Last week, I wrote about the Mask, also known in the Jungian-verse as the Persona. These are the identities that we assign ourselves and they consist of a myriad of different masks that we have and use. Think of the mask as a role, and the idea might be slightly clearer.
The interesting thing about how Jung viewed the Persona/Mask is he felt that they are necessary for the well-being of society. I put my mask on because it is my duty to social peace, and social progress.
This goes against my 90s Seattle-self. The grunge and hard rock era of Nirvana and Marilyn Manson, when those who were in their teens embraced a f*ck society kind of approach to the world, all the while attempting to discover our authentic selves. We resisted any attempt by our parents, teachers, and elders to place identities upon us, and those who did “conform” to social expectations were shunned and looked down upon as weak and willing.
This is the environment I grew up in.
Fast forward a couple of decades.
I am a mom, wife, and daughter.
I am a writer.
I am, as my lovely friend so lovingly puts it, a big-headed owl.
Which of those things are my authentic self?
But also all of them. Just a little bit.
When I was a teenager, and even more so when I was in college surrounded by super-rich assholes and professors that catered to them, I wondered at my authentic self. I was angry. I viewed the world through a lens of red upon a pedestal of self righteousness.
Was that, then, my authentic self?
Or is it who I am now, sitting on my couch in my yoga pants, too big Old Navy sweatshirt, and computer on my lap? I count down the minutes until I have to leave to pick up my son from pre-school, while simultaneously trying to be there for my husband who stayed home from work today because he isn’t feeling good.
Wife. Mother. Writer.
Are these aspects of my authentic self, or are they masks that I wear?
And that is where the interesting dichotomy lies.
The mask, according to Jung, is that aspect that you perform in order to better society. Put it like that, I sort of see myself wearing a mask when I am unfailingly polite to the cashier at the grocery store or my local barista. I might be in a terrible mood, but those individuals will never know it.
Jung says that 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.”
But what if the persona/mask is deeper than the fake smile you plaster on your face for strangers? Is the mask at the level of identity? What is this “true nature of the individual?”
Identity is an amazingly complex and confusing rabbit hole. What is it? How do we become it? What is the purpose of it?
These are questions that philosophers have tackled for as long as there has been the ability to tackle complex thought. The basis, however, is the need to have an identity. I find myself most at sea, most lost, when I am not able to say I am something that I respect, or the identity structure I have created is unraveling because of a lack of success, or inability.
So. Where is the line? Where is the link between our authentic self, that identity that is our true being, and those masks we place on in order to fit in, and in order to better society?
Is my role as mother, wife, or daughter a mask, or an aspect of my true self?
What about writer?
Or perhaps the line does not exist and there are pieces of me scattered like the red, orange, and brown leaves scattered across my front yard.
Jung says that “if we do not fashion for ourselves a picture of the world, we do not see ourselves either, who are the faithful reflections of that world. Only when mirrored in our picture of the world can we see ourselves in the round. Only in our creative acts do we step forth into the light and see ourselves whole and complete. Never shall we put any face on the world other than our own, and we have to do this precisely in order to find ourselves. For higher than science or art as an end in itself stands man, the creator of his instruments.”
My world is fragmented. Perhaps that is a clue.
I am fragmented in my fragmented world, with a need of restructuring.
That seems to be a theme.
What are the masks that you wear? Do you feel they are a piece of your authentic self, or entirely separate?