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  • Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2: Thick Mask

    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.


    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.


    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


    1. Eric


      May 22, 2012 at 11:38 am -

      I really appreciate this post Brian. Although we do need masks to survive, it is so easy to overly identify with a mask or role that makes us feel safe that we may mistake that mask for the person beneath it. That paradox is: taking off the mask is both dreadful and exhilarating. Some degree of safety is necessary, but too much deadens the soul.

    2. Brian C
      February 9, 2013 at 11:29 am -

      I fully agree, Eric. We all need a social “mask” to protect us, and to help us get through everyday life without continual emotional upheaval or excessive vulnerability. But we also need to ensure that that social mask is not so thick that it prevents us from really being in, and experiencing our lives. Thanks very much for your insightful comment!

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