Hypnosis Part 4 - Conscious vs. Unconscious Mind

Our conscious mind works in very different ways to our unconscious mind. In this part we explain those differences and how they relate to hypnosis.

The Two Minds

According to the theory of hypnosis, the mind functions on two levels, the conscious mind and the unconscious mind. While there is some overlap between the two, they function in very different ways.

The Unconscious Mind

The unconscious mind (also referred to as the subconscious mind) is that which we have only indirect control of, it remembers everything - every thought, feeling, conversation, sound, experience and interaction, it is the storehouse of all our memories. It is estimated that the unconscious can process 2.3 million Bits of information per second. As you will see, this is vastly greater than the processing capacity of the conscious mind, therefore it is clear that an extremely large amount of information is captured unconsciously that we can never be consciously aware of at any time.

The unconscious mind is also where every belief, value, behavior and a person’s sense of identity and morality is stored. It is considered to have expansive knowledge and wisdom.

The unconscious is however more than a 'repository', it also performs various functions, as described by M Heap and K.Aravind in 'Hartland's Medical and Dental Hypnosis', these functions include:

  • Initiation of activities towards a goal, particularly those behaviors and functions that we experience as 'automatic' responses, inner self-talk, habits, bodily functions, etc.
  • Processing of information, albeit in a very different manner to the conscious mind.
  • Communicating to and receiving communication from the person’s conscious mind as well as from other individuals.
  • Unconscious mind is aware of memories, drives etc., that are not accessible to the conscious mind. Some of these may be undesirable or maladaptive and as such if they were to be available to the conscious, they would have a detrimental effect on the individual.
  • Another very important function of the unconscious is that it acts to protect the conscious mind and the individual as a whole in terms of well-being and survival.
  • Based upon comparative research the autonomic nervous system would also be a part of the unconscious, it is also believed by many that every part of the body contains memories and patterns (Pribram's Holographic Universe) and that everything in the body is communicating with everything else - and it is all happening unconsciously.

The Conscious Mind

The conscious mind is that which we have direct control over and is our current awareness. It is what we are focusing on at any given point in time and as we have seen, the unconscious mind is basically everything else. The conscious mind is like a narrowly focused band of awareness which can be directed on whatever we think is currently important. It can process 7 plus or minus 2 chunks of information at any one time while the unconscious has literally an infinite capacity to process information.

The table 'Features Of The Two Minds' contains a more complete comparison between the conscious and unconscious capabilities and functions:

The Conscious Mind and Unconscious mind differ in many aspects.

The two minds have different uses and different approaches, from the previous chart you can see why engaging the unconscious is so useful. It allows access to resources that are incomprehensible to the conscious mind. It is in effect this lack of comprehension that is the cause of all problems at one level.

The following analogies may help you to make these aspects of the mind much clearer:

The Filing Cabinet

Imagine that the unconscious is like a filing cabinet with all our memories and experiences collected over the years and filed away. Every time the conscious mind wants to make a decision or focus on something, first it has to check through the files to see what information is already there, upon which it bases its behavior, messages to the body, perception and decisions.

As you can well imagine, if we have not updated our files recently we can be making all our decisions based on information that is outdated and no longer relevant to our life. (A very common situation indeed.) Consider an office that had not updated its files since the 70's, it certainly would not be able to keep up with what was happening in today's world, and exactly the same happens with us.

We might have had an experience many years ago upon which we are still basing many of our current choices, when in fact, we are no longer that person and the behavior that we are generating is no longer in alignment with how we want to be now.

The Flashlight in the Warehouse

Imagine you are in a huge warehouse at night looking for something and you only have a flashlight to guide you, this is analogous to your conscious ability. Wherever you direct the light you are able to see that and only that. Then you turn on the main warehouse light switch, that enables you to see the entire warehouse and all it contains, this would be similar to the process of the unconscious mind.

The Conscious mind is the captain of the ship, the Unconscious mind is everything else.

The Ship

Another analogy that is commonly used to describe these two processes and their individual scope is that of the ship’s captain and his crew: the conscious mind being the captain; the crew and the ship being the unconscious. The captain's main responsibility is to set the course and direction while the crew and ship carry out the captains orders. The captain delegates all the tasks to complete the journey as well as looking after the crew and ship and in return the crew and ship carries out the orders and make it happen.

Often the cause of the client's problems is that of the overactive conscious mind, like a harried captain, tries to take too much control, trying to do every job himself rather than trusting the unconscious to get on with it and do the job it was designed to do. If the crew were to need the captain they would make their presence known, otherwise they would be trusted to get on with it. When the two parts are working in harmony the individual strengths are enhanced and the journey is smooth and effective.

The Critical Faculty

"Hypnosis is a state of mind in which the critical faculty of the human is bypassed and selective thinking established." Dave Elman

The critical facility of your mind is that part which passes judgment and analyses incoming information. It distinguishes between the concept of hot and cold, sweet and sour, large and small, dark and light etc. It rationalizes and reasons and therefore places boundaries on what is and is not possible, based on the limited information that it is consciously aware of, and therefore to a greater or lesser degree distorts the meaning of incoming information and possibilities. If we can bypass this critical faculty in such a way that these distinctions are no longer made, we can substitute selective thinking in the place of conventional judgment making.

Hypnosis works because the individual, by selective thinking, bypasses the critical faculty. Selective thinking is the absorption in one particular thought.

If for example you are led to believe that you feel no pain, and you believe it completely, you will have no pain. Should the slightest doubt come in, the selective thinking vanishes and the critical faculty is no longer bypassed. That is, rather than being absorbed in the thought presented, we start to rationalize and judge the suggestion. Selective thinking vanishes not only when doubt enters the picture, but also when fear does.

Example for anesthesia:

"I'm going to pull them shut, like this. Now pretend you can't open your eyes. That's all you have to do. Pretend you can't open your eyes. We're going to start the anesthesia, and in a little while you'll wake up in your room upstairs. The operation will be over and you'll be on the road to recovery. Just keep on pretending you can't open your eyes and we'll go ahead and start the anesthesia,"

With the statement above, the critical faculty was bypassed and selective thinking was implanted.

Read more about hypnotic phenomena in the part 3 of the series.

The bypassing of the conscious critical faculty is the catalyst for the misconceptions around hypnosis being 'mind control'. Many assume that this means that any suggestion will be taken on by the unconscious. However as we discussed previously, the unconscious actively functions to protect the individuals well-being and survival. The bypassing of the critical thinking, and therefore the placing of boundaries and limiting of possibilities does not bypass the hard-wired intrinsic self-protection mechanism. Indeed the unconscious has various mechanisms for self-protection (including our fight or flight response), should ideas be suggested to our unconscious, they will be rejected if they are harmful to the individual or if they go against the individuals basic morals.

Summary of Part 4 - Conscious vs. Unconscious Mind

In this section we looked at the comparison between the narrowly focused conscious mind, which is our current awareness and the all-encompassing unconscious mind and described various analogies to help you distinguish between their characteristics and approaches.

We then went on to see how the conscious mind as a 'critical judgment' making mechanism is bypassed (bypassing of the critical faculty) in the state of hypnosis to allow suggestions to be taken in by the individual by selectively focusing on just the current suggestion without critiquing it using the narrow boundaries imposed by the conscious mind.

Would you like to experience hypnosis for yourself? Contact us here for free 30 minute session and let's discuss it together.

The Part 5 of the series about Hypnosis focuses on the Memory. Continue with Part 5 here.

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