“Subconscious” and “unconscious” are two terms often used interchangeably, even by some mental health professionals. And that’s it thwarting both entities is a complicated task, given the subtle differences that define them.
Thus, to understand their differences, we must first take into account the fact that there is a part of our mind that we perceive consciously and another that we do not perceive.
In this sense, the conscious part contains all the ideas and experiences that we can perceive and remember; meanwhile a the non-conscious part contains those mental contents that we do not remember at this moment.
Now, from now on we will focus on describing that non-conscious part of the mind; because that is where the two entities that we have commented are located. Let’s analyze it.
levels of the unconscious mind
Understand the differences between the subconscious and the unconscious it is helpful to think of the mind as analogous to aa iceberg. In this sense, the point that protrudes from the water and is visible is the conscious part. Instead, what is submerged and imperceptible would be the non-conscious part.
As represented by the image of the icebergthe conscious part is only a small fraction of the vastness of the mental contents that are found in the totality of our mind.
However, we can tell within the unconscious mind there are several levels of depth. There will therefore be content that will be able to become aware without too much difficulty — such as remembering what we ate for dinner three days ago — and others that will be deeply buried — such as some traumatic experience repressed in childhood.
As we can see, some memories are more accessible than others, and this will be determined by how deep they are. That said, the most useful way to understand the differences between the subconscious and the unconscious is through their relative inaccessibility. Let’s see how.
Differences between subconscious and unconscious
In general, the word “subconscious” is used to refer to the nonconscious part of the more superficial mind; While The term “unconscious” is used to refer to that deepest and most inaccessible unconscious area.
At this point it is right that we ask ourselves: How far does the line go between what we consider “surface unconscious ideas” and “deeper unconscious ideas”? That is, what makes one idea more superficial and another more profound?
To answer this question we can begin by analyzing our current existence and, from it, try to see which ideas and which memories can be more profound.
In any case, there is a more convenient way to explain this distinction, and that is through the mechanisms underlying each instance; suppression and repression.
Suppression versus repression
We will begin by clarifying that suppression is typical of the subconscious, while repression is of the unconscious. In this sense, when we suppress something (an impulse, a desire, an idea, etc.), we are forcing it down below the level of consciousness.
Instead, when we repress, our mind is pushing something it deems too dangerous to hide deep in our awareness, to the point where it is unrecognizable.
In the latter case we speak of involuntary and instinctive reaction, since repression represents a psychological defense mechanism, whose purpose is to ensure the protection and survival of the person.
Similarly, repression has a special role in childhood when our mental capacity and judgment are quite limited. In this way the mind, unable to deal with complex and traumatic experiences, sends to the bottom of the well (the unconscious) those mental contents with which it cannot deal.
Consequentially, in the unconscious there are those memories that are very unpleasantpainful emotions and socially unacceptable desires.
However, paradoxical as it may seem, this survival mechanism ends up costing us dearly. The reason? Unconscious contents begin to echo in our behavior, especially in adult life, in the form of anxiety or some other disorder.
Instead, suppression can be done for a variety of reasons, beyond unpleasant experiences and survival. For example, we can suppress a memory with simple mental economy.
Examples of subconscious and unconscious content
To better understand what are the differences between the subconscious and the unconscious, we leave below two situations that reflect the role of both mental instances.
- Subconscious: when we faintly acknowledge that we feel a certain jealousy towards the younger brother. However, we don’t know exactly why. In this case, when we reflect, we realize that this feeling arises because we think he had more opportunities and privileges.
- Unconscious: a phobia of horses; just seeing them makes us panic uncontrollably. Despite this, we have no idea why. This is because we have suppressed and unavailable to our consciousness the fact that in childhood we were forced to ride one, despite not wanting to. Our father even yelled at us and even called us “cowards”.
In the latter case, we see how an unpleasant and traumatic experience for a child ended up in the back of the mind. Accessing this childhood memory will surely require several sessions of self-analysis or psychotherapy.
To conclude, we must bear in mind that the differences between the subconscious and the unconscious do not occur so sharply in reality. In other words, there really are no sharply differentiated levels, as everything forms a continuum.
Therefore, the terms used only make it easier to understand of a complex entity such as the human mind.
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