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Thousands of people struggle daily with all kinds of problems that seem to resist their best efforts to change them. You know the sort of things I'm talking about. It might be feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem issues, lack of confidence, overeating and chronic overweight problems, constantly sabotaging relationships, 'performance blockages', fears, depression, anger issues, the inability to let go of bad habits or any one of a million other things.
These kinds of problems are almost always driven by subconscious dynamics − things that are beyond our conscious awareness and conscious control. When this is the case and we want to make true and permanent changes, the subconscious is the only part of us that can make the changes. If it's being caused by the subconscious, it has to be changed by the subconscious. Regardless of the kind of professional or self-help methods we choose, there are several things we should understand about the manner in which our subconscious operates.
BULLYING YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
Firstly, our subconscious does not respond kindly to being 'bullied'. It does not like being pushed and shoved and 'told what to do' or 'how to be'. Our subconscious demands respect. It responds to what we might call 'gentle persuasion' and suggestion. In most cases, to continue demanding change or bombarding our self with 'positive thinking' or 'affirmations', amounts to 'bullying'. If you have tried those things and have not succeeded, then stop it! If it hasn't worked for you in the past, it will likely not work for you in the future.
There is nothing inherently 'wrong' with thinking positively or using the common strategy of 'positive affirmations'. However, where there are deep-seated beliefs, feelings and thoughts that are in opposition to your positive affirmations, you will usually make it worse rather than better. If somewhere deep inside, you don't feel and believe you are 'worthy' for example, to keep consciously telling yourself you are, amounts to lying to yourself and you simply strengthen the underlying belief.
TESTING YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS
Secondly, our subconscious does not like being 'tested'. If you are either doing or think you have done what is necessary to create some kind of change, and then proceed to 'test the results', you will probably be disappointed. By deliberately testing the results of your efforts, you are subtly and strongly implying that you may not have made the changes. After all, why else would you be 'testing' it? This 'negative' implication of course, goes straight to your subconscious. You are in effect, telling your subconscious that you haven't made the change and you will usually respond accordingly! We are naturally and automatically drawn towards our predominating thoughts (especially those that are mostly subconscious) and in this case the predominating (subconscious) thought is the opposite of what you want.
ANALYSIS IS PARALYSIS
Thirdly, our subconscious hates being analysed. There is a natural process of 'analysis' going on at a subconscious level, 24 hours a day and this is necessary to simply get us through the day. If we are deliberately and consciously analysing our thoughts, feelings and responses however, we are trespassing on our subconscious' domain and interfering with this natural process. Regardless of how uncomfortable, unhealthy, or downright bizarre the symptoms might be, the original, subconscious intention behind those symptoms is always positive and protective. Consciously analysing and trying to figure out how or why we feel like this, or why we respond or behave in a particular manner can be perceived as a threat to this protective role of the subconscious. It is not uncommon for people to undergo years of analysis, only to find the problems remain as deeply entrenched as ever. Thankfully, there are much better ways to deal with these things.
Finally, the subconscious part of us hates being put on a time limit. For reasons similar to those mentioned above, we will often get the opposite of what we want if we try to dictate a time limit for change. The subconscious (when given the right opportunity) will make changes when it is right to do so and not one second before. With the correct help, some people make change very quickly and others do it more slowly. We are all different and we all respond to change differently. It is again to do with showing the subconscious respect. Putting a time limit on the process of subconscious change can amount to bullying. Due to the universal, so-called 'Law of Reversed Effect', the more impatient you are, the longer it may take you to change. One of the secrets of successful change is to give your subconscious the opportunity it needs and allow the changes to unfold in the manner and the time that is right for you.
Modern therapy methods side step these subconscious 'no-go-zones' and when used correctly, most people get the results they have struggled for, quite quickly and easily. If it's 'too hard' or takes 'too long', you are probably treading on the toes of your subconscious. Remember − its intentions are always pure and it always wants the best for you. It does, however, demand respect and the proper opportunity to do what is needed.
