The unconscious contains all those drives, urges, or instincts that are beyond our awareness but that nevertheless motivate most of our words, feelings, and actions. Although we may be conscious of our overt behaviors, we often are not aware of the mental processes that lie behind them. For example, a man may know that he is attracted to a woman but may not fully understand all the reasons for the attraction, some of which may even seem irrational.
Because the unconscious is not available to the conscious mind, how can one know if it really exists? Freud felt that its existence could be proved only indirectly. To him the unconscious is the explanation for the meaning behind dreams, slips of the tongue, and certain kinds of forgetting, called repression. Dreams serve as a particularly rich source of unconscious material. For example, Freud believed that childhood experiences can appear in adult dreams even though the dreamer has no conscious recollection of these experiences.
Unconscious processes often enter into consciousness but only after being disguised or distorted enough to elude censorship. Freud (1917/1963) used the analogy of a guardian or censor blocking the passage between the unconscious and preconscious and preventing undesirable anxiety-producing memories from entering awareness. To enter the conscious level of the mind, these unconscious images first must be sufficiently disguised to slip past the primary censor, and then they must elude a final censor that watches the passageway between the preconscious and the conscious. By the time these memories enter our conscious mind, we no longer recognize them for what they are; instead, we see them as relatively pleasant, non-threatening experiences. In most cases, these images have strong sexual or aggressive motifs, because childhood sexual and aggressive behaviors are frequently punished or suppressed. Punishment and suppression often create feelings of anxiety, and the anxiety in turn stimulates repression, that is, the forcing of unwanted, anxiety-ridden experiences into the unconscious as a defense against the pain of that anxiety.
Not all unconscious processes, however, spring from repression of childhood events. Freud believed that a portion of our unconscious originates from the experiences of our early ancestors that have been passed on to us through hundreds of generations of repetition. He called these inherited unconscious images our phyloge-netic endowment (Freud, 1917/1963, 1933/1964). Freud's notion of phylogenetic endowment is quite similar to Carl Jung's idea of a collective unconscious (see Chapter 4). However, one important difference exists between the two concepts. Whereas Jung placed primary emphasis on the collective unconscious, Freud relied on the notion of inherited dispositions only as a last resort. That is, when explanations built on individual experiences were not adequate, Freud would turn to the idea of collectively inherited experiences to fill in the gaps left by individual experiences. Later we will see that Freud used the concept of phylogenetic endowment to explain several important concepts, such as the Oedipus complex and castration anxiety.
Unconscious drives may appear in consciousness, but only after undergoing certain transformations. A person may express either erotic or hostile urges, for example, by teasing or joking with another person. The original drive (sex or aggression) is thus disguised and hidden from the conscious minds of both persons. The unconscious of the first person, however, has directly influenced the unconscious of the second. Both people gain some satisfaction of either sexual or aggressive urges, but neither is conscious of the underlying motive behind the teasing or joking. Thus the unconscious mind of one person can communicate with the unconscious of another without either person being aware of the process.
Unconscious, of course, does not mean inactive or dormant. Forces in the unconscious constantly strive to become conscious, and many of them succeed although they may no longer appear in their original form. Unconscious ideas can and do motivate people. For example, a sons hostility toward his father may masquerade itself in the form of ostentatious affection. In an undisguised form, the hostility would create too much anxiety for the son. His unconscious mind therefore, motivates him to express hostility indirectly through an exaggerated show of love and flattery. Because the disguise must successfully deceive the person, it often takes an opposite form from the original feelings, but it is ahnost always overblown and ostentatious. (This mechanism, called a reaction formation, is discussed later in the section titled Defense Mechanisms.)
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