Have you ever been in a situation where you react in a particular way but you seem to have no rational explanation why? Someone says something that seems small, and it causes you to lash out and protect yourself. Or maybe you’re somewhere perfectly safe, and you get the sudden urge to get out of there.
Or perhaps you’ve started a new relationship, everything is going great, and suddenly you start sabotaging everything, either have heightened negative emotions, or do things, say things, that cause drama when really what you want is to be happy.
Or you get a great new job that you’re excited about, and then everything seems to go wrong. It’s like you just can’t win. That’s your unconscious.
So much of what we do is unconscious. Psychologists believe that a part of the function of the unconscious mind is to repress memories with unresolved negative emotions and experiences that are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict, and even though we have no conscious awareness of these memories, they strongly influence our current behaviours.
The famed psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud held some very controversial theories about the influence of the unconscious mind in his time. Although Freud didn’t invent the idea of the conscious versus unconscious mind, he most definitely got people talking about it. He thought the mind was made of three parts, the id, the ego, and the superego. To understand Freud’s theory, it is essential to first understand what he believed each part did, how it operated, and how these three elements interact to contribute to the human experience.
The id and the superego can be compared to the angel and the devil that you see portrayed in some children cartoons, sitting on a person’s shoulders. The id (the devil) is the one that encourages you to throw caution to the wind and give in to selfish desires and urges you to rush towards pleasure and indulgence, while the superego (the angel) is the voice of reason, the moral compass, reminding you of rules, boundaries, responsibilities, and what is socially acceptable, and the likely consequences of your actions and choices. The ego, is you, in the middle, weighing up the arguments and influence of the two and deciding what to do. According to Freud, the id (the devil) and the superego (the angel) are mostly unconscious so you are unaware that they are even influencing your thoughts and ultimately your choices.
An interesting experiment that illustrates the influence of the unconscious mind is from a 1951 study in The Journal of Psychological Review. The study found clear evidence of conditioning people to associate certain nonsense words with an electric shock. Later when the words were shown to them, the researchers measured greater electrodermal activity for words associated with the shock. Even though subjects believed they hadn’t seen anything, the unconscious saw the cues resulting in their bodies anticipating the jolt.
None of us know why we do what we do, but what modern science does agree on is that a different type of reasoning operates via our own unique past experiences archived in our unconscious. These secret agents of our mind scrutinise the world and can make decisions without us being aware, at a minimum speed estimated at around 213 milliseconds, so next time you find yourself really pondering your next step regarding a situation, you can be rest assured that your unconscious mind has already decided what to do.
We think we are running our lives with the 5% of our mind we call conscious mind, but the simple truth is, our lives are a direct reflection of what is in our unconscious. So if there are things in your life you’d like to change, patterns in your life you’d like to stop repeating… change the unconscious. How? Simple. The same way it was programmed in the first place. Hypnosis. Children up to the age of 7 are primarily in a brain wave called ‘Theta’, which is the hypnosis brain wave level and in this state the unconscious mind can be programmed. Fascinating and in my opinion, wonderful news. Because it means no one is ‘stuck’ living the life they currently live. Change is possible.
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