The unconscious mind is the part of the human mind where mental phenomena are manifested but which an individual is unaware of at the time when it is occurring. The phenomena sometimes occur in the form of unnoticed perceptions, automatic skills, unconscious habits, hidden phobias, concealed desires and complexes.
The unconscious mind seems to be the main cause of automatic thoughts and night dreams. It is the main repository of all memories that are already forgotten but which can be accessed by the conscious mind after some time. Implicit knowledge often manifests itself in the unconscious mind. One familiar example is a situation when one tries to solve a puzzling problem without success, only to wake up one morning with a fascinating idea that solves the problem once and for all.
Many observers argue that consciousness is often influenced by different parts of the human brain. However, the observers often differ when it comes to the use of terms that are related. Sometimes unconsciousness is regarded as a personal habit or a state of not being aware or intuition (Tyson, 1993). On the other hand, the terms relating to semi-consciousness include trance, subliminal messages, the subconscious, implicit memory, hypnagogia, awakening and hypnosis. Sometimes sleep-walking, coma and delirium are considered signals of unconscious process. However, these processes do not necessarily take place in the unconscious mind. As far as exploration of the limits of consciousness is concerned, science still appears to be in an infant stage.
The unconscious mind and the unconscious processes
The proposition of the unconscious mind is supported by neuroscience. At the Columbia University Medical Center, researchers have found that many fleeting images that are made up of fearful faces that escape the recognition of the conscious mind tend to cause unconscious anxiety when they are presented in such a way that they keep appearing and disappearing very quickly. The anxiety was noted using neuro-imaging machines. The conscious mind is often behind conscious processes by hundreds of milliseconds.
In order for this type of research to be properly understood, differences are often made between the unconscious mind and unconscious processes; these are two completely different things. The unconscious mind as well as its psychoanalytic contents differs from coma, unconsciousness and states of minimal consciousness. The differences in the manner in which the terms are used can be explained using different theories, one of them being the psychoanalytic theory.
The psychoanalytic theory is the most common term that comes into mind when the unconscious mind is mentioned. The psychoanalytic theory was propounded by Sigmund Freud. According to Sigmund Freud, the unconscious is a sentient force that influences all aspects of human drive, yet it operates well below what he calls “the perceptual conscious mind”. According to Freud, the unconscious mind acts as the storehouse for instinctual needs, desires and psychic actions. Even after past memories and thoughts are deleted from an individual’s immediate consciousness, they continue to direct the feelings and thoughts of individuals from within a human being’s unconsciousness.
Freud was among the first psychologists to define the conscious and unconscious mind. According to him, the mind is made up of the ego or conscious mind and the unconsciousness which is made up of the instincts or Id and the Superego. Using this idea of the unconscious, he explained several types of neurotic behavior. The unconscious, according to this theory is that part that is involved in mental functioning but of which the individuals are not aware.
Using a hierarchical and vertical architecture of man’s consciousness made up of the conscious, preconscious and unconscious mind, he argued that many psychic events always take place “beneath the surface”, within the unconscious mind, much like messages that are hidden from the conscious mind. They operate like some form of intrapersonal communication that is always out of the scope of human awareness. His interpretation was that these events exhibit both actual and symbolic significance.
In the psychoanalytic thought, the unconscious is not only that which is not conscious; rather it is only that which has been repressed from conscious thoughts or what an individual is averse to understanding using the conscious mind. This way of understanding the human presents the conscious mind in an adversarial relationship with the unconscious mind.
In psychoanalysis, the unconscious is always fighting with the self in order to maintain the secrecy of what is hidden from the conscious mind. A therapist who mediates whenever there is a conflict between the unconscious and conscious is referred to as a psychoanalyst. He used different tools of psychoanalysis in order to understand cryptic information that is released after the conflict between these two parts of the human mind come into conflict.
For Freud, all ideas, desires and wishes that are socially unacceptable are stored in the unconscious mind. Painful emotions and traumatic memories are also suppressed and deleted from the conscious mind, thereby ending up in the unconscious. However, it is not a must that the contents of unconscious mind will always be negative. According to psychoanalysts, the contents of unconscious mind only reveal themselves as symptoms.
Unconscious thoughts cannot be accessed through ordinary introspection; rather they can be tapped and then interpreted through use of special techniques and methods like dream analysis, random association and verbal slips, sometimes referred to as Freudian slips. These methods are conducted and examined through psychoanalysis. Some transformations that were made to the Freud’s psychoanalytic theory are attributed to Jacques Lacan and Carl Jung.
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Carl Jung thought that the unconscious should be divided into personal and collective unconscious. The personal unconscious refers to refers to that part of the mind where all information that was once in the conscious mind is stored after being suppressed or forgotten. The collective unconscious contains archetypal and psychic structures that have accumulated at the deepest recesses of the human psyche. Jung explains what he considers to be a two-way traffic involving personal unconscious and ego. A good example is how one’s mind can wander from this essay and explore something significant that happened yesterday.
According to Jacques Lacan, the psychoanalytic theory explains the unconscious in much the same way like the structure of language. He therefore argued that the unconscious is not a primitive part of the human mind that is separate from one’s conscious; instead, it is just a formation that is just as linguistically sophisticated as the human consciousness.
Whenever there is an ‘identity crisis’, Lacan argues, the self is completely denied any frame of reference to the unconscious which is linguistically structured. Lacan borrowed his linguistic conception of the unconscious through the works of Roman Jacobson and Ferdinand de Saussure, both of who argued in support of the concepts of signifier and signified while explaining how the human language functions (Antonietti, 2006).
