The article was last updated by Ethan Clarke on February 5, 2024.

Masking, a common phenomenon in psychology, plays a crucial role in shaping human behavior and relationships. By inhibiting authentic expression and creating a false persona, it can have a profound impact on individuals’ interactions with others.

This article explores the different types of masking, from emotional to social, and delves into the causes behind this behavior, such as trauma and insecurity. It discusses how therapy can address masking and the benefits of unmasking, including increased self-awareness and authentic relationships.

Key Takeaways:

  • Masking is the act of hiding one’s true self and emotions, which can negatively impact behavior and relationships.
  • There are different types of masking, such as emotional, behavioral, cognitive, and social, with various underlying causes like trauma and social pressure.
  • Therapy can help address and unmask these hidden aspects, leading to increased self-awareness, improved mental health, and more authentic relationships.
  • What is Masking in Psychology?

    Masking in psychology refers to the process through which individuals, particularly Autistic adults, camouflage or hide their true selves to conform to societal norms and expectations, especially in social interactions.

    This process involves adopting behaviors, mannerisms, or communication styles that might not come naturally to the individual, with the aim of fitting in with others. An example of masking in Autistic adults could be suppressing stimming behaviors, such as hand-flapping or rocking, to avoid drawing attention or judgment from neurotypical individuals. Autistic individuals may mimic facial expressions, tone of voice, or social cues as a way to mask their underlying differences, striving to appear more ‘typical’ in social settings.

    How Does Masking Affect Behavior?

    Masking significantly influences behavior by prompting Autistic adults to mimic neurotypical traits and behaviors, often resulting in a disconnect between their true selves and the persona they present to the world.

    When Autistic adults engage in masking, a range of compensatory mechanisms come into play. These individuals may expend a considerable amount of mental and emotional energy to keep up the façade of fitting in, which can lead to exhaustion and burnout. This effort to mask can also obscure their authentic needs and preferences, making it challenging to express themselves fully. Masking is not merely a social adaptation; it demands a continuous suppression of natural Autistic traits such as stimming or specific interests. As a result, maintaining this false persona over time can strain their mental well-being and hinder genuine self-expression.

    Inhibits Authentic Expression

    Inhibiting authentic expression, masking leads Autistic adults to rely on scripted responses and predetermined behaviors, hindering genuine interactions and self-expression.

    Masking often compels individuals to suppress their natural instincts, forcing them to conform to societal norms at the expense of their own uniqueness.

    This pressure to fit in can overshadow the genuine personality of Autistic individuals, making it challenging for them to express their true thoughts and emotions.

    The constant need to maintain a facade can be mentally exhausting, causing feelings of isolation and disconnection from one’s true self.

    Creates a False Persona

    Masking creates a false persona for Autistic adults, necessitating constant code-switching between their true selves and the socially acceptable facade they present in different contexts.

    This often results in inner turmoil as individuals struggle to balance their authentic Autistic identity with societal expectations, ultimately leading to identity conflicts. The pressure to conform can lead to a loss of self-expression and genuine connection with others, perpetuating a cycle of masking and concealing one’s true self.

    As a result, many Autistic adults face the challenge of navigating various social situations while grappling with the internal conflict between being true to themselves and adapting to fit in. This constant tension between authenticity and conformity can have detrimental effects on mental health and overall well-being.

    Impacts Relationships

    Masking significantly impacts relationships for Autistic adults, as the compensation required to sustain masking behaviors can strain social connections and hinder genuine emotional engagement.

    Individuals who mask often find themselves constantly employing social skills and empathetic responses that may not align with their true emotions and feelings. This continual effort to maintain a facade can lead to exhaustion and feelings of isolation, as the individual may feel disconnected from others due to the lack of authenticity in their interactions. Consequently, the emotional toll of constantly suppressing one’s true self can result in increased anxiety, stress, and a sense of alienation, making it challenging to establish and nurture meaningful relationships.

    What are the Different Types of Masking?

    Masking manifests in various forms, including emotional masking, behavioral masking, cognitive masking, and social masking, each impacting individuals’ interactions and self-expression differently.

    Emotional masking involves suppressing or altering one’s true feelings to conform to societal norms or expectations, often seen in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) who mimic neurotypical behaviors to fit in.

    On the other hand, behavioral masking refers to modifying actions or reactions to mask traits associated with ASD, such as stimming, in certain environments to avoid stigma.

    Cognitive masking pertains to masking differences in thought processes or cognitive patterns, which can be taxing for individuals striving to navigate social situations.

    Social masking occurs when individuals conceal their true identity or preferences to avoid judgment or discrimination, particularly prevalent among genderqueer individuals attempting to conform to binary gender expectations.

    Emotional Masking

    Emotional masking involves suppressing or altering genuine emotional responses, leading individuals to mask their feelings through stimming, facial expression modulation, or other coping mechanisms.

