Carl Jung recognized a part of the personality that he called the “persona.” It is the role an individual chooses to play in life or the impression he or she wishes to make on the outside world. The persona is the interface between our ego and other people.
We need to have a persona. It develops early in life through the impact of environment, culture, and personal attributes to protect parts of our inner self from the world.
However, problems arise when a person becomes too heavily identified with his or her persona. That which gets repressed or ignored in order to put forth the persona becomes a person’s “shadow.” The more we identify with our persona — that is, the more we believe that we are our persona, the more split-off the shadow will become. A disowned shadow is likely to act out in destructive ways without our awareness — as when a person unexpectedly becomes mean or violent, acts out sexually, or falls apart emotionally.
For example, when you identify yourself as being accommodating, and believe that that’s who you are rather than just a way you choose to behave much of the time, you disown feelings and desires that are at odds with being accommodating. You may completely ignore any desires or opinions that appear “selfish” to you.
Repressed feelings increase the shadow’s pressure until it erupts suddenly, surprising you and others. It may manifest itself as cruel outbursts or passive-aggressive behavior.
Similarly, someone who identifies with being powerful may find his or her vulnerabilities emerging as weakness, dependency, or panic, as we saw when Libya’s dictator Gaddafi faced death and pleaded for his life.
Wholeness develops when we become aware of and respect all dimensions of the self and have a place for all those dimensions so that everything belongs.
In order to stop saying mean things, it would help to become aware of your shadow — the part of you that is not always accommodating. By acknowledging and starting to develop your unaccommodating parts, such as your self-interest, power, and independence, you can start the process of reconciling the diverse states of your personality. When you respect your needs and opinions that do not fit into your persona, they are less likely to explode as anger and viciousness.
All of these parts have a constructive role to play in your life. You can still choose to be accommodating, but once you bring some light onto your shadow, it will be less likely to cause trouble.
The ego keeps its integrity only if it does not identify with one of the opposites, and if it understands how to hold the balance between them. This is possible only if it remains conscious of both at once.
~Carl Jung, “The Nature of the Psyche”
by Alison Poulsen, PhD