Full Circle POV

Nurturing a holistic, integral point of view for greater leader and team effectiveness and member well-being.

Archive for the category “C. G. Jung”

We are Awash in Persona, Drowning Perhaps

The professional persona, the complex web of how we present ourselves and our expected knowledge, skills, and abilities, is a high-level example of persona-shaping. Persona is what we want other people to experience and perhaps rely on when they observe and interact with us. We simultaneously build connections to the world around us and maintain barriers against intrusion into our inner psychological worlds (Ego and Shadow). We work hard to build and preserve our reputations. Be seen and not seen at the same time, project and protect.

Here’s an interesting exercise: Choose a day to be especially observant and conscious of the multiple ways you adjust how you present and interact (or don’t) with the various people and situations you encounter that day. Notice the constant shaping of your Persona to sync with people and situations; notice the feedback when you fail to, choose not to, or are simply unable to sync.

Persona is not a static mask we wear. Persona is a dynamic shaping process. As I pointed out in Persona, the Public Face:

Persona is more a reflection of the collective values and expectations, than personally created, being at heart the adaptation to the social environment of family, culture, and society. The person particularly bound to the dictates of the collective environment without reflection is the most identified with the Persona.

The Center of Consciousness, the Ego, tends to over-identify with it’s Persona. For most people the “locus of control” is external. Always turned out and  cognizant of the expectations of their environment, either quickly shifting with the changes in the surrounding environment or narrowing that environment to only deal with particular types of people. As we grow, we develop a greater ability to shape shift somewhat quickly, even as the composition of the group we are with changes, or simply walk into the next office at work. Our sense of proper persona can easily become rigidified.

From the moment we wake, we navigate the social milieu. Observe how you interact with your partner, your friends, your new love interest, your kids, your coworkers, your boss, the other gender, people of another race or ethnicity, your boss’s boss, the barista at the coffee shop, strangers,… Observe how you come to understand what is appropriate and not with those different people and in different settings. Notice how you shape shift.

Notice your vigilance. Notice your discomfort when you are out of sync with your social environment and, conversely, the discomfort of people in different environments when you are innocently or flagrantly not syncing; when you aren’t acting as they think you should be acting; you don’t look like they think you should look. Notice race, gender, ability, sexual orientation, age…

Turn on your TV and observe the myriad ways advertising plays into this dynamic persona-shaping process. We’re bombarded with messages, products and services that are designed to impact our public faces. Branding is a company’s persona-shaping activity.

Watch politicians shape both their Personas and their opponents’ Personas.

We make judgments about people as we experience their Personas. Narrow, rigid personas are intolerant, even afraid of a diversity of personas. Observe discrimination. Notice how dangerous, even deadly, the inability or unwillingness to adapt the Persona to the social environment (for whatever reason–where someone is seen as other) can be. Think hate crimes, religious persecution, lynching, genocide. Think ISIS.

How can such an essential aspect of our psyche be so destructive? To be conscious, we need to understand Persona’s ever-present twin, Shadow, and the dynamics of Polarities.

 Persona

Full Circle POV Lexicon: The Collective Unconscious

The Unconscious is all that which is not conscious. The fullness of the psyche is quite simply unfathomable. It is symbolically thought of as the depths, the sea, the darkness, dark forest, the Great Mother, God itself. Unconsciousness is the ground from which consciousness rises and to which it returns. We develop greater consciousness out of an unconscious state. We incarnate into consciousness, as it were, potentialities that lie within the Unconscious. The emergence of consciousness is easy to witness in the development of children.

Jung described two layers of the unconscious, the Personal and the Collective. The Personal Unconscious is the accumulated memories, experiences, thoughts, perceptions, and feelings that have fallen out of conscious awareness through forgetting, repression, or because they lack the energy necessary to be perceived. This is the vast accumulated stuff of a lifetime that is subjective in nature. Clients in therapy, often come to see me to work through this material. There is always a deeper, not personal, level operating for all of us, the ground of being.

