Understanding the Unconscious


Posted on 14th January 2011 by admin in The Concept

The core of the listening technique and approach highlighted in this discussion is based on ability to catch and process queues as a listener that are being presented by the speaker’s “unconscious” mind, not to what they are actually saying consciously.

In order to be able to listen to a speaker’s unconscious mind, one must first understand and believe in the concept of the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind is a term coined by the 18th century philosopher Sir Christopher Riegel and later introduced into English by the poet and essayist Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The unconscious mind might be defined as that part of the mind which gives rise to a collection of mental phenomena that manifest in a person’s mind but which the person is not aware of at the time of their occurrence. These phenomena include unconscious feelings, unconscious or automatic skills, unnoticed perceptions, unconscious thoughts, unconscious habits and automatic reactions, complexes, hidden phobias and concealed desires.

The idea of an unconscious mind originated in 600 BC in the Hindu texts known as the Vedas, found today in Ayurvedic medicine. In the Vedic worldview, consciousness is the basis of physiology and pure consciousness is “an abstract, silent, completely unified field of consciousness” within “an architecture of increasingly abstract, functionally integrated faculties or levels of mind”.

Shakespeare explored the role of the unconscious in many of his plays, without naming it as such.Western philosophers such as SpinozaLeibnizSchopenhauer,Kierkegaard, and Nietzsche, developed a western view of mind which foreshadowed those of Freud. Schopenhauer was also influenced by his reading of the Vedas.

Articulating the idea of something not conscious or actively denied to awareness with the symbolic constructs of language has been a process of human thought and interpersonal influence for millennia. The key in listening to the unconscious is the idea that an unconscious mind CANNOT lie. The verbal interpretation of the unconscious through words, thus into the conscious sphere, allows for filtering, sheltering, manipulation and the concept we know of as the lie.


This concept leans heavily on the concept of “Free Association”. The concept is derived from the studies of the grandfathers of analytical psychology. Sigmond Freud studied the concept of Free Association years ago. Probably the most detailed and precise of the various notions of ‘unconscious mind’—and the one which most people will immediately think of upon hearing the term—is that developed by Freud and his followers. It lies at the heart of psychoanalysis.

The unconscious mind is often represented as an iceberg. Everything above the water represents conscious awareness, while everything below the water represents the unconscious. Image courtesy historicair

Consciousness, in Freud’s topographical view (which was his first of several psychological models of the mind), was a relatively thin perceptual aspect of the mind. The unconscious was considered by Freud throughout the evolution of his psychoanalytic theory a sentient force of will influenced by human driveand yet operating well below the perceptual conscious mind. For Freud, the unconscious is the storehouse of instinctual desires, needs, and psychic actions. While past thoughts and memories may be deleted from immediate consciousness, they direct the thoughts and feelings of the individual from the realm of the unconscious.

Freud divided mind into the conscious mind or ego and two parts of the unconscious: the id or instincts and the superego. He used the idea of the unconscious in order to explain certain kinds of neurotic behavior.

In this theory, the unconscious refers to that part of mental functioning of which subjects make themselves unaware. Developing the ability to recognize and “listen” to unconscious queues is the basis behind teaching yourself how to “Listen Between The Lines”.


Carl Jung developed the concept  of the unconscious even further. He divided the unconscious into two parts: the personal unconscious and the collective unconscious. The personal unconscious is a reservoir of material that was once conscious but has been forgotten or suppressed. The collective unconscious is the deepest level of the psyche, containing the accumulation of inherited psychic structures and archetypal experiences. There is considerable two-way traffic between the ego and the personal unconscious, such as when one’s mind wanders to thoughts irrelevant to the current situation.

For Jung, “My thesis then, is as follows: in addition to our immediate consciousness, which is of a thoroughly personal nature and which we believe to be the only empirical psyche (even if we tack on the personal unconscious as an appendix), there exists a second psychic system of a collective, universal, and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals. This collective unconscious does not develop individually but is inherited. It consists of pre-existent forms, the archetypes, which can only become conscious secondarily and which give definite form to certain psychic contents.

Over the centuries, authors and philosophers have dissected the concept of the unconscious. The theory of listening between the lines explores understanding the unconscious in order to listen to what a person is actually saying by hearing sometimes what they are omitting , or not saying at all. It involves the idea that a person cannot completely mask their unconscious thoughts and emotions while communicating. As a listener, if you can train yourself to hear the omissions as clearly as what is being said, you can trace a level of honesty in a person’s words that is normally not even intended by its user.

Contemporary perspectives on the unconscious mind are re- markably varied. In cognitive psychology, unconscious information processing has been equated with subliminal information processing, which raises the question, ‘‘How good is the mind at extracting meaning from stimuli of which one is not consciously aware?’’ (e.g., Greenwald, Klinger, & Schuh, 1995). Because subliminal-strength stimuli are relatively weak and of low intensity by definition, the mental processes they drive are necessarily minimal and unsophisticated, and so these studies have led to the conclusion that the powers of the unconscious mind are limited and that the unconscious is rather ‘‘dumb’’ (Loftus & Klinger, 1992).

