The Unconscious: Making Sense of the Hidden
We all understand that there are some things in our minds that we are conscious of, and other things that we are unconscious of. Knowing this, some would ask “why should I be concerned about the things that I’m unconscious of; I’m worried enough by the things I’m conscious of!”. The fact is, the unconscious is very powerful.
‘Don't I have enough troubles?'
It’s a fair point. It can seem like we have enough on our plate without looking for more troubles. This can seem especially true if you believe that thoughts and experiences are in our unconscious because we have pushed them there. You might believe this because they are too difficult to keep conscious for all sorts of reasons.
One of the stated purposes of psychotherapy is ‘make the unconscious conscious’; it is understandable that you would question the wisdom of this, considering what I have just said. However, when psychotherapists say this, it isn’t with the intent of unthinkingly uncovering all of the events and experiences that you have found hard and leaving you with them.
Rather, it is hoped that by gaining access to more of your unconscious in a controlled and gradual way you can start to see how it affects your conscious decision-making processes, and also how it affects the sense you make sense of the world.
For example, let’s take a man who hates being kissed on the cheek. Whenever this happens or whoever does it, the man hates the experience but he doesn’t know why. It puzzles and frustrates him, and he wonders what is wrong with him. In working together, we may gradually discover that his mother would kiss him on the cheek when she left him with his aunt, an experience that left him feeling, as a child, abandoned and alone.
Now as an adult, it is just the bad feeling about cheek kisses that remains in consciousness. Unconsciously, the man might have made sense of cheek kissing as a sign that he is about to be left alone, and reacts with strong feeling to the kiss combined with his own frustration with his reaction.
Working patiently to understand
In psychotherapy we work patiently and gently to understand the unconscious; we want to know the way that it affects our day to day life. The more that we understand it, the more we understand our conscious selves and the less frustrated we are. We can sometimes change, but even if we can’t, we can now at least accept ourselves more.
The man, now about to be kissed on the cheek, smiles, shakes his head slightly and says “I’m a bit funny about that; perhaps we could hug instead”.
– Tim Hill
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