We all wear masks and often without realising it we sell ourselves by how we appear.
Carl Jung called this mask the ‘persona’ and it is the ‘mask’ we show in society to please others. We need this mask because it helps us to function, but when we understand who we truly are, the persona becomes more pliable. Then we can be aware that we are wearing the mask, but at the same time, respect the boundaries and ways in which we all must act to function well in society and in different situations.
Problems occur when we lose sight of the delicate balance between our real ‘Self’ and our Persona. This is when we can come across as ‘fake’ and disconnected or lacking self-awareness. When we identify too much with the mask, it becomes a habit and we believe we are the face we put on. This limits our potential.
It is impossible, undesirable even, not to wear a mask because it is a defence against intuition and manipulation, but this does not mean that mask-wearing is always appropriate. If we identify solely with a certain persona/mask, it is to live in an illusion. We are labelling ourselves in a certain way because masks are labels. Humans though are always more than the label they give themselves. When people identify too much with their persona it results in a lack of emotional connection in their work and private lives, a lack of feeling they are contributing to something larger, a lack of drive and connection.
Besides protecting us, the persona also serves us as our personality, the social adaptation that we as individuals must make to society as a whole.
The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends and family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.
Our persona is like a role in a play. We create our first persona to please our parents and peers. Then we may have another persona to fit in with our job.
There is a psychic danger, a potential trap for the ego-consciousness because the persona is created to serve the ego. If the persona is especially successful in its effect upon the world, then the ego may so identify with it that it winds up serving the persona, the master becomes the slave.
I was the little girl with the narcissist father. A narcissist feels superior, they have illusions of grandeur – they need other people to become smaller. I developed approval addiction and an inferiority complex otherwise known as ‘Make Yourself Smaller Syndrome’.
If you have a superiority complex or an inferiority complex, you need other people around. As I grew up it was as if I needed to be found out that I wasn’t good enough so I ended up in relationships with narcissists. I played the role well and the mask stuck until I was in a car crash and the mask began to slip and I found myself on a journey towards finding the real me.
When you figure out how to be yourself it’s an incredibly liberating way to go through life.
Image: Joan Crawford holding a mask Wikimedia Commons