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  • Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 1: Symbolism

    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 //
    © 2012 Brian Collinson
    1. Patrick McCurry
      May 8, 2012 at 9:54 am -

      Interesting post, Brian. I look forward to reading the others. I like what you said about how masks are an inevitable (and socially useful) part of how we present ourselves to the world. But, as you say, the danger is when we become over identified with them and they ‘become’ us.

      1. Brian C
        May 8, 2012 at 8:13 pm -

        Thank you very much for your comment, Patrick. I agree: masks are inevitable, but the danger is in over-identification, and in mistaking the mask for the whole human being — mistaking the mask, the social roles, for the sum total of ourselves…

    2. Anna Elle

      Anna Elle

      September 6, 2017 at 8:39 am -

      I agree with your explanation of masks and feel like you’re one of the few who actually understand why we have masks. Yes, everyone may appear different at times. I’m BPD and a few other acronyms and I need to name my personas because even though it’s all me ultimately, it’s not. Within my masks, I have a protector, a soother, a wild one, then there’s 4 other parts of my me depending on what’s going on. I know that may sound really weird but to be aware of who you are and what you’re capable of is the most important because like you said, if we’re not wearing our masks…..we are exposed and subjected to being hurt or hurting someone else. Thanks for the post.

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