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Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II

July 2nd, 2010 · 2 Comments · creativity, Film, Identity, Individuation, inner life, popular culture, Psychology, Psychology and Suburban Life, Psychotherapy, soul, spontaneity, The Self, wholeness

Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part II, The Armoured Self, My Prison

In the course of thousands of years of mechanical development, the mechanistic concept, from generation to generation, has anchored itself deeply in man’s biological system.  In so doing, it actually has altered human functioning in the direction of the machine-like….   Man has become biologically rigid. He has armored himself against that which is natural and spontaneous within him, he has lost contact with the biological function of self-regulation and is filled with a strong fear of that which is alive and free.

Wilhelm Reich, The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933)

 In Part I of “Anxiety Behind the Mask” I began to explore the meaning of the pop cultural figure of Iron Man.  As seen in recent movies, Iron Man is a symbol for the relationship in our culture between the social mask, known in Jungian terms as the “persona”, and the inner human.  The Iron Man myth represents the yearning that the social mask be smooth and impenetrable, beyond weakness, mistake and humiliation.   However, as we discovered, there is also great psychological danger in complete identification with such an impervious persona.

In this post, I’d like to open up that idea in a fuller way.  In fact, the social armour which protects us can also be a prison.  We can so easily develop a way of relating that is very smooth, glib, almost machine-like.  It can be so effective that it can give me the strong sense that nothing is ever going to hurt me.  It can lead me to “pat” answers and attitudes that accord with the standard views and attitudes in our social grouping(s), that completely avoid vital questions about how we feel and what we want.

Our armour can persuade others and even ourselves that we are sleek and slick, even sophisticated.  But I can only ensure that I’m on top of things by ensuring that nothing is ever going to reach me, that nothing will ever break my stride.  I need to keep whatever might disrupt my performance at a distance.

So we armour ourselves not only against others, but against ourselves.  We do this by repressing any inner acknowledgment of our own inferior, weak, morally suspect or socially unacceptable parts – and the shame that often goes with acknowledging them.  We eliminate our vulnerability, but at the price of our vitality and spontaneity.

I have heard innumerable people relate nightmares to me with themes that resemble the following:

I am in a labyrinth, or a dark, unknown place.  I am being pursued by robots.  They advance relentlessly, despite all my efforts to destroy them or fend them off.  No matter how many I disable, they just keep coming…  closer and closer and closer.  I wake up, filled with fear.

Potentially a very disturbing dream, that reflects a very important reality in the psyche, about which we genuinely should be disturbed.  In the words of Eric Fromm:

The danger of the past was that men became slaves. The danger of the future is that men may become robots.

In a certain important sense, this is also the danger of the present, as the dream above reflects.  My armour, my social mask, may become robotic, particularly if I let it get to be thicker than it needs to be, as a result of my over-identification with my social role or roles.  Then I may find myself cut off from the instinctual and spontaneous sources of life deep in the psyche, and may find myself overwhelmed by anxiety, depression or even psychosomatic illness.  All are dangerous signs that the connections with the deep inner life of the human being are in danger of being severed.

To be continued in “Anxiety Behind the Mask, Part III: Heart Trouble

I’d welcome your reflections on the symbollic aspects of Iron Man and the trap of robotic social roles.   Do you ever see others trapped in their social roles?  Do you ever find that you are struggling to be your genuine self in situations?  In relationships?

My very best wishes to you on your individual journey to wholeness and self-discovery,

Brian Collinson, Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

PHOTO CREDITS: © Marvel Entertainment, LLC  These images are the property of Marvel comics and are used here in the fair use context of critical discussion.

© 2010 Brian Collinson