How Does Unconscious Differ From Consciousness

.. surgery has the effect of bringing long-forgotten (unconscious) experiences back to awareness; (2) removal of specific parts of the brain seems to abolish the retention of specific experiences in memory; (3) the general probability of bringing unconscious or preconscious data to awareness is enhanced by direct electrical stimulation of a portion of the brain structure called the reticular formation, or the reticular activating system. Also, according to what is called brain blood-shift theory, the transition from unconscious to conscious activities is mediated by localized changes in the blood supply to different parts of the brain. These biopsychological explorations have shed new light on the validity of psychoanalytic ideas about the unconscious. To be more able to understand unconscious we can take a look to what is psychoanalysis theory.

It is a highly influential method of treating mental disorders, shaped by psychoanalytic theory, which emphasizes unconscious mental processes and is sometimes described as depth psychology. The psychoanalytic movement originated in the clinical observations and formulations of the Austrian psychiatrist Sigmund Freud, who coined the term. During the 1890s, Freud was associated with another Viennese, Josef Breuer, in studies of neurotic patients under hypnosis. Freud and Breuer observed that, when the sources of patients’ ideas and impulses were brought into consciousness during the hypnotic state, the patients showed improvement. Observing that most of his patients talked freely without being under hypnosis, Freud evolved the technique of free association of ideas. The patient was encouraged to say anything that came to mind, without regard to its assumed relevancy or propriety.

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Noting that patients sometimes had difficulty in making free associations, Freud concluded that certain painful experiences were repressed, or held back from conscious awareness. Freud noted that in the majority of the patients seen during his early practice the events most frequently repressed were concerned with disturbing sexual experiences. Thus he hypothesized that anxiety was a consequence of the repressed energy attached to sexuality; the repressed energy found expression in various symptoms that served as psychological defense mechanisms. Freud and his followers later extended the concept of anxiety to include feelings of fear, guilt, and shame consequent to fantasies of aggression and hostility and to fear of loneliness caused by separation from a person on whom the sufferer is dependent. Freud’s free-association technique provided him with a tool for studying the meanings of dreams, slips of the tongue, forgetfulness, and other mistakes and errors in everyday life. From these investigations he was led to a new conception of the structure of personality: the id, ego, and superego.

The id is the unconscious reservoir of drives and impulses derived from the genetic background and concerned with the preservation and propagation of life. The ego, according to Freud, operates in conscious and preconscious levels of awareness. It is the portion of the personality concerned with the tasks of reality: perception, cognition, and executive actions. In the superego lie the individual’s environmentally derived ideals and values and the mores of his family and society; the superego serves as a censor on the ego functions. In the Freudian framework, conflicts among the three structures of the personality are repressed and lead to the arousal of anxiety.

The person is protected from experiencing anxiety directly by the development of defense mechanisms, which are learned through family and cultural influences. These mechanisms become pathological when they inhibit pursuit of the satisfactions of living in a society. The existences of these patterns of adaptation or mechanisms of defense are quantitatively but not qualitatively different in the psychotic and neurotic states. Freud held that the patient’s emotional attachment to the analyst represented transference of the patient’s relationship to parents or important parental figures. Freud held that those strong feelings, unconsciously projected to the analyst, influenced the patient’s capacity to make free associations. By objectively treating these responses and the resistances they evoked and by bringing the patient to analyze the origin of those feelings, Freud concluded that the analysis of the transference and the patient’s resistance to its analysis were the keystones of psychoanalytic therapy.

Early schisms over such issues as the basic role that Freud ascribed to biological instinctual processes caused onetime associates Carl Jung, Otto Rank, and Alfred Adler to establish their own psychological theories. Most later controversies, however, were over details of Freudian theory or technique and did not lead to a complete departure from the parent system. Other influential theorists have included Erik Erikson, Karen Horney, Erich Fromm, and Harry Stack Sullivan. At one time psychiatrists held a monopoly on psychoanalytic practice, but soon nonmedical therapists also were admitted. Later developments included work on the technique and theory of psychoanalysis of children.

Freud’s tripartite division of the mind into id, ego, and superego became progressively more elaborate, and problems of anxiety and female sexuality received increasing attention. Psychoanalysis also found many extraclinical applications in other areas of social thought, particularly anthropology and sociology, and in literature and the arts. Therefore, consciousness and unconscious are extremely different and here is an example which can explain this difference: the nature of language as a system of signs is such that each sign already bears the traces of all the other signs within it. This is the feature of language, which allows for the possibility of puns and other forms of understanding and misunderstanding. Applied to kinship relations, it is the feature, which allows for confusion and proliferation of roles. Consciousness makes use of conventional signs which are associated with fixed meanings this is why we are able to understand one another, but the unconscious can, through language, signify something quite other than what it says. It can be play as it likes on the sonic materiality of the symbols of language without regard for their real meaning, and can use them to express a quite unconscious meaning’.

Thus, the unconscious can use the natural faults and fissures in language as channels of desire a desire, which, if Freud is right, ultimately must be the anarchical wish for the destruction of civilization. Psychology Essays.


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