What is the unconscious?

The term unconscious has its meaning in psychoanalysis and is described in the levels of consciousness of Sigmund Freud (1) as the most hidden part of the human psyche and is constituted of all those mental processes, which do not depend on a priority or do not have an importance for the daily events of the person.

On the other hand, the concept of the unconscious, together with the consciousandthe preconsciousbelong to the “First Topic of Freud(2), and is considered the object of study of the psychoanalytic method, having a direct relationship with the “it” of its “Second Topic”. (3)

You should know:The unconscious and the subconscious, despite referring to the same, have their differences. The first corresponds to a psychoanalytic term within psychodynamic theories , while the second is a term proper to psychology.

What does the unconscious do?

The unconscious handles in a very discreet way , many of our things that we are aware of and among them are:

1. Execute routine tasks of the current moment

Every day our mind is reflecting on a conscious level, about what things have been happening around us and at the same time planning others.

That is why the unconscious is in charge of functions in real time , that is, while our mind is between the past and the future, this level of the human psyche is alert to what is constantly happening in our environment at the present moment.

Note: Additionally, the unconscious is in charge of many routines and movement habits , which we have learned and which end up being part of our unconscious processing. (4)

2. Filters the important information processed by the conscious

The conscious has less capacity to memorize, process and store information , because the area where it is housed is limited only to the cerebral cortex, which is estimated to be only one millimeter thick.

To highlight: Due to this limited capacity of the conscious, the unconscious is a filter that selects the relevant information for the conscious to process , discarding that which has a lower priority. (5)

3. It allows to focus attention on the dangers

As we have already mentioned, the unconscious is the one in charge of functions at the present time and this is how it is present in the alert state of the organism and thanks to this, it protects us from events that it can interpret as a danger, focusing attention of the brain in it, to react immediately as something automatic.

You should know: Sometimes reactions from the unconscious happen without measuring the consequences , since they correspond to instinctive acts.

4. It has an important role in interpersonal relationships

The unconscious also has an important commitment in interpersonal relationships. And this can happen when we deal with someone for the first time and at this moment, the unconscious automatically makes a profile with the information available , to form a general opinion of the new person or people.

Note: The brain , through the unconscious, only needs 100 milliseconds of exposure to a new face to judge it and make assessments as to whether it is trustworthy, competent or conflicting, among other traits.

What is housed in the unconscious?

, thoughts and experiences lived by the individual and that is why the unconscious is formed from the individuality of each one.

On the other hand, repetitive behaviors,the physiological behavior of the organism, alert responses, the people we know, the culture in which we live… in short, a quantity of datathat we do not consciously knoware also stored .

What are the ways in which the unconscious manifests itself?

Behaviorally, the unconscious has several ways of manifesting itself in the individual, such as the following:

1. Dreams

For Freud dreams represent a hallucinatory wish-fulfilment and, consequently, a privileged way of accessing the unconscious , emerging from there his “Theory of the Interpretation of Dreams”. (6)

2. Failed acts

It is called a failed act in psychology, that act in which the individual manifests a different phraseand even opposite to the conscious intention of the subject. These can be presented in behavior,when expressing ideas or when making a gesture.

Note: These acts can arise when names or words are forgotten, mistakes when reading, writing or doing something, for example, which in principle originate from unknown causes and arise involuntarily.

3. Neurotic symptoms

For Freud , the neurotic symptom is characterized by appearing in the ” I ” of the subject with a certain foreignness , like a foreign body, hence its egodystonic trait . (7)

On the other hand, neurotic symptoms, like dreams and failed acts, are another of the manifestations of the unconscious , but they may indicate some underlying pathology.

To highlight:The unconscious desire and unsatisfiedneed may indicate some psychic imbalance, which according to the theory of psychoanalysis, appear hidden through neurotic symptoms.

4. Jokes

Jokes are also unconscious manifestations for psychoanalysis , but they frequently occur on a social level.

You should know: Those feelings that cannot be expressed directly or something negative or of a sexual content that is related to the drives, are expressed through jokes and these expressions are part of the content of the unconscious.

Key Findings

  • The unconscious is the most hidden part of the human psyche.
  • This level of consciousness is made up of all those mental processes that do not depend on a priority.
  • The unconscious is considered the object of study the of the psychoanalytic method and serves as a filter for the information processed by the conscious.
  • The unconscious is formed from the individual experiences of the human being and stores repressed desires, emotions, drives and sensations.

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