Skill 6: Unveiled Face
Distinguishing between the authentic you and your persona.
Your personality is not wrong, but as I think we would all admit, there are parts of it that limit us, at least, a little. We must be willing to let go of the self-defeating dimensions of our personality, to be reunited with our real and best selves. If we are going to experience this, we must release our hold on the social mask we began crafting before middle school. Like releasing crutches when we no longer need them, we must allow ourselves to release the limiting areas of our personality when their support is no longer necessary.Let’s return to what Ian Morgan Cron said:
“Human beings are wired for survival. As little kids we instinctually place a mask called personality over parts of our authentic self to protect us from harm and make our way in the world. Made up of innate qualities, coping strategies, conditioned reflexes and defense mechanisms, among lots of other things, our personality helps us know and do what we sense is required to please our parents, to fit in and relate well to our friends, to satisfy the expectations of our culture and to get our basic needs met. Over time our adaptive strategies become increasingly complex. They get triggered so predictably, so often and so automatically that we can’t tell where they end and our true natures begin. Ironically, the term personality is derived from the Greek word for mask (persona), reflecting our tendency to confuse the masks we wear with our true selves, even long after the threats of early childhood have passed. Now we no longer have a personality; our personality has us!”
According to Cron, one of the reasons we all work at developing a personality, is that it helps us to “please our parents”—who, when we are children, primarily meet our needs (e.g. if our parents or caregivers don’t feed us, we don’t eat, etc.). If we are going to distinguish the difference between our self-defeating aspects of our persona and our authentic self, a wise place to begin is with our parents who raised us (or, in some cases, chose not to raise us). Many of the self-defeating aspects of our persona arise from the wounds we received in childhood.
Step 1. Investigate Parent Wounds
Read the following and write down any attributes that may have been incorporated into your personality:
How the Mother Wound often Manifests
- Not being your full self because you don’t want to threaten others.
- Having a high tolerance for poor treatment from others.
- Emotional care-taking: the frequent urge to soothe someone else's feelings before you've even acknowledged your own feelings.
- Being overly rigid and dominating.
- Conditions such as eating disorders, depression and addictions.
How the Father Wound often Manifests:
- Low Self-Esteem
- Never pushing yourself in school or work
- Having difficulty opening up and connecting with others, making it hard to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships and friendships
- Being more susceptible to substance abuse
- Excessive Anger, anxiousness or depression
- Poor Choices in Romantic Partners - often choosing a partner similar to your father, repeating your trauma from childhood.
- Rigid Boundaries in Adulthood - If your father often arrived late or missed important events in your life, you may overcompensate by setting extremely rigid boundaries in adulthood. You may feel everything needs to be scheduled and planned, and you can’t easily forgive people for being late, canceling or wanting to reschedule. This is an attempt to regain a sense of control you didn’t have growing up with an absent father.
- Loose Boundaries in Adulthood - If your father was overly critical and never seemed happy with what you did, you may develop the need to please people. You desperately want acceptance and approval, so you’re unable to say no. (If certain people ("Herods") in your life notice this behavior, they may be quick to take advantage of it.)
As the adept investigatory poets—Shepherds after God’s own heart—that you’re rapidly becoming, let’s take a moment now to focus on the persona you (or your loved one may have) created. Are parts of your personality derived from a Father or Mother wound? If so, how?
Step 2. Investigate Coping Strategies
Coping strategies, conditioned reflexes and defense mechanisms also play a part in the creation of our persona:
- Your “Coping Strategies” list you used in the previous exercise, Session 7, Skill 5 (and originally created during the Session 4, Skill 2 exercise).
Have the coping strategies you’ve identified about yourself thus far, become a part of your persona? Has this limited your life in any way? If so, how?
Remember my (Joel) example?
Joel's Example: Most often, I would mask myself in a "Scarecrow" personality, while, internally, using the "Tin Man" to shield myself from being hurt by others.
