Unconscious Motivation Sometimes We Dont Know Why We Do What We Do

According to Freud, the human mind consists of three parts. The conscious mind is the part that contains all the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions that you are presently aware of. Whatever you are currently perceiving or thinking about is in your conscious mind. These thoughts represent only a small fraction of the information available to you.


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You also have a vast number of memories, dreams, and thoughts that you could easily bring to mind if you so desired. What were you wearing yesterday? What was the name of your best friend in seventh grade? What is the earliest memory you have of your mother? This information is stored in the preconscious mind. Any piece of information that you are not presently thinking about, but that could easily be retrieved and made conscious, is found in the precon-scious mind.

The unconscious is the third and, according to Freud, largest part of the human mind. The metaphor of an iceber g is often used to describe the topography of the mind. The part of the iceberg above the water represents the conscious mind. The part that you can see just below the water surface is the preconscious mind. And the part of the iceber g totally hidden from view (the vast majority of it) represents the unconscious mind. In Figure 9.1 we reproduce a drawing made by Freud in 1932, in which he graphically presented the three levels of consciousness. The top level is perception and consciousness, which he abbreviated "pcpt-cs." The middle level is the

Q/ preconscious, and the lower level is the uncon-/ scious. Residing in the unconscious mind is unac-

/ ceptable information, hidden from conscious view so well that it cannot even be considered preconscious. Those memories, feelings, thoughts, or urges are so troubling or even distasteful that being aware of them would make the person anxious. Many of the cases reported in the psychoanalytic literature involve distressing unconscious themes—such as incest; hatred toward siblings, parents, or spouses; and memories of childhood traumas.

Society does not allow people to express freely all of their sexual and aggressive instincts. Individuals must learn to control their urges. One way to control these ur ges, according to Freud, is to keep them from entering conscious awareness in the first place. Consider a child who has gotten extremely angry with a parent. This child might have a fleeting wish that the parents die. Such thoughts would be very distressing to a child—so distressing that they might be held back from conscious awareness and banished instead to the unconscious— the part of the mind holding thoughts and memories about which the person is unaware. All kinds of unacceptable sexual and aggressive ur ges, thoughts, and feelings might accumulate in the unconscious during the course of a typical childhood.

Figure 9.1

Freud's original drawing depicting the structure of personality and the levels of consciousness, from LECTURE XXXI (1932), "The Anatomy of the Mental Personality," is reproduced in "Introductory Lectures on Psycho-analysis," published in 1933 by Hogarth Press. Freud's main dissatisfaction with the diagram is that the space taken by the unconscious id ought to be much greater than that given to the ego or the preconscious. "You must, if you please, correct that in your imagination," Freud advised his readers.

Anxiety and Depression 101

Anxiety and Depression 101

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