‘Persona’ And The True Self

From Persona 4 Golden

Years back, I bought a copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Lucifer’s Call (also known as Nocturne in other regions), for the PlayStation 2. I was mainly excited about the guest appearance of Devil May Cry’s Dante – a character I loved to the point I would buy pretty much any game he’d appear in. A big fan of the turn-based Final Fantasy titles, I quite liked the game’s combat and ended up looking more into the series, This lead to my discovery of the Persona series – a spin-off series.

While the core Shin Megami Tensei games tend to deal with demons in the more literal sense, Persona took a different spin on them. Persona 3 and Persona 4 both featured groups of youths living out school lives in Japan, as their respective lives were threatened by creatures called “Shadows”. To defeat them, the cast harnessed the powers of “Persona” who could grant them the strength to fight them. The difference with Persona being that the Shadows and Personas represent different sides of people’s minds – the Shadows represent repressed emotions and thoughts, while the Personas represent the accepted sides of a person that gave them strength. Each of the characters would fight to hide their Shadows, or their personal demons, but in doing so give them strength and form. The only way to defeat them would be to accept them as a part of themselves and grow stronger in the process. The game was as much about the personal struggles of normal teenagers as it was about fighting demons, and by opening up to each other they formed bonds that made them stronger both in terms of their relationships and battling using their Personas.

Persona takes its inspiration from Jungian Psychology, something that really captured my interest. The game had optional “classroom” scenes that went into the meanings and concepts behind Jung’s beliefs and the battles between the conscious and unconscious mind to maintain mental stability. While some of Jung’s work went a little into weird territory (he believed many of the roots of psychology were connected to divine or occult concepts), the basic ideas were something that really stuck with me.

The general idea of a persona is that it is the mask we wear when communicating with others, the way we choose to represent ourselves to people and in essence the person we choose others to see. When you talk to a parent, a friend, or stranger there are certain choices you make in regards to how you talk, what information you might share with them about yourself and the general way you present yourself. You might be laid back with friends, be talkative and not concerned with your appearance, while you could present yourself as uptight and well-dressed for a work scenario. The people you interact with will see different sides of yourself entirely, and each “version” is a persona that you present depending on the situation. These aren’t necessarily decisions you make consciously but are a result of your beliefs and experiences in which persona is most appropriate for that situation.

Of course, I’m not talking as a psychologist; but ideally, people are most comfortable using a persona that most closely reflects their “true self”. To me, this is the person you are when you are most honest, and least worried about how you represent yourself to people. In workplace scenarios, you might choose not to voice opinions that would be considered inappropriate, or choose not to reveal certain likes and dislikes to avoid embarrassment or isolation.

While personas are a natural part of daily life, they can be restrictive. As someone who suffers from anxiety and has a history of bullying, I find myself often struggling to be completely relaxed in any given situation. Being bullied taught me not to trust and to keep my personal beliefs to myself. Anxiety makes me over-analyse all of my decisions – I tend to be quite a quiet person – not because I don’t have a hundred thoughts and opinions running through my mind, but because I worry about how people perceive me and what negative impact my opinions might have.

In a way, anxiety has warped my persona into a shield to keep me as safe as possible. Many times I have avoided saying something that I really wanted to. Having had low self-esteem for years, I feel that I always have to hold onto relationships as tightly as possible – but this means that I often avoid arguing with people out of fear that my opinions might push them away. However, this causes problems as often I am unable to resolve issues with people and end up ignoring them, and they go unresolved and forgotten. I worry about seeming self-centered or selfish, but then also get stressed about feeling that my opinions aren’t valued or that I’m not equal to my peers.

In a way, by being so careful I actually distance myself by refusing to take any risks that could possibly strengthen a relationship in the long run. While anxiety is a way that my unconscious is trying to protect me, sometimes it does more harm than good. Unfortunately, anxiety has become a part of who I am. It’s something I am having to try to unlearn by taking steps one at a time to break through the barriers and take more risks, but it’s not any easy thing to do. In a way, this blog is one of the many ways I am trying to do that.

I just hope that one day, I will be able to drop the anxious persona and become what I believe is my “true self”. After all, I’m pretty sure that acceptance is something most of us want for ourselves.

Originally published as ‘The True Self‘ on A Road to Dawn: Experiences and Viewpoints From a Gamer With Anxiety. Republished with permission.