Do you feel like you are an imposter when trying to change your life circumstances? Do you get a promotion or reach a level of success only to fear you are fooling yourself and others? In this episode, we explore the psychology of the “Persona,” or the mask we wear to fit in socially, and how this function of our ego helps us survive but also limits us. We explore:
- Why we need a persona
- How projection works and how it is a false sense of reality
- How to recognize the conditioned limitations of the persona and transcend the ego for transformation
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Debra Maldonado 00:28
Hello, everyone. Welcome back to Soul Sessions with Debra Berndt Maldonado and Dr. Rob Maldonado of CreativeMind. We are excited to continue our series on the psychology of transformation. Today, we’re going to talk about our friend, the persona. But before we begin, I want to remind you to please subscribe to our channel here, if you’re watching us on YouTube. If you are listening to us on one of our podcast listening apps, please make sure you subscribe there as well, you don’t want to miss an episode. Also, we invite you to post comments if you’re here on YouTube, post some questions, we’d love to hear from you. Today’s our topic is, are you an imposter? I feel like I am sometimes.
Robert Maldonado 01:25
We all are, and you’ll see why we say that. If you did not get a chance to listen to our previous episode on the ego, it might be a good time to listen to it after this one. They go together because we can think of the ego as our internal voice, our internal sense of I. The persona is what we present to the world as the I, this is who I am. What is the persona?
Debra Maldonado 02:05
It’s a desired perception of how you want other people to see you, so that you can fit in to the world. It feels as though you’re in charge, you have this, “I’m going to put this out”, but you’re still trying to get everyone’s approval. It’s something we learn to do instinctively, because we have an ego. We automatically create a persona to fit in with the world. That’s because it’s part of our psyche. It’s not like that person has a persona, and I don’t have a persona. We all have a persona. You go to kindergarten and fit into a group. Are you the pretty girl? Are you the princess? Are you the sporty girl, the tomboy? Are you the bully or the brain? In young years at school, we have this little persona that we fit into, the teacher’s pet, the troublemaker. I was really shy. I guess I was a teacher’s pet because I was shy and very smart. But I was very introverted. Be a good girl, do your work, always making sure I was following the rules. But very shy, very quiet.
Robert Maldonado 03:52
I was definitely nerdy. This is a Jungian term, obviously, the persona. It was his spiel about personality, a whole school of study in psychology. There’s all these theories of personality, some schools even say there is no personality, it’s a fiction, it’s a mirage. But for Jung, the persona was a mask. He says, I’m paraphrasing: it has two functions, one is that we want to have an impression on others, we want to be liked by others, accepted or feared, whatever it is. That impression is definitely in there. It’s part of why we need and want the persona. On the other hand, on the flip side, we hide behind it. We hide behind a mask. It has those two functions, it gives an impression to others, and then we can hide behind.
Debra Maldonado 05:19
Chris Rock famously said that when you go on a date, you’re not really being yourself, you’re bringing your representative. Any of you who have ever dated before, you’re bringing your persona that day, you are not bringing your real self, you’re presenting. Now that we have online dating, you put your profile up, it tells how wonderful you are, that’s the impression you want to make. We do this all the time with everyone. We go for an interview, we’re not going to say, “I don’t like working, I hated my last boss, I’m lazy sometimes”, no way. It’s “I can do the job. I’m good.” You create this persona of “I have it all together”. We use it to survive, which, of course, if you revealed your deep dark secrets on a date or to someone else, they might not be accepting of that. It does work in a way but then we forget that, we think that’s who we are. We think that function of persona is really who we are.
