Anxiety, Depression,Your Individual Soul and the Corporation
“Individual soul and the corporation” sounds abstract, but, for many, preserving their individuality while in corporate life is a vital concern.
Being unable to be oneself in a corporate context is the source of a great deal of the anxiety and depression in business life. For /a-midlife-transitions such as C.G. Jung, James Hollis and Marion Woodman, this issue is closely tied to the question of individuation, which is the process of becoming the individual you or I most fundamentally are.
So, how does this question of our individuality relate to the self that shows up at work — what Jung would call the work persona?
To put it a slightly different way, how does this relate to our need for healthy and authentic emotional and feeling life, and for well-being and meaning?
Mask and False Self in Corporate Life
Jungian case studiess often refer to the social self as the persona, a Latin word meaning “mask”. In social settings the persona serves both to hide and reveal our true identity. As Daryl Sharp puts it,
The persona would live up to what’s expected, what is proper. It is both a useful bridge socially and an indispensable protective covering; without a persona, we are simply too vulnerable. We regularly cover up our inferiorities with a persona, since we do not like our weaknesses to be seen…. But it is psychologically unhealthy to identify with it, to believe that we are “nothing but” the person we show to others. [italics mine].
The danger inherent in corporate life is that the individual is given very clear, very strong messages about what is expected and proper. Often, corporations make it very clear what they value, and what they do not value. It’s often a very narrow range of things that are valued, and that conform to the corporation’s public image.
This can lead to individuals over-identifying with the corporate persona, and acting as if their corporate identity is the sum total of who they are. All other aspects of the person increasingly tend to get pushed out of consciousness and into the shadow. This can be very destructive: if the individual gets stuck behind the mask, we refer to the false self.
Example. Jane is a sales manager at a technology firm. She is constantly working, and is never home for evenings with her family. She is a fitness buff, because “it’s essential to look good if you want to sell”, and her only hobby is golf, which she plays, because, “Hey! That’s what salespeople do!” Jane’s values are completely aligned with the company’s.
Corporate Meaning vs. Personal Meaning
One manifestation of corporate false self is when the personal meanings and values in life are largely usurped by corporate goals and meanings. Sadly, there are many people in corporate management for whom this is true. Often, this can lead to an extremely difficult situation when the individual loses a job or gets to the point of retirement. As HR expert Dr. Doug Treen tells us
The retiring executive with a strong corporate ego takes the internalized corporate purpose, values and meaning into retirement. This internal compass will fail the retiring executive as the dysfunction of the false self causes hyper stress.
The individual who has lived in the false self is often clueless about what to do without the job. The danger is that both meaning and self identity are tied to the now non-existent job.
The Abusive Corporation
There are good corporations that support and uphold their employees, but corporate abuse is just as real as spousal or child abuse.
Because of the corporate persona trap, self-worth today is often defined by and derived from work. It’s common enough to find employees who identity with, and are loyal to, employers who mistreat them and cross their boundaries in abusive ways.
Such abuse is fueled by the belief that the work identity is the individual sole real identity. Depth case studies is committed to helping the individual discover his or her true identity, and to claim her or his own real life.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst