Taking off the mask: what is your persona?

My favorite part of my day is often coming home and washing my face. I love the feeling of washing the day away and fully embracing a level of comfort that I’m unable to throughout the day.

I feel safe, secure, and completely supported in my home so it’s no wonder that my literal “mask” can come off. I no longer have to embrace the persona that my current job entails, instead I can just fully relax. I am able to quietly reenergize through introverting and having a quiet night at home with my husband.

Swiss psychiatrist, Carl Jung, is one of my favorite psychological theorists. I do a lot of work with my clients on how the four archetypes (The Self, The Shadow, The Anima or Animus, and The Persona) manifest themselves in their lives. The persona is one of Jung’s four archetypes that he uses to explain personalities and behaviors that we show the world. Persona is quite literally the Latin word for mask. Jung proposed that our persona is the mechanism to which we protect our ego; if we are not an “open book” and others do not know how we are truly feeling, then the ego does not have as much risk of being injured.

Our persona is a collection of our behavioral characteristics, demeanor, and even ways of speaking that we exhibit to various social settings. A truly evolved, mentally healthy individual is able to recognize which parts of their persona are being utilized and ultimately should strive to be the most authentic version of themselves that they can be—drawing all aspects of who they are and bringing them to every social and personal situation. However, more times than not, the collaboration of persona and authentic self does not occur.

Persona, the mask or image we present to the world. Designed to make a particular impression on others, while concealing our true nature.

                                                                                                  -Carl Jung

Consider this: you go to see your favorite musician. They are charismatic, energetic, and engaging on stage. Afterwards, you wait to meet them and observe that there is an awkwardness, almost a shyness about them. The juxtaposition of what you have just observed them doing on stage versus who they are in real life is quite apparent.

That, my friends, is quite simply the concept of persona. We all to a certain degree, have a “face” that we put on to brave the world.  Humans learn that they must behave differently in different settings in order to elicit a certain desired effect. I recently watched a documentary on the very talented musician Amy Winehouse where she spoke to the persona in her own terms. She talked about her shyness, how she was actually a person that enjoyed keeping to herself but when her fame escalated, it created a sort of discomfort in her.

When our public personas become so different from who we really are underneath the “mask”, psychological discomfort ensues. Having to “play” such different life roles on a daily basis then becomes a confusing situation where a person may start to try to escape through maladaptive means. In an effort to alleviate [and escape] the anxiety that a person begins to experience from not incorporating all aspects of their personality, they may start to engage in sexually deviant behaviors, substance use/abuse, and or even calling into work because the stress is too much (just to name a few that I’ve witnessed in the clinical setting).

Think of public personalities that become involved in scandals. I think of former U.S. House of Representatives politician, Anthony Weiner, who was involved in several sexting scandals. He displayed the public persona of a vocal liberal Democrat, not afraid to voice his opinions on various topics. However, in his personal life, he was quite devious and engaged in several very scandalous sexting incidents. One could argue that his shadow archetype (shadow archetype next on the blog) was at play here, but I also think that his persona disfigurement was the culprit. Even his wife had to put on a public persona of support for her husband after the incidents came to light. I can only imagine what was happening behind closed doors in her home. Do you see the example of when your public persona and personal persona collide? For many, those that are closest to us are also affected.

The healthiest individual has a clear understanding of who they must be in certain situations, yet that person is able to retain characteristics of themselves in all situations. I know for example, that I do better with one on one situations. I may be at a get together, but you will not see me entertaining the crowd. I feel most comfortable making my way around the room, interacting with one person at a time, having a quality interaction. I know that this plays largely into what I do on a daily basis: interacting with an individual therapy client. I don’t feel as if I’m having to compromise who I am in an effort to work, and I come home feeling happy with my interactions. Incorporating public and personal personas.

Think about who you are at home, and who you are in the public eye. Are they one in the same? Are there similarities? Do you come home feeling like yourself or do you feel like you’re wearing a mask that does not fit? Only you know and only you can decide.

Take off the mask and see what happens.

And if you can’t fully do that, begin to incorporate who you really are into your daily life. See what happens.

Wholeness is not achieved by cutting off a portion of one’s being, but by integration of the contraries.

Carl Jung

Wishing you self-discovery and an authentic life today and every day,

Rachel Ann

For more information on the persona archetype: