Opinion psychology

Are You Brave Enough To Kill Your Persona?


Carl Jung said that the first impediment to individuation is the persona. The individuation process steps requires you to: 

  1. Incorporate your unconscious in a healthy way by recognizing your persona
  2. Integrate your unconscious dreams by analyzing their content

There is nothing you can do to stop the unconscious from manifesting itself in your conscious reality. You must choose between either letting that manifestation happen destructively or constructively.

It’s worth remembering that completing these steps successfully poses a risk to your sanity. A process of individuation that is  constructive is desirable, but many will find that to recognize and eliminate your persona is a painful and dangerous task. The second thing you need to do is study your own dreams, which most of us will find very difficult to do without professional help.  According to Jung, dreams are the non-repressed (contrary to Freud) plain representations of your unconscious. Untangling that complex mess is a lengthy process that requires patience and skill. Two good books to get started would be The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud that is a solid introduction as well as Jung’s Man and His Symbols and Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious.

But if you were to start with the first step – you would need to first identify your persona before you can get rid of it – in a healthy way.

What is the Persona?

According to Jung, the persona is the false self that you craft. It is the identity that you have created to blend into groups, and it is how you want others to see you.

It is usually the role you play either personally or professionally. It is the uniform you wear every day, how you introduce yourself to others, and how you carry yourself in public.

The persona is is the star of a great play that all the other actors are taking part in. Anyone who get sucked into a career path must adopt a social mask in order to blend in, to be part of the functional whole. This is because raw individuality is rarely a tenable social strategy.

You learn at a young age that there is an acceptable pattern of behavior that you must manifest. And this will work quite well for you through your adolescent years, and even through early adulthood, but eventually, too strict an identification with the persona will bring about a tragic outcome: you become nothing but persona.

Schopenhauer described this function very dearly as “what one appears to oneself and one’s surroundings or in the reflection of one’s surroundings;” he went on to warn about “the difference between what one is and what one performs.” If someone identifies with this role, he should be discriminated against as “personal.” His opposite number would be an “individual” person. The expression “personalities” is based on the same phenomenon and is understood as an unpleasant opposite of perfect adaptation, i.e., as egocentricity. or identification with the persona.

Personality: The individuation Process, C.A Meier

You become so attached to your social mask that you have no other sense of self. Your persona determines what you strive towards, which will determine how you structure your life, which will then determine your future goals. It is as if a vicious circle has been triggered, where your authentic voice gradually gets drowned out.

But this is not catastrophic to other people, since the person who is dominated by their persona can be effective and functional socially and professionally. They can earn money, and the love and admiration of others – they can get anything they want in life and their persona will be instrumental in helping them achieve their goals.

What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?

– Mathew: 16:26

The problem is that if you are nothing but persona, then you are a puppet. You relinquish control completely, and you no longer become the author of your life.

If you have no authentic qualities, no connection with your deepest yearnings, and no real self-knowledge, then you will become wholly pragmatic. You will echo popular opinion to appease others, you will use language instrumentally, and you will lie, to yourself and to others. This will make you feel weak and disintegrated, and eventually, you will estrange other people who wise up to your intentions.

A knife doesn’t slice fruit because it wants to eat, similarly, you work and you socialize not because you want to, but because unconscious social forces have compelled you to. You are merely following the whims of the collective.

Imagine a news reporter who is paid to recite a specific narrative every night to millions of people. This person is essentially an actor, and they become fully identified with the message they are delivering, regardless of whether they truly believe it or not.

They represent a character that dissents, that shows outrage, humor even, but it is all fake. They are enacting a parody of themselves, and for these people, or for anyone in any role in life, it becomes difficult to dissociate from the persona they have crafted. Think of the military officer who carries their authoritarian attitude into their relationships with family and friends.

The persona is a tool, it can help you mold into a less ambiguous form, which in turn will make your character more digestible, more familiar, and more likable. But as Jung tells us, brewing in the darkness, in the recesses of your mind is your shadow, it is what is being repressed by your persona.

True, whoever looks into the mirror of the water will see first of all his own face. Whoever goes to himself risks a confrontation with himself. The mirror does not flatter, it faithfully shows whatever looks into it; namely, the face we never show to the world because we cover it with the persona, the mask of the actor. But the mirror lies behind the mask and shows the true face.

