Surface Tension: Jungian Therapy, Persona & Suburbia
Viewed from the point of view of Jungian therapy, suburbia can seem like it is entirely about persona, just living on the surface of life, never penetrating into its true depths.
The suburban experience can sometimes be very caught up with appearances. We are continually bombarded with an enormous number of messages that tell us that we are how we look, and that our image is everything . Consequently the house we live in and the car we drive can seem like true determinants of our identity. Our furniture and our landscaping can be seen as indicators of our worth as human beings — to others, yes, but, even more devastatingly, to ourselves.
The way in which we express our individual selves through our homes and gardens may be true expressions of our individual selves. In that sense, they have the potential to be true manifestations of soul. But there is a real danger that we will identify ourselves by means of these things, rather than doing the hard work of turning into ourselves to see who we most fundamentally are. Thus we lapse into identifying ourselves with what C.G. Jung called the persona, the outward social “mask” that we develop and use to enable us to interact with the outer world.
Now having a persona is not somehow pathological. It is essential that we have one, to enable us to deal with all the demands of social interaction. But if we believe that the persona is our fundamental identity, we will be locked out of our own depths and uniqueness. This will also have the effect of ensuring that we are locked out of the depths of the lives of others, for if we stay stuck on our own surface, we will never be able to penetrate the surface of others, either.
Sometimes it’s easier to stay out of our depths — and the depths of the people we care about and with whom we live! It is truly staggering how frequently in therapy people will come out with a revelation such as:
It just is easier to keep things on the surface level. I don’t know how I could possibly talk about anything meaningful with her / him / them!
I just don’t talk about anything real with X. We’re very pleasant with each other, but we never get down to our real feelings, or talk about anything meaningful!
Please keep in mind that the tragedy of this is that people are saying these things about those others who are in the most intimate of relationships to them! The loneliness of people enduring these kind of relationships can be almost unendurable.
Very often, if people are hiding their depths in this way from the people who are closest to them, they are also withholding themselves from their own depths.
This place of depth, if I can speak of it using a spatial metaphor, can be a real source of fear. We can all be afraid of just who it is that we will encounter if we look at the unacknowledged or split-off aspects of ourselves. But it is also in those depths where we encounter the things we need, the undiscovered parts of the self that bring us life and healing.