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  • Writer's pictureDeric Hollings

Unmasking Behavior

Rave masks

In the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I attended a number of raves. Back then, it wasn’t unusual to see surgical masks being worn by party revelers.

In 2001, explaining why masks were worn by ravers, the National Drug Intelligence Center stated:

People under the influence of MDMA seek constant sensory stimulation. Users wave chemical glow sticks in front of their eyes to stimulate the sense of sight, massage one another to stimulate the sense of touch, and heighten the sense of smell by wearing surgical masks lined with menthol to dilate the nasal passages.

Though participating in sober raving, I appreciated the subculture and theatrical costumes I often encountered at the time. Fast-forwarding a couple decades, I’ve observed similar theatrics though of a sociopolitical nature.

Sociopolitical theater masks

During the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, I drafted a blogpost entitled Time, Distance, Shielding, in which I stated, “N95 respirators – not recommended by the CDC for general public use at this time.” The reason for my statement was twofold.

First, during my prior military training in regards to airborne contagions, I was instructed that the eyes, nose, and mouth were vectors of transmission. Wearing a surgical or cloth mask, or N95 respirator, didn’t account for ocular transmissibility.

I thoroughly addressed this matter in a blog entry entitled Revisiting Protective Measures. Still, and despite a 2020 Danish study that reportedly advised that “face masks provide the wearer with only limited protection against COVID-19 infection,” many people fearfully donned face coverings.

Second, I recalled when Anthony Fauci reportedly stated that “there’s no reason to be walking around with a mask,” all while purportedly giving “as many masks as possible to front line workers and emergency personnel.” Apparently, rules for thee, not for me.

While many answers may be provided as to why people allowed fear to drive their behavior during the pandemic, as a psychotherapist, I pay close attention to one aspect in particular. Since irrational fear significantly influenced behavior during COVID-19, what actions might be taken during pandemic 2.0?

Donning sociopolitical theater masks as a show of solidary is permissible for the individual. Still, I wonder if unreasonable demands which burden people at a societal level are helpful.

Lest the reader forgets, masks and respirators weren’t the sole tool thrust upon global citizens. Living memory of coercion hasn’t yet faded from my mind.

Many people fearfully obeyed unreasonable and legally questionable mandates in regards to untested genetic therapy, COVID-19 passport-like documentation requirements, orders not to attend work, and various other authoritarian injunctions. However, you simply cannot comply your way out of tyranny.

Thinking critically of masking behavior

Practicing Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), I encourage clients to think critically. Using an epistemological approach, I invite people to investigate what distinguishes belief from opinion, and whether or not clients’ maintained beliefs serve them well.

For instance, if currently treating a client who still believes the once dominant opinion—that masking is effective—and the person experiences impairment in social and occupational functioning, I may use an evidence-based critical examination of the belief.

I could use the latest Danish study that reports:

Comparisons between N95 respirators and medical/surgical masks, used as needed for exposure to at‐risk patients, for the outcomes of clinical respiratory illness and the outcome of laboratory‐confirmed influenza showed estimates of effect suggesting considerable uncertainty for any benefit of N95 respirators for the former outcome and probably little or no difference for the latter outcome.

As well, I could invite the client to consider how faulty logic may be impacting the individual’s beliefs, thus influencing behavior. An example of how a flawed premise operates in this manner is as follows:

Premise 1: All mask-wearers are safe.

Premise 2: I wear a mask.

Conclusion: Therefore, I am safe.

I would evaluate the client’s belief in connection with the term “safe.” If it were true that mask-wearers were safe, how does one account for continued contraction and death as a result of respiratory illness from those who don personal protective equipment (PPE)?

Wearing PPE may provide some protection from transmission of some contagions, though there is no guarantee of absolute safety in this life. Adjusting the flawed premise to a more helpful one may be in order:

Premise 1: Even when wearing a mask, there is no guarantee of safety.

Premise 2: I wear a mask.

Conclusion: Nonetheless, there is no guarantee of safety.

Additionally, in our session, I could encourage the client to reflect upon the recent train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio. When an actually threatening contagion is present, what do photos of responding personnel depict?

Coverage of the eyes, nose, and mouth are present, along with a respirator filtration system. Being that paper or cloth masks and N95 respirators don’t function in this manner, what might this suggest of one’s perpetual mask use for COVID-19?

Might the sociopolitical theater associated with masking behavior serve as little more than in-group signaling and not necessarily a protective measure? If so, how might the client readjust behavior when considering an effective new belief?

The self-disturbing belief, “I must always be safe, because I couldn’t stand being otherwise,” isn’t particularly useful when a person wants to interact with others though refuses to do so based on perceived safety concerns. I’ve worked with people in relation to this very issue.

Using a more helpful, healthy effective new belief, “While I’d like the guarantee of safety, there is no such assurance in life,” one’s rational interests and goals are better served. A person may then attend a social gathering without the comfort of a face woobie.

Expected mask-related copium

I fully expect pushback concerning what I’ve expressed herein. Some people inhale the copium so powerfully that they refuse to consider challenges of their beliefs, much less alteration of their behavior.

First, is the “I dID mY oWn ReSeArCh” meme, sometimes used by those who lambaste others that question so-called scientific data. It occurs to me that such people may fail to understand that science seeks to know what is, though doesn’t demand what ought to be.

Second, I suspect one could critique my advocacy for disputing irrational beliefs. There appears to be a growing trend regarding the promotion of validating feelings (though in actuality, beliefs) over logic and reason.

At risk of using another fashionable concept herein, forgive my resurrection of a dead meme—feels over reals—which is said to address “preference for one’s feelings or beliefs over the reality that they contradict.” However, this is exactly what REBT addresses.

While people may think, believe, or “feel” (incorrectly used) as though a masked society is appropriate, they have no right, liberty, or freedom to force others to concur. Using the Is-Ought Problem to illustrate this, you cannot command what ought to be based on what actually is.

Lastly, at this point in my career, I’m well aware that some people will purposely ignore rational framing, reject critical thinking, and denounce logic in favor of emotively-driven behavior. It’s apparent to me that a significant number of people are willfully imperceptive.

They do not want to think through matters. They care little for updating their beliefs. They cling tightly to self-disturbing narratives. And they outsource their safety to authority figures that are perceived to care, though who accumulate power with which others will be oppressed.

Though I don’t like or love that such is the case, I unconditionally accept that others don’t share my views. As such, the copium consumed by others doesn’t cause me strife.


In my younger years, I enjoyed dancing through the night with others who wore masks, even though I didn’t participate in the wardrobe theatrics. Many years later, I experienced a pandemic in which people were—in some cases—forced to don similar masks.

The sociopolitical theater sham related to mask and respirator use is competently dismissed when using critical thinking skills. Nonetheless, a number of people refuse to challenge their beliefs or alter their behavior—sometimes requiring others to participate in the same theatrical spectacle.

Through use of REBT, I’m able to unmask the behavior I’ve observed regarding COVID-19. It is with this technique that I’ve helped others to achieve their self-identified interests and goals.

Perhaps you, too, have been metaphorically smothered by the mask of irrational belief. Are you ready to take off the self-disturbing veil and experience a higher level of functioning and improved quality of life?

If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.

As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.

At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!

Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW


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