Close your eyes, quiet your mind, and gently follow your breath until you begin to relax.

Now begin to dig for your mask, the place in your story where you cover your true self – where you adopt a façade in order to be loved. Remember your mask often covers your needs and vulnerabilities; it says I need to be perfect in order to be loved.

Allow a visual image of a mask covering your true self to come to you. What does it look like? What do you feel as the mask covers you? Now ask yourself, what is my unique brand of perfectionism? How do I act out the misconception that I need to be perfect in order to be loved? Write down specific examples. Remember, the tyranny of your perfectionism creates a vicious circle in which you have to keep getting "more" perfect. You can't possibly live up to its standards. Take time to reflect, draw, and journal.

Once you have exposed your mask become aware of the poignant irony of your perfectionism. Can you see that the false mask you wear to get acceptance actually isolates you from others? Can you feel the previous energy you waste maintaining this façade? Now imagine yourself taking off your mask. Gradually expose your needs, fears, and vulnerabilities – the beautiful mess of your humanness. Can you feel how this makes you real and connects you to others? Can you feel the creative energy this releases? Take time to reflect, draw, and journal.

It takes time, courage, compassion, and support to uncover your mask. Sometimes we need a counselor or support group. Your chosen spiritual practice is always helpful in keeping you honest about when you've put your false mask back on. Here are some simple questions that can help you stay aware of your mask. Am I covering my needs and vulnerabilities? Am I stuck in my own unique brand of perfectionism? Do I find myself constantly striving to be more and more perfect? Am I acting in a way that betrays my true self in order to get love? The more often you courageously expose your false mask, the less power it has over you. Remember your fear and shame of your mask – feed it and allow it to grow stronger. Above all, be gentle and loving with yourself when you find you are wearing your mask. We all have a mask, and it is part of what connects us in our human condition.

Gail Straub in The Rhythm of Compassion