What lies beneath the masks I wear

Originally published on Linkedin.


Why do I wear a mask?

To fit within the social constructs of the society we created, one made with a set of rules, written and unspoken.

On a day-to-day basis, these masks help me fit in, navigate the system, and for the most part succeed and thrive.

Some masks are simple. I need to check out at the grocery store. I put on a smile, I say hi, swipe my credit card, and move on with my day.

Other masks weave many purposes: to take critical feedback, defend against conflict, and show up in systems that demand business acumen.

When we just go about our days, these masks do their jobs.

Then, suddenly, we slow down for a moment, and the cracks appear. The little sliver of light leaks through, and we see a tiny glimpse into what lies beneath.

Maybe it’s a little break in the day.

Maybe it’s someone that holds space for us for a moment.

Maybe it’s a global pandemic that shuts down the whole world.

Regardless, it’s always there, a little knock in our soul.

Most of the time, my masks keep that knock muffled.

Other times, the knock gets louder, the cracks get bigger, and the system of armour, walls, shields, and masks we build reveal weaknesses. The call becomes too great, and we get the support to walk up closer, to veer into the crack, and see again, what we’ve always known.

Psychodramas as a way to see what lies beneath

Recently I hosted 10 brave souls at my home to continue the work I started in February of 2023 in Santa Cruz. Three of the original workshop participants came for this one, along with new faces. This work is known as Chapter 18 in the Body Keeps the Score. This is a great read if you want to learn more about the technique itself, and how it magically works.

For now, I’ll give you a peek into the veil, and what 10 people did.

The magic of this work is to get a group of strangers, and some that have worked together to form a “container,” or a space where we remove the societal constructs. We’re not here to network, or to boost our egos. We’re here to heal, to bring our full selves, and to have others witness, for a brief moment, the darkest, deepest parts of ourselves that we hide from the world.

That means the group must form an energy field. They must put behind their masks, and support the person doing their own fully.

At times, our own traumas get triggered. That vulnerability can be a distraction, or it can be a source of strength, that our collective traumas is held deep in the collective consciousness.

The wounds run deep, usually at childhood, when our parents weren’t what we needed, absent, destructive. We miss the village that was suppose to be to support our families. They weren’t meant to be alone when they raised us, but they were, and that missing lingers in our being, only for it to manifest in ways unconscious to us in adulthood.

The work is to support it.

To bring people to play the ideal parent, to be the ideal village, to be the ideal society.

And often, our masks attempt to reject the idea.

I understand that I need an ideal father, but I don’t see a scenario where this would exist. Logically it’s true, we can’t change the past. But as a practice, as a healing modality, we can create the feeling that would have existed, and we let that feeling land in our nervous system, and we carry it into our lives when we leave.

What lies beneath Daniel’s mask?

My “structure,” started with the support of my soul brother. I asked one man to sit next to me, and represent my soul brother, someone that would walk with me on this journey.

My voice shook saying it out loud. I’ve never let anyone know this, that I walk the world alone. As I cried saying it to him, he held my hand tight, sat closer to me, and I knew I would be supported.

I asked a woman to play the role of my mother. She’s pregnant with me, and she’s on that boat. I’ve worked with this story before. I’m her unborn child as she’s escaping the aftermath of the war.

As an adult, I hear her scream, the gunfire in the background. And every time we create this moment, it becomes real.

I ask another woman to play Lt. Commander Data, from Star Trek the Next Generation. I created him around 5th grade. Data took all the feelings I felt, and he turned it off. He held all the powerful emotions I felt, and he kept it from me. As I looked at the person playing Data, I cried again. I said I’m sorry you had to hold these emotions. You were just a little boy, and you bravely held it for decades.

We sat in this moment, just to witness it.

I saw it.

Nine other people saw it.

Something that was kept silent.

I asked Data to come back and sit next to be, to be a part of me, not a separate part anymore. I am no longer that boy, and Data no longer needs to hold the emotions for me.

I asked my mom to sit behind me, to support my shoulder so that I can face what’s next.

