Full Circle POV

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

Archive for the tag “Ego”

“To Thine Own Self Be True” is No Easy Feat

Emerson captures where I think each person’s center of gravity should lie:

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people may think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (“Self-Reliance,” p. 33 – for full citation go to Bookshelf)

Out Standing in It's Field
Out Standing in One’s Field

As I’ve written before, our Persona is the necessary adaptation we make to the external environment that is a  compromise between our internal selves and outer circumstances. We can’t disregard the world around us, but how easy it is to let those external circumstances habitually dictate our realities. For me, Soul is our lived experience, our unique inner self, that gift that is ours alone. What does it profit a person to gain the world and lose one’s soul? The center of gravity resides best within our own truths, with a respectful nod to the realities of the world. Center of gravity means the primary, not exclusive, focal point.

The Suit: Persona Embodied

In checking out Andrew Sullivan’s blog this morning, my attention was drawn to a great article by A.A. Gill about the venerable and enduring Suit. Gill captures the story of the suit:

There is not a corner of the world where the suit is not the default clobber of power, authority, knowledge, judgement, trust and, most importantly, continuity….

No one knows or can say what the spell of the suit is, or how it works, but still it exudes its inoffensive writ.

It is the naivety of young men to believe that it’s what they think that is important; that surface and show and fashion are what the established order uses to maintain itself. But just look at those group photographs of powerful men, of left and right, outside conferences and meetings, and see the power of the suit. It’s not in the singular but the collective. If there were only one in the world, it would be a mad thing, but its strength comes from the massed ranks, the united power, the union of flannel.

Remember the flap when President Obama wore a tan suit to a briefing on the terrorist group ISIS?

Shutters and BlindsShutters and Blinds

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.

 Stair Patterns

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

The Organization’s Conscious Realm

According to Corlett and Pearson:

The conscious realm of the organizational psyche is the arena where the ego-directed actions and behaviors of those who are in charge hold sway over productive activity and the shaping of the organization’s culture. This is the zone of affairs dealt with exhaustively by conventional organization theory and management theory. There is, however an aspect of this activity that cannot be seen through conventional lenses. An underlying texture, both collective and influenced by the unconscious, begins coming into focus when the observer adopts a Jungian perspective. This underlying texture has two principal threads; the center of consciousness [Ego] and the organization’s public face [Persona]….

The center of consciousness is an organizational process, comprising the myriad conscious activities–reflecting, planning, controlling, coordinating, and implementing–necessary for managing the work of the organization (p. 27).

The conscious aspect of the public face, the brand identity, does two things for the organization. First, it transmits the organization’s ideal image of itself. Think of the bank that touts itself as the “friendly neighbor down at the corner.” Second, the public face screens from the operating environment aspects of the organization that the center of consciousness wants to hide (p. 32).

In the end, an organization’s public face is a compromise between how the center of consciousness wants to present the organization and what the environment wants or expects of the organization. In seeking to find its niche, the organization inevitably caters to some degree to what its public wants. In so doing it may to a greater or lesser degree have to sublimate parts of itself. The sublimated [repressed] material will end up in the organization’s shadow (p. 33).

(John G. Corlett and Carol S. Pearson, (2003), p. 27. (See Bookshelf for full citation.)

 

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

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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