Each of us, in reference to that part of the ego which we reveal to the outside world, has a persona, or mask, that we put on in childhood that enables us to give definition to our public sense of self. We carry and use these masks for the remainder of our lives. Carl Jung described this as “that part of the personality developed and used in our interactions, our conscious outer face (Hopcke 87).
In Lillian B. Rubin’s The Approach-Avoidance Dance she observed that while it was a positive thing to be able to be loved for who we were after you lowered your mask, there was also a danger in doing so. Lowering the mask to yourself and discovering that you do not like what you see leads to discomfort, anxiety, and fearfulness.
This is in comparison to what Jung saw as the problem. When people, to their own harm, identify with their own personas and see themselves as nothing more than their jobs, their place in society, their sex, race, etc. this damages their own true inner selves. He called this condition persona identification and, left unchecked, can lead to enantiodromia, or the pushing back of the unconscious mind against the conscious, and often leads to a rebirth of the personality that may be positive or negative.
The mask is detrimental to intimacy due to the very nature of its purpose. It’s largely a defensive tool, a shield for the psyche that the ego hides behind. It’s impossible to get close enough to anyone to develop any real intimacy when an individual wears a mask, but we all do the same things. The difficulty in intimacy lies not just in the masks, but also in the lowering of them and the types we wear. Rubin felt that another reason we wore masks was because we are unable to love ourselves. However, when we lower our masks, we are exposing our real inner selves, thus inviting another access to our personal psyche. The anxiety and fear is not only in disliking ourselves, but in the uncertainty of liking the person we will become after we allow another individual to interfere with our psyche after they have entered our environment.
In our effort in choosing masks it is important to stop and think. Who will be seeing our masks? How will it affect the intimacy level we share with that person or people. Since they affect intimacy, it is the types we wear, their vertical mobility, and our ability to accept ourselves should we try on different ones that ultimately make them important products of our individual wills that demand our constant attention.
Jung, Carl. A Guided Tour of The Collected Works of C.G. Jung. Robert H. Hopcke, Ed. Boston: Shambala Publishing Co., 1989.
Rubin, Lillian B. “The Approach-Avoidance Dance”. The Conscious Reader. 5th ed. Eds. Caroline Shrodes, Harry Finestone,
Michael Shugrue. New York:Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992.