    When individuals engage in emotional masking, they may exhibit behaviors that hide their true feelings from others or even from themselves. Stimming, which refers to self-stimulatory behaviors such as repetitive movements or actions, is a common coping mechanism used to regulate overwhelming emotions. By engaging in stimming activities, individuals can create a distraction or outlet for their suppressed feelings. Facial expression modulation plays a crucial role in emotional masking, as individuals may consciously or subconsciously adjust their facial expressions to convey a different emotion than what they truly feel.

    Behavioral Masking

    Behavioral masking involves rehearsing conversations, controlling motor responses, and adjusting behaviors to align with social expectations, often leading to a disconnect between inner thoughts and outward actions.

    Individuals engaging in behavioral masking may find themselves navigating a delicate balance between fitting in and staying true to their authentic selves. This internal conflict can manifest in scripted responses designed to please others or camouflage true thoughts and feelings.

    • Rehearsal conversations play a significant role in this process, as individuals prepare specific phrases or reactions to hide their true emotions.
    • The control of motor responses is essential in masking behaviors, ensuring that external actions do not betray underlying thoughts.
    • While masking may serve as a protective mechanism in social settings, it can also present challenges in maintaining genuine self-expression.

    Cognitive Masking

    Cognitive masking involves mental compensation strategies to navigate social situations, often placing additional cognitive load on individuals, especially those at the intersection of multiple identities.

    This phenomenon can have a profound impact on Autistic BIPOC individuals who may need to expend more energy processing social cues and adapting their behavior to fit in. The process of constant self-monitoring and adjusting can be exhausting, leading to issues like burnout, anxiety, and a sense of imposter syndrome.

    The role of intersectionality in masking cannot be understated; individuals navigating multiple marginalized identities may face even greater challenges in masking due to the intricate interplay of societal expectations and their own authentic selves.

    Social Masking

    Social masking involves adapting behaviors in social contexts, maintaining a social mask for self-preservation, and engaging in code-switching strategies, which can impact therapeutic alliances and telemedicine interactions.

    Therapeutic alliances play a crucial role in the process of unmasking, where individuals gradually reveal their true selves to their therapist, fostering trust and creating a safe space for vulnerability. Through psychotherapy sessions, patients can explore the roots of their masking behavior, addressing underlying issues and working towards authenticity.

    Nonverbal communication serves as a key element in understanding social masks, as subtle cues such as body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice can convey hidden emotions or discomfort behind the facade. Recognizing these nonverbal signals can help therapists navigate the complexities of masked interactions and facilitate genuine connections.

    What are the Causes of Masking?

    Masking can be triggered by various factors, including past trauma, societal pressures to conform, and internal insecurities that prompt individuals to mask their true selves.

    For Autistic BIPOC and genderqueer individuals, the act of masking can be even more complex. They often face compounded challenges, balancing the societal expectations of their gender and cultural background alongside the additional layer of neurodiversity. This intersectionality can intensify the pressure to mask, leading to a sense of disconnection from their authentic identities.


    Past trauma can contribute to masking behaviors, as individuals may use masking as a coping mechanism to protect themselves from reliving traumatic experiences, often leading to emotional suppression and the adoption of the Bubbles technique.

    When individuals experience trauma, the mind often resorts to protective strategies to shield itself from the overwhelming emotions associated with the distressing event. Masking behaviors serve as a shield, concealing the inner turmoil and vulnerability that the trauma has stirred. By wearing this emotional armor, individuals aim to navigate their day-to-day interactions without exposing the rawness of their past experiences. In essence, the act of masking becomes a form of self-preservation, allowing individuals to function in the world while carrying the weight of their unhealed wounds.

    Social Pressure

    Social pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations can compel individuals to engage in masking behaviors, particularly impacting those at the intersection of multiple identities, such as Autistic BIPOC, and influencing facial expressions and nonverbal communication.

    When individuals are faced with the need to mask their true selves, the internal struggle between authenticity and social acceptance often arises. This conflict can manifest in various ways, affecting not only one’s mental and emotional well-being but also their social interactions. The complexity of intersectionality further intensifies this pressure, as individuals navigate the intersection of their identities while trying to meet societal expectations.

    1. Facial expressions play a crucial role in these scenarios, serving as a window into one’s true emotions despite attempts to mask them.
    2. Nonverbal cues, such as body language and tone of voice, also contribute significantly to communication, giving subtle hints about one’s inner state even when overt expression is controlled.


    Feelings of insecurity, self-doubt, and a lack of acceptance can drive individuals, especially Autistic people, to mask their true selves to gain acceptance and empathy from others, potentially compromising their sense of authenticity.

    Insecure environments can trigger a constant state of unease, pushing Autistic individuals to adopt coping mechanisms that involve concealing their unique traits and feelings to align with societal norms. This facade, while intended to navigate social interactions smoothly, can inadvertently alienate them from their authentic selves, creating a dissonance between who they are and who they feel they need to be.

