Jump to the following topics:
- What is the persona?
- We have more than one "mask."
- The benefits of a well-developed persona.
- Techniques for improving the persona.
What is the persona? It is the medium through which we present ourselves to the public; it includes our personality, social roles (e.g., "parent" or "businessperson"), our "image," our mannerisms, and our style of speech and clothing. It is the bridge from our inner self to the outer world; it translates our individual expression into a format which is compatible with the social milieu (considering such matters as etiquette, cultural rituals, tradition, and general protocol).
We have more than one "mask." The term "persona" refers to the collection of masks which we wear. Obviously we have a different mask (i.e., play a different role) for each situation of our life; for example, we do not portray ourselves in the same manner at work as we do with our spouse, or with our children, or at a baseball game or a club meeting or a church.
- We can control the expression of ourselves to the public. Thus, we can present the particular features which are most likely to be effective; for example, at a cocktail party, we can display the behaviors which are expected and rewarded. We have "social grace."
- It facilitates people's interaction with us. Because our persona has explicit features, the people can respond to our distinct viewpoints and our general unique character. (Compare that type of individual to those who "have no personality" and are therefore dull and vague.) The word, "persona," is the Latin term for "mask"; it refers to the literal masks which were worn in Roman and Greek drama not only to obscure the actors' true identities but also to define and intensify the role which they were playing.
- It protects us. The persona is our assortment of masks, behind which we can hide and guard our secret thoughts and feelings, our psychological shadow, and the parts of our psyche which do not conform to our subculture's expectations. Our persona is essential (as a "little white lie") in society and in the workplace; sometimes we need to "put on a happy face" regardless of how we feel, and we must behave in a particular manner despite our preferences to the contrary. The persona is a compromise between "who we really are" and "who we want the world to think we are"; sometimes this is a big compromise (as when we must be polite to a rude boss); sometimes it is a smaller compromise (as when we are with friends who generally know us well and accept us as we are).
- It affirms our identity in a group. When we decide to present particular features in our persona, we assure the other members that we are "one of the group"; for example, a businessperson affirms his or her identity among other businesspeople through the selection of attire (e.g., a business suit), vocabulary (e.g., the jargon of that business), etc.
- It does not impose on our real identity. We can use the persona as a means of expression while knowing that it is only a role. If we mistakenly believe that the persona is our real self, we might experience the following conditions:
- We live vicariously through this role, as if it were another person -- sucking in whatever rewards society gives us for our performance, but depriving ourselves of the nourishment and satisfaction which would come from within, from genuine self-expression. Thus we are likely to feel bored, stifled, uncreative, and unfulfilled. A dishonest persona taints our selection of friends, vocation, forms of recreation, and other dimensions of our life; for example, our social position might require us to attend an auction at the country club, but deep down inside, we'd rather go bowling.
- Because we are merely acting out a role, and therefore rarely communicating our true thoughts and feelings, people probably judge us to be shallow, cold, robot-like, stereotyped, and phony. Thus we cannot provide the warmth and intimacy which are necessary for friendships and relationships; our careers, too, are crippled because we seem insincere and untrustworthy. (Even a mask which is finely attuned to both our feelings and society has a degree of artificiality because it is still only a mask.)
- We might lose contact with the other parts of ourselves because we are focusing only on the superficial level of the persona. Hence, we ignore input from our intuition, our feelings, and the other elements which would contribute to our well-being and vitality.
- We stifle the shadow. We create our persona (and ego) by putting the unwanted traits into the shadow. As we assemble the parts of the persona, we select certain features and therefore reject others; we cannot be all things. For example, we generally present ourselves as either hard-working or lazy, shy or outgoing, kind or cruel. (Of course, we might act shy in certain situations and outgoing in others, as we adopt a different persona to use in each circumstance, but we do tend to favor one position or the other in our overall self-concept and behavioral habits.) If we act shy, then our capacity for being outgoing is relegated to the shadow. An overbearing persona represses the shadow material more deeply.
- We might not be successful in developing an adequate repertoire of masks. For example, if we think of ourselves as a "salesperson" (rather than knowing that that is only one of our roles), we might tend to be a salesperson in inappropriate situations -- perhaps aggressively "selling" our ideas during casual conversation.
- Our psychological stability becomes vulnerable. When we overly identify with the persona, we suffer the harsh ups-and-downs of that persona's successes and failures; for example, the "student" persona might fail a test, or the "socialite" persona might accidentally commit a social error. We can, instead, identify ourselves with the soul, which observes life's events with a certain detachment, almost as though it is watching a Broadway actor depicting his or her character's indignities on stage.
Techniques for improving the persona. Beginning in childhood, we create our persona as we learn to present particular characteristics in order to gain acceptance, approval, and other rewards from parents, friends, teachers, preachers, etc. To some extent, we develop the persona through a conscious effort, by observing the responses which are elicited by our actions (and by testing and adopting behaviors which we observe in the people around us); however, much of the development process occurs unconsciously. We can use the following techniques for creating a better persona:
- Archetypal field-work.
- Self-talk. For example: "I display confidence at business meetings" or "I am skillful in presenting a productive image" or "I am gracious when I am with my in-laws."
- Directed imagination. We can visualize ourselves performing effectively in various situations, with the appropriate personality, mannerisms, and social ease. For example, we might imagine a dinner party where we are comfortable and witty.
- Energy toning. We develop the energy tones which correspond to our various masks; for example, when a father is exhibiting the "disciplinarian" mask, he must convey believable energy tones of authority, strength, and love.
- The as-if principle. The as-if principle is particularly effective for changing the persona, because we are physically acting as-if we are a different person, and we are presenting that person to the public.