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-aggressive – 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 the 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.
Dr. Peter Milhado © 2011