You can see how self-defeating this part of my persona was. It's impossible to love anyone well (spouse, children, friends, etc.) without being emotionally connected inside and also with them. It was a coping strategy I employed to shield myself from experiencing emotional pain—but, unfortunately, this strategy was also keeping those I loved at a distance. (Developing heart & soul relationships are a major part of the better life (i.e. Would you rather visit Paris with your lover and soulmate or alone?) I, nor anyone, can ever fully enter into the better life without adjusting this.) That part of my persona was not the truest version of me and it needed to change.
Step 3. Investigate Agreements
Agreements may also play a part in the creation of our persona.
You’ll need your “Agreements” list you made during Session 5, Skill 3. Please locate now.
Agreements shape our lives in profound ways.
- If you believe that “I’m average” then it’s easy to see how that would be integrated into your persona. You’re more likely to accomplish tasks in an average way, allow yourself to dream average-sized dreams, like I (Joel) did, or never stand-out—dressing and acting like the majority of people.
- If you vowed, “I will never be poor like my parents” you can see how this might be integrated into your persona. You may overcompensate in the amount of hours you work. In finding your identity in your work role, status or wealth and value people who have a high profile role, their status or wealth you that you someday would desire to acquire.
Have any agreements you’ve made in the past, become a part of your persona? Has this limited your life in any way? If so, how?
Step 4. Triangulation
Here’s where it gets exciting… let’s put steps 1, 2 and 3 together:
Below is an example from my (Joel) life to use as a case study.
What I identified:
Step 1 (Parent Wound): Father absenteeism
Step 2 (Coping Strategy): Acting as if my father’s absence didn’t really matter
Step 3 (Agreement): I will never be like my father
My father was absent to all the important events in my life growing up. This was a painful wound from my father (a "father wound”). As a child and teenager, I coped by (or my “coping strategy” was) acting as if it didn’t really matter. (As a kid, I didn’t fully recognize that it was a painful loss not to have a father present at those important moments growing up. Even if I could have recognized the loss—I didn't know how to heal it—that I should 1.) grieve it, 2.) forgive and 3.) let God love me in the place of that father need. At that time I was just trying to cope with school, friends and puberty.)
At some point growing up, I decided (or made an “agreement”) that “I would never be like my father.”
Result: In my 20’s, I overcompensate by setting extremely rigid boundaries. I scheduled and planned every minute from 4:30am until 10pm. I strongly felt that anyone who was late, cancelled or needed to reschedule was inconsiderate and “waisting my time.” Back then, I would have described it as being focussed, but, with the over rigidity of my scheduling, it’s pretty clear that I was also, unknowingly, attempting to regain a sense of control. The kind of control I didn’t experience growing up with an absent father. My persona during this time was “the guy who was always cool, calm and in control.”
This portion of my persona was self-defeating to say the least. Imagine trying to love that guy (me)? I’m so glad Jesus (and my gracious wife, Casey, lovingly) helped me to see this limiting and self-defeating place in my personality.
Ask Jesus to show you the self-defeating areas of your personality so you can release how they’re limiting you, so you may recover more of your true self. I’ve included this prayer as a guide:
Jesus, you have experienced all the difficulties of this wild world in which I live. You know what it’s like to grow up here and all the heartbreak us humans experience along the way. Show me the self-defeating areas of my personality that you would like for me to release and, please, reintroduce me to the true me.
Now it's your turn to triangulate...
Use the information you’ve gathered from
- Step 1 (Parent Wounds)
- Step 2 (Coping Strategies)
- Step 3 (Agreements)
and, with Jesus’ help, gently make the connections.
(Remember, this exercise is more art than science. You may not have all the information to fill in for each step, but gather the information as it comes. Additionally, whether you have answers for all the steps or not, the connections may not immediately be apparent. If this happens, please relax. You can be sure that not one minute of the work you've done has been waisted. Remember, Jesus is the Healer of the Heartbroken. You can be sure, Jesus is there helping you and guiding you. Those connections will come. Potentially, as soon as as we enter our next and last skill, Skill 7: A Brave Sibling)