I’m always impressed by the power of our ‘unconscious.’ I realize that people have a range of models for conceptualizing how our minds work; my own combination of education, analysis, and observation has led to an understanding that ‘works for me.’
My conscious mind works in series, holding one or two thoughts at a time and proceeding in a somewhat-linear fashion. The unconscious, on the other hand, is an amalgam of countless processes that never end, epiphenomena of the constant barrage of sensations, emotions, and memories that are sorted, compared, associated, and recorded.
At least that’s how I see it.
The unconscious is not something that can be figured out, no matter how much insight a person may develop. During treatment for addiction I thought that if I could discover my unconscious motivations for using, my desire to use would cease. I don’t see it that way now. Even after more than a decade of sobriety, I am aware that my unconscious mind remains intertwined with the addictive parts of my personality, forever inseparable.
My unconscious mind protects me from unpleasant emotions. Some insights are deemed, by whatever determines my conscious experience, as too painful. But even when I’m not allowed to have a certain awareness, I can sometimes infer what is going on beneath the surface using the clues evident in my behavior.
For example, I’ve been struggling to write for several weeks now, since my dad’s death. I don’t know for certain what unconscious thought or emotion is getting in the way, but I’m aware that something has changed. The ideas that arise as potential topics seem unworthy of my attention and uninteresting to readers. I sit down to type, but the words don’t come.
I can guess what might be going on…. maybe on some level I’m angry that he isn’t reading my posts anymore. Maybe I wrote out of efforts to impress him, and now I have nobody to impress. Maybe I’m just hurt or sad at the loss, and the small child in me is refusing to cooperate. It could be any or all of those things, or none of them. The unconscious actively decides what I am not allowed to know, so there are no ‘aha!’ moments of clarity. Only hints, based on my behavior.
I am writing about the mind today— a topic on which I’m not an expert, and yet the words for the topic are available to me. But on my usual topic—addiction— I’m just not ‘feeling it.’ Maybe that’s another clue—that the topic of addiction is wrapped up in memories and emotions that are enmeshed with thoughts about my dad. Maybe writing about addiction is too….. too something. And sure enough—right now, as I think about writing about addiction, I feel sad.
Something is blocking me; if I were my psychiatrist, I’d say that I need to allow the painful thoughts to enter my mind, whenever my unconscious decides that I’m ready to know them. But for whatever reason, I’m just not there yet. Thanks for being patient.
Unconscious image available from Shutterstock
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Last reviewed: 29 Apr 2013