According to Jung, the persona is the false self that you craft. It is the identity that you have created to blend into groups, and it is how you want others to see you.
It is usually the role you play either personally or professionally. It is the uniform you wear every day, how you introduce yourself to others, and how you carry yourself in public.
The persona is is the star of a great play that all the other actors are taking part in. Anyone who get sucked into a career path must adopt a social mask in order to blend in, to be part of the functional whole. This is because raw individuality is rarely a tenable social strategy.
You learn at a young age that there is an acceptable pattern of behavior that you must manifest. And this will work quite well for you through your adolescent years, and even through early adulthood, but eventually, too strict an identification with the persona will bring about a tragic outcome: you become nothing but persona.
Schopenhauer described this function very dearly as “what one appears to oneself and one’s surroundings or in the reflection of one’s surroundings;” he went on to warn about “the difference between what one is and what one performs.” If someone identifies with this role, he should be discriminated against as “personal.” His opposite number would be an “individual” person. The expression “personalities” is based on the same phenomenon and is understood as an unpleasant opposite of perfect adaptation, i.e., as egocentricity. or identification with the persona.
- Personality — The individuation Process, C.A Meier
You become so attached to your social mask that you have no other sense of self. Your persona determines what you strive towards, which will determine how you structure your life, which will then determine your future goals. It is as if a vicious circle has been triggered, where your authentic voice gradually gets drowned out.
But this is not catastrophic to other people, since the person who is dominated by their persona can be effective and functional socially and professionally. They can earn money, and the love and admiration of others — they can get anything they want in life and their persona will be instrumental in helping them achieve their goals.
What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?
- Mathew: 16:26
The problem is that if you are nothing but persona, then you are a puppet. You relinquish control completely, and you no longer become the author of your life.
If you have no authentic qualities, no connection with your deepest yearnings, and no real self-knowledge, then you will become wholly pragmatic. You will echo popular opinion to appease others, you will use language instrumentally, and you will lie, to yourself and to others. This will make you feel weak and disintegrated, and eventually, you will estrange other people who wise up to your intentions.
A knife doesn’t slice fruit because it wants to eat, similarly, you work and you socialize not because you want to, but because unconscious social forces have compelled you to. You are merely following the whims of the collective.
There is a double-meaning to the term “collective unconscious.” In one sense, it is the genetically inherited unconscious that you share with your group, and through it, the attainment of your individuality is possible. This is the Jungian definition. But it can also be defined as the unconscious identity that you share with your group- it is how the group already operates: the unconscious patterns of behavior that you collectively follow, and that is the antithesis to individuality. This highlights the difference between patterns and trends. Long-term patterns of behavior belong to Jung’s collective unconscious, while short-term trends describe the second definition.
Imagine a news reporter who is paid to recite a specific narrative every night to millions of people. This person is essentially an actor, and they become fully identified with the message they are delivering, regardless of whether they truly believe it or not.
They represent a character that dissents, that shows outrage, humor even, but it is all fake. They are enacting a parody of themselves, and for these people, or for anyone in any role in life, it becomes difficult to dissociate from the persona they have crafted. Think of the military officer who carries their authoritarian attitude into their relationships with family and friends.
The persona is a tool, it can help you mold into a less ambiguous form, which in turn will make your character more digestible, more familiar, and more likable. But as Jung tells us, brewing in the darkness, in the recesses of your mind is your shadow, it is what is being repressed by your persona.
The confrontation with the shadow is the first test of courage in the path towards individuation. This confrontation is frightening to most people — recognizing the most unpleasant things about yourself is disconcerting. It is easier for you to project your shadow onto the rest of the world, conceiving of yourself as a truly good person, while reserving the qualities of wretchedness, aggression, hatred, and greed to other people.
Jung tells us to acknowledge our dark side, to confront our shadow — he does not believe that the ‘rational’ approach to dealing with your shadow works — that is, to deny its existence.
As proof of the existence of the shadow, people constantly do things they don’t want to do. Jung gives us the example of war. Everyone in the world wants peace and prosperity, and yet, the nations of the world are fighting an aggressive arms race. There is a disconnect between conscious intention and reality. A professor may preach the noble virtues of the Greeks to their children and their peers but will happily engage in deception in reality. This is because the psyche isn’t a coherent entity that you have full control of.
The shadow can take possession of the individual, the same way the anima can. These are what Jung calls “inferior functions.” Once possessed by the shadow, the individual behaves in ways that are not congruent with his conscious desires.
The anima is the feminine personality in men, while the animus is the masculine personality in women. For heterosexual men nearing the middle of life, around the age of 35, the loss of the anima can be undertaken without injury to the psyche. In this stage, what is important is for a man to be a man. This is when the individual must free himself from the anima fascination of his mother. But after the middle of life, the permanent loss of the anima restricts vitality, flexibility, and human kindness. This results in premature rigidity, fanatical one-sidedness, stereotypy, or even irresponsibility.