The Collective Unconscious is the great depth or vastness of the psyche. It is the nonpersonal, objective psyche common to all human beings. It is here the universals of mankind exist that manifest subjectively in different particular, idiosyncratic ways. The Collective Unconscious is the ultimate source from which consciousness emerges; it is not a by-product of individual consciousness or experience. To Jung, the entire structure of the human psyche and dynamic patterns for psychological development and growth have their origins in this deep primordial level. From the universal objective psyche, the individual subjective psyche emerges.

The Collective Unconscious is the supra-personal foundation, the ground, of both the personal unconscious and consciousness, and is complete in its nature, containing both the negative and positive, thesis and antithesis, what have you, and is unaffected by the directions or judgments of the conscious psyche. The conflicted polarities of human Ego consciousness exist as wholes at this level. The filtering of Unconscious polarities through the conscious Ego determines the positive or negative value of any given polarity (see A Principle of Opposites).

These roots or dominants within the Collective Unconscious are what Jung referred to as archetypes and are, in effect, the universal operating programs, the human software shared by every human being. While archetypes generate psychological images and patterns of behavior, they are not experienced directly, as such, but in the manifestations of their effects.

Because of the bottomless depth of the Unconscious, all human possibility is potentially experienced given the right conditions of biology, personality, gender, or other triggering condition or event, and, by far, mostly never can or ever will be experienced directly. Those possibilities will be given different expression varying from individual to individual, group to group, culture to culture, circumstance to circumstance, but will at root have the same source in the Collective Unconscious. Although individuals, groups, and cultures may look different in their specifics, look beyond and through the particulars and you will see the common archetypal patterns in action.

Lake Superior Schooner

(Jung, 1973, 1977; Stevens, 2003).

See Bookshelf for complete citations.

Jung’s Map of the Psyche

Slide04 Slide05

Full Circle POV Lexicon: Shadow

Daily, we see figures moving at the edge of consciousness that are a bit disconcerting. They are the thoughts, feelings, behaviors, potentialities, desires, and dreams that are unacceptable or that we might characterize as not me: aspects of the personality that have been pushed down for years. This is the Shadow, a term that most people have probably heard more and more in daily conversation.

Shadow, initially, is the entire unconscious psyche. Like looking out from the close proximity of the campfire into the inky darkness, we know the dangers that exist out there, or in there, that will potentially, or likely, do us harm. We remain close to the light or we take a bit of light with us, a flashlight.

The Shadow is mostly unconscious and is both personal and collective. Psychologically, we avoid the shadow side of our personality as threatening and distasteful. These elements threaten the sense of identity held onto tightly by the Ego/Persona. Rather than interact readily with these elements, we ignore them or erect defenses against them. Robert Bly, the poet, describes the Shadow as the bag that we drag behind us, into which we throw all difficult truths or possibilities that we cannot face about ourselves. We naturally ignore/repress the shadow aspects of our personality with the mistaken belief that we have them under control. They will have their say however, forcing themselves into our conscious awareness, if not now, then at some point in the future.

We receive loud hints of the Shadow’s presence daily, most frequently through the phenomenon of projection whereby we experience the repressed material as if it were exclusively true of an object in the environment. A sure indicator that our Shadow is involved in our reaction toward someone else, known or unknown, is the level of intensity of affect, of emotion. The more intense our emotional reaction or mental energy, the more we are experiencing our own Shadow, even when we have a legitimate complaint about that person or situation. After all, a projection cannot occur unless there is something on which it can hang.

Others see our Shadow much more readily than we ever will. That’s because we are oblivious to our unconsciousness and see the cause for our emotions and behaviors as externally caused.

Molly Tuby, a British psychoanalyst, suggested some typical ways all of us receive hints of our own shadow side:

  • In the content of our humor
  • In our exaggerated feelings about others (positive and negative)
  • In negative feedback from others who serve as our mirrors
  • In those interactions in which we continually have the same troubling effect on several different people
  • In our impulsive and inadvertent acts
  • In situations in which we are humiliated
  • In our exaggerated anger about other people’s faults

I would add: “In those things that we have done and that we have left undone” that leave us or others around us perplexed.

