3 Levels of Mind

by Jimmy Warden

According to Sigmund Freud, there are three levels to the human mind. The preconscious, conscious (or consciousness), and unconscious. He likens these levels to the analogy of an iceberg. The unconscious is the part of the iceberg that you cannot “see”, therefore we don’t have “access” to it at our free will, the preconscious is the part of the iceberg just underneath the water, so we can see it, but only in a given context, and the conscious mind is the tip of the iceberg that we see and can be seen and accessed in the present moment.

There is a lot of controversy that surrounds Freud’s name, but there is no denying his impact on the science of psychology considering his theories are still discussed today and these theories help psychologists drive their research. To me, there is definitely some validity to these “levels” of mind given how his theory is stated and how that still relates to our lives today.

The Preconscious

The preconscious mind can be thought of as the “container” where we store information that is “ready” to use. It is information that we can extract at any given moment, whether we are in a conversation, are engaged in a task, or are facing an adverse stimuli. It is the “preconscious” because this information is held before it enters or is brought into the conscious mind (aka consciousness) and used in speech and thoughts. There is a phrase that’s been attributed to the preconscious called the “Freudian Slip”, which is when we say something that we didn’t mean to because we failed to think about it before we said, instead we just said it.

The Conscious (Consciousness)

The conscious mind is our awareness in the present moment. It is an awareness of the thoughts we think, an awareness of where we are, an awareness of what we’re doing, an awareness of what we’re perceiving around us, and an awareness of who we are. Considering the vastness, of these statements, there are a lot of elements to your conscious mind. Seeing a person walking by and thinking of something friendly to say to them both occur in the conscious mind. We notice there is a person in our proximity and we then think of what we should say in order to project to this person an idea of who we are, in this example. When people say they are going for a “mindful walk” they have the intent to be consciously aware of either an action in that walk (the feeling of the ground on their feet or the motion of their arms).

The Unconscious

The unconscious mind can be thought of as a vast storehouse of information that we aren’t aware of at any given moment. This is the majority of the brain and in the iceberg analogy, these are all of the thoughts and memories that cannot be seen from the surface of the water. In the unconscious mind, there are repressed thoughts, memories, and impulses. Freud first thought of the unconscious mind as unpleasant, anxiety provoking, and fear provoking repressed thoughts that often contained traumatic experiences and “socially unapproved” desires. However, more recent psychologists have theories that the unconscious mind can actually be our “best self” because at the core of Being we are also capable of compassion and empathy. This is how we create families and communities. If we can also become conscious of our unconscious thoughts and behaviors that manifest naturally, this can lead to change because we’ll become aware of our thoughts and behaviors, as well as the environments that have created these unconscious habits. That’s how habits get created. They are engrained into us through repetition, whether it is a familiar thought cycle when we are in a familiar environment or a behavior cycle in a familiar environment.

After doing some studying of Freud’s levels of mind, I have realized that there is still relevance in applying this to your daily life because you’ll have a better understanding of yourself. A vast majority of what we do and what we think (some studies say upwards of 80%), we are not aware of. We have developed unconscious habits and thoughts that we engage in each day and we are really only conscious of these habits and thoughts when we do some introspective work. Don’t be afraid of what that does to us because we can only benefit from analyzing ourselves.

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