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  • Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 3: Thin Mask

    In “Individual therapy, Individuation & Masks, 2“, I dealt with the “overly thick” persona or social mask — but can the mask also be overly thin?

    individual therapy

    Wearing a fragile glass mask?

    A number of my readers have pointed out in responses to that earlier post that it most certainly can — and that’s an individuation issue!

    Not Guarding Our Treasure

    Many of us can relate to the experience of feeling overly open or overly exposed in social situations.  Sometimes, we can put ourselves “out there”, and have the clear sense that others either don’t understand, value, or respect the aspects of ourselves that we have shown to them.

    Vulnerable and Unprotected

    Especially with those with who are not intimates, social interactions can feel dangerous without an adequately protective social mask or persona.  We can feel genuinely vulnerable, or at risk, facing issues of identity and anxiety.  Individual therapy shows that sometimes the injury done through inappropriate self-disclosure or social interaction with others can lead to real and lasting wounds.  Often those coming from different cultural environments can feel particularly vulnerable, when the persona or social mask required in a different social milieu may be very different.

    Believing the Fun House Mirror

    individual therapy

    A danger of not adequately respecting or protecting our inner life or individuation process, is that we may end up accepting the evaluations that others place on us.  That’s the psychological equivalent of looking in the mirror in a fun house, and taking the distorted image to be our real face.  This can happen unconsciously before we are even aware of what has happened, and we can find ourselves now devaluing ourselves and dealing with shame on a deep and unwarranted level.

    Sincerety AND Respect for the Inner Person

    There’s a balance that we have to maintain when it comes to the social mask or persona.  A mask that is too thick hides us from the world, and keeps us trapped in an impersonal, unrelated place, where we cannot be ourselves in the social world.  A mask that is too thin threatens to allow others to see aspects of our inmost self and cherished inner life that can make social contact unbearable.  The crucial thing can be to find the appropriate balance, where we protect the treasures of the self, and are also able to be ourselves in the world with freedom.  Finding the freedom to do this is a key part of individuation, and individual therapy.


    PHOTO:  © Higyou |  ; Attribution Some rights reserved by ninahale


    1. Sarah Elizabeth Malinak
      June 5, 2012 at 8:35 am -

      Years ago my husband got involved with a Large Group Awareness Training organization. He thrived in that environment but when I followed him through the program, I thought I was going to die in it! Today’s post explains my response to the LGAT experience. I see that even though my thin social mask has thickened through the years of continuing to grow and develop as an adult, in stressful situations where I feel threatened, I must regress to an earlier stage of a thinner mask. At that point I have a hard time regaining my footing and prefer to bail the situation so I can get centered in my adult self once more.

      1. Brian C
        June 5, 2012 at 11:37 am -

        Thank you for your comment, Sarah. Those are some very striking insights that you bring forward. I certainly agree with you that social situations can be very demanding for the individual who has only a thin persona or social mask — especially, although not exclusively, social settings involving many people. This can be especially true, I believe, for people who may be somewhat more introverted in their temperament. Extroverts don’t always have well-adapted personae, it’s true, but often they have somewhat better facility in large group settings, where the introvert — and particularly the introvert with a thin persona — can find the experience just overwhelming. As you put it so powerfully, “I thought I was going to die in it!”

        I think, as you point out, Sarah, the issue of having a well-adapted persona is an on-going one, that we often have to re-visit at various points in our journey.

        Thank you again for these very poignant and insightful comments!

    2. Paulette
      June 11, 2012 at 11:29 am -

      Hi Brian, this is a beautiful article, thanks so much. I really appreciate your approach to “Persona.” I can definitely relate…

      1. Brian C
        June 11, 2012 at 3:45 pm -

        Thanks very much, Paulette. I’m glad that you found it meaningful. I was actually going to include a link to your Facebook page from the first paragraph, in light of our discussion the other day, but for a couple of days, there, I couldn’t find you on Facebook. I appreciated our discussion on this topic, however. Thanks again for your comment!

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