the situation.

My son was in out of home care in residential treatment, a psychiatric hospital, treatment foster homes, juvenile detention and various other placements for nearly five years.  During each placement he adapted his “mask” to the placement.

In one placement he was the poor mistreated, unable to perform in school child.  It was the first residential treatment center.  They had a school on-premises.  He had them so convinced he couldn’t do the work that they gave him a “C” when he got a 25% on a paper.  He was an “A” student and was completely capable of everything they gave him and far more, but they dumbed everything down, so he went with it.

In another placement, the foster family’s son was a soccer coach, so he was suddenly all about soccer.  He hadn’t played soccer in eight years and didn’t much enjoy it then, but suddenly he was all about soccer.

In another placement they told him he was a fabulous basketball player, so he became the “dunkmaster.”  It became his whole identity.  He even planned to play in the NBA.  He didn’t have to try out for a team.  He was at a private boys’ school which just fueled this identity.  In this small environment he was a star.  In the real world, he was average at best.  When he moved on, he didn’t know how to change to the new mask.

In juvenile detention he became the punk.  He was a fighter and the tough kid.

The last mask is going to be hard for some readers.

The last placement my son was in was a Christian facility.  This was fine with me since I am a Christian.  My son quickly saw this as the new mask to wear.  I knew in my heart and soul he didn’t mean a word of it.  The center was easily fooled.  They delighted in his “salvation” and were even more thrilled when he requested to be baptized.  I’m sure they were thoroughly baffled when they invited my husband and me to his baptism and we didn’t attend.  We were both active members of our church.  We were youth group leaders, Confirmation teachers, Sunday school teachers and more.  They knew of our active involvement in our church and our strong faith.  However, we couldn’t stand by and watch something we knew wasn’t the least bit real.  And I think, on some level, our son knew this as well.  I chose to spend that day snow tubing with my youth group instead.  Less than 6 months later, my son was breaking into apartments and using drugs.  I knew his salvation wasn’t real.

And many times this is how our kids live their lives.  They conform to the situation and wear a mask that shows who or what they think people want to see.  If they only understood what we truly want to see is the child truly inside.  Even the hurting/sad/scared/angry/vulnerable child; especially that child.  But they don’t sell that costume in the store.

Touching Trauma at Its Heart is a blog written by Attachment & Trauma Network’s voices: a collection of parents, professionals and volunteers who represent a variety of perspectives and experiences related to attachment issues and the effect of trauma on children and on families.

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