Robert Maldonado 06:27
It certainly feels that way because if we go back to the ego, the ego is our internal sense of I, persona seems to be what represents that I to others, how we interact with others. It gives us a bridge to the social world, a way of presenting ourselves, a way of identifying ourselves in the group, so that people know who we are and what we’re about through this persona. But ultimately, what’s interesting is that it’s very malleable, because we are one way with our friends, another way with our colleagues, and other way with our parents. At work we’re different than when we’re relaxed and hanging out. Is the persona a solid fact of our existence? No, it’s very much an emergent property of our ego. Our ego makes it up, constructs it, maintains it, and maintains it well through defense mechanisms. It’d be good to mention a few of the defense mechanisms the ego uses to maintain the persona, to keep it together.
Debra Maldonado 08:04
When we’re in pain and have relationship issues, it points to the persona, it points to “my reputation is at stake here”, it stops us from doing things or seeing the truth because you don’t want to ruin your reputation. It also hurts when we think someone thinks bad about us, it’s reputation protector. Personas are like the fixer. Make sure everything’s still up and wonderful. That’s what PR agents do to celebrities, they put a spin on things, so that person keeps their reputation. One of the mechanisms is repression. I wanted to be the smart kid, I wanted to get all the good grades, so if I failed at something, I wouldn’t even accept that about myself, I’m perfect, I’m the smart girl, I can’t fail, I can’t be stupid. Your persona is all about being the smart one. Or the pretty one, I can’t look like a fool, I have to be the princess all the time, I can’t get my knees scraped or get dirty — I’m talking about kids, not adults. We repress these urges or this expression of us that is more authentic because we’re afraid people won’t like it, like showing or sharing our deep feelings. We repress them, a lot of times we repress them from ourselves, we hide them from ourselves. Like anger, I can’t be angry, I’m a nice woman, I’m a nice person, let me push anger away, let it be sitting there, sipping, simmering. A lot of our clients say, “I didn’t know there was this raging inside my unconscious that I never met, this raging anger that’s just been sitting there.” Repression holds us back from being authentic.
Robert Maldonado 10:11
I was thinking while you were speaking that in our language we talk about saving face. That’s what it means. We always instinctually want to preserve the persona. We also understand that others need to save face, so we cut them some slack, we give them an opportunity to feel like they’re able to hide what they need to hide from others and save face.
Debra Maldonado 10:51
A lot of times one of the main things is admitting you’re wrong in relationships, because if you’re wrong it is like you’re bad. When you’re in a relationship, you need to be right, you can’t just say, “I was wrong”. It’s so freeing but the persona, the ego doesn’t want us to do that. We can’t look like we made a mistake. We can’t look like we were wrong. We repress it from ourselves. Denial is another one, we deny. A lot of people talk about gaslighting, but we all do it, we all deny, because we don’t want to know our failure. We try to figure out why we’re right and why the other person is wrong.
Robert Maldonado 11:43
We’re lying to ourselves, in essence. If we’re totally unconscious of the defense mechanism, it’s a way of hiding things from ourselves.
Robert Maldonado 12:49
Jung focused on projection as a defense mechanism because it’s such a pervasive one. Whenever there’s things we feel are unacceptable about us, we tend to project them outward, we see them in others. If they’re in others, we’re off the hook. It’s a way to save face with ourselves. They’re the ones that are ignorant, they’re the ones that are angry, they’re the ones that are mean or unreasonable, on and on. Not us, we’re good people. Projection is a powerful defense mechanism that becomes useful in our work because the way we start to show people they’re not their persona is through their projections, through the things that trigger them, the things they can see in others. We use them to point out that it’s actually coming from them. Not necessarily that they’re those things, but that they’re projecting those things because they fear being perceived as that.
