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The Masks We Wear

The Jungian term persona originally refers to a theatrical mask that Greek and Roman actors wore to portray their roles. In Jung's model of the psyche, one of the archetypes - the persona - is the mask or identity we present to the world.

Alfred Bozic
“The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough 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.” - C.G. Jung

The compromise between your true nature and society.

Crafting such a mask is a natural part of our development. The ego and the persona develop hand-in-hand. The persona begins to form out of a need to meet the expectations of our carers and society (the superego). As children, we learn quickly that some behaviours are acceptable while others are not.

Your role as an adult in society today has a set of behaviours that you adapted to integrate smoothly. When dealing with group demands, hiding some aspects of yourself behind the mask is sometimes necessary. Constructing your persona was thus vital for building your relationship with the world. Some examples of the persona can be a doctor, teacher, priest, lawyer, mother, father, husband, wife, son, and daughter, just to name a few.

"Whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face."

- C.G. Jung

Hiding who you truly are.

The danger is, that if your adaptation to societal demands and expectations is too strong, you become overly identified with the mask. When you rely on your persona, you unconsciously project ideal aspects of yourself - ego-image or false self - to the world. This image is not who you truly are but what you want others to believe you are. You neglect your inner truth, become emotionally distant, and your authenticity gradually fades. The gap between how you see yourself and how others see you gets bigger.

"Every calling or profession has its own characteristic persona … A certain kind of behaviour is forced on them by the world, and professional people endeavour to come up to these expectations. Only, the danger is that they become identical with their personas – the professor with his textbook, the tenor with his voice. Then the damage is done; henceforth he lives exclusively against the background of his own biography … One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself, as well as others, think one is."

- C.G. Jung

Deconstructing the false self.

In the first half of our lives, we are mainly concerned with building and protecting our persona (preparing for life). Although the persona is experienced as individuality, there is little individual about it. Protecting the false self requires a lot of energy and prevents your personal growth.

In the second half, some people become concerned with finding meaning and living authentic lives (preparing for death). Significantly few people recognise it is possible to drop the mask, deconstruct the ego-image, and align with their true Self.

Deconstructing the persona means questioning who you are and opening up to the risk of losing what you have built in your life. Losing what you have built carries the risk of living with uncertainty. However, uncertainty brings a plentitude of options if you are brave enough to explore them.

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