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Personas and Self Image

posted Feb 13, 2012, 12:12 PM by Kyle Willey
Ok, I'm going to go out on a limb and write about something I know very little about in terms of book knowledge, but which I have observed often; the ways in which people present and absorb images they present. My focus is not so much the projection of the image itself (though I will explain the phenomenon to better assess its impact) but rather the absorbed impact.

People always emit a persona. This is universal, but it is not always true as a reflection of someone's views of themselves. For instance, someone who is walking quickly but doesn't seem to care about posture or their movements in relation to people around them, bumping into people and slouching as they pass, may simply be in a hurry or could just be impatient; they do not so much care about getting to their destination quickly other than for the purpose of getting there and avoiding trouble. Someone walking with their back straight and with care for where they're going has no time for fooling around; when they see people leisurely strolling along it is an antithesis of their own actions, since they are focused on making an optimal usage of time. Whether or not this is true doesn't really matter in terms of the persona's sake, but rather for the observer's sake. As a general rule, the primary observer of any persona is the one who implements it, unless it is a unaltered persona, in which case it comes naturally to them and will not have any impact on their self image, which means they are outside the scope of this analysis. The altered persona (not a person's real one, their "personality" as I call it) is often adopted to fool an audience.

For instance, I write very casually in most things on my site, but would write very formally on an assignment for a English professor. Why? Because it's part of my image; I am approachable and see no reason to state otherwise, so I let my language I use when writing be an exact copy of what I would use when speaking, except for the added allowance for word choice, and the fact that some written methods allow me to alter the forms of my sentences. The key point of this, however, is that I wish to write in such a way that reading my works is the same as listening to me talk, though it probably is clearer and faster for an adept reader who understands English's conventions well. However, I want my professor to know that I'm serious and that I care about formal conventions, or at least know them, so I'll avoid contractions in my written schoolwork and so forth, even when I know that my professor doesn't actually care whether or not I use contractions.

However, what I am interested in more is the assumption of persona, partly due to my focuses in education and roleplaying (which are mostly removed from each other). Why? Because I've noticed a trend with players in, for instance, my Shadowrun game. Their characters reflect a persona they themselves take, or one which they feel has merit in exploring. They may occasionally play a character antithetical to their real-life personalities; one who is excessively violent, for example, but they treat a character who is violent as much differently than themselves. When a player is playing a "personal" character, they tend to slip into saying "I" more often than "my character", though this could just be an observation, and is somewhat thrown off by the fact that some players always use "I" when referencing in-game actions regardless of character-player likeness, which tends to come with the territory. Unfortunately, people don't tend to explain their motivations in detail for every action they take, and the persona can be a reflection of their own nature which fails to show due to social pressure; someone who plays a character who highly values justice may always value justice, for instance, or they may begin to value it more highly due to an analysis of how the persona functions.

To relate this to myself, which is far from scientific but I feel still passes as a marginally applicable study, I have noticed that how I act is directly based on the persona I put out, but then I feel differently afterward. When I am having a bad week or such my self-confidence fails, I go around avoiding eye contact and moping, or the like. As a result, I perceive things differently; because of how I've acted I assume certain aspects of my actions to be a personal reflection. However, if I see a friend I don't want to worry, I will put on a confident face; looking them in the eye, standing rigidly straight, attempting a grin if I can muster it, and if I maintain this persona, whether or not I feel better at the time of assuming it, I wind up feeling more confident at the end, and not necessarily because of how my actions result in outcomes, but rather because I have thought about what it means to be confident and integrated what I can into my own situation; it is not that I gained confidence magically but rather that I thought about why I could be confident as part of making my persona.

As such, it is my theory that the automatic analysis of a persona linked to assuming it allows one to become closer to the person they imagine not just because they attempted to but rather because they must find out what a person with a given persona would do, causing them to associate it with their own experiences as a part of an attempt to pass as legitimate when assuming their persona, thus making the inception of aspects of a persona into their true personality a necessary following as they validate their persona; but more alien personas are both presented less readily and with fewer personal changes, as the person emitting the persona cannot truly relate their past to the persona (with the key focus of alien being that it cannot be a possible outcome set from their experiences, for instance someone who has never experienced panic will have a hard time with a fearful persona, nor can it be something they are familiar with; someone who has panicked often will be familiar with causes of panic and be able to put on a frightening persona should they be pressed to). Naturally, using myself as my only really carefully researched subject lends itself to bias, but I feel that asking people questions on this matter would ruin the results anyway.

Postscript: Did anyone notice my conscious persona shift throughout this article? I set it up quite blatantly in the beginning, then shifted from a intentionally casual form (contractions, rhetorical questions, things professors mark in red ink) to a rather formal one as I presented my case, in an attempt to lend it credence. I recognize that adding a postscript makes this seem less like a psychological/philosophical theory and more like one of those things you see forwarded around with pictures that hold hidden images, but it plays a crucial role in proving my point.