There is always a lot of confusion about the difference between the subconscious and unconscious mind. Even Freud himself used the terms interchangeably for many years. He eventually settled on the term “unconscious” to describe what was not consciously available to us.
On a linguistic level, “sub” means below (physically or hierarchically). The prefix “un” would instead negate a meaning of a word. So in the case of “conscious”, adding “un” would mean “not conscious”.
The subconscious exists below the level of everyday awareness.
The unconscious is what is not readily accessible to us in our waking state. It can only be accessed with directed attention (for example, hypnosis or meditation).
What is the Conscious Mind?
The conscious mind is the part of the mind that is aware of our thoughts, feelings, and surroundings. It is also responsible for our sense of self-awareness and our ability to communicate with others. In fact, it is the part of the mind that is reading this blog! Basically, it is the part of the mind that is aware of what is happening at this moment.
The conscious mind is often described as the being like the tip of an iceberg, with the subconscious and unconscious mind being the larger part that is hidden beneath the surface.
What is the Subconscious Mind?
The subconscious mind is the part of the mind that operates just below the level of consciousness. It could be thought of as like a vast computer database that stores all of our experiences, memories, and learned behaviours. It is the part of the mind that is responsible for our automatic responses, such as habits and reflexes.
Another way of thinking about the difference between the conscious and subconscious mind is if you were to think of when you first learned to ride a bicycle or drive a car. At first, it will take conscious effort and focus to master these skills as they are yet to be understood by the conscious mind. After a while, however, you will be able to do these things without even thinking about them. The patterns of thoughts needed to carry them out become so easy that you can then do them subconsciously. This means the conscious mind is free to wander off and think about all sorts of other daily concerns!
What is the Unconscious Mind?
The unconscious mind is often described as being like the “hidden” part of the mind, and it is thought to contain the memories, experiences, and impulses that the brain either doesn’t need to remember or sometimes doesn’t want to remember!
Freud thought of the unconscious as a dumping ground for all of our repressed or unwanted memories. Carl Jung, however, thought of it as a repository of potential growth and creativity. He even posited the notion of the unconscious mind being split into two parts: the “personal unconscious” and the “collective unconscious”.
The personnel unconscious stores information, memories and feelings that we suppress. The collective unconscious, however, holds templates of ancestral behaviour he called “archetypes”.
Unconscious Mind Examples
The collective unconscious is a psychological concept proposed by Carl Jung. He was a Swiss psychiatrist and psychoanalyst. Jung believed that the collective unconscious is a part of the psyche that is not specific to one individual but is shared by all human beings. It is made up of “archetypes”, which are universal patterns or themes that are present in the myths, legends, and religious traditions of all cultures.
Jung believed that these archetypes are inherited from our ancestors and are present in the unconscious mind of every individual. They shape our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and they are the source of many of the symbols and motifs that appear in literature, art, and other forms of cultural expression.
What is the Collective Unconscious?
According to Jung, the collective unconscious helps to connect individuals to a shared cultural heritage and to the collective experience of humanity.
Archetypes are like psychic blueprints of behaviour that have been passed down through the centuries and are available to us all. Jung believed our lives and even the world around us could be greatly improved by harnessing their power and expressing them in healthy ways. These archetypes were often represented in dreams.
He would go on to say the collective unconscious was:
“…of absolutely revolutionary significance in that it could radically alter our view of the world. Even if no more than the perceptions taking place in such a second psychic system were carried over into ego-consciousness, we should have the possibility of enormously extending the bounds of our mental horizon”
Although the subconscious and unconscious mind are not directly accessible to our conscious awareness, they can still have a powerful influence on our lives. Some therapies, such as hypnotherapy, are designed to help individuals access and work with the unconscious mind in order to make positive changes in their lives.
After all, in our haste to suppress thoughts, feelings and memories that have been painful to us, it is useful to consider how it is often that discomfort that points to our growth. We should be careful that by throwing away the memories we don’t like, we may also be throwing away the lessons learned from those memories that have made us stronger and more resilient.
How Can Hypnotherapy Access the Unconscious Mind?
Hypnotherapy is a form of therapy that uses hypnosis to access the unconscious mind and facilitate change. During hypnotherapy, the therapist puts the client into a state of hypnosis, which is a state of deep relaxation and heightened suggestibility. In this state, the client becomes more receptive to the suggestions of the therapist. The therapist can then use this increased suggestibility to help the client make positive changes in their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
There are a few different techniques that hypnotherapists use to access the unconscious mind, including:
- Direct/Indirect Suggestion: The therapist makes suggestions to the client’s unconscious mind, encouraging them to make positive changes.
- Visualization: The therapist guides the client through a visualization exercise, encouraging them to imagine themselves making positive changes in their life.
- Regression: The therapist helps the client to go back in time and revisit past experiences that may be influencing their current thoughts, feelings, and behaviours.
- Parts Therapy: The therapist helps the client to identify and work with different parts of their personality, which may be in conflict with one another.
By using these techniques, hypnotherapists can help clients to access their unconscious mind and make positive changes in their lives.
Example: If a client is socially avoidant but doesn’t understand why, then hypnosis can direct them toward their unconscious and bring to awareness memories or feelings that may be underpinning the issue.
From here, hypnosis can be used for trauma relief, parts integration or future-pacing, depending on what is most appropriate for the individual.