Levels of the Human Mind

Sigmund Freud, the famous Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis used the analogy of an iceberg submerged in water to compare the three levels of the human mind. The top portion of the iceberg that one can see above the water represented the conscious mind. The part of the iceberg that is submerged below the water surface, but is still visible, is the preconscious mind. The bulk of the iceberg that lies unseen beneath the water surface represents the unconscious part of the mind.

He believed that the preconscious mind consisted of any feeling, emotion or memory that could potentially be brought into the conscious mind, the conscious mind contained all thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes of which we are aware of at all times and at any given moment. It is this aspect of our mental thought process and behavior that we can think about and analyze rationally. It also includes our memory which is something that isn’t always a part of our consciousness but can be brought into awareness at any given moment. The unconscious mind is an endless bank of emotions, urges, thoughts and memories that are very much beyond our conscious awareness. The unconscious mind possesses emotions, urges, etc. that are either unacceptable or unpleasant by the present societal standards, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.

Freud further argued that, the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. Like the iceberg, the most important part of the mind is the part you cannot see and is not visible to the eye. Our primitive urges-found in our unconscious minds- often do not reach consciousness because they are unacceptable to our rational, conscious selves who were programmed to behave in ways that adhere to the current societal standards and hence are almost never acted upon because they remain repressed deep within our unconscious minds.

Thoughts and emotions that exist outside of our conscious awareness almost always-although only to subtle effect- continue to exert an influence on our day-to-day habits and behaviors, even though we are unaware (unconscious) of these underlying influences. In this regard, the unconscious part of our minds can include repressed feelings, past habits, wishes, hidden memories, thoughts, and reactions. Emotions-such as grief- and traumatic memories that are too painful, embarrassing, terrifying, shameful, or distressing to consciously come to terms with are stored deep within the enormous bank that makes up the unconscious mind.

The conscious mind however includes all of the things that one is actively aware of. The closely related preconscious mind contains all of the other things that you could potentially pull into conscious awareness (memory, a previous thought, emotions etc.). The preconscious mind also acts as something of a filter that controls the information that is allowed to enter into an individual’s conscious awareness. The conscious mind involves all of the things that you are currently aware of and presently thinking about. It’s primary limitation, however, mainly lies in terms of capacity and is somewhat similar to short-term memory. One’s awareness of oneself and the world around them is a part of their consciousness.

In Freud’s iceberg analogy, the preconscious exists just below the surface of the water. You can see the murky shape and vague outline of the submerged portion of the iceberg if you focus on it and make an effort to see it, however otherwise it still remains very much unseen/hidden from the eye-in this case, the conscious mind. 

Similar to the unconscious mind, Freud believed that the preconscious mind could have a definite influence on our general conscious awareness. Sometimes information from the preconscious manifests in unexpected ways and different forms, for instance during dreams or in accidental slips of the tongue. Hence, while we might not be actively thinking about these things, Freud strongly believed that they still served to influence conscious actions and behavioral patterns in all individuals.

An individual’s lifetime experiences-from childhood to adulthood, can largely influence their subconscious, conscious and unconscious mind. Good life experiences impact the conscious mind in a positive way, such that, the primary knowledge from that past experience or situation can be productively or constructively used by the individual in future situations as a way for it to be in their favor. Bad life experiences can most certainly have great negative effects on an individual; the conscious mind from then on could be reprogrammed in response to the trauma or bad situation to alter the individual’s conscious mind and then personality which could result in a lot of other unexpected effects on the individual’s decisions, situations, reactions and emotions.  

Our subconscious mind has an immense and great power in controlling our life experiences. From the kind of habits, we follow every day to the food we choose to eat, the kind of occupation we pursue, the level of income we earn, our societal status and even how we react to stressful or dangerous situations, our subconscious has an extremely prominent role, and almost all of our decisions are guided by our subconscious beliefs or thoughts. To put it simply, our subconscious mind is like the auto-pilot feature on an airplane. It’s been specially programmed to follow a specific route and we can’t deviate from that route unless we consciously change the directions that were first programmed into it.

Our subconscious mind never rejected anything while we’re young because we didn’t have any pre-existing beliefs to contradict what it perceived and/or understood. It simply accepted the information we received during our early childhood and that was what was considered true, which is why each and every individual’s personality, traits, subconscious/conscious mind and thoughts are unique. This also explains why this later becomes a problem in the later stages of our lives because if when we were young every time someone called us worthless, dumb, stupid, lazy or worse, our subconscious mind simply stored that piece of information away for reference. Over time we may also have received several pieces of information about our potential in life or other limitations we’ll face based on your physical appearance such as skin color, or our gender, or our economic status.

Which brings us to the question of can we change or alter our subconscious? The answer to which is extremely interesting seeing as the answer is that this subconscious programming never stops and still continues to this day. With every new experience, we draw new conclusions, thoughts or opinions which we store once again within our subconscious which will ultimately guide our future actions.

So, if we have an experience that contradicts with an already established belief or opinion, our subconscious mind will either reject it or reframe/alter/add it so that it goes along with our existing view of reality.

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