Are You Living Unconsciously? What does this mean? Part 1. Written by Dr Linda Berman


“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

C.G. Jung

Living unconsciously means that we go through life lacking any awareness that there is anything other than the conscious mind. There is no sense of the deeper level of consciousness that actually drives much of our behaviour.


“Consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean.” Swami Vivekananda

What are the consequences of this way of being?

If we choose to live unconsciously, we are at the mercy of life, blown in the wind, lost. We will be totally oblivious of other levels beneath consciousness. It is akin to the way of thinking that there are no such things as viruses or bacteria because we cannot see them.

Many people live their lives believing only in conscious, rational thought, reacting ‘logically’ to the world around them. In fact there is a whole ‘other part’ of them, busily active, which they ignore or choose not to know about.

They spend their lives studying, working, playing, relating to others and earning money. These activities are much preferred to thinking about how their minds work. Yet the mind is so central to all of us.

“Rather than living our lives, we are ”lived” by unknown and uncontrollable forces.”
Sigmund Freud

Some people are very threatened by the notion of the unconscious. They deride it as ‘gobbledegook,’ or ‘mumbo-jumbo.’ The threat is that they might have to face aspects of the self that they do not like, the dark side, the ‘shadow’ side.

That is why it has to be deeply buried. The degree to which this happens varies according to each person’s openness to the inner workings of their psyche.

What Is The Unconscious?

Freud divided the mind into three parts: The Conscious, The Preconscious and the Unconscious. He saw the mind as like an iceberg, with some layers just submerged and others deeply submerged.

(Further information  about the above and other aspects indicated in the diagram below can be found online)


Image: Wikimedia Commons: “Diagram Of Freud’s Theory”

Our consciousness is the level of thoughts and feelings, ideas and memories of which we are aware.

The just submerged part is called the Preconscious; material at this level is out of our conscious awareness, but is not difficult to access. For example, when a word is ‘on the tip of our tongue,’ we can often locate it from the Preconscious.

Deeper still, is the Unconscious, which Freud saw as influencing our behaviour considerably.

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.”
Sigmund Freud

“Where does a thought go when it’s forgotten?”
Sigmund Freud

The Unconscious is the part of the mind in which repressed primitive wishes, fantasies, memories, dreams and are stored. These are hidden from consciousness, revealing themselves in our behaviour and showing themselves most obviously in dreams. Dreams are coded messages from the unconscious.

“A dream that is not understood remains a mere occurrence; understood it becomes a living experience.” – Carl Jung

“Dreams are the royal road to the Unconscious.” Freud.


Acting out.

“The world is full of lots of people play acting and hurling stuff about, unconscious of the effects.” Jay Woodman

Acting out is often what occurs when feelings cannot be expressed openly. We express our feelings indirectly through our behaviour. For example, a person in psychotherapy may be angry with the therapist, but perhaps finds this difficult to express. She may then be late for a session, or miss it entirely.

The psychoanalytical psychotherapist’s task is to help her understand such behaviour, its links in the transference to the therapist and also to past experience.

On a global scale, it could be said that war and fighting represents an acting out of people’s unconscious rage and violence. In psychoanalytical terms, war may understood as regarding the other as malign and negating the hidden, unknown, ‘monstrous’ part of the self.


“Much of the evil in the world is due to the fact that man, in general, is hopelessly unconscious.”-Jung


In his highly recommendable book, Strangers, Gods and Monsters: Interpreting Otherness, Kearney states:



“The demonising of strangers by individuals or nations may thus be interpreted as a harking back to past repressed materials which recur in the present – often with obsessive compulsion – in the guise of something threatening and terrifying.

But, ironically, what we most fear in the demonised other is our own mirror image: our mothered self. The ‘uncanny’, concludes Freud, ‘is in reality nothing new or alien, but something which is familiar and of old established in the mind and which has become alienated from it only through the process of repression.”



Freud’s ‘uncanny’- the ‘unheimlich’ in German- refers to the unfamiliar, the alien, the weird and the unknown. It is also, paradoxically, related to aspects of the self that are secreted in the Unconscious mind.

Below is a British wartime propaganda poster, which expresses graphically the projection and ‘black and white’ thinking referred to above:



“In any dispute, each side thinks it’s in the right and the other side is demons.”

Steven Pinker


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