What is the Unconscious?

Unknown Unknowns

In psychotherapy, “the unconscious” is a thing, it is not the physical state of being passed out. It is commonly referred to as the “subconscious,” and it is a part of your mind that is not accessible to you at a conscious level. In life, there are things you know you know, things you know you don’t know, and things you don’t know that you don’t know. When it comes to you, the unconscious is the place of unknown unknowns about yourself.


subconscious,the unconscious

To explain it simply, think of when you first learned to write your ABCs. It was a labor-intensive task that took a lot of concentration and focus. Over time, it became automatic and you stopped thinking about how to do it anymore. If someone asked you how you do it, you could tell them, but they wouldn’t gain their own ability to do it through anything except the experience of practicing the movements. That is how unconscious memory and unconscious processes are formed. The body learns something, and it becomes automatic.

Unconscious Motivations

The same process occurs regarding feelings. As an infant, you have no filter on your emotional responses to the feelings in your body and to external stimuli. You just let your feelings flow until you experience some relief. When you get to be about two, and sometimes earlier, you are expected to begin to control your emotions. You contract and hold your body stiff to stop emotions you are having. This containment can be massive, and/or it can be incredibly subtle. Add to that the fact that if your feelings are not ignored, you are often ridiculed, threatened or manipulated into stopping them. Over time, your containment of emotions becomes automatic and your attitude about emotions is negative. You are unaware that it is even happening. This becomes the basis of your unconscious, and therefore your unconscious motivations.

The Work

Much of the work done in psychotherapy is focused on bringing unconscious motivations for your behavior to your awareness so that you can make mindful choices to do something different. Unfortunately, knowledge of the experiences that are motivating your current behavior is often not enough to help you change your behavior. The work of psychotherapy is in actually experiencing the feelings that you have been holding in your body for all these years. This is not easy work, and it is often very painful.

So why would you want to do this to yourself? Repeatedly?! Because it’s like learning your ABCs. You have to go through the experience to “get it.” And in your case, you have to first unlearn what you learned the first time.

The Goal

If you want to be able to stop doing what you say you want to stop, start doing what you say you want to start doing and feel overall contentment in your life, you must access and dissipate feelings you have been holding in your body. You must overwrite an old, ineffective, automated system of managing feelings with a new one. You must practice a new way of experiencing and expressing feelings so that the new way becomes your unconscious motivation. When this happens, you will have the life you want.

Interested in having the life you want? Call me. We’ll talk.

Contact me now to set up your free 15-minute phone consultation.

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