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Exploring Identity, Shame and Resilience through Mask Making, Part 1.

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC

In this next series of blog posts, we will explore the impactful experience of creating, witnessing and reflecting on the symbol of the mask, more specifically, our masks. The symbol of a mask has many historical and timely meanings and interpretations. A mask may represent what is hidden, revealed, distorted, concealed, undiscovered, and/or protected. A mask might portray a persona, a role, a character, or an archetype. Masks are unique in that they can be worn, put on, taken off or altered and in this way, the mask can become part of someone’s persona or be something changeable and circumstantial. From a metaphorical standpoint, we might experience ‘wearing a mask’ when engaging with certain social groups or are in certain settings or experience a certain level of emotional discomfort. In this first blog we will explore options for using the symbol of a mask for exploring various aspects of ourselves and how this can be helpful as we engage with the deeper concepts that surface.

In an art therapy session, once you have determined that creating a mask is something you want to explore, it may be helpful to understand your options. I find it helpful to know what the intentions for the mask are ahead of time, so that we can work together on deciding what materials will be best to help execute your vision. It is not required that you have a complete plan for your mask, but consider this early stage as a time to percolate and marinate your thoughts in connection with emotional needs. You may find it helpful to work alongside your therapist to identify and develop a theme or direction for your mask. Here are a few options that have the potential for deeper self- exploration:


You might choose to focus on aspects of your identity that you are in the process of exploring, understanding, questioning, developing and/or becoming. Aspects of identity include one’s racial background, gender, sexual orientation, mental health status, ability/disability, socioeconomic status, skill set, cultural and ethnic background, spiritual and/or religious beliefs, and values. Consider what aspects of your identity are developed or underdeveloped, seen or unseen, praised or dismissed, accepted or rejected, aligned with your values or a source of tension and dilemma. If you are at a point of transition in your life, consider how changes in your professional, social, familial, emotional, private and/or academic life may be impacting your sense of identity. What roles might be changing for you as a child, sibling, parent, mentor, caregiver, teacher, professional, advocate, addict, person with a mental health struggle, etc. Consider what other aspects of your identity may be worth exploring. Perhaps exploring labels you have been given throughout your life as “the difficult one”, “the smart one”, “the one with all the problems” and how these labels have impacted your own sense of self.


We may find it helpful to create a mask that represents how we communicate, show or disguise our emotions. We might also find it helpful to personify our emotions through the human face mask. For example, a mask that represents the “angry character” or the “sad character” or the “optimistic character” or the “embarrassed character”. In this way we are able to externalize difficult emotions in a safe way that takes direct focus off of us and allows us to begin relating to our emotion as a separate part of ourselves. It may be helpful for those who feel as though they are split or have different sides to them, to represent these two sides on the mask as two different emotions, such as the angry self and the energetic, happy self.


Consider your own emotional needs at this moment. Consider what is calling your attention at this point in time. You may choose to meditate on this idea for a moment and allow yourself to sit with or journal to the question or even draw as a way to develop an idea organically. Whatever image arises, you can ask it what it needs. Needs that one may consider as worth exploring through the mask might include the need for:

Love New Perspectives Faith

Affection Openness Motivation

Transparency Attention Support

Acceptance Validation Clarity

Change Self-Expression Inspiration

Consider how this need might look on the outside and how it might exist on the inside of the mask; how others might recognize or not recognize our need and how we experience our need emotionally, physically and through our thoughts.


Perhaps you are interested in exploring archetypes in your own life. Archetypes, in simple terms as we refer to them here, are recurring images, unconscious ideas and character ideas/traits that exist in a collective universal awareness. One might come across multiple sources that each portray or represent a specific persona in a similar manner. Here are examples of common archetypes and areas in which you might like to explore their meaning and power in your own life:

The Innocent One

The Hero

The Outlaw

The Explorer

The Shadow

The Wise One/Sage

The Jester

The Mother

The Father

The Creator

The Villain

The King/Queen

The Vampire

The Shapeshifter

The Engineer

The Wounded Healer

The Magician

A Question

What am I afraid of?

What do I need right now?

What is missing?

What is developing or growing in my life?

Who am I?

What part of me is calling?

What part of me is sad, angry, hurt, etc?

What part of me is thriving?

What aspect of myself is lost or neglected?

As you begin to read through these different areas of exploration, you might consider which one resonates with you right now. Which theme would be challenging for you to explore? Which theme might be worth exploring in the safety of an art therapy session. Begin to visualize your mask as you contemplate the theme you have chosen. What would this mask look like? What colors, textures, shapes, elements and media would be incorporated? In our next blog post, we will discuss the next stage of developing and creating your mask.


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