A Jungian Psychotherapist & Suburban Life, 2: Image
Put a Jungian case studies in suburbia and he or she soon realizes that an important part of suburban life is the process of dealing with expectations around image.
People’s presentation of themselves to each other is key in suburban life. And how we relate to our presentation to the world, to what Jung called the persona, can determine the whole course of a life.
The Inevitability of Persona
We have to face it: we’re going to have a social mask. People can’t appear unfiltered and emotionally raw to the world — it would be intolerable.
So, we all develop ways of protecting ourselves — and others — in our various social environments. The way we do that is through our persona, which is a combination of what we show to others, and what we conceal. For the Jungian case studies, this is an inevitable activity, with identifiable common characteristics in the suburban persona across North America:
Suburban Social Compromise
Persona is the sum total of all the compromises we make between the outer social reality and inner psychological reality. All the social compromises we make in suburban living can amount to a lifestyle — and to a specific persona, a suburban way of presenting ourselves to the outer world.
In today’s suburbia, it’s not uncommon to have limited contact with others, but that doesn’t mean that we are not strongly influenced by their opinions and expectations.
Often there is considerable pressure to avoid patterns of behaviour considered “eccentric”, and sometimes strong fear and suspicion of behaviour that departs from the suburban pattern. For instance, there can be considerable pressure to look prosperous and successful / “healthy” — and to give the impression of being “one of us”, and fitting in.
Don’t Mistake the Mask for Your Face
Suburban patterns of persona sometimes work better for people in the first half of adult life than they do in the second.
In the second half of life, what is more individual becomes more important. By this time people can be so confined by social role that they risk never getting to a position to express their true selves. Social masks can prevent us from expressing our real identity, confining us to rigid patterns of thought and reaction that we can never get past.
Suburbia and the Dance of Persona
For the Jungian case studies, the key thing about image in suburbia is that individuals need to not be possessed by the social self, but to have the freedom to live from their authentic reality. There is a dance of individuation and masks that is involved in suburban life, and in the issue of our persona in suburban living.
How to live authentically in suburbia? Only by stepping away from the mask of suburban persona enough to gain some freedom. A key part of the work of the Jungian case studies, in suburbia or elsewhere, is to help individuals to find the authentic life within that brings freedom from the mask.