Matrignosis: A Blog About Inner Wisdom

Think Pyschologically; Live Spiritually

If All the World’s a Stage, Are You a Passable Pretender or Potent Performer? September 28, 2012

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.

There’s more about this in my new book, Healing the Sacred Divide, at or


Cleaning Up My Act May 28, 2011

Of the many forms of mind-training that bring more self-knowledge, my favorites are writing and dreamwork. When I combine the two, as I usually do, I never fail to gain a valuable insight. For example, the following dream from a few weeks ago dramatizes my ego’s growing awareness of its attitude toward an unlikeable shadow.

Dream #4329: “Cleaning Up My Act.” I enter the basement laundry room of a hotel with five soiled items of clothing. I see the clothes of a traveling companion soaking in a big tub of hot, sudsy water. Their owner, a rather withdrawn, grumpy woman who doesn’t seem to like me, is nowhere in sight. Since there’s plenty of room in the tub I add my clothes to hers and leave.

When I return the only item of mine still in the water is a white blouse. I take it out wondering where everything else is. I see the woman’s suitcase sitting open on a counter. I move her clothes around to see if she might accidentally have put mine in with hers.

Just then she walks in the door and says, “What are you doing with my clothes?” in a suspicious, accusatory way. I feel confused and guilty. As I try to explain my innocence I start to wonder why I put my clothes in with hers. That was her laundry, not mine. Did I overstep her boundaries? Did I do it again just now by going through her suitcase? I realize with a bit of a shock that my behavior was not as justified as I originally thought it was. This unlikeable woman is the victim here, not me.

At first my dream ego sees little wrong in what I did. But once I see the woman and am seen by her I begin to question my assumptions. I realize my behavior was not exemplary, and I see that to dismiss her significance because she doesn’t like me is not in accord with my preferred image of myself as a kind and accepting person. In fact, I was feeling a bit self-righteous and critical of her, and it is a shock to realize she sees me the same way.

I’ve been aware of traveling through life with this shadow for a while now, but so far my tendency has been to ignore her. The theme of wanting to wash my dirty clothes says I want to clean up my persona, or public personality. But the dream says my efforts are being stymied by my ego’s ignorance about this shadow — where she lives and how she influences my personality — and by my reluctance to take care of this unfinished business.

This dream reminds me to pay closer attention to the feelings and behaviors this shadow represents until she and my ego ease up on their judgments of each other. I need to be less critical of her, and she needs more acceptance from me to feel safe enough to express her feelings honestly and appropriately.

Every soul is different and the direction our inner work takes varies from one individual to another. Most people probably don’t have as strong a need as I do to improve their personas, and not everyone with an inner curmudgeon wants to stifle it. But whatever our issues, the same rule applies: Until we can see and come to terms with the shadows our dreams show us, they will continue to disturb our inner peace.


Recurring Dreams About the Persona November 20, 2010

Recurring dreams can be especially effective teachers. They describe important inner truths that require your attention. Once you recognize these aspects of your unknown self and can see their impact on your waking life, recurring dreams lose their value and disappear.

If a recurring dream makes you anxious or afraid, it’s usually about shadow qualities your ego would rather not face or painful experiences you want to forget. If it brings pleasure, joy, or awe it’s probably about progress in your journey of self-discovery. Either way, the purpose of a recurring dream is to bring insights that lead to a healthier, more fulfilling life.

For example, the “naked in public” dream shows how comfortable you are with revealing the naked truth about yourself. Feeling embarrassed and ashamed in the dream usually means you have recently exposed an aspect of yourself you wish you hadn’t. Conversely, being unconcerned suggests you’ve accepted a previously disowned quality and no longer care who sees it.

The common dream of teeth falling out usually pertains to waking life situations in which you’re afraid you’ve created a bad impression and believe you’re “losing face.” After all, having a strong set of choppers lets you “sink your teeth” into something and demonstrates your bulldog strength, determination and persistence. This dream tells you you’re concerned about losing power and appearing weak, impotent, or unconfident.

Dreams about our public personalities are persona dreams. We start wearing masks in childhood when we realize people are watching and judging us. A wounded soul might create a very withdrawn or rigidly controlled persona, or one that changes like a chameleon, or one that is always performing to impress or please.  These are disguises born of the need to shield the core Self from public view. A healthy persona has the flexibility to respond in a variety of ways appropriate to each situation without betraying the Self. Thus, we can sometimes be the teacher and at other times the learner; sometimes a curmudgeon, sometimes a clown; sometimes a sage and sometimes a fool. What truly matters about our persona is not how well it shapes the perceptions we want others to have of us, but how openly and authentically it reflects the truths of the soul beneath.

As a child I was relaxed and confident around others, but after my father died I grew fearful and painfully self-conscious. One recurring persona dream I still occasionally have is of pulling gooey, grainy gunk out of my mouth and trying to dispose of it without anyone noticing, but no matter how much I remove there’s always more.  This depicts an exaggerated concern about offending or annoying people with something that comes out of me. In another dream I haven’t had in years I’d be searching through a closet for something  to wear (clothes are common symbols of the persona) and be thrilled to discover an article of clothing I had forgotten I owned. This said that in my search for ways to enhance my public personality I had happily brought a disowned or forgotten quality into consciousness. 

Recurring persona dreams indicate unresolved issues about our public personality. With reflection we can connect these dreams to recent waking life situations. This awareness empowers us to be easier on ourselves and more relaxed and genuine with others so that our soul’s light can shine through for all to see.


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