Everyone has what is called a “persona”. Our persona is the face that we present to the world – it is the personality that people know us by. Some people call the persona a “mask”.
Peter Sellers, a famous comedian and actor said that he felt that he had no personality of his own, that he only felt really alive when in the persona of the various character roles he played.
Although we often have feelings, points of view and opinions that are different from people around us, part of our learning of social skills is to create a “persona” that fits in with our lifestyle and needs. People who feel quite timid, shy or not good enough still have to go out in the world. They will put on a brave face, grit their teeth, they keep a stiff upper lip. People create the “mask” that they need to help them survive in life.
Very often we cover up our feelings of worry and insecurity – we hide them behind our mask. We keep up appearances, appear to be jolly and happy. For some people their whole life seems to be about keeping up appearances – always wearing the mask.
When we are involved with an addict, and want to give addict help – our reasons are based on love and concern. Very often addicts don’t trust us. They do not want to talk. We sometimes find that our well meaning efforts are completely rebuffed by the addict.
People talk about building “trust”. For an addict, drugs are something you can trust to bring “good feelings” – something you can control. A person seeks out and continues with drug use when normal relationships in their life are not giving them satisfaction.
When children are excessively anxious, fearful, sad or depressed they find drugs to be attractive because drug use seems to offer a better way of life.
Drug use becomes part of the addict’s persona. Speed addicts, cocaine dealers, hard drug, soft drug users all have their different personality types – they each have their own persona, Movies and the media have in some ways glamorized the “tough” life of the gangsta drug addict – the reality is that, behind the persona, drug addicts lead lives of fear and desperation.
To give an addict help you need to communicate with the person behind the persona – get past the “mask”, the front. To give addicts help to deal with emotional issues, you need to get them to open up.
The best way to reassure an addict and to build their trust – is to drop your own mask first and become open to real communication. If we come onto an addict like a controlling father, a distressed mother, or some sanctimonious preacher we are doomed to failure. All that the addict will do is to keep his defenses up. You won’t be talking to him – just the defensive persona.
Dropping our mask of competence and being in control helps us to become emotionally open and available to talk about things and give addict help at a more open and honest level.
Real communication and addict help happens when we trust each other enough to throw away our masks and let our real feelings show. Instead of criticizing the addict for the worry he causes – simply tell the addict how frightened and sad you feel. Dropping our guard and exposing our own vulnerability and feelings helps to build trust. It gets us past the persona to some real communication.