What Is the Unconscious?

Freud's conceptualization of the unconscious

The unconscious mind is much like an iceberg below the surface
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In Freud's psychoanalytic theory of personality, the unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that outside of our conscious awareness. Most of the contents of the unconscious are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict. According to Freud, the unconscious continues to influence our behavior and experience, even though we are unaware of these underlying influences.

The Unconscious Mind: Below the Surface of Awareness

The unconscious mind is often represented as an iceberg. Everything above the water represents conscious awareness while everything below the water represents the unconscious. The things that represent our conscious awareness are simply "the tip of the iceberg." The rest of the information that is outside of conscious awareness lies below the surface. While this information might not be accessible consciously, it still exerts an influence over current behavior.

Freud believed that many of our feelings, desires, and emotions are repressed or held out of awareness. Why? Because, he suggested, they were simply too threatening. Freud believed that sometimes these hidden desires and wishes make themselves known through dreams and slips of the tongue (aka "Freudian slips").

How Is Unconscious Information Brought Into Awareness?

Freud also believed that he could bring these unconscious feelings into awareness through the use of a technique called free association.

He asked patients to relax and say whatever came to mind without any consideration of how trivial, irrelevant, or embarrassing it might be. By tracing these streams of thought, Freud believed he could uncover the contents of the unconscious mind where repressed desires and painful childhood memories existed.

More Psychology Definitions: The Psychology Dictionary

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