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  • Amina Aitsi-Selmi

Take off your mask and reveal your brilliance!

Have you ever heard people talk about something missing in their life?

It’s pretty common, right? But it’s not really a thing that is missing…Nothing outside us can ever give us the deep fulfilment we seek.

The truth is: they are missing. Or rather a part of them is. It’s buried. Asleep. Forgotten.

It might be a creative streak; a laser like focus or uncanny intuition; a deep sensitivity to other people’s emotions; a carefree playfulness.

The reason for this loss is related to the need for safety and the defences that we create when we are young.

Perhaps this is best conveyed through a story (bear with me!):

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … there was a beautiful planet where children grew up never feeling quite safe. So between the ages of 2 and 16, they all had the chance to visit a secret armoury where they could pick up a magical, invisible weapon and a mask to defend themselves. Most of them did and the defences became a part of who they are. The price of this safety was that they could never fully relax or shine their brilliance. As adults, they all but forgot the truth and only occasionally woke up to remember what had happened. For those who did, a long journey back home began…

I was discussing a situation with one of my clients – she worked as an economist at the World Bank – in which she diminished her brilliance. She skipped mentioning her impressive credentials and work experience at a meeting and essentially hid the enormous talents and skills she was brining to the table. [Ever done that yourself?...]

I like a little fun in coaching and talked about typical defences for overachievers with a service ethic (e.g. rescuers) as:

  • the sword of judgment (being harsh on self and/or others)

  • the shield of invisibility (“stay away from the real me. There’s nothing to see” through excessive charm, sarcasm, modesty, intellectualisation, etc.)

  • the mask of oblivion (hiding your true face until you’ve forgotten who you really are)

For example, if I drew my sword of judgment in the past, I could easily go into an over-analytical, monotonous diatribe dissecting a situation with precision and pinpointing all the failings and errors of a process, which could leave people feeling quite stripped…(perfect for academia in which I did well…!) When I directed this judgement at myself, it resulted in full-blown shame attack and an inability to enjoy a success for any length of time.

“But wait” you say, “if I take off my mask, people will see all my imperfections and destructive instincts”. “If I put down my sword, I’ll lose control and get hurt”.

Well, here’s the thing: don’t those things happen anyway? Do you really feel in control of life? Do people really think you’re a saint?...


The problem is that in adulthood these defences can become maladaptive. An adult human being has access to many more options (intuition, compassion, courage) to meet what life and people present than old defence mechanisms afford. What’s worse, resorting to automatic defences deprives us from two things (which are really two forms of intimacy – the thing humans crave):

  1. experiencing our truest brilliance i.e. developing and expressing our creativity to conjure and make the most of opportunities in the moment (intimacy with life)

  2. experiencing the magic of deep relating (intimacy with other people)

Using our defences keeps us from meeting life or other people directly. Our emotional experience is severely limited and we’re left with the feeling of not living fully or “something missing”. THE GOOD NEWS!

Our healthy life instinct (the one that wants us to thrive rather than just survive) nudges us to let go of old defences, trust that we can meet what life presents us with, develop new behaviours and enjoy the process. It calls us to revive and reintegrate the old forgotten parts of ourselves. The parts that hold our greatest brilliance.

I see it in myself and in my clients – they recover inspiration and energy, and are able to move forward on their vision and goals. So how about taking a look at your arsenal? What is your weapon of choice? What is it defending? Are you willing to release your brilliance from overprotection against imaginary enemies? It’s time. Have a great week. Amina

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