Debra Maldonado 14:15
Everyone we meet is a part of ourselves. When you talk about projection, a lot of times we project our brilliance onto other people, they’re so powerful, I can’t be that. Look at that successful person, I can never be that. We idolize celebrities and successful people, we want to be like them, but we don’t identify with that. But the fact that they’re in our space and we have a reaction, we admire them is showing that that’s in us too. We’re just denying it. We’re pushing that away, the ego’s like “No” because there’s some reason the ego doesn’t find it helpful for us to be that, there’s some unconscious fear. When we talk about projection, it’s mind-blowing to think that we’re projecting our own mind onto other people, and everyone’s having their little persona they think they’re fooling everyone with, but we are actually just projecting, we’re actually not even seeing other people. They aren’t even seeing our persona because they’re seeing us through their own lens, and we’re seeing them through our lens. Basically, no one’s really seeing us directly anyway. We’re trying to impress each other but we can’t impress someone else, because they’re seeing through their own filter. There’s no way the persona can really work in a way. It’s a flood system.
Robert Maldonado 15:50
That’s why it’s important to be able to go beyond our ego and persona, because it’s not who we are. It’s not our genuine, true self. How can you have relationships if you’re on the surface, if you’re only seeing the other person as their persona. You’re not getting a sense of who they really are, you’re seeing their mask, the role that they’re playing.
Debra Maldonado 16:19
A great analogy for this is when you see famous people, it feels like they came out of nowhere, like Brené Brown, the Harry Potter woman, Sara Blakely who created Spanx, billionaire. You hear that she’s so lucky, this amazing thing happened. But when you get to know them, there was a lot of struggle, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of things that happened behind the scenes. All we see is a shiny persona. When they tell those stories of “It’s was tough for me, I lived in on government funds, I was in a tiny apartment, just doing everything myself”, that journey is to help other people understand that we’re all fighting that same battle. If we could just understand that it’s not all roses and rainbows, everything’s not always perfect, and that’s okay. We just need as a society to stop trying to be so perfect all the time for each other. We could be real, it would make this society change, it would make the world change if we could just be real. But we have this imposter, the persona, that is so terrified of removing that mask and revealing that part of ourselves even to ourselves, even to look within ourselves and to see what’s underneath us. We don’t want to look inside.
Robert Maldonado 17:45
If we think back to the ego functions as survival and social adaptation, now we see the function of the persona primarily as a social adaptation. But if you’re operating on that survival mode, your persona is is just all about staying safe, staying in your comfort zone, making sure none of the cracks show, that people don’t see any of what Jung called the shadow. We’ll talk about the shadow on our next episode. But it’s important to understand the function of the persona and to be able to work with the ego and the persona because it is the primary armor we carry around with us. The stronger that armor is, usually the more we’ve dealt with things in our life, in our past, we’ve had it rough and who hasn’t? We’ve all been through those rough patches. We build up very strong defense mechanisms in a very strong sense of “I have to keep up this persona at all costs, otherwise it feels like that.”
Debra Maldonado 19:09
If we don’t come to terms with it, there’s this concept of the inflated ego or persona that we end up with. The more we push away what we don’t want, persona has to be more inflated, then eventually it’s gonna have to pop, you can’t keep it going. We see this happen with celebrities, with business people that get caught up, politicians get caught up in their own ego. It becomes an inflated ego, then they’re suffering so bad because it snowballs into this really uncomfortable place where you’re really terrified of that persona. Most of us don’t get at that point where we feel uncomfortable, but those extreme cases where you’re really inflated. Back in the 90s, with a lot of dot-coms, people would have these important jobs and then get laid off. Their identity was so tied to that title and that persona, they were lost without it. Then they had to really come to terms with who they were beyond that title in that office, that salary and that power. It really is something we should all look at. We see it magnified in bigger public figures. The more of a public figure you are, the more pressure it is to keep that up.
Robert Maldonado 20:47
What you’re describing is what people call narcissism. That’s what inflation is. It’s an overinflated ego and persona. But if we see it as a defense mechanism, then it makes a little bit of sense. If people feel deep shame, or that they need to protect themselves over and above what the ordinary person needs as far as protection, then they create this big persona, big facade to hide behind. It’s a big personality, a big mask that they’re wearing. But it’s to protect the very fragile ego.