Psychosocial stages of development
Psychosocial development researchers have in the past conceptualized different stages through which human beings go through in the process of development. Erik Erikson is one of the psychologists who worked extensively in this area. He was a trained psychoanalyst whose stage model seems to share some similarities with Freudian theory but whose main points of departure was the lifespan approach that Erik took in order to explain the impact of society and culture in human development (Harris, 1995).
Erik’s characterization of social development proceeded through eight clearly defined stages, all of which cover the whole lifespan of a human being. Each stage presents a unique crisis. The crisis is always closely related to a significant issue that is affecting an individual at that stage of development. In each case, Eriksson came up with two possible outcomes, one positive and the other negative. Every stage has to be solved in a way that the negative is outweighed by the positive; otherwise an individual will go through life with a burden of many problems that were never resolved at the opportune moment.
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According to Eriksson, the immediate society and culture has a very crucial role to play in determining the course of human development as well as the outcomes of every crisis that is encountered. The first “society” for every human being is the mother. At this stage, the main conflict is between basic trust and mistrust. For a child to develop normally, the child has to learn to trust the mother. If the problem is solved in favor of feelings of mistrust, the child develops a feeling of dependency or paranoia.
As the child grows out of her mother’s society and into the outer world, the influential circle expands and encompasses peers, adults, social institutions and political structures. For example, during latency stage, a person faces a crisis between industry and inferiority. The problem has to be solved in favor of the need to be industrious. This stage is for children who are between the age of 6 and 12 years. The child requires the support of parents in order for a sense of competence to develop. Without this support, the child develops a sense of inferiority.
In other words, according to Erik’s theory, human beings are always in a constant search of identity. The way a person defines himself in every stage determines whether he will perceive as having a positive identity or a negative one. The way in which he interacts with his culture and society determines this outcome a great deal.
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The outcome of every new stage is influenced by the outcome of the previous one although every person tries to “reinvent” the self in each stage. For example, in the first stage, if cries are solved amicably by the mother, the child slowly learns to trust the mother in the knowledge that she will solve all his problems. This form as resolution of the problems of the first stage give the child the confidence he needs to take on new challenges that are presented by the outside world.
Erikson explains that young adults get the confidence to express their deepest and most vulnerable sides to the people they love in the belief that they are worthy people whose competence is unquestionable. The “identity crisis” that young adults have to face determines the kind of adult that they will soon become.
According to motivation theories, the process of development among children is determined by attributions they make after succeeding or failing in doing something as well as the attitude they have towards criticism. For example, early adolescents often portray a marked decline in the level of academic motivation during the transition from elementary school to middle school and sometimes even junior high school. The main reason for this scenario is the mismatch that exists between the needs of early adolescents and the characteristics of every typical classroom in middle schools.
Middle school teachers like exercising excessive control over students, giving them few opportunities to make their own decisions, thus going through a feeling of low-efficacy. Additionally, ability grouping is characteristic of middle schools, something that always works to the detriment of even the most hardworking students (Dweck, 1999).
Another important approach that is often taken to understand how crises determine emotional maturity is through analysis of motivation and needs. Human behavior is motivated the desire to satisfy needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory describes three growth needs and four basic needs. The needs are ordered in a hierarchy, depending on the order in which they ought to be achieved. Basic needs have to be satisfied ahead of esteem needs. A hungry person has no business worrying about matters of esteem in Maslow’s view.
For one to have physiological and psychological fitness, basic needs have to be satisfied first. Once the basic needs are completely met, the motivation that has been driving an individual towards satisfying them starts to wane and its place is taken by the motivation to satisfy growth needs. A human being can never be completely satisfied and therefore has to keep seeking new challenges in order to create motivation for achievement. Satisfaction at each level leads to emotional satisfaction. Once a person gets used the emotional feelings associated with satisfaction of basic needs, he becomes emotionally mature and these needs no longer become a top priority. This explains the relationships between emotional stability and level of motivation.
Maslow’s theory is very relevant to our understanding of the place of emotions in the hierarchy of human needs. Emotional satisfaction, as the theory explains, should never come before basic needs. However, the fact that emotional needs are ranked highly explains their importance in the life-long sense of accomplishment. For such a sense of accomplishment to be felt, an individual must have achieved satisfaction at the most basic level: that of meeting the needs that are essential for sustenance of life. Incidentally, the foundation of emotional stability is set when one is a child, when the most basic needs have to be satisfied by the mother or the caretaker.
Maslow’s theory has also been used to explain the emotional problems that children of divorced parents often face and how their sense of belongingness is affected. Such children may feel oppressed and therefore, in dire need of a sense of love and safety. For emotional maturity to be achieved among people who have faced such challenges early in life, the needs should be understood as much as possible. One should also always strive to meet these needs. One characteristic of people whose emotional needs have not been met is a tendency to feel very insecure.
Children who are emotionally immature may be very obsessed with safety, a scenario that can only be solved through assistance from peers, parents and teachers. However, critics argue that children who are emotionally unstable may lack the motivation to meet even the most basic needs. For instance, a child whose parents have recently divorced may lose interest in taking breakfast and lunch. He may even lose interest in acquisition of new verbal skills that may be crucial in helping the child avoid the many dangers that lurk in his immediate environment.
In conclusion, different theories require a combination of different strategies in order for the crises that develop in the course of one’s life to be solved in the right manner for a human being to undergo positive emotional development. For the psychoanalytic theory, psychoanalysts solve emotional puzzles among adults by trying to lead clues about the contents of the unconscious mind. On the other hand, the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory requires that different needs be satisfied at different times and in the right order for emotional crises to be resolved well. Lastly the motivation theory requires that the feelings of the individual be understood before motivational tasks are offered.