Jung again:

Unfortunately there can be no doubt that man is on the whole, less good than he imagines himself or wants to be. Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. If an inferiority is conscious, one always has a chance to correct it. Furthermore it is constantly in contact with other interests, so that it is continually subjected to modifications. But if it is repressed and isolated from consciousness, it never gets corrected.

Here is the split within the personality: the Ego/Persona instinctively seeks to defend its dominant position often feeling the struggle with the Shadow to be one of survival itself. The Ego/Persona will perceive the Shadow as inferior and contaminating, the enemy threatening to bring down everything that the Ego/Persona has striven to develop. The Shadow compensates keeping pace with the Ego/Persona in its continuing attempts to reach conscious integration. The struggle escalates proportionate to the level of repression or suppression by the Ego/Persona, as described in A Principle of Opposites.

The Self, the fuller personality, seeking the integration of the whole person, will speak through the Shadow and will be heard even if the consciousness of the individual needs to be thrown into chaos or possessed outright by the shadow quality.

Parisian Schoolboy

A Principle of Opposites

Two souls, alas! reside within my breast
and each is eager for a separation:
in throes of coarse desire, one grips
the earth with all its senses;
the other struggles from the dust
to rise to high ancestral spheres.

Goethe, Faust, Part I (Trans. Atkins, p.30)

Jung was very aware of the tendency of human consciousness to perceive in terms of polarities, paired opposites, and how preferences of consciousness (Ego/Persona) have a determining role in the ways in which people perceive the world, interpret what they perceive, and take action. To further understand the dynamics of polarities within the conscious and unconscious it is necessary to introduce a principle of opposites that is key to Jung’s thinking on the psyche.

Shapiro and Alexander (1975) describe it well in these excerpts specifically related to their research on Extraversion and Introversion, but applicable to any polarity:

The principle of opposites states that the two attitudes are polar opposites found in each individual. One pole is located in consciousness, the second in the unconscious. The relation between the two poles, it is postulated, in [sic] a function of the degree of “dominance” of the conscious pole. Dominance means a one-sided employment of the conscious attitude, which prevents the expression of the opposite unconscious attitude in consciousness. With minimal dominance, when the unconscious attitude occasionally expresses itself, it does so in a compensatory or complementary way. It adds to or rounds out the conscious attitude in the latter’s service. With increasing one-sidedness of the conscious attitude, however, the suppressed unconscious pole has a more opposing and destructive relation to its conscious opposite. It then “irrupts” or intrudes in an “archaic,” infantile, and inappropriate manner. This suppression of the other side and its subsequent uncontrollable release is the heart of Jung’s conception of neuroticism. (p. 38), and

…”opposite” in the principle of opposites is in the sense of opposition….There are different states of tension between them resulting in varying “working” relations from complementarity or servitude to open combat…. [The “opposites”] run counter to each other. Each has its own independent mode of operation, and the relationship between the two can be variable. (p. 39)

Jung was grounded in a both/and perspective born of his extensive clinical experience and research. For him, both sides of any polarity exist as dynamic potentials within the psyche. Unfortunately, as the principle of opposites explains, there is a universal, natural, and very problematic tendency to split opposites that leads to the over-emphasis of one in the conscious Ego/Persona and the neglect of the other which falls into the shadow.

See full citations in the Bookshelf

Two Doors

Full Circle POV Lexicon: Persona, the Public Face

Closely related to the Ego is the Persona, originally meaning the mask that an actor wore for a role. It is that function of the psyche that enables the individual to create a relationship with the environment. Or as Jung put it,

The persona… is the individual’s system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world. Every calling or profession, for example, has its own characteristic persona….Only, the danger is that [people] become identical with their personas -the professor with his text-book, the tenor with his voice, [the pastor with his clerical tabs]…One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.

Or another thought of Jung’s,

The persona is a complicated system of relations between individual consciousness and society, fittingly enough a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and, on the other, to conceal the true nature of the individual.

Persona is more a reflection of the collective values and expectations, than personally created, being at heart the adaptation to the social environment of family, culture, and society. The person particularly bound to the dictates of the collective environment without reflection is the most identified with the Persona. Does this mean that the rebel who rages against society’s norms is freed from persona? On the contrary, neither is particularly individuated. Both are bound to the collective albeit with different positive and negative valences. The rebel will speak with disgust toward those who are herd animals, while failing to express a mainstream opinion in the company of other rebels.

