Through a Jungian Lens

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Persona and Shadow – A Curious Dance Before the Fall

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This butterfly is unidentified and will likely stay that way.  In honesty, I take photos of various butterflies because they are beautiful, but without any interest in knowing their names.  With birds, it is different for me.  With butterflies, I see a graceful, gentle and almost ephemeral presence.  Yet underneath that presence it isn’t all that beautiful – it is a bug.

It is kind of like us as humans.  We can dress ourselves up and paint ourselves to appear as perfected beauty.  The mirror will tell us that we are attractive, that we are alluring, that we are worthy of the attention of others.  Yet, this is only a painted surface.  Beneath the painting we are typically unhappy with what we know really exists.  Worse, we are frightened by the shadows that hint of even worse, darker sides of ourselves.

Not only do we craft a physical appearance, we craft our persona as well with a desire to be more acceptable, more worthy of people’s attention, and perhaps even friendship.

When I was a teacher, between periods of being a school principal, I strove to be friendly, charming, knowledgeable, innovative with my students.  I knew that I wouldn’t be able to reach all of my students, especially teaching an unpopular subject; but that didn’t get in the way of my efforts, efforts which paid off for my students in general.  While expending great amounts of energy, it seemed to be like I was caught on a wheel, running like a hamster getting nowhere.  Something would have to go, but I didn’t want it to be the perception of me by colleagues and students.  I knew that the shadow was working just as hard to escape the tight confines I created, perhaps working even harder than my conscious self to maintain the barriers.

What broke?  Relationships outside of the role of persona, administrivia behind the role of persona.  Thankfully, before I was exposed as a complete fraud, I was gifted by midlife crisis which allowed me an out, which allowed the pressure to ease, and which eventually forced me to deal with so much stuff denied.


6 Responses

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  1. I’ve noticed how people wear masks too. I spent a large portion of my life using mine to mask what I really felt about my life. Then I realized “why am I hiding how I feel?” (it was actually because of a certain family member whom I feared who took care of me). When I gained the freedom to live my own life I made a conscious choice about myself. I decided to completely reinvent how I perceived the world from under the mask, and then I would redesign my mask not to hide how I felt, but to give a welcoming presentation to it.

    I like this article and I love your philosophy about when it comes right down to what we are beneath the beauty of our outside layers.


    January 24, 2010 at 11:03 am

    • Thanks for visiting and offering up your understandings here. I value ideas from others and look forward to your return and more comments.

      Robert G. Longpré

      January 24, 2010 at 2:18 pm

  2. So tell me then, why is a bug NOT beautiful?


    January 24, 2010 at 12:31 pm

    • Hi Viv. Well, for me it goes beyond being either beautiful or ugly. I have issues with either term. I guess I am in search of something deeper, within, rather than getting too wrapped up in the wrapping paper.

      Robert G. Longpré

      January 24, 2010 at 2:20 pm

  3. wonderful reflections Rob!
    Setting aside the profundity of matter to explore in the realm of persona & shadow, i’ve recently been giving thought to the seeming necessity of ego to fly and fall like spirit and soul; to inhale (inflate) and exhale (deflate) like our lungs; or to contract and expand like the heart for the health of we human organisms.
    there seems to be so much sentiment in popular “spirituality” setting up the ego as a straw man to be knocked down or beaten up like a whipping boy of the psyche—yet i’m convicted, as “useful fictions” go, the ego is loved and cared for by the essential Self which by all rights is another eminently useful fiction!

    Amateur Autodidact Andy

    January 26, 2010 at 6:35 pm

    • Hi Andy. It’s been some time since I’ve heard from you. Just a note, when I am back in Canada, I intend on doing a series of posts using Hollis’ work similar to what I am doing with Daryl Sharp’s work right now. Thanks for your ideas here.

      Robert G. Longpré

      January 27, 2010 at 8:11 am

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