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How I used my persona to destroy myself

  • By Paul West
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I want to tell you about a way in which I used my persona to destroy myself, and how I am learning to overcome it. This was actually a very very painful long-term lesson, so it is hard to write about.

I grew up as a highly sensitive person, who experienced everything in an intense, overwhelming, overpowering way. In order to try to cope with this, I developed the use of my persona. The persona is the side of the ego split-mind that focuses on specialness, goodness, success, social acceptability, favoritism, pleasantness, etc. So I went very strongly into 'people pleasing'.

What I'd do, quite automatically/unconsciously, was I'd put on this facade, literally a 'false face', where I'd smile a lot, become very quiet, try to appear pleasant, try not to upset anyone, look unthreatening and harmless, as though 'showing this' to people would deflect them and therefore protect me. It was my attempt to be invisible. This included a really intense repression of myself. Basically I was using this to hide my Self.

In any public situation I would put on this persona mask and make it appear that nothing was wrong, that everything was good and normal, nothing to see here, being nice to everyone and don't say a single word, and not get hurt. But there were many times this blew up in my face.

Once I was on a bus heading into town and it stopped at the hospital. A man got on the bus and sat nearby. He said that he had just gotten out of the hospital from his 3rd heart attack. This alone was enough to trigger me to hide myself even more than I already was. So I smiled a lot. He, having just gone through life-changing events, started up a conversation with me, which was horrifying. He saw I was smiling and thought that it meant I was happy, and therefore wanted to know what my 'secret to a happy life' was. This put tremendous extra pressure on me (as I saw it) and I just wanted to get the hell out of there. To do this, I intensified even more this persona of hiding myself, which was an attempt to reject him, smiling even more, being very tight-lipped, and just wanting the ordeal to end. I just became more and more quiet. For some reason I seemed to just do this as an automatic defense that I'd learned.

Once I got off the bus, I was just about ready to hurl. I put so much effort into psychologically rejecting the man, and hiding myself, that I felt literally sick. I reached/retched uncontrollably for several minutes before I could calm down. This put a huge damper on my day and was somewhat traumatic. But this wasn't the only effect of this.

See, when I used my persona to hide my real Self, this wouldn't just mean rejecting the other person, it would mean rejecting me. The more I tried to shut them out, the more I shut myself out. I had no idea I was doing this. But what I did know was how it felt. Absolutely horrible. I would come away from bad experiences like this, which occurred many many times in all kinds of public scenarios, with a feeling of tremendous tension in my head from intense embarrassment/shame/humiliation. I'd get a horrible headache, but even worse, I would feel deeply, deeply, deeply hurt. This hurt was more intense and horrible than ANY other emotion I have ever felt for any reason. Psychologically it was like I had experienced every single form of rejection, abandonment, hurt and pain all at once. The absolute only way to move past this was to have a huge cry.

So, as a result of putting on a persona and pretending to be someone I was not, regardless of whether that fake self seemed to be 'nice' or 'kind' or anything anyone values, the only way I could appear to be literally 'someone else' was to horrendously suppress, deny, reject and abandon myself. I thought I was using separation 'against' other people to separate myself from them in order to protect myself, but this separation did nothing but hurt me.

I also had a huge fear of other people judging me, and a fear of rejection. What I didn't realize was that each time that I tried to put on a persona mask of nice, likable, happy-smiley, quiet or whatever, I was buying into an ego thought system. And by doing that, I was taking a gamble. Either I would 'get' the result I wanted which was that people would be deflected and ignore me and I would pass by 'safely', OR other people would attack me or pressure me in some way and I'd end up suffering. By believing in the potential of being seen to be accepted or liked or pleasing to others, I was also simultaneously believing in the 'potential' that others would judge me. I wanted them to judge me favorably, which would feed my 'goodie goodie' persona, which meant I had to believe in judgement. And because I believed in judgement, I lived in fear of it.

