Today we’re going to talk about dealing with the awkwardness of wearing a mask and how to respond when others are not wearing them. This seems like a simple issue, but there’s quite a lot to unpack! We are all prone to being judgmental and when we see people using different levels of precautions than ourselves, the response can be anything from annoyed to enraged. Our reactions can be complicated further by the relationship we have with the person who isn’t masking up. For example, it’s awkward to keep backing away from a person who isn’t masked up that you need to talk to. You may not want to get into telling a stranger what they should be doing, but you also want to maintain your own safety and comfort. But then there is the whole other can of worms of seeing your friends and family members doing things that you would not do. For example, maybe your friends go to a huge house party where no one is masked up or decide to go on vacation in a part of the country where cases are very high. Or you might have done one of these things and now you feel like I’m judging you! (I’m not.)
So, the question is, how do we deal with it when the choices of others 1) affect our safety or comfort, or 2) begin to affect the relationship? To deal with this, I think it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that masks and other precautions do trigger a lot of discomfort – they are a constant reminder of how messed up things are, and masks also make it very difficult to read facial expressions and social signals of the person you are talking to. When it comes to maintaining safety, the answer is clearer – you’ve got to focus on giving yourself permission to do what is needed for you to feel safe and comfortable. It’s more complex when you’re feeling judgmental toward someone you care about. I’d like to offer few options for you to consider and these ideas can actually be used whether or not you are in a relationship with the person:
1. Practice being nonjudgmental. Focus on the facts of the situation without evaluating them as “good” or “bad.” Try to get unstuck from your assumptions about what this behavior means and focus only on the facts. Notice how this practice affects your emotional reaction.
2. If you want to ask the person to change their behavior, consider using the DEAR MAN skill we’ve previously discussed (refresher on this skill available here: https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/dbt-interpersonal-effectiveness-skills.pdf)
3. Consider practicing acceptance. It is often the case that we disagree with those we care about. Some disagreements are deal-breakers and some are not. If this is not a deal-breaker for you, but it is causing you to feel upset, consider trying to focus your energy into simply accepting the reality that you and your loved one are different in this way (rather than ruminating, talking about how they are wrong with others, etc.). Notice how this practice affects your emotional reaction.
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