Midlife’s Main Confrontation: Persona vs. Shadow

by Peter Milhado PHD on October 25, 2018

All of us wear masks at different times.  For example, we are one way at work, different with our friends, still different with our lovers, children, mothers in law, etc… Our masks, or in modern parlance our Personas, are usually developed to gain affirmation and acceptance in the outside world i.e. ‘Nice Guy’, ‘Good Girl’, ‘Loyal Employee’, ‘Humanitarian Boss’, ‘Compassionate Therapist’, ‘Super Mom’ etc.  Even those who are oppositional by disposition and wear the Personas of ‘Rebel’, ‘Loner’, “Macho Individualist’, ‘I don’t need anybody Career Woman’ are only wearing reactive personalities not yet healed from brutal, early authority conflicts.  I’m especially leery of those who boisterously announce, “I’m up front, I tell it like it is!” “I don’t pull any punches.” “I am always honest.”  Their claim to ‘candor’ is often a disguise for rage, cruelty and a need for control over others.  Despotic control is always a compensation for tremendous feelings of inferiority, unworthiness and often feeling unlovable.

Profiles for Personas are formed early in life, primarily to manage fear and anxiety and often are reactions to early trauma, including responses to childhood authoritative figures (parents, religious institutions, teachers…). There are three unconscious responses to early overwhelming authority figures: (1) obedience (2) defiance (3) passive- aggressiveness± i.e. “I will do the dishes at three o’clock”(fearful obedience).  At three o’clock “Oh I forgot”  (cowardly defiance).  Personas only fake individuality – they’re a compromise between our individual needs and the demands of society and authority figures.

I don’t mean to trash Personas per se, because they are a reality of life for all of us.  I certainly behaved differently at a seminar with colleagues last Saturday morning, than I did with my comrades around the campfire that same night.  As always, the critical point is consciousness.  Once we reach mid-life we are strongly requested to become fully aware what Personas we are wearing and especially what our motivation is for wearing them.  Overall, the need for wearing Personas lessens and lessens as we get older, there is something bigger going on in our psyches than our Personas.  If we’re unconscious of our Personas we become neurotic like the 24 hours a day ‘dutiful daughter’ ‘misunderstood artist’ ‘compliant city council member’ ‘selfless minister’…


When we hit 40, the capacity for self-deception is exhausted.  If self-deception continues, there is hell to pay!  In midlife a radical change needs to take place, because the depressions, anxieties and general suffering are a summons to move from the Persona to authenticity.  Nobody but ourselves can save us from ourselves – the main enemy is always WITHIN. The answer is simple – take a long, deep and genuine look in the mirror… again and again and again and again.  Of course this whole initiation ritual is advisable only for those who have some inner authority already.  The company of a fellow pilgrim, who knows about the ‘night sea journey’, is strongly recommended.

This pilgrimage is hard and painful, but if you hang in there…keep on looking…there is soul there.  If we can eventually cop to our own weaknesses, fears, dependencies, manipulation, power plays, cruel streaks etc. something incredible happens.  Many of our psychological symptoms like depression, anxiety, somatic complaints lessen or vanish.  Our ‘Shadow’ is not something we can choose to have; it’s there just like our noses and feet.

Persona vs. Shadow Confrontation

Look at it from an energy viewpoint.  The amount of energy we put into our Personas looking industrious, entertaining, responsible, good or oppositional, macho, non-needy, and rebellious, is absolutely awesome.  Doing ‘Inner Shadow Work’ liberates all of this energy to live a much more soulful and creative life.  We become free to live according to our natural self, no longer living up to or impetuously opposing the demands and expectations of others, or how we ought to live.

As I am writing this I just remembered criticisms from two old friends of mine, Mountain Man Leo and Seminary James ( AKA Los Cabos Jaime).  According to them, my recent articles have been “too heady” and “ too intellectual”.  “You’re losing touch with the people, brother, who I thought you were writing it for to begin with.”  “Keep it simple, amigo!”  I believe they were gentle with me this time (which is not always the case).   In reality they probably felt I was on my soapbox, a bit arrogant, yet affirmation seeking, self-serving and ego strutting.  Of course, all of these traits are in my personal Shadow’s agenda. The Shadow is both powerful and tricky and even though I’ve been doing this work for many moons, I still get overrun more times than I like to admit.  Shadow work is a lifelong commitment; like the poet said, “Imagine Sisyphus happy!”… Here we go again.


When we run with our Personas in the first half of life to meet the demands of our parents, culture and religious institutions, we’ve pushed away and repressed large portions of our personalities.  To make it in the outer world, we neglect our inner world and in midlife we pay the price, as our suffering becomes acute.  The neglected parts of our souls (Levinson calls them ‘other voices in other rooms’) start screaming, if we can only hear!

When we repress sensitivity it shows up as sugarcoated sentimentality  or numbness; when we repress anger it shows up as passive- aggressiveness, cruelty and/or depression; when we repress spontaneity it shows up as boredom; when we repress creativity it shows up as inertia and resentment.

