Persona as a model for Unmasking our Truer Self!
I’d like to take as my starting point Jung’s understanding of ‘Persona’. Jung believed that we all ‘adapt’ to the social context in which we find ourselves in order to communicate effectively with our peers. As individuals we learn to understand that social roles come with a set of expectations. To greater or lesser extents, we adapt ourselves to social roles or personas in ways that conform to the expectations associated with them. Personas in that sense are our public-facing masks. Examples of common roles would be mother, father, artist, singer, teacher, police officer, doctor etc.
Jung was clear that we all need effective personas to navigate life successfully. He was also clear that when we over-identify with, and exaggerate our persona, we lose touch with our authentic self and its effective expression. Due to life’s demands many of us can struggle to find the space and means to look behind the masks we wear.
We are all exposed to pressures to be this or that, expectations that demand we behave in particular ways, pursue specific pathways, in short, the pressure to dance to the beat of another’s drum! Becoming aware of and identifying with our authentic self is a challenge that we all face.
Modern psychology and the perennial wisdom of the world’s spiritual traditions are clear that the ‘well-developed person’ is connected with their authentic or real self. Both consistently challenge us to dive deep below the ‘surface’ of our lives and become present to deeper intuitions and promptings which reveal who we are beyond what others expect.
Such a ‘dive’ is no teenage rebellion or mid-crisis, it can take place across the age spectrum. Commonly, many people experience the ‘deep dive’ in the so-called second half of life. This produces a profound shift of perception, which relates to our sense of meaning, purpose and relating, and can typically commence anywhere between 30-55.
Whenever, and for whatever reason the shift of perception occurs, it heralds a period of de-construction in which all we have previously strived for and valued is rigorously tested. A sifting process unfolds retaining all that is life-giving and congruent with our newly recognised core values, beliefs, our most authentic self; those things that are not are left behind.
After decades as a priest, teacher and searcher who has been trained in pastoral psychology, theology and spiritual disciplines, as well as a coach, trainer and NLP practitioner, I developed my ‘Persona Model’. I believe it includes the most catalytic elements of change and personal transformation. Presenting PERSONA as an acronym I describe those elements as follows:
P – Paradigm of Presence
This assumes the fundamental importance of becoming present to ourselves, those around us, and what’s most important as we journey through this life. It also assumes that until this happens most people, most of the time are not present to those things, rather their minds are divided and distracted by more immediate demands.
E – Ego Ecology
Once we learn and take seriously that we are not who we ‘think’ we are, we learn to reconfigure the ways we relate to ourselves, the others in our lives, and the planet of which we are a part. Our sense of purpose and how we achieve it is now tested by the impact our patterns of thinking and behaving have beyond ourselves.
R – Recognition of Reality
Paradigm shifts of any kind require the recognition that an alternative reality is possible. It assumes that how we live our reality is not the only way we can. Moreover, moments or events of recognition increase the probability of change.
S – Surrender
Operates on two levels. First, it challenges us to stop resisting the call of our most authentic self and to give ourselves over to it. Secondly, it requires that we give up or let go of those things that obstruct that process.
O – Ontological Imagination
Ontology is about our ‘being’, how we understand and inhabit our sense of who we are. Connecting with and living as our authentic self stimulates us to be imaginative about new patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving, allowing us to redefine our values, beliefs and ‘being’.
N – Nascent Abilities
Takes seriously that such a shift of perception and self-understanding is in a real sense a ‘re-discovery’ of what is true about us. It recognises that we have a collection of nascent abilities that derive from and support our authentic self. What we need in our newly perceived world will be given.
A – Addictions and Attachments
We all have patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving to which we become attached or addicted. They are often unquestioned and reside in our ‘blind-spot’, yet they continue to exert powerful influence over the choices we make. Recognising such obstacles is an essential element of any transformed pattern of living.