The Unconscious Mind:
Does it actually exist?

We hear a lot of talk today about the unconscious mind. Turn on your tv, pick up a magazine and chances are the person is tossing the word "unconscious" around like snuff at a wake. Everyone seems to know what this unconscious mind is, and that it’s the reason you’re unhappy. But do they know what they’re talking about? What exactly is the unconscious mind?

Did you realise that the term unconscious mind was invented by Freud, William James, or one of those guys in the late 19th century? Before that people never knew they had an unconscious.

Weird, what? I wonder what did they do without it?

Where exactly is it located? Behind your left ear, under your fingernails, in your big toe? The term is vague and misleading.

I’ll let you in on a secret. I have a very simple definition of what the unconscious is (I’m a simple kind of chap!) it’s not a thing or a place at all, it’s simply you hiding stuff from you!

What? Amazing!

Those who talk a lot about the unconscious frequently tell us we can only get to know it after long and arduous ‘work’. They say the unconscious is very mysterious, deep and dark and nigh impenetrable. But this is not the case. And it’s a line of thinking that, I argue, serves only to bury stuff even deeper.

We all have thoughts we work to keep hidden, and we have an array of clever stratagems and devices for doing this. One is to pretend they are "unconscious". If we can successfully convince ourselves that material is buried so deep we can never get to it this lets us off the hook. We can go back to sleep again.

What exactly do we mean by unconscious ?

In fact, the term "un-conscious mind" is an oxymoron. The mind (not the brain) is the seat of our consciousness, our awareness, it is what we are. While to be unconscious is to be in a coma, knocked out. Gazunked! Now I understand the psychological connotation as well, but words are slippery. Meaning flows from one definition to another.

Let’s dig a little deeper. If someone is standing behind me and I’m unaware of their presence it could then be fairly said I’m "unconscious" of them. When I put something out of my awareness, when I put it somewhere I won’t find it, or won’t find it easily, is this not the same thing?

Take some time today to listen to your conversations, to your internal dialogue. How often do you hear yourself saying ‘I’m not sure’, ‘maybe’, ‘I’m not sure if that’s possible’. When we’re vague we shut down, we close off access to that greater part of us that is sure.

We can also "shut down" by the questions we ask; ‘how come other people seem to be better off than me?’, or

‘I wonder why my life is shit?’

Now a better question would be

‘How can I achieve such and such? I know I can!’

So how do we make the unconscious conscious ?

If we start with the premise that we create our own reality and that nothing is really unknown, then we begin to free up that part of us that wants to cover over things. We begin to let more light into our mind. It’s like losing your car keys, you left them down “unconsciously” when you were rushing to do something else, maybe in the garage, maybe the study. Now you need to go someplace and there’s a mad frantic rush to find them.

So after some head-scratching you remember where you put them. It’s the very same with “unconscious” material. If we really want to know something, a little self probing and it will be revealed. This is the basis of life coaching, and you can do it on yourself too.

Start by being really honest about your beliefs. It’s safe to take them out of the closet, or from under the bed, or wherever you have hidden them. The next thing is to accept them as your beliefs. Own them. Beliefs don’t bite! Accept them simply as the beliefs you have chosen (or adopted) because that’s all they are.

Let’s say you have a limiting belief that you lack charisma. That’s just a thought you have about something. It’s not real in itself. It's really measuring yourself up against (a) your own, (b) someone else’s, or (c) societal norms about charisma and finding yourself short.

You can waste hours wondering where did that come from, or who "did it" to me. Maybe it was your parents. Maybe it was your older brother. Maybe it was the tooth fairy. There are enough ghosts in the past to keep you busy for years trying to figure out stuff. And while, of course it can be beneficial to do some kind of retrospective work, say in therapy, sometimes all that rummaging around in the dustbin of your past can be another way of hiding stuff. We often hide by pretending we’re searching. This is a game we play with ourselves.

Always remember: you are finding that answer in the present, having projected your mind into the past. So, that means whatever answer you come up with will be coloured and informed by what you’re thinking in the present moment.

Don’t anal-lies

Don’t get too hooked on analysis. And don’t make it wrong that you have that belief. Just know it’s rubbish! Yes, you heard me, RUBBISH, all your limiting beliefs are. You ooze with charisma. Ask any of your real friends. Think back on all the times you helped people, impacted in some positive way on their lives, friends, special moments (this is a better use for the retrospective mind). I’m willing to bet those people didn’t find you lacked charisma, they probably found you very inspiring and lovely.

It’s amazing how bringing a limited belief into the light helps to dissipate it. Usually it goes away itself. Or you can try to reverse it by using affirmations. [see inspiring words] In this instance you would declare, ‘I am brimming with charisma’, or whatever words resonate with you personally. Doing affirmations is fine, but I’m not a huge advocate. It can sound like pushing sometimes. I always think lurking in an affirmation is the seed of the bogey thought. They’re a bit like applying chemotherapy to beliefs we don’t want.

The reason you chose any belief in the first place was because it served some purpose. Back to the childhood again (!) isn’t this where all the shit happens? At some time it may have felt safer to you to take a back seat, to go along with what people told you when they said you were dull or lacked charisma. After all, they were the ones who had a big stick, or decided who got the chocolate treat and who didn’t!

But you’re not that child anymore. You never were that person they labelled you. It’s ok to take the front seat now. It’s ok to realise that you’re absolutely super-duper brilliant. What serves us well as a child can serve us very poorly as an adult.

The real tragedy is we take on the stuff. And we shield it with shame. And because we don’t like to think we’re this person, or that we have these feelings, we decide we don’t have a problem and set about hiding it. Then we employ the ubiquitous can’t (i.e. can’t do anything about it) should perchance we stumble upon it.

Forgiveness is a much better method of erasing unwanted beliefs than affirmations or anything else. One way to do forgiveness is to have gratitude for everything in your life. For more on this see attitude of gratitude.

So does the unconscious mind exist?

Actually no! But we have the capacity in ourselves to go unconscious around any subject any time we choose. Just remember we choose. Our thoughts are our own and we have access to all knowledge in the universe. But when we pretend we don’t know then we are cutting ourselves off from that source. By believing in the very existence of "an unconscious", outside of ourselves - some big warehouse of repressed thoughts and horrible creepy-crawlies – then we create another barrier to accessing that source.

There is only one mind. There is only you. There is only love.

Return from unconscious mind to home page.

There is a voice that doesn’t use words - listen!


Reality is merely an illusion - albeit a persistent one.

Albert Einstein