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The Public You is a Compromise – The Persona

Oceanside Star February 24, 2011      The actor Claire Danes recently stated, “The life of my persona has nothing to do with me.” 

In Latin, persona originally meant a mask worn by actors to indicate the role they played. Carl Jung used the term persona to represent the ‘I’ that one presents to society. It is also the ‘I’ that society expects us to show it.  Like the theatrical mask, the persona gives an indication of what the person is like. It helps define who we are which is helpful in social settings. In different situations we put on different masks such as Husband, Father, Son, Coach, Entertainer, or Boss.

The persona is useful in that it mediates between our true self and society and acts as a protective covering. However, the persona is actually a compromise between what a person really is and what society expects the person to be.

Neptune, the Roman god of the sea, is often referred to as masked. We know that beneath the sea’s tranquil surface deceitfully hides its underlying turbulence. So, what is the cost of our personal deception?

When we over identify with a persona we lose sight of who we are. We take on roles, complete with a set of standard ‘shoulds’ and ‘musts’ associated with each one. We begin to act in a predetermined way according to the expectations rather than how we truly want to feel and act.

When ego becomes too attached to the persona, a person loses sight of other aspects of their self. These neglected yet necessary traits remain further hidden or entrenched in the unconscious. Dreams or outer situations may start to present symbols of dress, armor, veils, and shields. Distinct roles such as Teacher, President, Server, or Caregiver may also become more noticeable. 

As one moves farther away from our soul or true self a huge psychic division occurs. This may lead to loss of meaning, depression, emotional outbursts, increased body distress and addictive behaviours. As the division widens, one may begin to feel trapped, crazy, or stuck.

A phase in life when persona is noticeably challenged is during mid-life. Upholding the roles of Super-Parent, Good Daughter, Loyal Supporter or Carefree Wanderer for decades may cause the soul to finally shout, “Enough!” One may reach a crisis, exclaiming, “I’m not going to do this anymore!”

As we leave the sea’s calm surface and dive into the turbulent depths we ask our self questions, perhaps for the first time, “Who am I?,” and “How do I really want to live my life?” As Ralph Waldo Emerson stated, “Tο bе yourself іn a world thаt іѕ constantly trying tο mаkе уου something еlѕе іѕ thе greatest accomplishment.”

In Italian per sonare means ‘to sound through.’ Perhaps this is a more soulful way of looking at persona. Instead of a mask, it’s a way of being so that the voice of our true self comes through.

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Diane Hancox, MA, CCC provides counselling services to Parksville, Qualicum Beach, Nanaimo and Vancouver Island.