Debra Maldonado 21:35
Their ego isn’t strong. A lot of people say that person has a big ego, no, that person has a small ego pretending to have a big ego. We’ve all seen the Wizard of Oz, the great powerful Oz, the big screen, the giant head, and the big noise. Then there’s an old little guy behind the controls, scared and wimpy, that’s what that is, at that extreme. We all have that to some extent, there’s a little part of us, the ego’s little mechanisms, pulling the strings to make sure the persona looks good in the world. But then it can become extreme. How did we get conditioned to have it? Is it really from our experiences and trial and error, finding out what works? Or is there probably a part of it, that’s genetic, a part of our personality that is innate in us? If we’re funny, that becomes part of our persona.
Robert Maldonado 22:40
We’re all born with predispositions, genetically, physically. But then the majority of us go through socialization with our family, we have to fit in, we have to find who we are and what our role is in the family system. Most of us experienced this universal experience of dealing with our families and the primary caregiver, usually the mother. We have to adapt and adopt, understand and find a way to relate to that primary relationship we call the mother. It leaves a very powerful imprint on our psyche, because it is our first experience of relating to someone else besides our ego. That’s a very important aspect of conditioning. When we do inner work, when we take people through individuation, that’s one of the things that we have to examine. Not in the sense of “let’s try to fix it” or “let’s look at what went wrong”. It’s more of a sense of what assumptions you’re making about relationships, about the world, and who you are, based on those early experiences.
Debra Maldonado 24:21
Some people refer to that in pop culture as the mother wounds, but it’s not that it’s a wound. It’s more than that. It’s a way we adapted and defended. Most likely, we always say this to our students, your mother, good or bad, got her conditioning from her mother, and her mother, and her mother. It’s like ego has a life of its own. We’re not conscious, we repeat the pattern from generation to generation. It’s the conditioning that’s generational. We don’t want to look at it as a terrible thing. In a way, you’re getting the opportunity to break the cycle of conditioning and wake up. We don’t want to look at it as there is something wrong with you because you had that experience. We’ve all had those experiences, we’ve all had defenses we built around because of our relationship with our mother, whether she was most wonderful mother in the world or very cruel. We have defenses regardless of how she treated us. But we learn to adapt. Sometimes, if the mother was really kind, we learn kindness in the world. Then we’re afraid to stand up. It doesn’t have to be a terrible childhood that you had, it could be that your mother was so kind that you were afraid to be mean. That actually attracted relationships that weren’t treating you well, because you were so afraid to stand up for yourself. Was that mother a good mother or a bad mother? Did she demonstrate things that helped you survive? You can look at it from both ways. It shaped us, but it doesn’t define us. That shaping is a natural part of us evolving as human beings.
Robert Maldonado 26:10
That’s why self-inquiry is such an important aspect of the work. You have to determine what your response was to those circumstances, to her personality, her way of dealing and interacting with you, because we’re all unique and individual. It’s how we interpret her behavior, her affection or lack of affection towards us. That interpretation can be either way. We can say it’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me, or it’s the worst thing that ever happened.
Debra Maldonado 26:50
Or this is how I learned to be this way, which led me to self-inquiry and understanding myself, brought me freedom, transformation, and enlightenment. It’s that whole idea of nothing’s good or bad. There’s things that feel wrong and bad, we’re not discounting that. But if we put it in the label of “you’re broken now”, you’re never going to reach that enlightenment that you want, because you’re still identifying as the experience versus the true self.
Robert Maldonado 27:23
Another big aspect of conditioning is the peer group. Because by age four or five, we’re moving out of the home and into the social groups. We identify strongly with the peers because biologically, those are the people that we’re going to grow up with, as we grow up. It was important to form those bonds and connections, those identifications with our peers. Those early experiences of our peer groups are really important. My grandmother used to say, “Tell me who you hang out with, and I’ll tell you who you are.” Because your friends define to a large extent.
