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unconsciousthat part of the mental life that remains outside awareness.
The unconscious is a crucial concept in psychoanalytic theory (see PSYCHOANALYSIS), but since being used by FREUD it has entered our culture, is widely accepted and used in PSYCHOLOGY generally and by psychotherapists in particular.
Freud regarded the unconscious area of mental life as much larger than the conscious, and the analogy of the iceberg has often been made. According to him, this area contains the instincts and all memories and emotions that may once have been conscious but have been repressed. This unconscious material, of which the ID is part, is a dynamic force, providing the stimulus to all action. Freud developed the technique of psychoanalysis to explore the unconscious, as he believed that it was only by bringing troublesome elements of the unconscious to consciousness that mental distress could be alleviated, Interpretations of the role of the unconscious are also central in the many competing interpretations of Freud's theories within sociology and POSTSTRUCTURALISM, where a recourse to psychoanalytic theory has often been central – see LACAN, KRISTEVA, CIXOUS.
The term unconscious, and its obverse, consciousness, also have much wider usage than in psychoanalytic theory Physiological consciousness describes the state of being aware of sensations, reacting to them, and experiencing thoughts and emotions, while the unconscious brain does not exhibit these features. Cognitive psychology makes a further distinction, between automatic and attentional behaviour. Conscious attention is not necessary for well-practised skills, e.g. driving. The conscious brain is seen as being able to engage at different levels of attention as appropriate to the task, thus distributing its capacities most efficiently Automatic behaviour may be performed without conscious awareness, but is not unconscious in the physiological or the Freudian sense.
The unconscious is that part of the psyche that is normally beyond the reach of consciousness. The basic notion of an unconscious, as well as the idea that our behavior is influenced by unconscious motivations, is very old. However, it was Sigmund Freud who first put forward a general theory of the unconscious and its interaction with the conscious mind. Freud’s concept of the relationship between the conscious and the unconscious has been compared to that of an “iceberg”—meaning that only a relatively tiny part (the conscious) is usually visible, while ninety percent (the unconscious) is below the surface.
Freud formulated his view partially as a result of his training in hypnosis under the French neurologist J. Martin Charcot. Freud witnessed numerous demonstrations of what today we would call posthypnotic suggestion. Charcot hypnotized subjects and requested that they perform certain tasks following their emergence from hypnotic trance. The subjects carried out the tasks, but were unable to recall why they did so. These demonstrations in combination with his clinical experiences suggested to Freud that a large part of what we do is based on unconscious motivations.
Freud’s view of human nature is that we are fundamentally selfish animals driven by aggressive urges and the desire for pleasure. People learn, however, how to repress their cruder impulses into the unconscious region of the mind as they grow up. At the core of conflicts that lead to mental illness is often a denial of urges that people regard as unacceptable and do not wish to admit are a part of themselves. Mental illness occurs when such urges become too strong to deal with through the normal coping process. Freudian therapy involves discovery of the repressed urges causing the dysfunction. Freud analyzed dreams to gain insights into his patients’ repressed desires, and referred to dreams as “the royal road” to the unconscious.
In Freud’s view, the purpose of dreams is to allow us to satisfy in fantasies the instinctual urges that we have repressed into the unconscious. So that we do not awaken as a result of the strong emotions that would be evoked if we were to dream about the literal fulfillment of such desires, the part of the mind that Freud called the censor transforms the dream content so as to disguise its true meaning. The process of psychoanalytic dream interpretation involves a “decoding” of the censored surface dream in order to discover its real meaning.
Carl Jung divided the unconscious mind into two subdivisions, the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. While the personal unconscious is shaped by our personal experiences, the collective unconscious represents our inheritance of the collective experience of humankind. This storehouse of humanity’s experiences exists in the form of archetypes, which sometimes determine specific dream images. Both Freudian and Jungian psychology are sometimes referred to as depth psychologies, meaning that they focus on the processes of the unconscious mind.