A couple of months ago I got irritated with a friend whom I love a lot, and the conversation suddenly turned bitter leading to both of us walking away. The atmosphere in the beautiful cafe where we had met to discuss and plan a project changed instantly from nurturing and supporting conversations to bitter exchange of words and expressions that could hurt the umbilical cord of friendship and love. This could be the appearance of our 'shadows'.
Swiss psychologist Carl Jung mentioned that a personality has two components: the Persona (literally meaning the Mask, that which is our conscious personality and which determines how we deal with the world), and the Shadow: (the person we'd rather not be, the opposite of our conscious personality). The Shadow consists of all the aspects of our psyches that we prefer not to look at and are ashamed of all through our lives. But the truth is that when certain negative tendencies remain hidden from our conscious awareness they tend to drive our emotions and behaviour in unpredictable ways. This is when you lose your temper and snap over something minor, or go into despair over a small mistake, or dislike someone who exhibits the trait you don't want to see in yourself. This could be exactly what happened to me in the argument with my friend.
A major task in acquiring self-knowledge is to understand the relationship between who one is and how one presents oneself to the world. For adapting to certain occasions, behaving in a manner suitable to that occasion, and knowing how best to navigate a vast multitude of situations one needs to develop a healthy persona.
Our persona controls the way we project who we are and interact with the world. The persona is a functional complex that operates as an attitude, or way of relating to, the "outer" world. To put it simply, persona is what we think we are and what we want to show the world. So I could project that I am a caring, intelligent, intense, creative, aloof, high-energy person and I could believe that completely. But the fact is I am all these and also the things that I have been suppressing because consciously I think I am "not that".
As children we learn from our family and surroundings what parts of ourselves can and cannot, or should not, be expressed. These various unacceptable parts get put into a big black bag that we drag behind us and comprises our shadow personality. The shadow may be viewed as containing unacknowledged or disowned aspects of ourselves; these disowned aspects are usually projected onto others, in order to maintain our concept of self. This means when something about others really irritates me, chances are this could be my shadow, the elements of my personality that I have pushed into the dark basement of my life because I do not like them or want to own them. I know it is quite difficult to agree with me here when I say, "What irritates you about others is something that you have deep inside you but you have repressed it instead of dealing with it."
Social media can be an overt playground to watch our persona in action. All of us on Facebook have happy pictures and beautiful messages showing our mask and the personality that interacts with the external world. Our projected selves seem very attractive and flawless. We are full of energy and doing all kinds of wonderful things. This is something recruiters who focus a lot on the online personality need to be worried about. All of us know that we are much deeper than our shared profiles on Facebook!
While it is easy to know our persona, awareness about our shadow can be tough. But we do not really grow up until we learn how to deal with our shadow tendencies because they pop up at unexpected times with great regularity showing us a pattern in our lives. So when our bright and sunny moods are followed by stormy ones, it is good to get into the balcony and reflect.
(Santhosh Babu, a celebrity coach and speaker on leadership, facilitates organisational transformations. Buddha in the Boardroom is his weekly online column for Business Today. Coming up next: "The Inner Game of Success". Bookmark businesstoday.in/buddhaintheboardroom and follow @BT_India and @hypnobaba to be alerted of Babu's columns.