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