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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 3: Thin Mask

June 4th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks

In “Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2“, I dealt with the “overly thick” persona or social mask — but can the mask also be overly thin?

individual therapy
Wearing a fragile glass mask?

A number of my readers have pointed out in responses to that earlier post that it most certainly can — and that’s an individuation issue!

Not Guarding Our Treasure

Many of us can relate to the experience of feeling overly open or overly exposed in social situations.  Sometimes, we can put ourselves “out there”, and have the clear sense that others either don’t understand, value, or respect the aspects of ourselves that we have shown to them.

Vulnerable and Unprotected

Especially with those with who are not intimates, social interactions can feel dangerous without an adequately protective social mask or persona.  We can feel genuinely vulnerable, or at risk, facing issues of identity and anxiety.  Individual therapy shows that sometimes the injury done through inappropriate self-disclosure or social interaction with others can lead to real and lasting wounds.  Often those coming from different cultural environments can feel particularly vulnerable, when the persona or social mask required in a different social milieu may be very different.

Believing the Fun House Mirror

individual therapy

A danger of not adequately respecting or protecting our inner life or individuation process, is that we may end up accepting the evaluations that others place on us.  That’s the psychological equivalent of looking in the mirror in a fun house, and taking the distorted image to be our real face.  This can happen unconsciously before we are even aware of what has happened, and we can find ourselves now devaluing ourselves and dealing with shame on a deep and unwarranted level.

Sincerety AND Respect for the Inner Person

There’s a balance that we have to maintain when it comes to the social mask or persona.  A mask that is too thick hides us from the world, and keeps us trapped in an impersonal, unrelated place, where we cannot be ourselves in the social world.  A mask that is too thin threatens to allow others to see aspects of our inmost self and cherished inner life that can make social contact unbearable.  The crucial thing can be to find the appropriate balance, where we protect the treasures of the self, and are also able to be ourselves in the world with freedom.  Finding the freedom to do this is a key part of individuation, and individual therapy.

PHOTO:  © Higyou | Dreamstime.com  ; Attribution Some rights reserved by ninahale

 

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2: Thick Mask

May 22nd, 2012 · individual, individual therapy, Individuation, masks, therapy

Individual therapy

In individual therapy, a huge obstacle to the individuation process can be a “thick mask”.  To put this another way, the persona (Latin for “mask”), or social self that the individual shows to the world can become so artificial and entrenched that no one — including the person wearing the mask — knows who the individual really is.

Expectations

We’re easily seduced into carrying the expectations of others.  This process often begins in the family of origin at an early age, but often gets more ingrained as a result of carrying expectations later in life.  Peers, school, work, kids, spouse or significant other can all contribute.  This may go on so thoroughly that we find ourselves completely out of touch with who we really are.  A key part of individuation and of individual therapy is to separate the excessive people pleasing and expectation meeting behaviours that we’ve internalized, from who we really are.

The Pain of Vulnerability

Individual therapy shows we put on thick masks because of the pain in our lives, and our vulnerability.  Where we have encountered the deepest pain in our lives, and perhaps the deepest sense of weakness, we can consciously or unconsciously try to hide our vulnerability, to avoid more pain.  But in the process, we may lose our spontaneity, our real feeling, and the sense of who it is we most fundamentally are.

Delusions About the Self

A thick mask seduces us into very mistaken beliefs about ourselves.  A very successful business person may adopt a delusional sense of entitlement, or can even start to believe that they are somehow fundamentally different than the average person on the street — a specially gifted “winner”.  Or, a cleric may start to believe that the saintly persona of sacrifice is who he or she really is — until the day his or her own needs, and/or resentments, surface.  We each have such seductive “thick masks” that can be mistaken for real identities.

Acceptance

One of my favorite C.G. Jung quotations about individuation and self-acceptance is “The most terrifying thing is to accept oneself completely”.  It is — but it is also the most liberating.  To finally put down the weighty mask is incredibly scary, but brings immense freedom and relief.  Bruce Cockburn captures this in his powerful song “Fascist Architecture”.

 

The growth of that freedom is right at the core of individuation, and of Jungian individual therapy.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by cliff1066    VIDEO: © Copyright Bruce Cockburn and True North Records

 

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Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 1: Symbolism

May 7th, 2012 · individual therapy, Individuation, masks, therapy

individual therapy

How do the masks we wear connect to our individuation, and how do they fit into individual therapyFor we do, all of us, wear masks, though many of them are not literal face coverings, but ways that we hide our real selves behind what we present — a smile, a “tough person look”, or a “poker face”.

Jung saw that we all conceal our true nature to at least some extent , and identified it with a particular structure in the personality: the persona, which means “mask” in Latin.  Mask is an deep thing in all of us.

Fascinated with Masks

Mask is an archetype: it appears all over the world.  They are virtually universal, even though the forms of masks vary greatly.  Coming to terms with mask is an important part of individuation.

Wearing a mask, we hide behind something that can almost be taken as a real face.

We can become identified with, and maybe inflated with, what the mask represents.  In primal cultures, one who donned the mask of a god or spirit became that spirit.  And today?  Doesn’t one who dons the Guy Fawkes mask of Anonymous become Anonymous?

Disturbed by Masks

Masks resemble living faces, but aren’t.  They are static, and that can make them seem eerily lifeless.

Masks can be fearsome. We fear that they might become so fastened to our face, that we will be unable to remove them. This was the theme of a famous 1964 Japanese horror movie, Onibaba, which centers around a demon-like mask that cannot be removed, and that causes the features of the wearer to become distorted.

The Truth Behind the Masks

We certainly all do wear masks.  We must, because we need them.  If we were just absolutely “raw and out there” with everything we think and feel, we’d get hurt and hurt others without end.  Yet, although we need masks, there’s good reason to have a healthy caution and respect for them, and sometimes even to be afraid of what they hide, what they reveal, and of being overly identified with them.

Relating to Our Masks

The ways in which we relate to tmasks we wear in individuation will be the subject of the rest of this series of posts, and we’ll explore it at some length.  We can say for sure that one essential way we need to relate to the masks we wear, is to be conscious that we are wearing them — and to be conscious of what exactly we are wearing — an essential part of the process of individual therapy.

PHOTO:  Attribution Some rights reserved by vreimunde ; VIDEO: © Contemporary Arts Media //www.artfilms.com.au
© 2012 Brian Collinson

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