One of the things I have always loved about Halloween is that it is a time of year dedicated to creating characters and dressing up. As a writer and an RPG gamer, creating characters is a big part of what I do! I love making up characters, giving them unique personalities and fully fleshed backgrounds. And a big part of creating characters, for me, is knowing what they look like, including what they are wearing.
This, of course, makes dressing up for Halloween a ton of fun. You can literally step into someone else, and be them for a night! But there is a lot more potential for this when you think about applying it to other areas of your life.
I have written before about stepping into different personas in order to enhance different areas of your life, and how you can pick clothing or jewelry to enhance qualities you want to bring to your day. But if you go beyond just picking clothes that evoke different emotions, you can build up characters that you then step into when you need to.
There are a lot of situations that I don't feel fully comfortable in. Sometimes, it's a matter of wanting to be more of what other people expect of me, such as when I visit family. Other times, it's just that I am not strong in certain social situations, and the anxiety creeps in, like when I have to talk to a group of unfamiliar people.
Some of these situations I can handle by just building up my shields and enhancing with clothing or jewelry that makes me feel stronger or more capable. Much like putting on armor helps protect you, certain things I wear make me feel 'more' of different things. But sometimes I need even more than that.
I think about creating characters for everyday use like playing 'what if' with my own history. Who would I be IF I were comfortable in this situation? Who would I be IF I were the type of person who matched my family? Who would I be IF I was skilled at that thing that I feel like I struggle with?
If I start with that question, I can build up a character, who is me, but who is also subtly different....a tweaked version of my self who can handle whatever it is that I struggle with. It's the combination of sameness and difference that makes this really effective. I am not stepping completely outside of myself, so I don't feel as awkward. Sort of like wearing someone else's clothing, the closer it is to something you might actually wear yourself, the less uncomfortable it will feel to wear them.
I think that our outlook (both clothing and how we carry ourselves) plays a huge role in how other people perceive us. When we dress differently, or speak in a different manner, we may be treated differently. This is especially true if people don't know you as well. So changing your clothes really can make you a new person!
Not only that, but clothing that isn't necessarily part of your regular wardrobe is a signal to yourself to keep in character. Much like how a costume helps an actor (and the audience) buy into the character they are playing, you can use your own wardrobe as a dressing room for costumes to help you step into the characters you need to portray.
Characters can be subtle. One of the situations that I don't typically feel comfortable in is school events, where I am with other parents. Hubby and I aren't typical parents, whatever that means. It is quite possible everyone feels this way, but I definitely feel like I don't fit in with other somewhat polished adults. My personal style of dress runs more towards witchy tee-shirts (which actually fit in this month!...but I wear them year round...) than blouses, and definitely leggings or shorts over any kind of skirt or dress. So I always feel like the oddly dressed teen in a group of adults.
Just putting on my more dressy clothes could make me feel out of sorts, but I have worked at developing a character of 'me who is a responsible parent'. The type of parent who doesn't forget engagements and might volunteer for things (which I pretty much will never do for school...I don't think I can take other people's kids in that kind of frequency). The type of parent who knows other parents (I know exactly one other parent at my son's school. I know way more of his friends than I know parents). The type of parent who doesn't find most of the 'school spirit' as lame as her son finds it (seriously...pajama day..in high school...in October....who comes up with this stuff?).
But I can dress for the role, and become that type of person, for a few hours, when I need to. And a big part of it is practice. It is building up that character, and having an image of her, fully fleshed in my head. It's knowing how she would feel when she is sitting in the auditorium waiting for that school performance (probably not wishing she could be home playing video games..). It's knowing that she would be perfectly comfortable talking to the people sitting next to her, or asking that question she needs the answer to (instead of wondering if she is the only one who doesn't know the thing).
And your costume doesn't have to be an exaggerated thing! In fact, I find that the more subtle the better. It is also a very personal thing. I pick clothing that I feel looks polished, but that also makes me feel polished, even if it's to pay attention to what color my socks are. I choose jewelry that looks nice, and that may have symbols that represent professionalism or competence to me. It doesn't matter if anyone one else knows what the different things mean, what matter is that they help me stay in the character I have chosen.
It can be hard to work on new characters, especially for situations that you feel the most anxiety or fear about. Troubling situations can break you out of a character, and put you back in the throes of that emotion that you are trying to overcome. But, if you can start yourself thinking about the character, and you keep asking yourself 'what would that character do now?' and 'how would they feel about this?', it can actually help distract you from the overwhelming emotions and help you get yourself back on track.
When working with characters like this, practice definitely makes, if not perfect, then at least better. The more you work with a particular character, the more you will be able to call upon them when you need to. You may find, that eventually, you don't even need any costuming to be able to embody a particular character, it is just always there, at your disposal, when you need it. And, eventually, you may find that you have taken on some of the qualities of the character that you didn't feel you had before! You may end up not needing that character at all, because you have become more confidant or more capable in the situations you needed it for.
So take a note from children...playing dress up and make-believe can not only be fun, but also useful! When you don't feel that you can handle a situation, become someone who can! Practice with your different characters, play with them, see what they would do in different places or when talking to different people. This can be a fun and rewarding exercise. And don't forget your costume!