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What is the Unconscious Mind — and Why Should You Care?

April 11th, 2016 · No Comments · what is the unconscious mind

What is the unconscious mind?  Is it just a woolly idea… or does it make some kind of concrete difference to your real life?

what is the unconscious mind

Like an Iceberg, Most of the Mind is Below the Surface

Depth psychotherapists emphasize what’s going on “in the unconscious.”  Well, where the heck is that?  And how does what goes on there make any real difference?  To answer “What is the unconscious mind?” we first need to be aware that…

…The Unconscious is Largely Inaccessible to the Ego

“The ego” is that part of the mind that you’re consciously aware of, that’s subject to the control of your will.  It’s mostly what we know of our minds.

Yet, the ego is not the sum total of your mind.  Modern neuroscience shows us that a huge amount goes on in the unconscious parts of the brain.  James Bursley, David Cresswell and colleagues from Carnegie Mellon University’s Scientific Imaging and Brain Research Center used MRIs to establish that unconscious thought and decision-making really does occur in the brain.  This supported the research of Prof. Dijksterhuis (Radboud University, Nijmegen) on unconscious thought and decision-making.  As Bursley tells us,

…the idea of the brain processing complex information unconsciously is hardly new: Freud and Jung posited a complex unconscious… mind [which influences] our conscious thoughts and behavior. With elegant continuity, then, modern techniques in neuroscience and psychology are beginning to reveal the brain’s unconscious inner workings, bringing today’s scientists… face-to-face with the progenitors of our field.

As depth psychotherapists assert, the unconscious exists.  It “thinks” and influences us as part of our mind — beyond conscious control.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious Has Its Own Characteristic Ways of Functioning

Jung, and some other depth psychotherapists believed that the unconscious possesses a special kind of knowledge, and even of thought.  The evidence tends to confirm that this is correct.  As psychiatrist and researcher Erik Goodwyn, surveying the scientific literature on “unconscious systems” puts it,

Unconscious systems are therefore capable of perception, symbolic processing, social judgment and motivated action, which becomes “activated” by the internal or external environment, and… works to orient and bias conscious processing [italics mine] to “serve its own ends” so to speak.

This means that the purposes of the conscious mind are strongly influenced by the unconscious — for its own purposes.  This is something we should care about.

what is the unconscious mind

The Unconscious is Primarily Creative

The unconscious is not just a pit of refuse, as Freud often seemed to believe.  Rather, as archetypal depth psychotherapy affirms, the “sake” or reason something happens in the unconscious is to further the expression and meaning of a person’s individual life.

If the conscious mind is working at cross purposes to the unconscious mind, however, the result can be chaos and stagnation, even decay.  It’s essential for the conscious ego to understand the concerns and purposes of the unconscious, and to align itself with these more fundamental goals.

Example.  Sue’s in Corporate Finance.  She’s worked long and hard, learning her field and working tirelessly to get ahead.  She’s succeeded, but at the cost of her health, her relationships and badly disrupted sleep. When she remembers dreams, they’re of titanic struggles and battles, where she is defending against huge, overwhelming armies.  Yet, in recent dreams, the opposing army’s battering ram is gradually breaking down the main gate of her castle.

Psychotherapeutic work revealed that Sue had deep conflicts between her conscious goals, and what the unconscious was actually seeking.

Depth psychotherapy is concerned with understanding the voices of the unconscious, and aligning the conscious ego with its underlying creative purposes.

Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst

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© 2016 Brian Collinson, 2238 Constance Drive Oakville, Ontario (near Mississauga)

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