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

It’s the face you put on in public – it’s how others perceive you – or rather – it’s how you want to be perceived. It’s the set of ready packaged statements waiting to be released at the onset of every social encounter. A persona serves to disarm, make a plea for peace, or beg for acceptance. It is your way of asking for acceptance.

When you feed your persona for long enough – you become your persona.

But the persona is the ultimate symbol of weakness, folly, and underdevelopment. It is a pedantic, immature version of the self. It is fake, and it threatens to take over your identity every moment you choose to perpetuate it.

To carry out the instinctual inhibition demanded by the modern world and to be able to cope with the energy stasis which results from this inhibition, the ego has to undergo a change. The ego, i.e., that part of the person that is exposed to danger, becomes rigid, as we say, when it is continually subjected to the same or similar conflicts between need and a fear-inducing outer world. It acquires in this process a chronic, automatically functioning mode of reaction, i.e., its “character.” It is as if the affective personality armored itself, as if the hard shell it develops were intended to deflect and weaken the blows of the outer world as well as the clamoring of the inner needs. This armoring makes the person less sensitive to unpleasure, but also restricts his libidinal and aggressive motility and thus reduces his capacity for achievement and pleasure. We say the ego has become less flexible and more rigid, and that the abiliry to regulate the energy economy depends on the extent of the armoring.

Wilhelm Reich

The persona will not yield encouragement – but will invite harassment, pity, and spite. Those who are honest with themselves will not see you as a beacon of light, but as an obnoxious, ridiculous imitation of a human being. They will not find you memorable or interesting. At best, they will find you amusing. But most often, they will find you irritating.

The persona is not always unsuccessful; indeed, it exists for success and power. It underhandedly attempts its coup when the enemy is least suspecting. It feigns weakness. It is a manifestation of deep, hidden desires for power and social recognition. It is a veteran manipulator of others – and of its owner. It hides in moments of solitude and reappears when the time is right.

Talk show presenters often exhibit the persona magnificently. The pre-programmed smiles and reactions, the rehearsed bouts of enthusiasm and animation of body parts in a rushed, repeated and infuriating pattern. What culminates is the creation of a portrait, and for those of us who have dutifully executed our personal characters, these talking heads serve as a welcome pattern of distraction that is familiar and welcome to the average viewer. 

 A certain kind of behaviour is forced on them by the world, and professional people endeavour to come up to these expectations. Only, the danger is that they become identical with their personas—the professor with his text-book, the tenor with his voice. Then the damage is done; henceforth he lives exclusively against the background of his own biography. For by that time it is written: “… then he went to such and such a place and said this or that,” etc. The garment of Deianeira has grown fast to his skin, and a desperate decision like that of Heracles is needed if he is to tear this Nessus shirt from his body and step into the consuming fire of the flame of immortality, in order to transform himself into what he really is. 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.15 In any case the temptation to be what one seems to be is great, because the persona is usually rewarded in cash.” –

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

The first step is to admit defeat. It’s to acknowledge that you have been a socially programmed puppet – and that you have made your authentic self subservient to the wishes of the crowd. 

Rejecting the persona means you can look into the mirror and accept that you are both good and evil. That you are holy and unholy. Likely, this will make you unpopular – at least in the short run. But this will make you comfortable with yourself, and will your individual identity to finally emerge. 

This confrontation is the first test of courage on the inner way, a test sufficient to frighten off most people, for the meeting with ourselves belongs to the more unpleasant things that can be avoided so long as we can project everything negative into the environment. But if we are able to see our own shadow and can bear knowing about it, then a small part of the problem has already been solved: we have at least brought up the personal unconscious. The shadow is a living part of the personality and therefore wants to live with it in some form. It cannot be argued out of existence or rationalized into harmlessness. – 

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung

The Challenge

The difficulty is that admitting that we have good or bad natures compromises people’s secular ideas about the world. It is easier to deny the existence of evil, to rationalize it out of existence. Then, you can never be found guilty of either good or evil, but are merely a product a biologically determined inclinations.

Strong natures—or should one rather call them weak?—do not like to be reminded of this, but prefer to think of themselves as heroes who are beyond good and evil – 

Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung


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