First of all, the purpose of this post is not to dispute anyone’s personal experience, but rather to reflect on how we can loosen our identification in order to approach mental illness in a different way. Since I often encounter people who wear their mental illness like it’s the essence of their being, it’s important to address. These people often get defensive, claim to be misunderstood and support all of their behavior with a professional diagnosis. I want to help them understand that a mental illness does not define you.

The personae is a powerful appendage of the Ego. It’s the mask that we put on to face the world in addition to how we believe others perceive us. Most people wear many masks. One for their jobs, one in their relationships, one in a room full of strangers, etc. We unconsciously switch from one to the other without even noticing. Some people feel more comfortable in certain masks than others, especially if it benefits them in interactions with other.

Some people hold on to masks that benefited them when they were children, but no longer serve them now. This is dangerous because these types of masks have become such an integral part of their identity that we’re too scared to drop it. For instance, if the only time we felt loved was when we were sad or if we got rewarded for being happy, it becomes part of our identity.

I often have clients who experience an emotion that was repressed when they were children go on to tell me that when they are uncomfortable they will act out in front of others. Clients say they’re afraid of becoming “an angry person” or uncomfortable showing sadness. When clients experience these emotions that weren’t allowed, it can be unconsciously demonized by turning into an affliction where people will respond to it in a more caring manner. For instance, if a client attached to the personae of a depressed person, they get validation from their friends, psychiatrist and their therapist.

This is why separating this personae can be difficult. However, it’s extremely important and essential in healing wounds that were created by the emotion in the first place. I always encourage my clients to be self-aware when they attach a feeling to their identity and to speak from their inner Ego or inner critic. It is important to do the same with emotional expression and clearly say, “I am experiencing sad feelings today” vs. saying, “I’m sad or depressed.” This allows them to put distance between themselves and the difficult thoughts/feelings, thus making it easier to resolve.

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