Debra Maldonado 28:12
Even now, are you hanging around people that are victims and complaining about their life, or are you hanging around with people that are actually on the field, doing the work, changing their lives? If you look at the people around you, you say, “This is why I’m here.” We’re all individually responsible, but it’s hard to break free, if everyone around you is in that mindset. Surrounding yourself in a group mindset of possibility, of potential, of evolution, of spiritual knowledge and understanding true spiritual knowledge versus just projecting out there.
Robert Maldonado 28:50
Mentors, teachers, of course, have a big influence as well on our lives. I’m sure you can recall some of the early teachers that you had. They leave a strong imprint on us.
Debra Maldonado 29:04
Talking about the persona, I was really smart in school, I ended up not going to college and starting out working, I just wanted to get married, I didn’t want to be a career person — voila, here I am. When I was dating, I’d hide the fact that I was smart, because the social word was “smart girls are nerdy”, and I wanted to be cool. I became fun Debi, I wasn’t really myself, that wasn’t really me. I was hiding and repressing the intelligence I had. I was just like, “I’m a lot of fun”, it wan’t getting me what I wanted. We can end up socially, if we’re not around people that support and inspire our greatest gifts and talents, if it’s not accepted. I think of Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon was this genius, he was hanging out with these guys from the neighborhood, doing construction work. They’re like, “You need to be somewhere else.” Even his best friend said, “One day, you’re gonna leave, I’m gonna be so happy when you leave.” We have to think about who we’re hanging out with and how we can be around people that stimulate our intelligence, our spiritual growth, our personal growth. That’s who we want to hang around with.
Robert Maldonado 30:27
Thirdly, the culture that we are born into and experience have a big conditioning influence on our persona. We need to fit into a culture, we absorb the values of that culture. Most of it is unconscious, we don’t really think about it that way. But as soon as you start to examine your persona, do that self-inquiry, you start to see it. “That’s why I see the world the way I do, because of my culture.”
Debra Maldonado 31:13
You can do a little map of what your personality is, what values you have, then look at your family and do a bigger circle of your family and what they believe. Then if you spread out to the culture and see how there’s parts of you, maybe internally, that you’re not expressing because they don’t fit into those outer realms. You’re in this bubble, in this tribe of experience. You told me once that one of your friends played the cello, and he abandoned it because the neighborhood was rough and it wasn’t cool to be a musician back then.
Robert Maldonado 32:00
To be walking around with the cello in that part of the world, not a good idea.
Debra Maldonado 32:05
We have the opportunity to understand the persona. It is not something pathological. It’s something in every human being, we all have it, even if we’re evolved, we still use the persona. It’s part of our way of socializing with other human beings. But if we believe we’re that, that’s when the trouble begins. When we believe we are the persona, we are this personality, this identity that the world sees, that’s who we are, that’s where misery and powerlessness set in. We want to see ourselves beyond that.
Robert Maldonado 32:44
A lot of people talk about the imposter syndrome. It’s actually a good sign because it’s showing you, it’s prompting you from the inside, that you’re not your persona. There’s nothing wrong with it, you’re playing a role. It’s a function of the mind. But it’s not who you are.
Debra Maldonado 33:04
If you feel imposter syndrome, it should be a wake-up call to say, “Why am I so attached to proving to other people who I am?” That would be a great question to ask if you have the impostor syndrome. Why do I need to prove to anyone else how smart I am, how brilliant I am, how talented I am? That’s the question to sit with, a very powerful question. Great session today. We’ll have more of the psychology of transformation. We hope this series helps you understand where we can go with the mind, with the levels of the psyche, and how to understand ourselves through it. If you want to understand the body, you got to understand the biology. You understand the makeup of the mind, so you can work with this wonderful, powerful tool we have, to live, experience the world, see it in a positive, empowering way.
Robert Maldonado 34:07
Next time we’ll talk about the shadow which is the bizarro persona.
Debra Maldonado 34:12
That’s going to be a good one. We’ll see you next week.