So after my last post, my best friend Ann, a Jungian therapist who now lives in Texas, called to chat. As usual, it took only a few moments of touch-ins before we got into Jungian psychology. We’ve been known to go at this for hours with no sense of passing time. It’s our particular “zone.” This time our topic was the Actress archetype. Actually, I’m not sure if anyone has ever formally named or written about this as an archetype. If you know of someone who has, I hope you’ll let me know.
Anyway, as we see it, the Actress/Actor is an aspect of the fundamental archetype of the psyche that Jung called the Persona. Beginning in childhood, every Ego automatically creates a Persona. This is a filter or mask we wear to hide the socially undesirable parts of ourselves while revealing those deemed acceptable. A persona is like our wardrobe: by the time we’re adults most of us have a collection of different clothes for different occasions. We wear one outfit for our siblings, another for our parents, a third when visiting our extended family, a fourth for our friends, a fifth at school, a sixth at work, a seventh with co-worshippers, an eighth when with the “other” political party, a ninth in very formal settings.
The Actress/Actor aspect of our Persona can be a positive or negative thing depending on how much we’re hiding and pretending, what we’re revealing, and whether our major concern is to please, impress or be real. Hiding and pretending saps our energy; telling the truth fills our tank and fuels our inner light. Yet, being authentic and transparent can be problematic if we say exactly what we think when our thoughts are critical, our emotions are hostile, or our concern for the feelings of others is nonexistent.
The ideal is to communicate who we really are and what we truly care about with clarity, effectiveness, compassion, and respect for our audience. And here’s the kicker: our underlying motive must not come primarily from our Ego’s need to bolster its self-image, but from the Self’s desire to be of benefit. I doubt if we can ever completely erase our Ego’s needs, but we can subdue and redirect them in service to the Self. Finding this balance is tricky, of course, but when we do, activating our Actress or Actor is powerful and beneficial. As Ann said, “It’s not losing strength, it’s gaining strength.”
I discovered my Actress around the age of 10 when I sang “How Much is That Doggy in the Window? ” punctuated with barks, in a church camp talent show. I loved the laughter and applause. After that I rushed onstage at every opportunity: in classes, plays, as a teacher, president of the PTA, church leader, chairman of the board. It wasn’t until my mid-40’s that I noticed how little I really enjoyed these activities and how draining most of them were. That’s when I realized I was pretending.
Within a year, and with great relief and no guilt, I reduced the number of my obligations to causes outside my immediate family from ten to two. The two I kept were women’s groups in which no one starred and leadership was shared. Since then, my only ongoing social commitments and leadership roles have been related to my soul’s passions.
My dreams of panicking before going onstage because I can’t find my costume or haven’t learned my lines have steadily diminished. A few years ago I dreamed I was singing my own songs in an intimate nightclub with no stage and a receptive audience. I haven’t lost my Actress; I’ve gained a valuable ally in my life’s work of learning to be true to myself.