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The persona, according to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, is the mask that individuals wear to hide their true selves from society. It is also the vessel that people use to view the world. A persona evolves from childhood as individuals navigate the stereotypes and norms of society, and develop a psychological framework of how to connect with the outside world.
It is very similar to playing a character in a script. If the persona is a mask that people wear in the metaphysical sense, it’s akin to actors taking on a role for a movie. In Carl Jung’s theory, however, the “movie” is real life. Everyday situations sometimes cause people to put on a persona in order to function without feelings of anxiety and other mental issues.
In an ideal world, the persona reflects the truest nature of the inner ego to the outside world. But complications present themselves when people’s inner selves are in opposition, directly or indirectly, with their exterior persona. Perhaps someone who is contently cheery is in actuality bitter and angry on the inside. Continued portrayal of a “false self” can lead to psychological conditions such as depression and anxiety. Jung routinely cautioned people about not being true to their own nature, despite the societal ramifications. The cliché “be yourself” was never a more appropriate sentiment.
The word persona itself is derived from the Greek word for mask, and it is one of the five Jungian Archetypes: self, shadow, anima, animus, and persona. Jung emphasized that an exaggerated persona, can easily smother one’s individuality, creating a rift between the true self and the outside self. Jungian dream theory indicates that the persona may manifest itself in dreams via the subconscious. Navigating the territory between the outside, physical world and the inner self, the persona forms from influences of values, culture and societal conditioning. By repressing elements of the psyche, individuals can create a mental battle of sorts. Over-reliance on the persona allows for the inner self to become hidden, like a shadow, but it may resurface with a vengeance.
Everyone, whether or not they know it, has a persona. The key, according to Jung, was having dexterity in adapting that persona to the true nature of self.
“One could say, with little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.” – Carl Jung
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