Unconscious Mind: Definition & Explanation

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  • 0:01 What Is the Unconscious Mind?
  • 1:34 Freud's View of the…
  • 3:27 Other Theories About…
  • 4:26 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Sarah Lavoie

Sarah has taught Psychology at the college level and has a master's degree in Counseling Psychology.

The unconscious mind is a mystery to both ourselves and psychologists. In this lesson, we will investigate how the unconscious mind is explained, and test your understanding with a short quiz.

What Is the Unconscious Mind?

As you watch this lesson, you are aware of the information on the screen and are actively trying to learn this information. You are also aware of the computer in front of you, the light in the room, whether or not your chair is comfortable, and many other thoughts and sensations. The things that you are actively seeing, feeling, and hearing at any one time make up your conscious mind.

But what about all your other experiences and memories that make you who you are? Psychologists believe that the unconscious mind stores all the memories and experiences that are not being consciously thought about. Some of these memories are easy to recall. For example, you can probably remember what you had for dinner last night. Can you remember what you did on your last birthday? Most likely those memories are easy to bring into the conscious mind.

What about your sixth birthday? Can you remember what you did that day? Can you remember the happy feelings upon receiving gifts or seeing friends? Can you remember if you were disappointed by your friends or family? Most likely you can't remember the day or what emotions you had. Most people cannot remember these things. But what happens to these memories and experiences? They don't just pass into and out of memory without affecting your personality. There is a lifetime of sensations, perceptions, thoughts, feelings, memories, and bits of information that we have experienced and forgotten that are stored in the unconscious mind. Psychologists believe that all these millions of experiences most definitely affect current personality and behavior.

Freud's View of the Unconscious Mind

Sigmund Freud believed that the unconscious mind stores all the thoughts, memories, and feelings that are disturbing or traumatic. He believed that the brain protects itself by deeply burying these memories in the unconscious mind. He thought that the vast majority of our memories are stored there and affect our personalities more than we could even imagine. Like the tip of an iceberg, only a very small part of the human mind is involved in conscious thought.

Freud also believed that this huge storage of memories and emotions in the unconscious caused conflict and emotional problems. He thought that the memories of trauma can be buried in the unconscious to protect against further emotional pain. What defines a traumatic experience is also different for every person but often includes childhood abuse or neglect, rape, injury, combat experiences, accidents, and more.

Contrary to popular belief, the term 'unconscious' was not developed by Sigmund Freud. The unconscious mind has been a topic of discussion since ancient times. Freud did popularize the term 'unconscious' when he developed psychoanalysis. Psychoanalysis is a form of therapy developed by Freud to treat emotional problems. It's focused largely on discovering, uncovering, and dealing with memories and feelings stored in the unconscious. Psychoanalysis is known for using dream analysis and helping clients to talk without censoring themselves.

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