The unconscious mind is the storehouse of all memories and past experiences, both those that have been repressed through trauma and those that have simply been consciously forgotten and no longer important to us. It’s from these memories and experiences that our beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed.
Although the subconscious and unconscious have direct links to each other and deal with similar things, the unconscious mind is really the cellar, the underground library if you like, of all your memories, habits, and behaviors. It is the storehouse of all your deep-seated emotions that have been programmed since birth. In simple terms, the unconscious is the storage place for all our memories that have been repressed or which we don’t wish to recall. A traumatic event in our childhood that has been blocked out is an example, but it doesn’t have to be so serious as this. It could be something very distant like what you had for lunch on your first day of school or what the name was of the childhood friend you played with a couple of times.
It’s a memory that we can’t pull out of our choosing. It’s there, but we can’t remember it no matter how hard we try. Certain psychoanalytical methods can bring back these memories (such as hypnosis) or it can be triggered by a particular event (a scent, a familiar place etc).
If you want significant change at a core level, then this is the place to work on … but it’s not easy to get to!
In many respects the unconscious deals with all the same tasks as the subconscious – memory, habits, feelings, emotions, and behaviors. The difference between the two minds, however, is that the unconscious is the source of all these programs that your subconscious uses. It is the place where all your memories and experiences since birth have been stored. It’s from these memories that your beliefs, habits, and behaviors are formed and reinforced over time.
Unconscious is the term usually preferred by Psychologists and Psychiatrists to refer to the thoughts we have that are “out of reach” of our consciousness. It shouldn’t be confused with the medical term for an unconscious, which basically means knocked out or anesthetized, although both definitions do have similar qualities.
The important point to remember here is that we cannot, by choice, remember anything in our unconscious without some special event or technique. This is unconscious.
The subconscious, on the other hand, is almost the same, but the major difference is we can choose to remember. The memories are closer to the surface and more easily accessible with a little focus.
For example, if I were to ask you to remember what your phone number is, then you could easily bring that into conscious thought. The interesting thing is that before I asked you to recall it, you had no conscious thought of it at all. It was stored in your subconscious available for ready recall when needed. If, however, it wasn’t important to you to recall your phone number that often then it may be stored a bit deeper, and as a result, when you’re asked for your phone number on the spot you might struggle to remember it.
The unconscious mind is everything else in the mind-body system that is not conscious in that moment. We say somehow your unconscious mind has the complete knowledge of the system that is you. Your unconscious has amazing processing capabilities compared with the conscious mind. Research shows the unconscious mind absorbs millions of bits of sensory information through the nervous system in any one second. Given the name ‘unconscious mind’ you will not be aware of a lot of the processes that the unconscious mind engages in. Some people are more aware than others of the functioning of the unconscious mind. These people have what’s called good communication with their unconscious.
On the physical side, at this moment your unconscious is regulating the functioning in your body, pumping blood from your heart, digesting your food, cleansing the lymph cells healing any cuts, counteracting any antibodies that come into the system and so on. You don’t consciously have to think about making your heart beat; your eyes blink or your lungs fill with oxygen. All this happens unconsciously.
The components of your past experiences and what you have learned in life physically and mentally are within your unconscious. If I was to ask you to think of your first day at school, your first kiss, a representation or series of representations may come to conscious attention. These representations of past events are located in the unconscious mind. The past representation came from the unconscious and was then brought to conscious attention, what was previously in your conscious mind was replaced.
If you have a phobia, every time you experience that phobia you are physically and mentally matching current stimuli with an unconscious reconstruction of a past representation. The unconscious mind is habitual and learns easily when stimulated. In the case of the phobic, it’s usually one experience that creates the learned behavior of a phobia. It’s amazing how the unconscious mind remembers to activate a fight or flight response every time the phobic comes into contact with the phobia stimuli. Introduce the phobia stimuli and no matter what the phobic is doing, his conscious attention will be jammed with the fight or flight response. Even though intellectually the phobic understands the spider/mouse cannot hurt him, he cannot override the unconscious response with a conscious will. The logic of the conscious mind does not work when dealing with problems.
Your unconscious mind expresses itself through feelings, habits, and sensations in your body i.e. pain, light-headedness, muscle tension. So-called emotions such as happiness, sadness etc are the conscious mind labels assigned to unconscious processes such as electrical chemical reactions in the nervous system. The emotion is felt in the body as sensations; we nominalize the experience in the body and talk about emotions, often losing touch with the true feeling.