The shadow not only includes our unacknowledged negative characteristics; it also includes our repressed positive traits and creativity.  The shadow embodies all which has not been allowed expression.  Here is a major point in mid-life psychology!  The negative shadow has to be owned first, before our positive shadow and creativity can show up.  This appears in nighttime dreams when the threatening, power driven, ruthless characters are slowly replaced by strong, humanitarian, creative and helpful characters.  When we own our darkest impulses we gain new energy and get our creativity back!  Bingo!  That’s it – no mas!  Only when we begin to tap our repressed potential do we free ourselves from  the agenda of others!  The more we know  ourselves, our masks and our dark side, including scars, blemishes and warts, the richer our life will be.  It’s about wholeness, not about perfection!

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018



Midlife Years: Reflections on Midlife Affairs

by Peter Milhado PHD on August 25, 2018

No one can do our soul work for us and from mid-life on, soul work includes the search for meaning.  Only when we stop expecting our spouses to bring meaning to our lives can we begin to tap our own potential.  If our primary measures of self-worth and security depend solely on the affirmation and love of our partners we end up in trouble.  In modern day parlance, if the so-called ‘co-dependent’ continues to play a supporting role in someone else’s opera, mid-life will raise absolute havoc in their inner world.  When dependency needs for a partner are out of hand, bottomless ‘ attachment hunger’ follows, which always leads to severe depression or abandonment.  Those who are not willing to face ‘fears of change’ can’t individuate nor fulfill their potential.  Some become martyrs and martyrs do not make good partners or parents, for that matter.  For the price of their ‘sainthood’ others will pay dearly!  Absolutely no change will occur when we see our life as a problem caused by others.


In our patriarchal society most women have to make a greater leap than men towards their right to be themselves and individuate. Until these last few decades women were told to find fulfillment through their husbands and sons, which left a mark.  Many mid-life women, when they first arrive in therapy, are plagued with negative inner voices, “Don’t try, you’ll fail”, “You don’t have what it takes”, “Who do you think you are?!” etc.  If they listen closely they will discover this inner voice is often masculine.  Their night time dreams are often filled with threatening masculine figures trying to harm, rape or kill them.  This happens when a woman is stuck, unable to act, or chip a piece of the earth out for herself in the outside world as she is disconnected from her masculine energy.

Initially therapy deals with the expression of a lot grief and anger.  Later on when the woman begins to gather energy for a new life, challenges the fears and inner forces blocking her, the masculine figures in her dreams become less threatening and eventually become allies.  A healthy personality doesn’t seem to be a given, it’s attained through a daily struggle against the demons of doubt and fear of disapproval.


Again, due to our patriarchal society men have been conditioned to shun their feelings as well as their inner life and therefore lose touch with intuitive wisdom.  By the time they reach mid life the average male is isolated, a stranger to himself and others.  He’s become a slave to power, status and money – whether he’s attained any of it or not.  Many only know the presence of power as a sign of their manhood, because our society has put such tremendous pressure to play out the old roles of economical animal and becoming top dog!  If you ask this kind of man how he feels he will tell you what he thinks.

The initial time spent in therapy is often spent in helping men reconnect to their feeling nature.  As our technological society has traded information for wisdom, soul has gone out of most working places.  That’s why you see many mid-life men dreading work and dreaming of getting to play golf on some Elysian field after the business world has spit them out.  What a tragedy that is!  We need our elders, now more than ever.  Michael Ventura had it down when he said, ”The reason other cultures didn’t invent technology is not because they’re more primitive, but because they liked their lives better!”

Reflections on Mid-Life Affairs

So when men and women crawl into mid-life this unhappy, something is bound to happen.  Statistics tell us midlife affairs occur in about 50% of the marriages with men only slightly ahead of women.  When one represses feelings or creativity or basic joy in life, forces well up in the unconscious that often overwhelm the person.  It’s not like an individual gets up in the morning and says, “Well I think I’m gonna screw up my life today, hurt my spouse and my children and risk losing everything I have fought to attain (Hollis).”

As I said in a previous post, when the 45 year old husband runs away with his 22 year old secretary, most of the time he has projected his undeveloped inner feminine side and years of longing unto the young ‘goddess’.  I’m sure there are exceptions, but this seldom works.  Therapist Mae Rohm was right when she said, “The screwing you get is not worth the screwing you get!”  In my experience, this kind of a man eventually comes in and says something like, “Things are really great, but to tell you the truth, I absolutely hate that music she plays all the time!”  Usually that’s the beginning of the end.  On the other hand there are some marriages that are so abusive and soulless, they need to be left behind!

Relationship Therapy

Many times marital therapy starts with one spouse initiating it to help validate his or her case against the other.  If at all possible, I stay away from who’s right and who’s wrong.  The real issue in relationship therapy is to eventually have both partners contemplate the following question “What is it about my behavior or my past history that contributes to the problems we are having?”  Both partners are requested to look in the mirror.  If the relationship is to survive soulfully, both partners have to do inner soul work…its hard work!  To share one’s needs, fears, hopes, sense of failure and weakness is true intimacy and takes tremendous courage; few couples achieve it.  The real cement in a marriage is to know what’s it like to live in another’s skin and yet retain one’s individuality!  A marriage can only be as good and developed as the two people in it!  Thanks again to James Hollis Ph.D. for his many contributions.

One for all and all for one. Love to Mother Meera

Peter Milhado © 2018


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