Then I asked another man to play the role of my father, in re-education camp. He’s curled up in a ball. He’s being tortured. He’s hurt. He’s hungry.

I was in college, in a Vietnamese student group, and one man told me that a man that doesn’t know his culture is no man at all. I was 20. I had spent my entire childhood life assimulated, blending in, to survive the world we were thrust into. Shame overtook me. So I doubled down, and became the Dan, modeled after the Don, or Donald Trump. Dan did whatever the fuck he wanted, and he was here to win.

I asked this gentle man to play Dan. He had a great time. He was angry. He did everything he could to win, at all cost.

In looking at the juxtaposition of my father curled up, and what I was forced to create to compensate brought tears again. The wounds wouldn’t end, not even when I won. The path of destruction caused by Dan was to compensate for the weakness I saw. He was left unchecked. There was no end game, but to conquer all, as my dad was conquered by his oppressor.

Again, I asked Dan to sit behind me, and become a part of my team. He’s no longer driving, but he’s there to give advice, to guide, and to support.

I asked my father to also join me, to reunite the brokenness, the ancestial line that was cut.

I was supported by my two masks, the two layers that kept me from feeling what I felt. Something deeper. Something more insidious. Something I’ve always known, but wanted to avoid.

Trigger warning – a bit on colonization.

I asked my friend, the person I worked with in February, to yet again, play the role of the colonizer that came to Vietnam, the French that colonized my country in 1877.

They came to Vietnam, and they brought the evil that was within them, and they didn’t know what to do with it, so they passed it on to the Vietnamese people, and now I carry that evil within me.

I said I felt rage, and that something was emerging within me.

As I sat there, facing him, I felt it bubbling to the surface, something held deep for generations. It lingered, and part of me was afraid I was going to lose the feeling.

And all the sudden…

I bent down and pushed myself onto the ground and screamed in agony. I cried, and I screamed, and frothed at the mouth.



Agony and pain.

A cry of my ancestors, who never could cry. They held this all in to survive, and passed it from generation to generation.

For 15 solid minutes, I cried.

The group behind me supported me. They channeled their own agony through me, and I cried the cries of generations.

When I finally came to, the facilitator saw on my face that there was something inside.

What else could there be I said. I just cried for 15 minutes.

So I looked at my colonizer again, searching deep in my soul.

And in that moment, it came to me.

When I cried, my grandfather cried. He too was in re-education camp for 8 years.

And that he would’ve been my elder, someone who could guide me through all these years.

And in the process of assimilating, I pushed him away.

I asked the person playing the role of my colonizer to enroll as my grandfather.

I looked at him and I cried.

I hugged him, and I cried.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry I let you go.

I’m sorry I didn’t learn from you when you were here with me.

And I also know that you’ve always been with me, through all these years, and I chose to muffle you out.

I’m sorry.

And in that moment, the ancestral lines were re-formed. What was taken away from me, I had restored, 43 years later.

I found this letter he had wrote to me, I kept it. I didn’t know why back then, but I put it into a box, and forgot about it. He always was there for me, even when he wasn’t.

And here he was, in those moments when I formed my masks. Those masks got me far in life, and yet the cost was too great. And yet now, I know he was always there for me, within me, and I was honored to cry his cries he never could.

I’m not happy. It’s not about being happy. That’s the lie you’re told, and an endless chase ensues.

Instead, I’m sad.

I’m grieving the loss.

In that grief work, the work to connect to the soul begins, and the collective healing spreads.

If you’re down this far, and you’ve read this much, thank you. This is the work of three years of deep therapy consistently every week, and intensively in workshops.

You don’t need to do this work. It’s hard.

For most of us, a little therapy is nice.

Published by Daniel Hoang

Daniel Hoang is a visual leader, storyteller, and creative thinker. As an experienced management consultant, he believes in a big picture approach that includes strong project leadership, creative methods, change management, and strategic visioning. He uses a range of visual tools to communicate business challenges, solutions, and goals. His change strategy is to build "tribes" of supporters and evangelists to drive change in culture and organization. Daniel is an avid technologist and futurist and early adopter.