Perhaps this whole concept will be easier to understand by recognising one simple observation: Throughout this article I have referred to 'the subconscious' as a 'part of us', or an 'it', describing it in most cases in the third person. Well, the fact is; YOU are your subconscious - I am MY subconscious. Think about these four things in terms of how YOU might respond, rather than 'your subconscious'.
If you are considering a professional career in clinical hypnotherapy or any related modality, you should take great care when choosing a course or training program. There is a number of genuine, quality courses available; there are many that are mediocre at best, and many more that will do your professional standing far more harm than good. Furthermore, neither cost nor clever advertising is an indication of quality. Most school owners will be quick to tell you theirs' is the best. Likewise, the prestige of the school does not necessarily equal quality. I know of modern-day university courses teaching material that is at least 60 years out of date.
For the sake of simplicity I am going to write primarily about learning 'hypnotherapy' in this article. Please realise the same can be said about almost any subconscious-mind therapy model, and no doubt the same things apply equally to just about any section of the helping profession − conscious or subconscious.
Before we look more closely at the subject, let me say that any training organisation whose promotion implies hypnosis is mysterious, magic, or a means of 'making people do anything you want them to do', should be avoided at all costs. Likewise, trendy terms like 'conversational' and 'covert' hypnosis have become popular topics in recent years, and in most cases, have absolutely nothing to do with genuine, professional hypnotherapy. Additionally, although there may be some exceptions I am unaware of, if you can study the entire course by 'correspondence', 'distance learning' or 'online', you will probably be severely limiting your ability to provide a professional service to clients.
When choosing a professional course there are several things in particular to look out for:
1/ Do your teachers practise what they preach, or are they merely theorists passing on their beliefs and ideas gained from reading other's work?
2/ Are the techniques and methods being taught, up-to-date and do they relate directly to clinical practice?
3/ Do your teachers belong to recognised professional organisations that are genuinely independent of the training school?
4/ Will you have free access to your trainers for ongoing assistance and support after you complete your training?
5/ Are you allowed and encouraged to speak directly with past students of the course you are contemplating?
6/ Will your qualifications be recognised by independent, professional practitioners' Association/s and make you eligible to join them?
Let's take a brief look at these issues in a little more detail. Firstly, if your teachers are not highly experienced and currently working in the field, they may well be passing on outdated theory. It is vital that what you are learning is based in contemporary clinical practise and experience. Our understanding, methods and techniques are continually evolving and teachers have to continue practising and upgrading their knowledge in order to stay abreast of the changes. If your teacher is not a currently active clinician, you perhaps should look elsewhere.
In the field of hypnosis and hypnotherapy in particular, there is commonly an emphasis on the 'hypnosis' and very little on the 'therapy'. These two things are almost separate entities. Hypnosis on its own is of no known clinical value. How it is used is what is important. As mentioned, methods continually evolve and what you learn has to be directly related to helping clients make their changes − not just 'hypnotizing them'. I could teach you 'hypnosis' in less than 45 minutes. Being an effective 'therapist' is an entirely different matter and is what makes you stand out in the crowd.
In some countries, there are no restrictions or standards relating to either the teaching or practise of many subconscious-mind modalities, apart from those imposed by people in the field. Your teachers should be members of (truly independent) recognised professional associations that hold them accountable for their professional conduct and teaching methods. A brief perusal of the Internet will reveal a staggering number of schools whose owners hold positions of power or control in the 'professional organisations' that accredit them! This is a blatant conflict of interest. Check carefully and do your homework before parting with your money.
Some training organisations are not very interested in you, once you have paid your money and completed the course. It is absolutely mandatory that you have free and ready access to your trainers for ongoing support and backup for as long as required. Make no mistake − most of your 'learning' will happen after you have completed your formal training and have graduated. It is imperative that you can call on your trainers for guidance and help when needed. In my opinion, this should be readily provided and free of charge.
