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Discovering Archetypes – Day 1: The Persona

Masks

This article is part of our series on ‘Discovering Archetypes’, that we are doing on occasion of the Mental Health Awareness Week. To know what archetypes are all about, please read our introductory article.

The Persona

The persona is one of the archetypes that plays a very prominent role for most of us. The persona refers to the social mask you wear in public. It is the part of your conscious self that you present to the outside world; it is the image you wish to present to others. The persona includes your social roles, and it can be seen as a kind of ‘psychological clothing’ that you wear.

The word ‘persona’ comes from the Latin, literally meaning ‘mask’, ‘false face’, or ‘character played by an actor’. This term was used for large masks that early Greek actors used to wear to portray their characters. The primary function of these masks was not to hide the actor, but to give information about the character. In similar ways, the persona helps us ‘get into character’ in order to be able to perform a role that is expected of us. Inevitably, wearing the mask conceals the person behind that persona.

The persona, as defined by Carl Jung, refers to —”a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

Carl Jung considered persona to be a segment of the collective psyche of human beings, where it forms a kind of a façade usually constituted to be suitable to the society in which the individual lives. To an extent, this means that the individual can appear as a member of a race, clan, professional class, etc., and not as a human being with his/her own unique characteristics.

There can be various shelves in life from where human beings collectively pull masks from. It can be your occupation, the religious group you are born in, your political views, sexual orientation, to name a few. Some examples of persona, or the roles you play, can be teacher, lawyer, doctor, policeman, mother, father, husband, wife etc.

The persona can often be crucial to your positive development. As you begin to play a certain role, your conscious self (the ego, as Jung calls it) begins to identify with it, which can be important for your personality development.

A persona provides for some predictability in social relationships. For example, the personas of doctor and patient, or teacher and student can be useful in knowing what to do and where. A viable social persona can be necessary for getting along with others, for enhancing communication, for creating the impression that you wish to present, and for relating with the surrounding environment as you fill in the roles that the society expects of you. The persona thus helps an individual to adapt to the external social world.

How The Persona Could Limit Us

mask, poppies, field-1083605.jpg

Identifying too strongly with a specific persona can limit your psychological growth as an individual.  People can sometimes become identical with their personas. For example, a judge by profession may act like a judge all the time, even at home. Someday, even if this individual feels like doing something that does not conform to the role of a judge, for instance, dancing in the rain, he will not do so. He could become excessively concerned with ‘what people think’, and see himself only in terms of superficial roles and facades. 

This could depict an unreflecting state of mind, where it is difficult for the individual to look at himself as distinct (or much more) than what the society expects of them. Identifying too strongly with your persona can make you mistakenly believe that you are what you pretend to be, that your persona is your true nature, whereas in reality the persona is by no means a true identifier of your holistic self.

The goal here is that you develop a more realistic and flexible persona that helps you to navigate in society, but does not collide with, or hide your true self. It involves playing the roles that society expects you to play, but also embracing your innermost and incomparable uniqueness. The persona then becomes appropriate and tasteful, a true reflection of your inner individuality as well as your outward sense of self.

Moving Towards The True Self

Moving towards the true self

Think of the various masks you wear in the different roles that you play in your life. Do you over-identify or identify too strongly with any of those masks, do you start believing that the mask or that persona is you? If yes, then you are somewhere limiting yourself in the process of realizing your true self, or in the process of ‘individuation’.

Here are some ideas on what you could do to move towards wholeness:

  1. Reflect on yourself for a while. Make a note of the fantastic things that you have to offer, these may not be things that others value, but they have to be things you like about yourself.
  2. Accept yourself, for all your qualities as well as your flaws. Everything about you (your strengths as well as weaknesses) makes you unique and should be cherished.
  3. Accept others also as you accept yourself. Try not to judge. In this manner, you will not be excessively concerned with ‘what people think’, and you will not try too hard to identify with a particular persona.
  4. Step out of your comfort zone sometimes. Taking off your social mask, and singing your favourite song aloud when you really feel like it, may feel uncomfortable at first, but once you do, you will move a step towards your true self.

To conclude, you need to know that your social mask is not ‘you’. It is a part of you and serves an important purpose for relating to the society and for your personality development, but eventually it needs to be flexible such that the mask can be taken off when needed, in order to uncover your true self.

About the Author

This article was written by the Inner Space Team. This post was consulted & approved by professional therapists practicing online therapy and counseling. 

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