    Seeking acceptance within a world that often dismisses or misunderstands their experiences can be a daunting task for individuals embracing their Autistic identity. The longing for empathy and understanding, pivotal for forming genuine connections, can be overshadowed by the pressure to conform, further reinforcing the mask that shields their vulnerabilities.

    How Can Masking be Addressed in Therapy?

    Therapeutic interventions, such as psychotherapy, focusing on building a strong therapeutic alliance, especially during the challenges posed by the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, can help address and alleviate masking behaviors in individuals.

    By establishing this therapeutic alliance, therapists can create a safe and trusting environment for clients to explore their masked emotions and vulnerabilities. Through open communication and empathy, therapists can guide individuals in recognizing and expressing their true feelings, ultimately breaking through their mask.

    In the context of telemedicine sessions necessitated by the pandemic, maintaining a strong therapeutic alliance may require additional efforts such as ensuring secure and confidential platforms for virtual sessions, building rapport through video calls, and being attuned to nonverbal cues to facilitate effective therapy.

    What are the Benefits of Unmasking?

    Unmasking offers numerous benefits, including increased self-awareness, enhanced mental health, and the ability to foster authentic relationships based on empathy, compassion, and genuine emotional connection.

    By peeling back the layers of masks worn in social interactions, individuals can truly grasp their authentic selves and understand their core values and beliefs. This process of self-discovery not only leads to clarity and self-acceptance but also contributes to overall mental well-being.

    When one is in touch with their true emotions and vulnerabilities, they are better equipped to navigate through life’s challenges with resilience and authenticity. Consequently, this heightened level of self-awareness positively impacts how individuals perceive and engage with others, allowing for deeper connections founded on understanding and empathy.

    Increased Self-Awareness

    Embracing unmasking enhances self-awareness by allowing individuals to move beyond self-preservation strategies, gain better control over their actions, and develop a deeper understanding of their authentic selves.

    When individuals unmask, they confront the layers of defense mechanisms built over time to protect themselves from emotional harm and judgment. These self-preservation mechanisms, while initially serving a purpose, can hinder true connection and personal growth. By peeling back these layers, individuals can access a greater sense of vulnerability and authenticity.

    Motor control plays a crucial role in unmasking as it involves the conscious effort to unlearn ingrained behaviors and responses. This process requires self-awareness and intentional effort to reprogram one’s automatic reactions.

    Improved Mental Health

    Unmasking contributes to improved mental health by fostering genuine empathy, strengthening therapeutic alliances, and promoting emotional well-being through authentic self-expression and connection.

    When individuals choose to shed their metaphorical masks and allow themselves to be vulnerable, they open up the door to a world of emotional healing and personal growth. Through unmasking, people can release pent-up emotions, confront fears, and address deep-seated issues that may have been holding them back. This process of self-disclosure not only fosters self-awareness but also allows others to better understand and empathize with their struggles, ultimately deepening interpersonal connections.

    Authentic Relationships

    Unmasking enables the development of authentic relationships by transcending scripted responses, embracing individual differences, and fostering genuine connections based on mutual understanding and acceptance.

    When individuals unmask, they allow themselves to be vulnerable and authentic, showing their true selves without the barriers of societal norms or preconceived notions. This authenticity creates a deep foundation for relationships to grow organically, as both parties can connect on a deeper level. In contrast, relying on scripted responses can hinder genuine interactions by masking true emotions and thoughts, leading to superficial connections that lack depth.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is masking in psychology and why is it important?

    Masking in psychology refers to the process of hiding or concealing one’s true thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. It is important because it can reveal underlying issues or conflicts that an individual may not be aware of, and help them work towards resolving these issues.

    How does masking affect our mental health?

    Masking can have negative effects on our mental health, as it involves suppressing our true selves and putting on a facade. This can lead to feelings of disconnection, loneliness, and even identity issues. It can also prevent individuals from seeking help for their mental health struggles.

    What are some common forms of masking?

    Some common forms of masking include social masking, where individuals hide their true emotions in social situations, and self-masking, where individuals suppress their true thoughts and feelings to maintain a positive self-image. Other forms include masking through humor, perfectionism, and denial.

    Can masking be useful in certain situations?

    Yes, masking can be useful in certain situations, such as in a professional setting where it may be necessary to maintain a certain level of professionalism and composure. However, relying on masking as a coping mechanism can be harmful in the long run.

    How can one identify if they are engaging in masking?

    One way to identify if you are engaging in masking is to pay attention to your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in different situations. Notice if you are suppressing your true emotions or putting on a facade. It can also be helpful to seek the perspective of trusted friends or a therapist.

    What are some healthy ways to cope with masking tendencies?

    Some healthy ways to cope with masking tendencies include seeking therapy to address underlying issues, practicing self-compassion and acceptance, and finding safe spaces to express your true thoughts and feelings. It is important to prioritize self-care and authenticity in order to overcome masking behaviors.

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