If I could not speak directly with past students (and be encouraged to do so), I would not even vaguely consider the program. All of the wonderful, flowery testimonials you will find on Websites and in advertising brochures are often nothing more than deceitful means of getting your money. As a very minimum, you should speak with people who have already done the course you are contemplating (including some of the testimonial writers).
Finally, will your qualification/s be recognised by professional organisations that are truly independent of the school? As mentioned above, there are many instances where 'vested interests' are such that your qualifications may be of little real value in a professional sense.
Do lots of checking. Ask many questions. Learn as much as you can, before you start your learning.
There is so much more I do not have room for here. If you have questions about things to look for and avoid when seeking professional training in the field of subconscious-mind therapy, please contact me from my Website. I will be happy to assist in any way possible. Please realise however, I can only speak in generalities. I cannot and will not comment on specific schools, organisations, training programs or individuals. To do so is highly unethical and unprofessional. As I have suggested above, do − your − homework!
People seek professional help with a wide range of emotionally based problems. These include anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, 'bad' habits, phobias, sexual difficulties, concentration and memory problems, relationship difficulties, overweight conditions, chronic grieving, sleeping difficulties, panic attacks, and a host of other things. Unfortunately for many, resolving their problems can be a long and tedious exercise that takes months and in many cases years. For a very large percentage of sufferers, the problems are never truly resolved. Why is this so?
We humans are a rather complex bunch and there is no simple 'one-answer-fits-all' to this question. We can, however, make some fairly accurate generalisations. To do so, we need to recognise that the problems people struggle with will always come under either one or the other of two different categories. They will be grappling with something that is either 'consciously based' or 'subconsciously based'.
Please note that I am saying, consciously and subconsciously 'based' problems, which refers to the CAUSE of the problem. Everyone is conscious of the symptoms. It is the cause that we are concerned with here.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?
Consciously based problems are those that have a 'known' cause. The person will be quite sure they know what is causing them difficulties, and they will be 'accurate' in this regard. Subconsciously based problems are those where the person is not consciously aware of the cause, whether they think they are or not. Two things can complicate this. Firstly, most problems can have both conscious and subconscious elements involved and secondly, many people believe they know the causes of subconsciously based problems when in fact they do not.
By definition, if it is a subconsciously based problem you cannot consciously know the cause. Further to this, the vast majority of problems people seek help with, are SUBconsciously-based problems. They are problems with which they have struggled and tried to change, using lots of effort and will power and in many cases, various kinds of psychological and/or medical help. They will be things that could be accurately put under the general categories of either feelings, responses or behaviours.
THE APPROPRIATE TYPE OF HELP
What does this mean in relation to having the appropriate help and really resolving the issue? If you have a purely conscious-based problem, the appropriate kind of help will obviously be of a 'conscious' nature. This might be in the form of simple advice, counselling, cognitive-behaviour therapy, 'coaching', or anything else that is designed to help you understand, come to terms with or generate different or more appropriate ideas and choices about your situation. The thing most important to understand is that if it truly is a consciously based problem and you receive the appropriate conscious level help, you will only need a minimum amount of help to get what you want.
Likewise, if you have a subconsciously based problem and you receive the appropriate kind of help, you will only require a minimum amount of assistance. Unfortunately, subconsciously based problems are more often than not, misdiagnosed as consciously based problems and then treated as such. In most cases, this is precisely what accounts for long, tedious, drawn-out and often ineffectual therapy.
With very few exceptions, the most common situation in which therapy goes on and on without producing quick, positive and lasting results is where conscious level techniques are used to treat subconscious level causes. This is so common it is frightening! Our conscious and subconscious resources operate very differently and need to be treated accordingly to secure quick and permanent change. By far, the most common mistake is where (sometimes, inordinate amounts of) time is spent, consciously analysing the problem.
ANALYSIS IS PARALYSIS
Our subconscious does not respond kindly to analysis. A simple truth that escapes many people, including professional helpers, is this: The amount of subconscious-level resistance-to-change, will often be directly proportional to the amount of conscious-level analysis of the underlying causes. Think carefully about what that means.
