I think that in some cases at least this fear derived from the popular idea of the Freudian view of the unconscious mind as a kind of dungeon where you lock up all of the thoughts and aspects of yourself that you don’t like, mashed up with Freud’s other idea of the ‘id’, the instinctual drives (especially sex and aggression) barely kept in check by the rational ‘ego’ and the ’superego’ (the internalised morality and prohibitions of society). This ‘folk psychology’ view is plausible in some ways; for example, most of us have met someone who is friendly when sober but is a ‘mean drunk’.
With this view of what their unconscious mind might be like, it’s understandable that someone who has had some difficulties in their life would fear that this ‘can of worms’ would be just too uncomfortable to take the lid off. After all, distancing themselves from their feelings has got them this far – even if the difficulties and missteps that result from this coping strategy are starting to pile up.
The other linked fear that some people have of their unconscious minds is that “if people saw what I was really like, they would reject and shun me.” Again, you can see why they would not want to go there.
I would like to propose a different view of the unconscious mind (or ‘deepest inner self’), one derived from the great 20th century hypnotherapist Milton Erickson rather than Freud, and one that seems to be more in line with current research findings. Like the id, the dungeon and the can of worms, it’s still just a metaphor, but I think a more useful one that more closely describes how our minds work.
Your unconscious mind is part of you. It has your best interests at heart. Deep down, it wants you to succeed and thrive; after all, if you die, so does it. So it does the best it can to help you, given the choices and resources it sees as available to you.
Sometimes, the feelings, habits, or behaviours that the unconscious mind comes up with are not what you want; unpleasant, or hurtful to others, or self-sabotaging. The behaviour is unwanted, but the intention behind it is positive. Your unconscious mind is making the best choices it can, but sometimes it doesn’t see very clearly. Once we start engaging with our unconscious mind, we can ask it to try out different behaviours that can fulfil the positive intention without the unpleasant downsides.
So, if you make the decision that you are going to accept your emotions, and you’re approaching them from the perspective that your unconscious mind has your best interests at heart, with the aim of becoming a better and more effective person, what do you do next?
The first step in being able to communicate with your unconscious mind so you can start getting better results is to listen to what it’s telling you. You can view your feelings as messages from your unconscious mind to you, so the more aware you are of your emotions, the more in rapport you will be with your unconscious mind.
If you are one of those people who doesn’t want to go anywhere near their feelings, it may be that you will be better off starting off on that journey with a trusted guide, so you may want to wait until you’ve found an experienced therapist. Or you may want to practise some of the emotional self-management techniques that we’ll be learning later on, and approach the journey of getting in touch with your emotions at a pace that suits you. Or maybe you’re ready to start, as cautiously as you like, becoming more aware of your emotions now. It’s your choice and you’re in the driving seat.
Next time: becoming aware of your emotions in your body