Purim is just around the corner and many will be celebrating with costumes, feasts, and mishloach manot (gifts of treats to family and friends). 

As a Jewish community, we will be celebrating a miraculous turn of events. The Persian empire, led by Haman, was slated to attack the Jewish people because of who they were and the values by which they lived. However, the miracle of the holiday is that the tables turned, Haman and his followers were defeated, and the Jews were granted the freedom to live safely and authentically.

There are many customs on Purim, but I have been very focused on the tradition of dressing up, specifically around how this connects to identity. When we wear a costume, we hide one identity and present another. Over the past few months, I have been thinking about just this: how we decide which parts of our identity to hide and which to present to the outside world.

We often think of masks as false identities, hiding, perhaps, who we truly are. But, as I think about what masks do for us, I see them as something quite important. Perhaps we all wear different masks, and maybe they are not false identities at all. Maybe masks are just a part of our whole self. Maybe we all have many unique and different parts and each one is hoping, or even fighting, for space to express itself.

These masks, or parts of ourselves, are a natural component of the human experience. We all have different parts that can each make us feel happy, sad, anxious, angry, calm, etc. When we experience some of these different parts, it can feel overwhelming or scary. So, instead of wearing them, we often push them deeper and deeper inside. 

We do this in an effort to avoid these bad feelings, but more often than not, when we shut ourselves off from these parts, they can get lost and buried. When this happens, one might think they fade into the background. In reality, it’s quite the opposite. The parts don’t usually become quiet, rather they can become loud and drive our behaviors and thoughts. Without us even realizing it, these parts can begin to manifest as anxiety, depression, or other mental health concerns.

In my work as a therapist with BaMidbar Therapy, where I am the director of clinical services in Massachusetts, I try to help my clients understand these parts and get to know them. As we learn about each of these aspects of ourselves, they become less scary and more tolerable. We become better able to ease the fears associated with these parts and build a relationship with them. When we do this, we can stay present while experiencing difficult emotions. We can learn to better self-regulate and manage challenging moments. 

For me, therefore, one lesson of Purim is the importance of recognizing our multifaceted selves and allowing ourselves to wear our masks, not as disguises, rather as projections of our true selves that deserve to be expressed rather than repressed. 

It’s okay to be a scary ghost, a queen, a puppy, or anything else we choose to be. Each of these parts is quite real, and as we allow ourselves more space to get to know and express them, we might find that ultimately, like the Jews of Persia in the days of Queen Esther, we can live safer, more authentic lives.ment

Gabriela Lupatkin is the director of clinical services in Massachusetts of BaMidbar Therapy, which provides therapy for Jewish teens and young adults (13-28), community mental health education, and professional development for youth-serving Jewish professionals.

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