Modern subconscious-mind therapists do not get involved in the murky waters of analysis. When the subconscious is given the opportunity to do its own changing, the vast majority of subconsciously based problems are resolved with somewhere between 1 and 3 sessions of appropriate help.
To discover lots more about these issues, visit my website and go to the 'Client help' page. I am also more than happy to answer any questions you may have in relation to the issues above or regarding modern therapy methods. You may either phone or email me and I will assist in any way possible. You will find my contact details on the website.
It is not difficult to understand that people go to therapy wanting and expecting it to fix them. After all, that is why they go in the first place. If their car breaks down, they take it to the mechanic expecting it to be repaired and if all goes according to plan, it is repaired. If they get a headache they swallow an analgesic and hey presto, the headache goes away. These are simple cases of cause and effect. Why should it be any different with therapy? You have a problem so you go to the therapist to get it fixed − Right?
There is a subtle and important difference between the auto repair and headache scenarios and getting the changes you want from therapy. The broken motorcar cannot repair itself. If you are not mechanically inclined, you take it to the mechanic, pay him to fix it and that is where your responsibility ends. The mechanic takes on his responsibility and does the 'work'. Once you have swallowed the headache tablet the biochemical/mechanical processes of digestion and assimilation take over and you have little say in what follows. In this case, we might say that your responsibility ends with taking the pill. The mechanic 'forces' the car to be mended and the active ingredient in the analgesic 'forces' the headache to change. Not so, however, when it comes to making changes within your inner, subconscious, emotional self. No therapist or therapy can force you to change.
The reason this is so different is that in the case of having therapy we are talking about a very different set of circumstances. Here we are talking about a process of 'healing'. And you are the only one who can do your healing, whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual, mental or anything else. Therapy does not heal people. Any and all therapies are nothing more than 'models of interaction' between the client and the helper. Let us for a moment consider what happens if you break your leg and go to the doctor for help. The doctor will carefully realign the broken bone, wrap it in plaster, lend you a pair of crutches and give you a prescription for some painkillers. Providing you take care of it and follow your doctor's instructions, it will be all healed up in 6 or 8 weeks. The doctor will then take a picture of your leg, take the crutches back, give you a bill and send you on your way.
However, It was not the doctor, the plaster, the crutches, or the analgesics (and certainly not the bill) that caused the healing. Those things merely created an environment in which your own inherent healing capacities could take over and do the healing. Without help, your leg may not have healed, or more to the point, it would have eventually healed inappropriately. And so it is with any healing process. In principle, there is no difference between what would be seen as a physical healing process and a subconscious, mental, emotional healing process. Therapy creates the environment and you do the healing.
In the world of therapy and healing, there are many myths, a little mystery and what seems like a whole bunch of magic. Many of the myths will undoubtedly live on. Most of the mystery and magic can be put down to the way in which we heal ourselves when given the opportunity to do so. In the last 100 years or so, science has demystified much of the mystery. The magic is a different matter.
I see magic almost daily in my clinical practice and it always seems to happen when clients are allowed to keep their share of the responsibility for change. If you need a therapist's help with personal issues, be sure to find one who knows it is you who does your healing and who knows how to really allow you to do your healing. If the helper thinks it is they or their therapy that does it, you will be robbed of the responsibility needed to get the job done.
Adapted from the author's book - Healing Your Feelings - The book is available from our BOOKSHOP on this site.
I offer you here a simple observation that I think can be helpful, whilst I am sure I have not invented it. The main reason we have trouble defining and explaining the subconscious is because it is as though we were looking for apples on an orange tree. We look in the wrong place, for the wrong thing. And that's the problem − we tend to think of the subconscious as a 'thing'. It is not a thing. It is not really even a 'part' of us, although it is easy to speak of it as if it were. Although I am not completely happy with the term, the best one I can offer is 'process'. The subconscious is a process. A complicated one undoubtedly, but a process, nevertheless. It is a process that involves the mind, body, chemicals, cells, conscious and subconscious. If we think of it as a thing, or a part, we will always have trouble understanding it. When I refer to the 'bodymind', I am referring to this intricate, subconscious process. Not just the mental activity and memories that are usually associated with the subconscious mind, but the whole process of mental, emotional, chemical and neurological activity, and the 'storage' of all that information-of-life, in the mental and physical parts of us. It is all done by, and stored in, the subconscious − the bodymind.
