Things aren’t always as they seem, and if everything does seem objectively clear then the chances are we aren’t looking hard enough.
We often have a tendency to grossly underestimate the complexity of life and, with dominant forces such as the media and advertising, many of us are misguided about what to expect from it.
One of the most puzzling aspects of our lives? The people who populate it. You never know what to expect when meeting somebody new and even those who you are familiar with are always full of surprises.
The concept of the Persona (meaning mask in Latin) is the brainchild of psychologist Carl Jung and illustrates the process by which we contain all the primitive urges, impulses and true feelings that are not considered socially acceptable.
The mask that we put on though only shows the world what we want it to see. Everything else is neatly tucked behind it. We may have several masks for different situations throughout the day; talking to colleagues for example will certainly be different to talking with a close friend.
Jung created several archetypes which define people and behaviour, one of these being the Persona. And while these archetypes may seem fairly inconsequential at first, they provide a fascinating insight into the inner workings of people.
The Shadow acts as the counterpart to the Persona and contains all of the things that are unacceptable to society as well as contrary to our own morals.
It is in this archetype where feelings of envy, greed and prejudice may exist, and Jung believed that all of us possess a shadow, though most choose to deny its existence and project it on to others.
With the power of the Shadow and Persona we can easily filter our actions and behaviour and provide an “image” that is a far-cry from our actual personality.
As children we are thrust into a society with specific formalities and rules that we must adhere to and thus our personas and shadows develop as a mechanism to “fit-in” and keep within these norms; in essence it is these two concepts that prevent us from exercising animalistic traits and giving us many of the characteristics that make us people.
To balance out the Persona and Shadow there are two additional main archetypes, the True Self and the Anima. Jung theorised that every man possessed a female image in their psyche and vice versa, the Animus representing the masculine aspect in women while the Anima the feminine aspect in men.
He also believed that it was these archetypes that were involved in the creation of male and female gender roles, suggesting there is more of an overlap between genders than we may think.
The True Self represents the unified psyche as a whole i.e. the person we really are, not who we want people to think we are.
It encompasses aspects from the Anima and Shadow as well as the Persona to unify both the conscious and the unconscious mind. Jung believed that the ultimate aim of an individual was to achieve a sense of self and rely less on the shadow and persona during social interactions.
Now you’re probably wondering, what does any of this have to do with anything?
Well, if we take some of the most high-profile figures today, and even ourselves as examples, we find that Jung’s theory holds true. High profile political figures exercise their public persona perferctly, Donald Trump being a notable example.
They keep their Shadow well hidden. In a world where presence on social media and “likes” and “favourites” mean more than ever we can see Shadows getting larger and masks becoming more elaborate.
The danger with relying so heavily on keeping up with a façade is that we give the true self very little development.
This means that when the mask comes off and the Shadows are allowed to run loose we are often left with a struggle for identity.