What is the unconscious mind? We can’t determine just what the unconscious mind is, nor can we yet locate exactly its center in the brain. However, we do understand many of its remarkable functions. The fact that it operates below the level of consciousness accounts for its former name, the subconscious mind.
For one thing, the unconscious mind is one of the memory centers. In this respect, it is like a tape recorder. It picks up everything the conscious mind “forgets”. Then sometime later, under the stress of certain situations, it plays back these “forgotten” impressions by attempting to send the memories to the level of consciousness.
So remarkable is the unconscious mind that you never really forget anything that happens to you. If a person is thoroughly hypnotized, he can recall, for example, every detail of every birthday he ever had. So it is with every event of your life. Your conscious mind may have forgotten it, but your unconscious mind has a record down to the minutest detail. Many of these impressions are pleasant. However, others are so unpleasant that the unconscious mind rejects them and tries to forget them entirely. But the unconscious mind will not allow this. From time to time, these unpleasant impressions flow to the level of consciousness and cause emotional tension.
Your unconscious mind records more than memory impressions, however. It is the seat of your attitudes and conscience, which have been developing all of your life. These fuse into a behavior pattern, which is characteristic of you as an individual. Internal conflict arises when this inner behavior pattern conflicts with an external situation or a conscious act performed. This conflict may call for a behavior “trick”, or a mental mechanism, to ease the conflict raging within you.
The Nature Of Mental Mechanism
Mental mechanism is defensive behavior adjustments, which occur without the person being aware of them. They operate in several ways. For example, an inner desire may arise from the unconscious mind. The conscious mind realizes that satisfaction of the desire is not acceptable to the person and the environment. This unconscious urge to satisfy the desire often results in feelings of frustration, tension, and anxiety. The unconscious mind then uses a mental mechanism to seek a new outlet to satisfy the desire and keep it from coming to a conscious level. These unconscious responses relieve the tensions and anxieties and are, thus, defensive behavior adjustment.
You mental mechanisms to compensate for an environmental lack, overcome insecurity, defend your pride, shift the blame from yourself, provide a self-alibi, retreat from a problem “with honor” and “save face” in spite of a nagging conscience, or justify your actions in some way or other. In all cases, you are defending yourself from your inner self. The object is the prevention of inner conflict and the establishment of inner peace. How many of the following mental mechanism have you used recently?
Rationalization – “I”d rather be popular than smart
Tom led the class on his mathematics test. “oh well, Tom’s a brain. We can’t all be smart. Anyways, who wants to be a brain? I’d rather be popular, “said Don.
Don was trying to make himself look better. In trying to justify his low grades, he was using a mechanism called rationalization, which is a form of self-alibi. This mechanism is an effort to avoid a loss of self-esteem and prevent a feeling of guilt. Many of you use this device in a different way when you go shopping. You see something you don’t need and shouldn’t buy, but buy it anyway. Then you try to make yourself feel better by telling yourself it was a bargain and you just couldn’t pass it up.
Projection – “The bat popped out.”
Fred took a hefty swing at a fast one right across the plate. He connected, but only with a pop fly to the shortstop. “This is the last time I’ll use the old bat,” he told his teammates. But his teammates only grinned. Several of them had hit home runs with the same bat.
Fred was trying to avoid criticism by blaming the bat. He used a mental mechanism called projection, another kind of alibi. An adult uses this mechanism when he says, “I didn’t get the raise because the boss doesn’t like me,” or “Frank got a nice promotion because he has ‘pull’ with someone in the front office.” Have you ever blamed a mistake or a failure on someone else? By shifting the blame, you relieve your own guilty feeling, thus “projecting” the blame to someone else. This is frequently called just plain “passing the buck.”
Repression – “Sorry doctor, I forgot my Appointment
Dick had an excellent memory. He was proud of it. But lately, he had forgotten two of his last four dental appointments. He was sincere when he told the dentist he was sorry. Was he losing his memory? Actually, he was blocking out an unpleasant experience. He didn’t like the grinding and drilling. The mental mechanism he followed is repression. It is a device we use to forget or repress painful or unpleasant experiences.
Compensation – A piano for a ring
Jane had worn John’s class ring for several months. But lately, John had shown less interest in her and more in another girl. One night he asked Jane for his ring. It was all over. For a while, she was crushed. Then she surprised everyone by throwing herself into her music with unusual vigor. After all, she had musical talent and should make the most of it. A coming recital would give her an opportunity to demonstrate her ability. Jane used a mental mechanism we call compensation. By means of this mechanism, we substitute one goal for another. When one goal proves impossible we direct the same drive toward another we think we can reach. Compensation is a valuable device; we can substitute a chance to succeed for failure and misery.
Displacement – “I don’t know why, but I just don’t like her
Mary had recently moved next door to Sally. She wanted to be friendly, but Sally wouldn’t let her. For some reason, Sally had taken an instant dislike to Mary, although she didn’t know why.
Then one day Sally realized that Mary resembled her Aunt Harriet. Sally had spent several summers with her aunt as a child. Her aunt had criticized her and complained about things she did until finally Sally formed a strong dislike for her. But Sally never dared show this dislike. After all, Aunt Harriet was her mother’s sister and she was a guest in her aunt’s home. She had managed to shove her dislike into her unconscious mind. When Mary came along and reminded her of Aunt Harriet, her feelings were transferred, or displaced, to Mary. Displacement is the mental mechanism, which transfers an emotional reaction to a substitute when it cannot be shown to the one who cause it.
Identification – “Don’t wake me up, I’m a hero.”
Paul was baseball crazy. His special hero was the leading pitcher on his home town National League team. He had a collection of his pictures and an autographed ball. He could recite his won-and-lost record from the time he left the minors. He never missed a chance to go to the ball park, especially when his hero was on the mound. After the game, he would wait at the locker room door to say hello as the pitcher came out. As time went on, Paul grew more and more like him. He spent hours imitating his pitching motions. He had identified himself so closely with his hero that, in his unconscious mind, he was the great pitcher.
Identification is a form of hero worship. It is very common in childhood. We have all done it. Watch your little brother when gallops away with a six shooter at his side. He doesn’t just imagine he’s a cowboy hero while he’s playing. You never outgrow this mental mechanism entirely. In fact, it’s a good idea to pattern after some admirable person.
Self Pity – “Everything happens to me.”
A person who indulges in self-pity feels that he is a victim of fate and hard luck. Rather than working toward a solution of his problem, he is content to accept whatever blow may be dealt him and to feel sorry for himself.
Self-pity operates as a mental mechanism in that it shifts the responsibility for disappointments and reverses from one’s self to the environment. The conscious mind shares the feeling of the thwarted desire of the unconscious mind, thus creating inner harmony. In this respect, a self-pity is a form of projection. Self-pity is destructive to the personality.
Idealization – faultlessness beyond reason
It is one thing to be self-confident but carried too far it becomes conceit. It is natural that you hold yourself in high regard. You are the most important person in your life. We need to have self-pride and confidence in our own abilities. However, a mental mechanism known as idealization may cause you to carry this self-pride too far. Self idealization is harmful when it blinds you to your own faults and prevents you from recognizing your mistakes and correcting them. It may lead to disappointment if it has caused you to overestimate your own ability. When you idealize others, you may do them an injustice without realizing it.