We Think With Our Body − Not Just Our Brain
Let me add another observation that helps explain the way we operate subconsciously, and therefore, unconsciously. Firstly, it is necessary that for the moment you put aside the common notion of the mind being in the brain and/or using only the brain with which to think. As pointed out, most of our subconscious 'thinking' is done with biological, biochemical and neurological processes. Subconscious feelings are stored in the form of chemicals, chemical actions and reactions − peptides. They have a molecular structure, rather than a 'thinking' or 'mental' one. They are not 'pictures' or 'visual images' or 'memories' as we normally think of them. This we know from modern science. The 'memory' of these feelings is just simply there. We do not know about them consciously until they come to our outer awareness in some way. This might happen with the use of some hypnotic techniques or some other psychological, therapeutic process. It can happen with the ingestion of certain drugs, which recreate an inner atmosphere similar to the one in which they were 'stored' or imprinted initially.
These feeling memories can be triggered when we are under abnormal amounts of stress or when in any state of heightened, emotional arousal. This process occurs through what is termed 'state-dependent learning' or recall. When a feeling imprints into the system, there are many elements of the associated sensations that combine, creating the overall mindset. When a similar element of that mindset is re-experienced, it can trigger the original feelings in their entirety. The 'whole life flashing before the drowning man's eyes' is perhaps an example of this phenomenon. Many people report having experienced powerful, long-forgotten memories of emotional feelings when they are critically ill and near to death.
The Role of the Brain
Essentially, the pathway is open to this subconscious, 'bodymind-storehouse', when the outer, conscious awareness is otherwise engaged, and/or when conscious-level emotions are running high.
We can therefore say that we feel with our body, not our brain. The feelings are of subconscious origin. However, we need our brain to recognize, organize, and express those emotions. Without the additional function of the brain, there could be no outer expression or manifestation of those feelings.
A Real-life Illustration
A young man visited me at my Sydney office in 1995 and left me with a very conscious memory, which will stay with me forever. He was inquiring about our training program for therapists. Sadly, he was unable to participate, due to various medical restrictions and complications of a motor vehicle accident he had sustained prior to our meeting. He was still suffering some of the aftermath of the accident.
His story is simple and memorable. He had spent three years in hospitals, recovering from six months in a profound coma, following the accident in which he sustained massive enclosed brain injury. Obviously, he had recovered from his coma, although the bruising can take years to dissipate. When I met him, he told me what he experienced whilst comatose. During that time, he could not see, he could not speak, he could not move. He could not respond or express himself in any way whatsoever, although he knew everything that happened around him, for the entire time. He knew when relatives came to visit. He heard and understood every word they spoke. He knew which nurse was coming up the hall, by the sound of her footsteps. He knew what the other patients in the room were having for dinner. He knew who sat beside him, because he recognised their voices and their scent. He heard every hopeless remark uttered by the doctors who stood by his bedside, describing his case to medical students. He heard it and smelt it and felt it all and he could not respond.
A few days after our meeting, he sent me a copy of a poem he had written about his experience. In many ways, it says more than every psychology book, in every library, in every university, in the whole country. I spoke with him recently, and he graciously gave me permission to reproduce his poem in my book.
[The poem appears on page 54 of the author's book, Healing Your Feelings.] - The book is available from our BOOKSHOP on this site.
