• The CalmPost

The Everyday Costumes

Updated: Nov 2, 2018

What persona(s) do you take on to present yourself to the world? And are they serving you?

Yesterday, being Halloween, my sister says to me, "Can you imagine if people dressed up in costumes every day?"

I actually think I can.

Studying counseling psychology at the master's level, one concept my classmates and I are exploring is the topic of personalities. And how they develop.

For instance, the word persona actually means mask. While so many of us are inclined to define ourselves by our personalities, they are, in essence, only a presentation or part of our whole selves.

"Persona," as described in Theories of Psychotherapy and Counseling by Richard Sharf, "...is the way that individuals present themselves in public." In other words, our personas or personality developments are how we dress up for the world.

Taking on various roles in our lives and in society as a whole, we sometimes find ourselves acting as teachers, friends, parents, a business person and so forth...

"How individuals play these roles depends on how they want to be seen by others and how they believe others want them to act," adds Sharf.

At times, these personas or masks can be well suited. As a yoga teacher, for example, I genuinely love practicing yoga and teaching yoga. Stepping out into the world as a "yogi" (as my students tend to call me!) is what helps me to share the practice in environments of purpose, respect and focus.

But that might not always be the case.

As explained by Dr. Ling Lam in our Foundations of Psychotherapy and Personality course, we at times develop certain qualities of our personalities as "defense mechanisms" to tough external situations - also described as "coping mechanisms."

For example, if you're anything like my younger Self, you might find yourself rationalizing a situation to perhaps avoid feeling the associated emotions, or taking full responsibility of the predicament at hand. My friends will like me more if I have a drink with them...!

Other common coping strategies include:

Denial: refusal to accept reality.

Reaction formation: taking on the opposite stance to your genuine feelings (i.e. acting like a "gorilla" when in actuality you're feeling insecure).

Projecting: seeing what you feel in other people when it might not be fully accurate.

Displacement: taking pain out on others.

Sublimation: channeling rage elsewhere. A more socially acceptable form of displacement (i.e. taking up kick boxing as a means of dealing with anger).

Regression: reverting to an earlier stage of our development.

Identification: taking on characteristics of others.

While the term "defense mechanism" has a negative connotation, Dr. Lam exudes compassion as he explains how such character developments are sometimes a necessity, "survival methods," he adds.

As we grow, mature, and engage in healthier, even safer, environments, it's important to stop and check-in with ourselves:

Is this strategy serving me?

Or is it no longer necessary?

For example, there are times in life where me might be thinking that we have to "push through" and "focus." Resultantly, we might push down or suppress any painful emotions related to that time and place. As we grow older, we might find ourselves more available and open to our emotions, realizing how our denial tactics might be holding us back from experiencing life to its fullest... as they say... To feel is to heal!

Today - being what is called "all saint day!"- I invite you all to take off the masks and ask:

Who am I at my core?

What am I really like.... Naked?... (And perhaps full of Halloween candy ;) )

Here's to a dressing down!

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