Electric Dreams

Jung, Personality and Dreamwork: 

The Persona, the Ego and the Four Functions

Richard Catlett Wilkerson 

(Electric Dreams)  (Article Index)  (Search for Topic)  (View Article Options)

Wilkerson, Richard Catlett (2001 March). Jung, Personality and Dreamwork: The Persona, the Ego and the Four Functions. Electric Dreams 8(3). Retrieved December 30, 2001 from Electric Dreams on the World Wide Web: http://www.dreamgate.com/electric-dreams  

Persona. ("actor's mask" in Latin). From James Hall: "One's social role, derived from the expectations of society and early training. A strong ego relates to the outside world through a flexible persona; identification with a specific personal (doctor, scholar, artist, etc) inhibits psychological development." (Hall p. 121)

Jung felt that our ego identity, who we feel and thing we are, rises as children from a vast unconscious sea, first in little islands and soon with a feeling of individuality. As the Jungians say, we rise from the Great Mother. Now this little new identity thinks and feels that it is separate and unique from the mother, but is in fact, quite dependent upon others for its survival. The haughtiness carries on, even through adolescence when individuality asserts itself more forcefully, but again, is usually still very dependent.

One way of looking at who we are is to look at the role we take in the world, our persona. At first it might be good child, bad child, son who is clean, daughter who helps mother, brother, sister, friend and so on. We come to know ourselves and others through these roles. But we also know there is more than just these roles and understand there is a difference between our persona roles and our self. When someone forgets this difference , we feel treated by them as less than human, like we are part of a inhuman act or play.

Anyway, this little ego not only has roles, but begins to develop and favor certain patterns of attitude, style and behavior, while neglecting others. Jung liked to look at this development in two basic attitudes, introversion and extroversion. The extrovert, like the rabbit in nature, survives through mating and multiplication and manipulation. The attention of the extrovert is on how they are affecting the world. The introvert survives in nature like the tortoise, though turning inward, changing itself rather than the environment. The attention of the introvert is on how the world is affecting them.

Jung also like to see the ego as favoring certain ways of functioning and used a binary opposite four system topology, Intuition vs. Sensation, and Thinking vs. Feeling. He originally felt that if one favored one style of perception and judgment, the opposite would be undeveloped, and hence some people get by in life by being thoughtful and others by using emotional means, others by just staying busy. These functions are now very popular in mainstream culture and lots of books have been written recently on using the system which becomes quite complex when you consider that each function has two attitudes. Thus one may favor Introverted Intuitive styles while another may favor Extroverted Thinking styles making for eight different basic types. If you are interested in what type you are, you can take a quick test by searching online for the most popular of the Jungian types personality indicators, the Meyers-Briggs. There is also the Singer-Loomis personality test which is a more fair test of all the functions, but less well known. Note that the tests online or scoring tests yourself may be inaccurate. Analysts and specialists spend some time learning to interpret these tests.

For our purposes here of looking quickly into how dreams and personality connect in Jungian theory, I just want to generally lay out the role of personality in the process of individuation as the Jungians see, and how its important in finding the doorway inward through the least used parts of our personality. The least used function is called the "inferior function" and is usually not under the conscious control of the individual. Thus a thinking person may very easily have hurt feelings, but feeling will always seem like its something to a thinking person that *happens* to them. A feeling type *uses* feelings achieve what they desire. If you are an intuitive in an airport and someone comes up and speaks to you in an foreign language, you will probably try to understand what the person is saying. Any sensate type would immediately get someone to translate, not spending a second trying to make meaning out of something they don't understand. Difference in styles.

For our purpose here in dream work land, we are going to turn this whole game around an use it to look at the persona (masks) personalities in our dreams rather than seeking to find our waking personality types. We are going to assume that there is almost *always* a persona level to a dream and we can approach this level by choice and read the dream for insight into our own masks.

EXERCISE: Persona. Read a dream *for* persona issues. When a dream is about clothes and problems with appearance, its easy to see the persona issues, but I want to suggest that *all* dreams have a persona level and can be read as such. Pretend the dream is a play. Note the way the curtain opens, (how the dream starts) what kind of drama is unfolded (Comedy, Tragedy, Mystery, Horror, Sit-Com) and the way characters enter and exit the dream stage. Note what everyone is wearing and what this indicates about them. Are they wearing leisure clothes, business clothes, sports clothes? Or is your awareness of what's being worn missing altogether? How "into" the roles are the dream characters? In other words, is the policeman in the dream somewhat aware that he *has* a policeman's job or is he completely absorbed in this job & role and there is no chance of relating to him as a person? What are the dream characters up to on a surface level? Are people going to work, are they just hanging out, are they looking for fun, are they unaware of what they are after? Are the people in the dream everyday friends and family, unknown people or famous personages? What are your dream character=s personality strengths and weaknesses? Who favors their rational intellect, which characters favor feeling? Which characters just do things without thinking, which characters seem to have an instantaneous intuitive grasp of the moment?

These persona and masks and roles are a wonderful and complex network and gauge of our relationship to the world, to the family and even to ourselves. They form the bright side we offer to others that they can count on. The are the vehicles that allow us to travel and move around without constantly crashing into others. True, if we confuse our roles with who we really are there can some real stagnation and problems. (note the Eichmann trial where in Nazi Germany he was "just doing his job"). But its also a disaster is our persona is not developed. Its very difficult to move around in our world when other's can't readily recognize the roles you offer. If you have ever been a job interview in an area where you have little development, this lack of persona development can quickly and anxiously be felt.

Because the persona takes time to develop, one must make choices. When we are young we choose to develop the good girl instead of the bad girl. Perhaps we get rewarded for a talent we have in fixing things and begin to develop this ability. We might find we can cope better in our home by shutting the emotions of the parents away and being creative in our own world. Each of these choices leaves behind them a shadow.

What type are you?


Psychological Types, CW 6, esp chap. 11, "Definitions," under "Ego," p 425. Aion, CW 9, II, esp. chap 1"The Ego" pp. 3-7

"On the Nture of the Psyche," CW 8, pp. 159?234.

"Child Development and Education," CW 17, pp. 49?62.

_Ego & Archetype_ by Edward Edinger. 1972, Baltimore:Penguin Books.

Neumann, Erich (1954) The _Origins and History of onsciousness_. Princeton :Princeton University Press.


Psychological Types, CW 6, chap 6, Chap 10, "General Description of the Types" pp. 330?407.

Keirsey, David & Bates, Marilyn (1984), Please Understand Me_ Character Tempermaent and Types. Del Mar, CA:
Gnosology Books, ltd.

Sharp, Daryl, (1987). personality Types: Jung's model of Typology. Toronto: Innter City Books, 1987. Shadow:


Psychological Types, CW 6, esp, chapter 11, "Definitions," under "Soul (psyche, personality, persona, anima)" pp. 463-470.