In Freudian psychology, the unconscious mind is the repository for thoughts, feelings, and memories of which a person is not consciously aware. Freud used the term “dynamic unconscious” to refer to unconscious processes that were relevant to psychology as opposed to random pieces of information contained in the unconsciousness that do not have psychological or personal significance.
Role of the Unconscious
Sigmund Freud argued that unacceptable thoughts, memories, and motives could be repressed in the unconscious mind. For example, anger at one’s mother, memories of childhood abuse, and hatred of a family member might be repressed in the unconscious. The unconscious is further divided into the id–the repository of baser instincts–and the superego–similar to the conscience, which contains societal prescriptions about correct behavior. Freud believed that the unconscious could be accessed using psychoanalytic therapy, and that repressed memories and feelings were often the source of psychological problems.
Carl Jung expanded upon Freud’s conception by differentiating between the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is similar to Freud’s dynamic unconscious, while the collective unconscious is a repository for the collective knowledge of humanity. It contains archetypes such as the mother and father that drive human behavior.
Unconscious in Contemporary Psychology
Views on the unconscious mind differ greatly among contemporary psychologists. In the 1980s and 1990s, many therapists attempted to recover repressed memories using hypnosis. Many of these memories turned out to be false memories that caused suffering for people who believed they were truly remembering abuse that actually occurred. This scandal made mental health professionals increasingly aware of the difficulties associated with attempting to access the unconscious mind. A number of current practitioners believe it cannot be accessed, that it does not exist, or that accessing the unconscious mind is simply too dangerous to attempt. Others study how the unconscious mind may be related to the physical body and/or emotions.
- American Psychological Association. APA concise dictionary of psychology. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2009. Print.
Last Updated: 08-28-2015