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The lawyer as actor.

Have you ever bluffed a witness -- acting tough as nails and rough enough to scratch a match on as the witness squirms and trembles?

Have you ever made nice-nice to op posing counsel -- smiling agreeably and all the while contemplating a snooker a sandbag or a double cross?

How many roles do you play in the conduct of your practice? Defendant of the law? Champion of fair play? Righteous butt-kicker? Empathic hand-holder? Savior of the victimized? Competent guide through life's troubles? Font of wisdom?

Are you managing your veneers? We all have them. Veneers: Bulletin boards that signal others what we want them to believe about us. Through learning, experience and hard knocks, we construct images of ourselves that we consciously and/or unconsciously broadcast to the world at large. Sometimes the veneer functions solely as a disguise intended to fool others or to shield us from perceived threats -- a layer of protection. Sometimes the veneer represents the ideal version of who we're trying to become or the code to which we're trying to subscribe.

Best Foot Forward

Sometimes, the veneers slip their moorings and don't know what they're doing, a phenomenon known here' as CJMS: Cockeyed Janus Mask Syndrome. Janus, the Roman god of communication, had two faces that enabled him to talk out of both sides of two mouths simultaneously. When mere mortals attempt such awesome feats, however, they run the risk of losing whatever identity they had at the outset. Legal training scores no points on the funny farm.

Karl Jung, Freud's wayward disciple, coined the term "persona" to describe one's public personality, the mask developed in response to both inner needs for self-preservation (or self-advancement) as well as social demands to achieve an identifiable role.

Jung believed that everyone developed at least one persona that typically functions as a social facade, concealing and protecting one's private self. The more adept among us may eschew straight vanilla and go for 31 flavors.

Constructing a persona occurs in interactions with others, internalization of images from the written word and visual screen, identifications with mentors and models, etc.

It's known as growing up; along the way, many masks may be disregarded or reshaped. If we're still kicking, we're likely still working on a current version that fits the current circumstances. Playing real-life roles -- that is, being a certain kind of somebody in a certain kind of situation -- enables the always-developing self to accomplish and effectuate social or professional advantage and resolve uncertainty about one's place in the order of things, while maintaining an inner reserve of thoughts and feelings. Some of us may, in fact, be ready for any occasion, and have a variety of masks stashed in our psychic drawers.

The entertainment industry -- politics, and sometimes The Law, included -- makes no bones about the need to have suitable persona. Success on the public stage requires a signature that differentiates one from the hordes of other talented wannabes with similar gifts.

Having arrived, stars are constantly bombarded with their fan's hunger to know: Is he/she really like the way he/she seems to be? Everybody gets the picture. The persona is a hype -- a necessary hype, a defense that protects our innermost needs and most raw feelings while we struggle to accomplish a variety of tasks in the booming, buzzing confusion of the social and professional jungle.

Without the mask, we remain vulnerable to the whims of fate, the pointed taunts of jealous others or righteous in crimination from those we might offend or disappoint.

Ideally, the mask affords a public identity for others to deal with while we preserve a private identity for the integrity of the self.

Losing Touch

The adversarial demands of the legal profession require most attorneys to wear different hats for different occasions: playing rough, tough and hard-to-bluff with a natural disposition that might be compassionate and gentle; feeling the need to suck up to a judge who's continually making unfavorable rulings; remaining calm with' an enraged client when your own temperature is rising.

The Janus syndrome of multiple masks creates a risk for growing tension between who we really are and what we have projected to others.

Any increasing disparity between a persona and the true self sets us up for wearing masks that have become egoalien, that is, the experience of self-contempt for acting in a manner that has become intensely contrary to our deeper natures.

The mask may no longer be appropriate, and the consequence involves a feeling of not liking ourselves for wearing it; Or, we maybe well down the road toward the imposter syndrome: unrelenting anxiety about living up to a personal reputation that no longer fits. Have you ever acted as though you're really up to the task when, in truth, you're so far down in the dumps that the swamp is above eye level?

In short, everyone engages in some degree of pretense. The degree and complexity of the various pretenses may hamstring the most stalwart actors. We needn't become the roles we're playing unless we've consciously chosen the mask as a fitting expression.

Shouldn't we regularly check out who we're pretending to be to see if it's still us or some alien who's taken control? If we spend too much time polishing our veneers, we will certainly lose touch with who we really are or want to be.

Dr. Bernard G. Suran, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and diplomate and fellow of the The Academy of Clinical Psychology and the American Board of Professional Psychology. This column is published under the sponsorship of the Quality of Life/Stress Management Committee. The committee's website is at The Quality of Life/Stress Management Committee, in cooperation with the Florida State University College of Law, also has an interactive bulletin board on the web, called "Happy Lawyer is Not an Oxymoron: Health and Satisfaction in the Profession."
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Author:Suran, Dr. Bernard G.
Publication:Florida Bar News
Date:Dec 1, 2000
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