The Persona and The Shadow
When you talk with strangers, sometimes it is easier to drop the mask that most of us wear throughout our daily lives. Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to this mask as the persona, which is the part of us that wants to project the most positive, successful image we can to the world at large. From a young age, we are taught what is socially acceptable and what is "good" from parents, teachers, and peers. When we begin to internalize these expectations and codes of behavior, anything that falls outside of these expectations is usually repressed, denied, or hidden. Almost every one of us wants to appear more successful, happier, smarter and more in control than we actually are.
According to Jung, when one identifies too much with the persona and hides or represses instinctual desires, unconscious fears, insecurities, or any emotion that is too unpleasant to deal with, the shadow, or darker side of the psyche, often grows larger and reveals itself to us in some way. Jung believed that the path to wholeness required us to examine and integrate this unconscious part of ourselves, known as the shadow. For Jung, this could be done through dreamwork, free association, or other therapeutic techniques. By acknowledging and accepting these disowned parts, we can become more self-aware, empowered, and compassionate towards ourselves and others.
The Freedom of Anonymity
There are a variety of methods for integrating the shadow, but it could involve something as simple as talking to a stranger or someone who has not formed an opinion about you. Sometimes, it can be difficult to drop our persona, because those closest to us depend on us to be consistent and live up to our roles as a good employee, husband, wife, child, student, etc. You may worry about how being honest might negatively impact a relationship. Expectations of those closest to us can make it difficult to be honest for fear of disappointing them or being judged. For example, your colleagues may perceive you a certain way and don't necessarily need to know all the details of your personal life.
Sharing feelings with those directly responsible for or affected when you are not clear about your own feelings or motivations can complicate issues. However, you can easily vent, complain or even ask for advice on online counseling platforms, support groups, or chatrooms. You can also try talking to strangers about mental health to see if you can learn something new or try acting outside of your normal persona or role. Interacting with people from different backgrounds can provide insight about your own patterns, biases, and blind spots. This can expand your perspective and even help give you insight into your own problems without even directly talking about it. Sometimes, when we interact with strangers and have no agenda, we can learn to relate in a more authentic way, because we know that there will be less of a cost if something doesn't go right.
When we have a shared history with someone, such as a parent, sibling, or friend, he or she may see us not as we are in the current moment, but see our past histories and stories. When others have an image of who we are and what we have been like up until this moment, it can be difficult to break free from our own personal histories or roles. With strangers, they have little or no understanding of our past histories, which can allow us act outside of the narratives that we have created. In other words, it can be easier to challenge your identity and grow outside your comfort zone. Familial, societal, and cultural pressures can be intense and drown out your own unique beliefs, values, and talents.
Gaining Fresh Perspectives
Opening up and being vulnerable may be hard to do for many of us, but sharing feelings is an essential step towards figuring out where you are along a given path and developing emotional awareness. If you find a sympathetic stranger, you may feel freer to tell him or her what's going on in your life. Perhaps you can find small ways to take risks to open up if you feel comfortable and safe with someone.
In terms of using online support to discuss issues, you might be concerned about reaching out to others for support and their intentions. Certainly, there is some degree of risk in reaching out to others, but you can always set limits and boundaries with if you feel uncomfortable with feedback. While conversation with peers and strangers can be helpful, some problems may be more suitable to be discussed with a professional.
One of the benefits of anonymous chatrooms is the opportunity it provides to connect with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. However, some drawbacks might include feeling misunderstood, judged, or taking fewer risks to connect with others in person. However, people generally want to have their thoughts and feelings heard and validated, and interacting with strangers provides the opportunity to also hear other stories, opinions, and feedback that might not fit within our own personal worldview.
If you are dealing with more serious issues, such as depression, phobias, panic attacks, physical or emotional abuse, or self-esteem issues, consider reaching out to a licensed counselor for professional support. Online counseling is convenient and is tailored to meet your individual needs and work with your style of communication. BetterHelp offers counseling options via live video, phone, or web chat. In addition, sessions are confidential and private.