The persona can be difficult to deal with, at least initially, in a therapeutic setting. Depending on the quality of the mask, the therapist will have to start at a point of assuming that the client is presenting her/his true self. It is through continued work with the client that the true nature of the persona is revealed as well as how the therapist needs to approach the persona to assist the client in tearing down, managing, or repairing it.
The client who has fully identified with her/his persona is easy to spot fairly quickly. All roads that the client and therapist go down will lead back to the central aspect of the client’s personality that s/he identifies with and finds to be the core of her/his identity. Any attempt to criticize or critique this aspect of the client’s self will be responded to with a defensive response such as hostility or withdrawing. The identification with the persona is so close that the client cannot stand to hear that challenges to something outside of the core identity.
Through the therapeutic process, the therapist would begin to help the person see the cracks in her/his persona and identity other aspects of self that the person could hang onto. The goal of separating the client from the over-identified with persona is to help the client understand how the persona is either harming the client by forcing her/him to be too rigid in her/his thoughts or by showing how it is keeping the client from growing by finding other aspects of self that are of value that are being masked by the persona. By exploring these aspects of self the client may eventually experience a disintegration with her/his persona.
The disintegration (think loss of integration not crumbling away via a laser) with the persona can lead to chaos in the client’s life as s/he can lose a sense of self now that the persona is not available to cling to as an identity. Some clients, in an attempt to return to a sense of normality will try to reintegrate the disintegrated persona; as the person is now aware of the flaws with the persona, s/he can never fully adopt it as s/he did prior to disintegration. The use of the negative restoration will feel shallow and the client and will come off as superficial to others because of a lack of conviction to the disintegrated persona.
There is the possibility that having lost the persona and failed to utilize it again the client may completely get rid of her/his “mask.” In the absence of a persona, the person may abandon any attempts to wear a social mask instead treating everything in the world as the same. Without the persona the person no longer knows how to interact with others leading to a lack of internal filter between the ego and the real world, which may provide an opportunity for the anima/animus to take over the ego as we talked about here.
The ultimate goal for therapy is to help the client restore a persona, though not necessarily her/his original persona. A well-adjusted client will recognize the benefits of having a flexible persona, but one that is genuine to her/himself. This is in contrast to putting a mask that does not honestly represent the self, some of which were discussed in the blog on neurotic defense mechanisms. To be well functioning the client needs to be able to read others and the situation in order to put on the mask that is required for the situation; the caveat is that the mask should not be so atypical to the self that it is the client is not recognized as being her/his “normal” self.