So I thought I had an issue of being afraid of judgement from others. A fear of rejection. And this fear of rejection cycled around in a vicious cycle, compelling me to want to NOT be rejected, and therefore to put on a smiley persona face in order to get other people to not reject or hurt me. But of course that merely put me closer in touch with rejection and judgement, if not by others then much moreso by myself. The amount of rejection I experienced from myself TO myself as a result of self-suppression, was far worse than anything anyone else did. So this strategy really didn't actually work, even though I kept trying to use it, and each time it got worse. Over time I just became more and more uptight and quiet and withdrawn from society, eventually jobless and depressed and deeply unhappy and unable to see a way to be different.

Over time, through various avenues of healing, not least of which was the support by my wife who showed up right when I was at my worst, I gradually have learned about the dynamics of what I do to myself versus what I thought other people were going to do to me. I learned painfully and slowly to see that I only saw other people as 'attacking judging strangers' because *I* had already attacked them first. Through the years of working with A Course in Miracles and various other things I've come to very gradually realize exactly why my use of the persona is completely self-defeating and does not help at all. All the persona does is section off everything I think is wrong with me into a tidy little box and shove it away into the dark recesses of my mind, later to surface as pain and suffering.

Yet, over time I've still held onto a belief that I am mainly afraid of rejection or judgement, rather than realizing that my attempt to use the persona is what actually causes the problem. Every time I try to do what other people would want, or make myself like able, or appease others, or focus on what other people like or would buy, or whether I'd get approval, or showing only the parts of myself that I think are acceptable to others, this AUTOMATICALLY creates a fear of rejection and judgement. Because really, by using the persona (i.e. wanting to feed it by creating a self-image/persona of being pleasing) I am actually already rejecting myself and judging myself. Why would I want to put a facade on myself to cover up my True Self? Why would I want to soften the blow of someone else's attitude by abandoning myself first, so that I then need a defense?

The truth that is starting to reveal itself to me now, is that if I actually just be true to myself, and completely drop all need to use the persona to be 'likable' or 'acceptable to others' or 'what they want' etc, I actually stay in a STRENGTH and a authenticity that empowers me and completely overrides the apparent need, either for a fake persona self, or for a defense against rejection. And so this reveals what really is underneath all this.

If I reject myself FIRST, I will then believe I have to use a false self-image-persona to show other people a version of me that they will like, so that they won't point out how shitty I am. Once i'm in persona mode, I cannot escape the fear of rejection because I've already rejected myself and more will be forthcoming through the projection of it.

So the task in front of me now is, to learn to accept myself fully, to be true to the truth in me, to open up to reveal and expose who I really am, to 'let loose' without any shame or censorship, to stop trying to hide myself for any reason, and to basically 'be myself'. But it also HAS to mean, a willingness to stop putting on a show, to stop presenting myself in a fake way, to stop trying to 'appear' likable, to stop people-pleasing, to stop trying to feed my persona image, to stop trying to get everyone to approve of me, and to just drop that whole pile of horseshit. I only enter into a perception that I need 'protection' when I have already judged myself and have seen myself as vulnerable. I am not vulnerable if I am truth-filled. And I don't need to please anyone.

So the key to FREEDOM in all this, is awakening into Holy Spirit's view of me, in acceptance of the truth of me, and in completely surrendering BOTH the fear of rejection AND the attempt to 'win approval' through the persona. By stopping using a persona this solves every problem that ever arose out of its use. What I thought was helping me was hurting me deeply. And stopping the use of the persona stops the creation of the shadow (pain) as well.

Standing firmly in who I AM, brings all of the certainty, strength, assertiveness, disregard for other's opinions, invulnerability, and empowerment, that seemed to be MISSING when I chose to use the ego. And which could never be fulfilled by using the ego. Because once again, it's a case of seek and do not find. "I don't have to worry about what to say or what to do knowing He goes there with me" - ACIM, i.e. I am in my true self and my true self is completely uninterested in pretense or rejection.

Who knew - trying to please people makes you rejected!!!

Learning to love myself more. Learning to drop the ego more. Learning to be what I am, instead of trying to be something I'm not. And in that, there is no fear.

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