Have you swallowed another’s shadow?Anja van Kralingen
Have you ever met one of those couples, where the one is just perfect and fantastic and their partner is a walking disaster? One is incompetent, inappropriate, a total bitch or bastard, etc. Yet their partner is charismatic, socially skilled, an all round good person. And you think to yourself what on earth is he doing with her (or vice versa).
Whilst I was doing research on Persona, I came across a story told by Jung which illustrates this very well.
[…] one might easily call him a saint. I stalked round him for three whole days, but never a mortal failing did I find in him. My feeling of inferiority grew ominous, and I was beginning to think seriously of how I might better myself. Then, on the fourth day, his wife came to consult me […} that any man who becomes one with his persona can cheerfully let all disturbances manifest themselves through his wife without her noticing it, though she pays for her self-sacrifice with a bad neurosis.” Two essays on analytical psychology, par. 306
Jung speaks here of two issues that I will briefly address in this post. The first is the problem with identifying with your Persona, and the second is the projection of your shadow onto another.
When I was a child, my best friend’s father was a minister of the local church. He had an incredibly well developed persona.
His whole family paid the price for that.
To his congregation, he was the pillar of strength and morality. He guided and counseled and inspired. But at home, he was mean and dismissive towards his wife, and the children copied his behaviour towards her. He was also abusive and would beat the children with a cane, until they were well into their teens. This is a typical example of what I am referring to here. To a large extent his wife swallowed his shadow. She was demure, soft spoken and seemed to have no say whatsoever in what was going on in the home. She seemed to accept her fate of being the doormat and suffered in silence.
When Persona goes wrong
Although the persona is an essential part of getting along in society, it causes huge problems when the individual identifies with their persona. What I mean is that you get the doctor who is only that – a doctor. Whether he is with his patients, friends or church, he is a doctor. There is no private life or individual behind the mask. The individual becomes one sided and shallow. This often happens to women, who become the mother and the wife and that is all they are. The young girl they were once, the individual, has disappeared.
So how does this work? And why does this happen?
Let’s say we have an attorney named John. John’s persona is incredibly well developed. He is articulate, charismatic, intelligent, rational and ambitious. This is his persona and he believes himself to be just that. However, John has many unconscious shadow qualities, qualities which he has repressed because they do not fit into his persona. These unconscious repressed qualities will be projected outwards, because John does not take ownership of them. So he finds himself surrounded by incompetence, arrogance, narcissism, short tempers, maybe even violence.
Now put John in a family unit with a wife and two children. Any one of them will start displaying those qualities which he has rejected from himself. You can imagine that one of his children has inherited his personality, so they will most definitely display these qualities, but John won’t recognize that. Instead he will label the child and the child will live up to the label. Because as long as John does not face his shadow, he will project it out and it will be picked up via counter transference by someone in his family.
Jung mentions that there are many side effects to a spectacularly well adapted persona. The most common is that the individual has a disastrous home life. He is irritable and short tempered. Imagine John coming home after a long day at the office and being confronted by his shadow. He will not be able to contain his dissatisfaction and/or rage.
Eventually it will catch up with him. When confronted by a crises, John will fall apart. In times of crises the ego takes control and manages the crises. The persona is not the same as the ego. It is a shallow husk. The individual cannot fall back on the persona, it has no substance, no core and is not connected to their inner world. If you had to think of strong individuals that you know and how they handle crises, you may just realize that what you perceived as a strong ego, is in fact just a well developed persona.
In Jung’s psychic model, the persona is the bridge to the outer world, but the bridge to the inner world is the anima/animus. When the anima/animus is not functioning properly,the individual has no connection with their inner life. Dreams, imaginations, reverence, creativity – these qualities are not accessible to them.
These individuals often experience a fragmentation of the personality when they get to their midlife. At this stage there is a need to connect with their soul, but their connection to the inner life is non-existent and this causes the fragmentation, often accompanied by depression and low energy.
So then John may take on a young lover or buy a Porche, because he is holding on to an image of himself that he has always had and now he has to take drastic measures to affirm his being. But what he should be doing, is going inward, find himself, reconnect with his soul and live a full life with meaning.
Consider your own situation.
• Are you married to an absolute bitch or bastard? Or is your partner totally incompetent in some way?
• Are you the bitch/bastard or incompetent fool whose presence merely highlights the virtues of your partner?
• Is there a black sheep in your family that carries the collective sin of the family? Are you that black sheep?
• How closely do you identify with your public persona? Do you recognize that it is a mask you wear rather than who you are?
Until next time.