top of page

Depths of the Unconscious

At the beginning of the last century, at the same time when Max Plank discovered the fascinating model for understanding our external nature, the quantum theory, Sigmund Freud proposed a new reality of our inner nature, the unconscious. Freud believed three distinct parts of our mind influence our behaviour: conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. If we imagine an iceberg, its part above the water represents the conscious mind, and the part submerged just below the water and still visible is the preconscious mind. In contrast, the unseen part that extends into the depths of the water represents the unconscious mind.

Our consciousness contains thoughts, feelings, wishes and memories we are aware of, can think of and talk about. The preconscious mind is a safeguard that controls what is allowed to enter our conscious awareness. As you are reading this post, you are most likely unaware of your home address or where your car is parked, but as soon as you read this statement, you could quickly and easily pull that information out of your preconscious. Have you not? In contrast, too painful, distressing or embarrassing memories are repressed and stored safely in the unconscious as images. This involuntary mechanism protects us against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult to cope with. Although we might be unaware of their existence, the same difficult thoughts and feelings influence our behaviour. In other words, we might not be able to recollect what the mind and body remember.

Alfred Bozic
"The mind is like an iceberg; it floats with one-seventh of its bulk above water." - Sigmund Freud

Freud also focused on the three parts of our personality (psyche) he identified as the id, ego, and superego. The id is a very primitive part of the mind we were born with that contains our animalistic instincts and drives (eros, or sexual, life instinct; and Thanatos, or aggressive, death instinct) and repressed memories. This part of our personality is impulsive, driven by pleasure and seeks immediate gratification. It doesn't change with experience or time and remains infantile throughout our lives. The superego develops only later (at age 3-5) and encompasses morals, values, norms and standards that we have learned from our caregivers and society. Its function is to control the id, our instincts and urges. The superego contains the conscience - the inner voice that tells us when we have done something wrong - and the ideal self - an imaginary internal image of how we should be.

The id and superego are in constant conflict. The id wants instant gratification regardless of the consequences, and the superego tells us that we must behave in socially acceptable ways. The ego, the decision-making part of our mind, develops to mediate between the id and superego and find the middle ground between our urges and morals. This conscious, rational and decision-making part of our personality, our ego, develops explanations to justify our actions.

Did you know that

Freud never used the term "ego" in his writings. The word ego is the Latin translation of the German expression "das ich" that Freud used instead, which means " the I".

In contrast to the Freudian definition of the ego, the same term is generally used to express one's sense of self-worth, self-importance and self-esteem. There is a difference between the colloquial expression "big ego" and the psychological expression "strong ego". A strong ego can tolerate stress or frustration, modify selfish desires, postpone gratification, and resolve internal conflicts.

Unlike Freud, Carl Gustav Jung didn't consider the unconscious only a container for our repressed memories and proposed two layers of the unconscious from which inner conflicts can arise.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page