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Unconscious: concept, defense mechanisms and collective unconscious

The psychic apparatus is composed of a series of forces that we do not know and have not yet been discovered by science. As we well know, the brain is the most complex organ of the human body, and within it is the mind , the place where the abilities to think, reason, relate, order ideas and thoughts that are beyond emotions are developed. .

The term “psychic apparatus” that Freud used to refer to the psyche was proposed by himself as a metaphor that refers to the comparison of the human mind with a scientific apparatus. This apparatus (psychic apparatus) is used to explore how the subject relates the internal world to the external world. In order to explain the functioning of the psychic apparatus, the father of psychoanalysis had to reconcile three theories about the human mind existing in his work: the topographic model, the structural model and the economic model.

What is the unconscious mind?

The unconscious is the place in the brain where all the mental content that is not in consciousness is deposited and where most of the work of the mind is carried out.

The unconscious mind functions as a repository for primitive desires, impulses, and automatic abilities such as walking or talking. It is also the source of intuition and dreams, and is the one who begins the  processing of information .

Inside the unconscious, we are part of fleeting perceptions that register most of the time without even realizing or being aware of them.

According to Freud (1915), the unconscious mind is the primary source of human behavior. He also compares the unconscious with an iceberg, since it ensures that just as most of the iceberg is hidden, most of the mind and the most important is the one that cannot be seen. For the author, 90% of the human mind is unconscious and 10% is conscious mind .

The father of psychoanalysis discovered that some events and wishes were often too painful for his patients to recognize, in such a way that he was able to deepen and affirm that such information was locked in the unconscious mind through a defense mechanism, in this case the process of repression.  In fact, the objective of psychoanalysis is to know the use of these defense mechanisms and in this way make certain mental processes understood by the unconscious accessible to consciousness.

Defense mechanisms of the unconscious

The defense mechanisms of the unconscious according to the theory of psychoanalysis are the following:


Repression is the mechanism by which the subject represses or hides in the unconscious mind, thoughts, feelings and painful, disturbing or unsuitable experiences within the social context in which said subject is (reality principle).


This mechanism of the unconscious causes a regression of the aspects of the psychological development of a subject; he abandons coping strategies and returns to the behavior patterns previously used in development. This happens when the subject is under the pressure of stressful situations.


This defense mechanism works by projecting the aspects of oneself that we dislike onto another person. This mechanism implies that the subject takes his own unacceptable qualities or feelings and attributes them to other people. Usually these qualities or thoughts projected by the subject on others, transmit some type of unconscious disturbance, so he tries to get rid of them, reproducing them in others.


This defense mechanism prevents painful thoughts or situations from hurting the subject’s psyche. For this, the subject isolates himself from any situation that may be traumatic , cause him pain or psychological discomfort.

You may also be interested in:   Metacognition


Sublimation is the defense mechanism that allows the subject to convert unacceptable impulses or behaviors into a more acceptable form according to the cultural context of the subject. In other words, socially unacceptable impulses or ideas are transformed in the unconscious mind into culturally acceptable behaviors. This process can be compared to the process of the pleasure principle and the reality principle.


In this mechanism the subject acquires as his own the personality traits of another person. He acquires behaviors, beliefs, emotions and attitudes of the people that are important in his life.


Nullification arises when the subject says something and immediately denies it. He himself does not realize the process, but at that moment his unconscious mind lets him know that the thought or action to be carried out was not the appropriate one.


It is a defense mechanism created by the unconscious to evade reality. This mechanism involves blocking from the conscious mind some external events that the subject is unable to resolve or handle.


This defense mechanism involves explaining an unacceptable behavior or feeling in a rational or logical way, avoiding the true reasons for said behavior.

Turning on himself or identifying the aggressor

This is a mechanism that occurs when extreme situations occur and is linked to the death drive. Through this mechanism, the individual who, for example, is a victim of violence, identifies with the aggressor and takes behaviors from him, imitating him in order to overcome the fear of the aggressor.

Reactive training

This mechanism generates in the subject a behavior opposite to that of his thought. An individual who is under the mechanism of reactive formation, tends to behave in the opposite way to what he feels or thinks.

Note: The defense mechanisms mentioned above are not used voluntarily, that is, they  are unconscious , and depend exclusively on the  characteristics of our personality .

Individual unconscious and collective unconscious

Unlike Freud -who believed that the unconscious was something individual since each person generated their own experiences-, Carl Jung affirmed that the unconscious was something more than individual of each subject, for which he postulated his theory of the collective unconscious.

For Jung there were common experiences of all humanity and hereditary archetypes (ancestral experiences transmitted by generations), these experiences would generate common psychic contents in all individuals; This is what we mean when we speak of the collective unconscious.

According to Freud, what is hidden in the unconscious mind can be manifested through dreams or through what we commonly call ” failed act” .

We must clarify that the unconscious is not a black hole of unacceptable impulses waiting to stumble, but perhaps it is the source of hidden beliefs, fears and attitudes that interfere with daily life .

Most forms of psychotherapy aim to bring awareness to these hidden obstacles that form barriers in the life of each individual; for this reason psychotherapists decide to examine them and choose how to deal with them.

The unconscious contains all sorts of significant material that needs to be kept out of awareness, as this material is often too threatening to fully recognize and live with. For this reason, sometimes it is better not to go back in time and delve into the past, since what is found in the unconscious mind is because it must somehow remain there.

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Hello Readers, I am Nikki Bella a Psychology student. I have always been concerned about human behavior and the mental processes that lead us to act and think the way we do. My collaboration as an editor in the psychology area of ​​Well Being Pole has allowed me to investigate further and expand my knowledge in the field of mental health; I have also acquired great knowledge about physical health and well-being, two fundamental bases that are directly related and are part of all mental health.

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