One of the most important things to understand about our subconscious, with regard to subconscious-mind therapy and making changes to subconsciously based problems, is its connection with our emotional feelings. From a scientific point of view, we might say our emotions are the end-result of the interaction between our 'thinking' and our 'physical body'. There is an element of 'thinking' involved in our emotions, along with an element of physical response. Take for example, the process taking place when we are embarrassed. An embarrassing 'thought', not only leads to the emotional feeling, but also physical changes to blood flow and the tiny capillaries in the skin of our chest, neck and face. Thought + physical response = emotion. And it all happens automatically, or subconsciously. We do not have to deliberately 'make it happen'.
Our subconscious is both the storehouse and instigator of our emotions. The thinking element involved is often so quick and automatic, we are not aware of it at all. Furthermore, when an emotional feeling is sustained and strong enough, it can have an ongoing effect, at a physical level. I have never had the resources or inclination to research these matters scientifically, but others have. In her groundbreaking book, Molecules of Emotion, Dr Candace B. Pert has shown that the connection between mind and body is such that she poses the idea that the body is in fact, what we usually call the subconscious mind.
She bases this notion on research that shows the chemical interaction between mind and body − to the point where she sees them as being one and the same. Her scientific methods have shown that what we think and feel, is relayed to our physical selves through an intricate network of biochemical activity. I have never doubted this understanding and it is good to have it confirmed in such a solid, scientific way, by a neuroscientist with Dr Pert's credentials.
Modern science shows many more intricate and detailed connections and understandings about this part of life that go far beyond the simple explanations above. For those interested in researching further, there are many contemporary publications readily available.
The Subconscious Filing Cabinet
This is not to say that I think we are walking around in our subconscious mind, or that we wash our subconscious mind under the shower each morning. However, our physical body stores all of the information that is normally unavailable to us at a conscious level and it is essentially, part of this 'information' we are helping people change with the help of subconscious-mind therapy.
Our subconscious works automatically. It operates inside of us at a level we are unaware of with our outer consciousness and it involves far more than merely thought processes. It is the part of us responsible for automatically interpreting the information coming to us from the outside world. With the help of our nervous system and other 'physical parts', it converts that information into electrical and chemical processes and reactions that result in what we refer to as emotional feelings. Because these feelings are experienced in our body, they can affect our physiology in either positive or negative ways, according to whether they are positive or negative feelings. Much of this information is therefore in the form of what we might call physical 'knowledge', or physical 'memory'. It is the memory of life experiences that have transcended our thoughts, ideas and conscious, intellectual memory.
The Body Remembers our Emotions
We might compare this to having had a thorn in our finger. There comes a time when the wound has healed. It no longer hurts, there is no visual sign that the injury ever took place, but it hurts again if the spot is touched. The body 'remembers' it was injured. Likewise, the bodymind remembers emotional injuries. The subconscious is just as much a part of us as our arms and legs and backsides and according to Dr Pert, it may in fact be our arms and legs and backsides. It is the part of us that communicates with every other part through a complex system of biochemical activity involving our thinking, our nervous system, our consciousness and our non-consciousness. It 'thinks' and 'feels' with cells, chemicals and electrical impulses, rather than words, pictures and ideas.
Although most of us would like to think that we are about ninety-five percent consciously aware of, and in charge of, all of our mental and physical behaviour, we are probably only about five percent aware consciously, and the rest is done SUBconsciously.
Can you imagine how complicated it would be to have all the information of your whole life available at a conscious level? They say we take in millions of bits of information every minute of the day. Just as well we have this effective system that deposits most of that information somewhere in the subconscious filing cabinet, where it can remain untouched forever or be retrieved later, if and when we need it.
Although with modern therapy methods we never bring this information to conscious awareness, it is, in a manner of speaking, still accessed by the subconscious, where it can be 're-assessed' and changed.
Adapted from the author's book - Healing Your Feelings - The book is available from our BOOKSHOP on this site.
For longer than living memory, the idea of having both a 'conscious mind' and a 'subconscious mind' has been a common and accepted way of conceptualizing the mental aspects of human awareness. Although it might be a convenient way to describe and 'understand' our mental life, it is somewhat inadequate when it comes to the understanding needed when we want to make changes to subconsciously based problems. By that, I mean the feelings, responses, behaviours and habits that people commonly struggle with (often for years), without resolution.