We tend to identify with the Persona and continue to develop and strengthen its related skills, its expression, and consistency, and we’re rewarded by the collective to which we belong. Those rewards and sense of responsibility and perhaps fear of loss are powerful; giving them up is a frightening task and few are able to muster the courage to do so.

The first step for the Ego, toward wholeness, is the awareness that the Persona is too tight, too limited in its scope; that the other aspects of the psyche or of the world can no longer be denied. Actually, for most people the Persona becomes more flexible and variable over the lifespan, as the person needs to adapt to new situations and circumstances, whether external or internal.

The Persona is necessary if we are to have an orderly, well-functioning society with shared social mores. However, it can become rigid and legalistic and eventually become nothing more than an empty mask, a shallow reflection as a mirror of collective values. Genuineness is an on-going process wherein the Ego through self-reflection seeks to live out something of the fuller reality of the individual, good and bad, rather than simply reflect the surrounding environment.

The Ego believes itself to be the center of the psyche and tenaciously holds on to that sense of absolute dominion holding off any information from the environment or from the unconscious that it sees as incongruent with its sense of identity. The Ego serves a crucial function in the psyche but is often blind to the fact that it resides and operates within a larger psychic context with the supra-ordinate Self being the true center of the psyche. The Ego-Persona takes itself way too seriously.

The Ego’s limited and one-sided view is quite natural and to a certain point in the development of the personality, probably essential. It will naturally seek perfection as a goal and try to overcome, or eliminate, anything that is an obstacle to perfection. We easily become one-sided.

Persona

Title and Artist of the sculpture unknown
Seen Canyon Road, Santa Fe, NM

The Unconscious: Two quotes from Jung

The unconscious is always the fly in the ointment, the skeleton in the cupboard of perfection, the painful lie given to all idealistic pronouncements, the earthliness that clings to our human nature and sadly clouds the crystal clarity we long for. (Para. 207)

There is no light without shadow and no psychic wholeness without imperfection. To round itself out, life calls not for perfection but for completeness; and for this the “thorn in the flesh” is needed, the suffering of defects without which there is no progress and no ascent. (Para. 208)

C.G. Jung, Psychology and Alchemy

Zen Steps

Full Circle POV Lexicon: The Unconscious

A circle is defined as much by what is outside of the line as what’s within. The line and the area within are positive space, outside of that is negative space. With people and organizations that’s our Unconscious. Revisiting R. D. Laing,

The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice.
And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice
there is little we can do to change
until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.

The Unconscious is both personal (Shadow) and collective (Collective Unconscious). Psychologically, it’s vast, mysterious and often unsettling, even dangerous. At the least, it’s what rests (or is quite active) in the darkness – what we don’t know, haven’t come to know (and would rather not know), and all the archetypal dynamics (much more on that later) that all humans share (Collective Unconscious).

M. Night Shyamalan’s movie, The Village, captures the feel.

There’s no escape!

The psyche of an organization is like that of a human individual. The same structures and dynamics are always at play. No matter how hard we seek to limit the impacts, the Full Circle dynamics are active, polarities at play. We may as well stop pretending it isn’t so and learn to acknowledge and adapt to that reality. Those people, teams and organizations that do will have the advantage in the long term.

Full Circle POV Lexicon: Conscious and Ego

The Conscious is that part of the psyche that is potentially under the control of the Ego, which, as the center of the conscious, we typically relate to as I. The Conscious is a very small part of the total, or whole, psyche and is a fairly recent development in the evolution of humans.

My Ego, as the center of my consciousness, exists between the environment in which I move and the unconscious psyche and has the function of perceiving, interpreting, integrating, and adapting to the demands, often conflicting, of both. The ability of the Ego to fulfill its function varies in development from person to person, and, for the individual, development continues over the life span. The Ego can be ineffectual or excessively rigid.

To come: Persona and Shadow.

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