How the Unconscious Mind Communicates to Us

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Road Less Traveled" by M. Scott Peck. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is the unconscious mind? How and why does it communicate to us?

The unconscious mind makes up the vast majority of our minds. While dreams are perhaps the best-known form of unconscious communication, they aren’t the only form. Such communication can support us in many ways and contribute to our personal growth.

Read more to learn about the unconscious mind and how it communicates to us.

The Unconscious Mind

The unconscious makes up 95% of the human mind. Only 5% of our mind is conscious. The unconscious mind communicates to us in a variety of ways, the most commonly known being dreams, but also through random thoughts and emotional and physical symptoms of illness. One of the ways grace communicates directly to us is by popping up through the unconscious into our conscious awareness.

Dreams are an especially well-known form of unconscious communication (used heavily in psychotherapy) because generally, we all have them. Regardless of the nature of the dream, the information given to us seems always to be beneficial for our growth. When we are awake, we can also get some of these insights through being open to “idle thoughts” and images. These thoughts can either give us insight into ourselves, or insight into others.

The unconscious mind communicates information that supports us in the following ways:

  • Warnings to avoid potential missteps
  • Guidance for problems we’ve been struggling to solve
  • Confirmation that we are either right or wrong about something we’ve been contemplating.
  • Insights into our personality, wants, and needs. 
  • Guidance for the next steps we may need to take in our growth.

The main characteristic of information from the unconscious is the sense of it being unfamiliar and that it arrives without permission (or desire, at times). Because of this unwanted quality, traditional psychologists like Freud believed the unconscious was bad. With Freud’s patients, the feelings representing mental illness were discovered in the unconscious, so he determined that the unconscious mind itself was the cause of mental illness. 

Another view considers that these “bad” feelings cause mental illness because they are repressed. The unconscious mind contains all that is beneath the surface and is the “truth” unfiltered. The conscious mind rejects negative feelings because it is too painful to accept and address them. Therefore, it is the conscious rejection and disowning of the feelings that cause the mental illness, not the unconscious itself. Jung believed that the wisdom we hold is passed down, and recent research indicates that this is true. Knowledge can be stored inside cells, and the reality of this indicates that there are vast amounts of knowledge present in our brain matter that we do not readily access. With this in mind, he rebranded the unconscious as a wealth of wisdom, able to give you key insights into yourself and your psyche. 

The unconscious mind speaks to you through your own behavior, and if you embrace that, it can contribute to your growth. The way it speaks to you is through “slips” or “accidents” in things you say or do (also known as Freudian slips). It should be noted that these slips can be positive or negative. The unconscious contains all, and when there is a slip-up, it is simply the unfiltered truth, positive or negative. The conscious mind is always busy trying to hide from itself, and slips are the unconscious slipping through the cracks to consciousness. For example, in a therapy setting, it is actually the unconscious that is prepared to be most truthful, not the conscious (as demonstrated by exercises of free association and the resistance of some patients who undergo it).

How the Unconscious Mind Communicates to Us

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  • The four key elements in the path to enlightenment
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Elizabeth Whitworth

Elizabeth has a lifelong love of books. She devours nonfiction, especially in the areas of history, theology, and philosophy. A switch to audiobooks has kindled her enjoyment of well-narrated fiction, particularly Victorian and early 20th-century works. She appreciates idea-driven books—and a classic murder mystery now and then. Elizabeth has a blog and is writing a book about the beginning and the end of suffering.

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