Adolescents often struggle with intense emotional situations, yet find themselves unsure of how to process it all. In Behind the Mask: Adolescents in Hiding, Dennis Rozema explains that the way a teenager deals with pain either facilitates emotional wellness or creates a mask for them to hide behind. This mask helps protect them and helps them deal with their pain, even if it is not in the most healthy or helpful of ways. In a book aimed at adolescents who find themselves suffering, Rozema attempts to give the reader tools to come out of hiding.
The first part of the book, “People Like Me,” covers the different types of masks a teenager might don, and the emotions — fear, anger, depression — that go with them. Rozema’s idea is that unresolved trauma or pain ultimately leads to anger, and that when teenagers experience anger they react in one of two ways: turning inward or turning outward. Turning inward creates what the author calls the cheerful or neutral mask; turning outward, the angry or defiant mask. Rozema shows that regulating and expressing one’s emotions is the key to removing one’s façade.
The second part of the book discusses recovery, and guides readers through the process of sloughing off their false exterior. As a therapist himself, Rozema suggests that the reader may need a professional to help them through it.
What I liked about Part II, as an adult analyzing Rozema’s approach, was that it addresses the idea of relapse. With any type of mental health issue, one usually encounters some sort of relapse within the early recovery period. Rozema does a good job of normalizing this likely hurdle and provides some encouragement and suggestions for getting through the initial period of recovery.
To make the book more appealing to the adolescent audience, Rozema also weaves in letters from real teenagers. Finally, he closes with a heartfelt message about life “beyond the mask,” and gives thanks to the students he has worked with who have allowed him into their pain and hurt.
Rozema succeeds in tackling some extremely difficult topics without becoming preachy or insensitive to the emotional lives of teens. Because his book is aimed at a young audience going through a hard time, it was great to see him write so accessibly.
Behind the Mask: Adolescents in Hiding
iUniverse, January, 2011
Paperback, 112 pages