What is the unconscious?

The unconscious is a mental repository that holds our repressed feelings and experiences—all that was too painful to feel or know at the time it occurred and all that remains so.  These troubling experiences usually occur in childhood, that vulnerable time of life when we were trapped in our situations and when the implications of what we saw and experienced overwhelmed us.  To save our sanity we held these difficult feelings and experiences for a later time, in hopes that we would become strong enough and authentic enough to bear their emotional impact.

It is painful to process anything in the unconscious.  But the hardest experiences to process are the betrayals of our parents.  It is a sad fact that the people who should have loved and protected us the most instead failed us the most.  Yet only a person who has experienced enough adult autonomy and separation from his or her parents can withstand the emotional onslaught of repressed feelings and memories when they emerge.  For many it is too much to ask; they become as overwhelmed as they were when they were children.

It is important to note that trauma is not all that lives in our unconscious.  Also repressed in our mental repository is our full palette of creativity, authenticity, and originality.  These gifts were not welcomed in an emotionally constricted family or society.  So when the pain of unresolved traumas comes out, so too do our positive gifts.

But what happens if we don’t process what lives hidden within us?  This holding bin of repressed trauma and thwarted creativity saved us as children but it destroys us as adults.  All that lives in our unconscious begins to fester and make its presence known through symptoms—physical or emotional.  Here the unconscious rules our life.  And can rule our unconscious species.

Even though symptoms may be painful, they really are our friends—for they tell us that something has gone wrong.  Our symptoms tell us that our version of a perfect childhood, or our family’s version of a perfect family, is not true.  We begin to suspect that something occurred in our history that has hurt us.  Eruptions from the unconscious are really seismic helpers.  As painful as they may be, they are an emergence of repressed material that needs our healing, love, and attention.  They can save our lives—and our whole lost species.  In fact, without them we are lost.