Social psychology has approached the unconscious from a different angle. There, the traditional focus has been on mental processes of which the individual is unaware, not on stimuli of which one is unaware (e.g., Nisbett & Wilson, 1977).

This listening concept emphasizes the role of the inner mind in communication—the unconscious realm of emotions, intuitions, biases, longings, genetic predispositions, character traits, and social norms. This is the realm where character is formed and where humans express their true Self.

We are living in the middle of a revolution in consciousness. Over the past few years, geneticists, neuroscientists, psychologists, sociolo- gists, economists, anthropologists, and others have made great strides in understanding the building blocks of human flourishing. And a core finding of their work is that we are not primarily the products of our conscious thinking. We are primarily the products of thinking that happens below the level of awareness.

The unconscious parts of the mind are not primitive vestiges that need to be conquered in order to make wise decisions. They are not dark caverns of repressed sexual urges. Instead, the unconscious parts of the mind are most of the mind—where most of the decisions and many of the most impressive acts of thinking take place.

In his book, Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy D. Wilson of the University of Virginia writes that the human mind can take in 11 million pieces of information at any given moment. The most generous estimate is that people can be consciously aware of forty of these. “Some researchers,” Wilson notes, “have gone so far as to suggest that the unconscious mind does virtually all the work and that conscious will maybe an illusion.”

Wilson, and other researchers, believe that mental processes that are inaccessible to consciousness organize our thinking, shape our judgments, form our characters, and provide us with the skills we need in order to thrive. All agree, the conscious mind writes the autobiography of our species, the unconscious mind does all the work.

Galileo removed the earth from its privileged position at the center of the universe, and this concept of listening removes conscious and verbal communication from the focus of listening. it is a huge paradigm shift from what we know and have been taught about communication and listening, but the idea of its lack of widespread adoption is equal in the value it provides to its users. If the entire world of communicators was aware of how the unconscious leaks into verbal communication and sentence structure, there would be no barrier between talking and expressing unconscious desires. It is sociologically impossible that all cultures evolve into this type of communication, therefore those that understand how to listen this way will have an enormous advantage in communication and interpersonal relationships.

The key to this listening technique’s power is in the idea that the one being listened to is unaware the technique exists. You will find through this discussion that once aware, you cannot even prevent yourself from leaking unconscious queues as you communicate.


The Metaphor of the Unconscious

If the conscious mind is like a general atop a platform, who sees the world from a distance and analyzes things linearly and linguistically, the unconscious mind is like a million little scouts. The scouts careen across the landscape, sending back a constant flow of signals and generating instant responses. They maintain no distance from the environment around them, but are immersed in it. They scurry about, interpenetrating other minds, landscapes, and ideas.

These scouts coat things with emotional significance. They come across an old friend and send back a surge of affection. They descend into a dark cave and send back a surge of fear. Contact with a beautiful landscape produces a feeling of sublime elevation. Contact with a brilliant insight produces delight, while contact with unfairness produces righteous anger. Each perception has its own flavor, texture, and force, and reactions loop around the mind in a stream of sensations, impulses, judgments, and desires.

These signals don’t control our lives, but they shape our interpretation of the world and they guide us, like a spiritual GPS, as we chart our courses. If the general thinks in data and speaks in prose, the scouts crystallize with emotion, and their work is best expressed in stories, po- etry, music, image, prayer, and myth.

The conscious mind writes the autobiography of our species. Unaware of what is going on deep down inside, the conscious mind assigns itself the starring role. It gives itself credit for performing all sorts of tasks it doesn’t really control. It creates views of the world that highlight those elements it can understand and ignores the rest.

As a result, we have become accustomed to a certain constricted way of describing our lives. Plato believed that reason was the civilized part of the brain, and we would be happy so long as reason subdued the primitive passions. Rationalist thinkers believed that logic was the acme of intelligence, and mankind was liberated as reason conquered habit and superstition. In the nineteenth century, the conscious mind was represented by the scientific Dr. Jekyll while the unconscious was the barbaric Mr. Hyde.

Many of these doctrines have faded, but people are still blind to the way unconscious affections and aversions shape the way we communicate.  We are good at talking about material incentives, but bad about talking about emotions and intuitions. As a result, it is “uncomfortable” for humans to talk about true feelings, desires and motivations. However the sources of each lie below a thinly veiled surface and leak into nearly everything we say or write. Learning to detect the source of things people say or things people choose NOT to say provides an advantage as a listener. Fine tuning the ability to listen this way can help you extract the information you need and even drive discussion in a direction you desire, while appealing to the desires of those with whom you communicate.