Let me introduce the concept of a 'whole self' or Bodymind that operates at different levels of awareness.
Rather than thinking in terms of the conscious mind doing some things and the subconscious doing others, it is more accurate and helpful to think in terms of us doing things, and either being aware of them or not. I like to think of it this way: firstly, you have a 'whole self', or if you like, a 'me' − a Bodymind. Part of your 'whole self' operates consciously and part of it operates subconsciously, and both parts incorporate mental activity. Rather than having a conscious and subconscious 'mind', what you really have is both conscious and subconscious 'mental activity'. I'm sure there is more to my subconscious self than just my subconscious mind, because I know that while I (very consciously) write these words, my liver, for example, is working away inside, doing all sorts of things of which I am neither consciously aware nor have any immediate control over. That process is happening subconsciously. However, I would have some difficulty convincing myself that it was my subconscious 'mind' doing all that chemical manufacturing in there. It surely has to be some other part of my subconscious self.
On the other hand, I know that when I go off to sleep tonight, I will dream several dreams and when I wake in the morning, I will not remember most of them. Unlike the physical process unfolding in my liver, I have no trouble with the idea that my dreaming process is a mental one. The mental part of my subconscious self is doing that for me. Of course, we could get all technical and say that my nocturnal dreaming process is also made possible by various chemical, neurological and physical factors as well, but that would be splitting hairs. What's more, nothing I say here is going to make any difference to how it all operates. It is just a way of explaining it so that we understand it better. It is really to do with different levels of awareness, rather than 'things' called conscious and subconscious minds.
Another important understanding is directly related to the reference made to dreaming. Although we might say that our dreaming is done in an 'unconscious' state (sleep is sometimes thought of as such), we are nevertheless very conscious of our dreams while they are happening. Even if we do not remember them next day, we are fully aware of what is going on at the time. It is as though the conscious, outer awareness is not allowed, or in some cases not able, to know what goes on in our inner world of subconscious processing.
WE ARE ALWAYS CONSCIOUS
This brings us to something that does not really fit into the 'two minds' concept and hence the need for this broader explanation. It would seem that we are ALWAYS conscious, at some level. While we are asleep and dreaming, we are conscious of some things and unconscious of others. This applies equally to states of 'sleep', far more profound than those experienced during our nightly slumber. I have a videotape showing a surgeon telling his patient to "wiggle her toes", as she lies on an operating table with her entire backbone exposed. With the anaesthetic reduced enough for her to respond, she dutifully 'wiggles her toes' and then goes back to sleep. The doctor is able to see that he has not accidentally injured her spinal cord during a lengthy, intricate surgical procedure. I think maybe the only time we are really UNconscious, is when we are dead. (Fortunately, I am unable to comment with any degree of certainty on that score.)
Therefore, rather than think in terms of 'a conscious mind and a subconscious mind', it is more accurate to think in terms of ONE MIND, that operates at both these (and other) levels. In other words, we have awareness at various levels. When we are wide awake and stub our toe, we are conscious of the painful result. When we are sound asleep and dreaming, we are conscious of the story being played out in our imagination and the emotions associated with it. When we go to sleep at night, we become unconscious of our sore toe for the time being, and when we wake in the morning, we probably forget most of the dreams we created during the night. Even when we are knocked 'unconscious' by a general anaesthetic, we are still aware of what is going on around us, even though there is little likelihood of remembering it later. A new mother can sleep peacefully throughout the night with all sorts of noises around her and yet waken immediately at the slightest sound from her baby − and we might think of her as being 'unconscious' if she were asleep. She is obviously 'consciously' aware, at some level.
The subconscious therefore is not a 'mind' (a thing). It is a series of processes (including mental ones) that take place within our Bodymind and of which we are generally not consciously aware.
