Supplementary Writing on Psychotherapy

Your Ego

The Unknown and the Unconscious

Putting it as simply as possible, the "Unconscious" is a term for powerful moods or ideas that interrupt your normal state of mind, coming at you as if from nowhere - they appear in your mind with no obvious cause.

Sigmund Freud theorised that negative events, or intolerable ideas and feelings, could be hidden by the mind, that is 'repressed' into the Unconscious, and so to all intents and purposes be forgotten by us. However, all trace of this repressed material would prove impossible to extinguish, and so it would later re-emerge to the notice of consciousness, only now disguised as a 'symptom' - the sort of problem that Freud first described over a hundred years ago, for example compulsive behaviour, obsessions, phobias and anxiety. A symptom was essentially a compromise, an unconscious content that had masked itself enough to sneak into conscious awareness without being recognised for what it secretly and truly signified.

The psychiatrist Carl Jung later proposed the view that the Unconscious could also be experienced positively, and not just in a negative form - for instance, as "gut" feelings that can be trusted, and as intuitions, or even as dream guidance.

Over the last century, Freud's view has undergone some reinterpretation and revision by some of his own followers, and has also received criticism by psychotherapists coming from other standpoints. To complicate matters further, the very notion of the Unconscious has been challenged by existentialist philosophers and psychotherapists, who doubt it even exists at all. Nevertheless, after a century, Freud's work has actually stood up pretty well as a legacy - so much so that his terminology has embedded itself into our everyday language. How often are people accused of being "in denial" for example, or that they did something "unconsciously"?

My own position is that there are indeed unknown, active factors outside our conscious awareness, and that we have to accommodate and allow for them. I also take the view that there is a connection between rejected, disowned feelings and anxiety. However, I do not consider there to be a place in the psyche that could be called the realm of the Unconscious, as in a division of the mind.

In summary, I am not pessimistic: the rejected feelings themselves contain potential. And it is my view a basic healthiness exists in human nature, which we can contact and develop. The news, after all, is good.