Persona Archetype

Learn all about the persona archetype according to Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung.

What is the Persona Archetype?

According to Jung, the persona archetype was the social face individual presented to the world.

In his words:

 “a mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual.”

The term ‘Persona’ was developed by Swiss psychoanalyst Dr Carl Jung and derived from the Latin word ‘persona’, which referred to the masks which were worn by the Etruscan mimes.

The Persona is one of Jung’s archetypes and refers to the personality that an individual projects to others. It is differentiated from the authentic self.

In other words, the persona is how we present ourselves to the world.

In Jung’s own words, the persona is “a kind of mask, designed on the one hand to make a definite impression upon others, and on the other to conceal the true nature of the individual”.

He also describes persona as:

“…the individual’s system of adaptation to, or the manner he assumes in dealing with, the world. Every calling of profession, for example, has its own characteristic persona. It is easy to study these things nowadays, when the photographs of public personalities so frequently appear in the press. A certain kind of behaviour is forced on them by the world, and professional people endeavor to come up to these expectations. Only, the danger is that they become identical with their personas – the professor with his textbook, the tenor with his voice. Then the damage is done; henceforth he lives exclusively against the background of his own biography. For by that time it is written: “… then he went to such and such a place and said this or that”, etc. (…) One could say, with a little exaggeration, that the persona is that which in reality one is not, but which oneself as well as others think one is.”

(From Carl Jung: The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious, Volume 9, part I of The Collected Works, Princeton University Press, 1990, p.123.)

What’s the Purpose of the Persona Archetype?

The Persona archetype enables an individual to interrelate with their surrounding environment.

It does so by reflecting the role in life that the individual is playing.

As a result of doing this, it allows the individual to come to a compromise between their innate psychological constitution and society, thus allowing them to adapt to society’s demands.

Social Persona Development

Jung believed that the development of a viable social persona is vital if a person is to be successful in their preparation for adult social life in the world. Jung saw danger in people becoming identical with their personas, whatever they may be.

The result could be a “shallow, brittle, conformist kind of personality which is ‘all persona’, with its excessive concern for ‘what people think, as Jung put it.

He felt this was dangerous as it left them unconscious of any distinction between themselves and the world in which they lived, with little concept of themselves as distinct from what society expects of them.

He believed that the danger of this was an empty persona or an “enantiodromia”, the emergence of the repressed individuality from beneath the persona at some point later in life.

The Persona Archetype Examples

The Persona archetype is thus, in more common parlance, the public image of someone.

It is the mask which each person wears in public in order to present a certain image about themselves externally. The mask can be an enormously broad range of things – some examples may include father, mother, son, daughter, Queen, King, doctor, artist, lawyer, Prime Minister, President, athlete, singer etc.

The persona archetype can often be crucial to your positive development. Here are some examples:

  • teacher
  • lawyer
  • doctor
  • policeman
  • mother, father, husband, wife etc.

Persona Archetype, Development & Social Adaptation

The Persona archetype is thus a result of social adaptation and plays an important part in helping the individual successfully deal with their peers.

Over the course of their development children learn that there is a need for them to behave in specific ways to fit with society’s expectations.

The persona develops as a social mask, with this mask designed to contain all of the individual’s most primitive urges, impulses and emotions as these are not considered socially acceptable.

However, the persona archetype can become excessive if it remains unchecked. If this happens it can suggest a personality that is not authentic but rather is fictional.

A good example of when this occurs is with people like politicians, celebrities and social media influencers.

These are the type of people who profess to have a special role to play in social life, but in doing so they may employ ‘spin-doctors’, public relations staff or media gurus to manipulate their public image.

In the age of digital and social media people are becoming increasingly adept at manipulating their public persona in this way themselves. When the persona becomes excessive in this manner the individual’s authentic personality becomes distorted until it becomes almost completely unrecognizable.

Jung’s Individuation Process

Jung’s individuation process starts from the level of the persona through awareness of its presence and function, and the attenuation of its often oppressive-imperative character.

A goal for individuation is to “develop a more realistic, flexible persona that helps them navigate in society but does not collide with nor hide their true self”.

Further Reading

Further reading on the persona archetype includes:

  • The Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious (Collected Works of C.G. Jung) – by C.G. Jung (Author)
  • Jungian Archetypes in 20th Century Women’s Fiction: The Persona, the Shadow, the Animus and the Self – by Lorelei Cederdtram
  • Jung’s Map of the Soul: An Introduction Paperback – by Murray Stein (Author)
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