I have heard there is a scholarly debate around whether “subconscious” is a legitimate or even helpful term.
I thought I’d peek at this from the viewpoint of an enthusiastic layperson, as pretty much a thought exercise. This sort of thing is fascinating to me, how the mind works, how my mind works, how to better understand and make friends with it. I’m curious what all of you think as well.
What started this was a terrible series of waking dreams and hallucinations I had for a few months last year. I was writing it up to be a three-part article but realized it was outside the scope of what I’m trying to do here, so I’m going to make it a short story instead. I feel that by writing it out, I take power away from it. Plus it’s just objectively scary, and I think it could make a good story.
Anyway, these visions stemmed from my own mind, from my own fears and loathing, a creature made real from my subconscious. It was from that dark, repressed place in the back of our minds where things we haven’t dealt with lurk and wait to leap.
It is part of me, yes, but not consciously, something behind that. Something I can’t control until it’s addressed.
“The unconscious contains all sorts of significant and disturbing material which we need to keep out of awareness because they are too threatening to acknowledge fully.”
So I found that the term “subconscious” was being reframed in some circles. That the idea of a separate part of our minds that could hide dark or even dangerous thoughts was essentially the equivalent of “the devil made me do it” and needed to be removed as a concept. I don’t generally defend Freud, but I bristled at this right away.
Many years ago there was a fairly heated debate in one of the bipolar groups I was in, regarding how we refer to ourselves – “I have bipolar disorder” vs. “I am bipolar.”
Although I wrote this off as nit-picky, I do think they each made interesting points.
The pros and cons came down to this; “I have bipolar disorder” indicated that it was not who we are. We are standing next to it, maybe even holding its hand, but it is only part of who we are and does not define us. But those opposed to it felt it was being held at arms distance, that it showed a degree of shame, as in, that’s not really me, it’s this thing I won’t hold. This is dangerous, it was said, because it allows for “the devil made me do it.”
“I am bipolar” says I own this, it is part of me and I’m not ashamed. It is not arm’s length from me, it is part of my being. But those opposed to it felt it was making it too front and center, that it was made to be a defining trait that could become a crutch.
Honestly, I have no dog in that semantic race. I see the points on all sides, but I think it is a waste of our time. It seems like an excuse to not deal with bigger issues like, how do I get this creature out before it engulfs me, for example.
But I think that conscience vs. subconscious is valid to look at. It got me thinking about where our dark thoughts live, and how we disavow them.
This thing I saw even in the daytime, was a clear manifestation of my inner doubts and loathing, feelings of worthlessness and burden. I created it and gave it flesh. I figured it was those feelings and fears lurking in the box in the back of my rational mind that had been ignored for too long and burst out and had to be destroyed by, in my case, a ritual that involved my husband, incense, a symbol of success (my book) and screaming “Fuck you! I’m not worthless!” until my throat hurt. But everyone is different.
The debate around the subconscious, or the Id, as I understand it, involves the arms-length argument. If I keep my demons a separate part of my mind, I have no control over what happened, in any real way. In any way that I could stop.
The devil made me do it.
I never felt that creature wasn’t part of me, I know perfectly well what it was. But I also don’t feel good about owning it. It was so horrible and so present that I was afraid I had lost my mind for good. I was afraid that it was the beginning of watching myself slip slowly into absolute insanity from which there was no coming back. I was starting to think that this “thing” would literally kill me.
It could not physically do so, but could I die basically of fright? And if I did, would it essentially be deniable suicide?
But if I embrace it, if I stop referring to my demons as my subconscious, if I remove that word and concept, would that be healthier? Or would it hurt me more, would it make it too present in which case it could stroll back in faster? And can that even be done, the way the brain is wired? We can’t keep all of our thoughts in the fore of our minds, it’s simply not possible, I don’t think.
I don’t have answers to any of these questions, as I said, this is really just a thought exercise.
So many thoughts are bubbling up, so many feelings are being addressed, but so few answers. I will, of course, run all this by my therapist, and I might write another article once we talk about it. But in the meantime, I want to see what you think about it. I’ve seen that some of my followers on this blog have initials after their names, I’m always excited to hear professional insight.
Whatever the subconscious is called, however it’s conceptualized, I hope that I have calmed it down for the foreseeable future. The thing that crawled up my bed, the thing I saw in the daytime, the thing that hated me with fire and wanted me dead, scared the hell out of me. I would very much appreciate never seeing it again.