Adapted from the author's book - Healing Your Feelings − The book is available from our BOOKSHOP on this site.
Given the subject of this article, it may seem strange that I cannot give you a simple, specific definition or explanation of just what the subconscious mind is. Although it is talked about, written about and discussed at great lengths, to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever seen one. No pathologist has ever pulled one out of a corpse and said, "Aha! Here's the poor fellow's subconscious mind." It is another case of metaphorical language we use to define something we find difficult to explain. We have simply invented the term to help us describe one of the many intangible aspects of human functioning, like the terms 'soul', 'intuition', 'memory' and others.
A Simple Definition
Perhaps the simplest explanation of the subconscious would go something like this: it is that part of our 'mind' (ever seen one of them either?) that operates beyond our conscious awareness. It is the part of our inner world with which we are not in direct, conscious contact. The part of us that runs all the automatic, mental, emotional, and behavioural things that we do not need to be aware of consciously. It is that elusive part of us that psychology has tended to disregard until quite recently. This might be the simplest description and probably quite accurate as far as it goes, but further explanation is needed to really understand it in relation to the subtle intricacies of human behaviour.
A Different Perspective
Rather than thinking in terms of our mind split into separate parts of conscious and subconscious, it is far easier to understand when we step back and look at it from a different perspective. The truth is, we do things at a conscious level and we do things at a subconscious level. We can think, make decisions, weigh up the pros and cons of a situation and deliberately 'make things happen' at a conscious level. That is the part of us that questions things and works out the best way to do whatever it is that we want to do − while being consciously aware of the process. In other words, we are aware of the thinking processes we are employing at the time. We, more or less, know what is going on in our head! That is the part of us with which we have the ability to rationalize, analyse and be cognizant.
We could say that at the subconscious level, we also 'think', 'make decisions', 'work things out' and generally do the things that we do at the conscious level, although we do it in a very different way. Part of that difference is of course that we are not consciously aware of doing this. We may become aware of the results later, but not the process taking place at the time.
Every time we blink our eyes, we 'make a decision' to do so. However, this decision is such an automatic and deeply ingrained part of our natural 'being aliveness', we are not usually aware of making the decision. Until I bring it to your attention, you are probably not aware of your breathing either. You have been doing it automatically for so long that you do not have to be consciously aware of it in order to do it correctly. In fact, when I brought it to your attention you probably changed your breathing rate or depth in some way and made it 'unnatural' for a moment or two. The things we do at a subconscious level, we do automatically.
The Non-rational Nature of the Subconscious
Another major difference in the way we do things at the subconscious level is that we do them in a non-rational manner. That is, we do them without the critical, rational, intellectual processes that are available to us at the conscious level. It almost seems like the things we do at the subconscious level 'just kind of happen'. If you are about to step onto the road and in your peripheral vision you detect a motorcar speeding close, you make a decision to step back and avoid being splattered. This however, is a split-second decision, made without the use of conscious judgement or critical analysis. You do it automatically, before you have time to consciously consider how dangerous it is to step in front of speeding cars. If you accidentally touch the hot stove top, you do not stop to think, "Gee, that's hot, I'd better take my finger away." If you run up the stairs, you do not have to make a conscious decision to breathe more quickly and deeply to restore your oxygen levels. Our subconscious 'decisions' and the resulting reactions are made very differently to our conscious ones.
Understanding = Power
What is so very important about all of this? Simple! When we want to make true and permanent changes to unwanted or annoying habits, behaviours, responses or emotional feelings that are generated and exacerbated subconsciously, we really do need to take these things into account. Moreover, if you require help with your changes, your helper needs to be equally aware of these things.
There are many different aspects to the ways in which we operate at (both) the conscious and the subconscious levels of our awareness. The age-old concept of having a conscious mind and a subconscious mind (two minds), although perhaps a convenient way of describing it, can actually restrict our understanding and therefore our ability to make changes.
Adapted from the author's book - Healing Your Feelings. - The book is available from our BOOKSHOP on this site.