top of page

The Preconscious, Conscious, and Unconscious Minds

Freud's Three Levels of Mind

Freud delineated the mind in distinct levels, each with their roles and functions.

  • The preconscious consists of anything that could potentially be brought into the conscious mind.

  • The conscious mind contains all of the thoughts, memories, feelings, and wishes of which we are aware at any given moment. This is the aspect of our mental processing that we can think and talk about rationally. This also includes our memory, which is not always part of consciousness but can be retrieved easily and brought into awareness.

  • The unconscious mind is a reservoir of feelings, thoughts, urges, and memories that are outside of our conscious awareness. The unconscious contains contents that are unacceptable or unpleasant, such as feelings of pain, anxiety, or conflict.

Freud likened the three levels of mind to an iceberg. The top of the iceberg that you can see above the water represents the conscious mind. The part of the iceberg that is submerged below the water, but is still visible, is the preconscious. The bulk of the iceberg that lies unseen beneath the waterline represents the unconscious.

The Freudian Slip

One way to understand how the conscious and unconscious minds operate is to look at what is known as a slip of the tongue. Many of us have experienced what is commonly referred to as a Freudian slip at some point or another. These misstatements are believed to reveal underlying, unconscious thoughts or feelings. Freud believed that while the unconscious mind is largely inaccessible, the contents can sometimes bubble up unexpectedly, such as in dreams or slips of the tongue.

An example of a Freudian slip is a man who accidentally uses a former girlfriend's name when referring to a current girlfriend. While most of us might believe this to be a simple error, Freud believed that the slip showed the sudden intrusion of the unconscious mind into the conscious mind, often due to unresolved or repressed feelings.

Accessing Unconscious Thoughts

According to Freud, thoughts and emotions outside of our awareness continue to exert an influence on our behaviours, even though we are unaware (unconscious) of these underlying influences.

The unconscious can include repressed feelings, hidden memories, habits, thoughts, desires, and reactions. Memories and emotions that are too painful, embarrassing, shameful, or distressing to consciously face are stored in the enormous reservoir that makes up the unconscious mind.

To identify the roots of psychological distress, Freud employed techniques like dream analysis and free association (the sharing of seemingly random thoughts) to bring true feelings to light.

Role of the Preconscious Mind

The contents of the conscious mind include all of the things that you are actively aware of. The closely related preconscious mind contains all of the things that you could potentially pull into conscious awareness. The preconscious also acts as something of a guard, controlling the information that is allowed to enter into conscious awareness.

Preconscious memories are not the same things as memories that are readily accessed, such as remembering your way home. They are unrepressed memories that we extract for a specific purpose at a specific time.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
No tags yet.
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page