I have been teaching patients how to access their subconscious for the past 20 years. During therapy, many of my patients have found their subconscious to be a source of great wisdom and knowledge, which they have used to help resolve their psychological problems. Given the wealth of resources available through interactions with the subconscious, I have encouraged these patients to continue to interact with their subconscious on their own, even after they complete their therapy with me, as a long-term resource throughout their lives.
I have been surprised to observe that most of the patients with whom I have had long-term contact (including occasionally after the conclusion of their therapy) rarely, if ever, chose to interact with their subconscious on their own. In this blog I discuss possible reasons for this phenomenon.
As a pediatrician, I worked for a few years with a 16-year-old who struggled with anxiety. He was able to control his anxiety very well through hypnotic self-calming, and learning from his subconscious how to deal better with his life stressors. Thus, he demonstrated that he was gifted in using hypnosis. He said that he found his interactions with his subconscious to be inspirational. Given his religious beliefs, he felt that God had provided him with a wise subconscious and given him the gift of learning how to interact with it.
Ten years later, this same individual faced some significant life challenges involving difficulties with his family, long-term girlfriend, and career. Self-calming with hypnosis did not provide him with sufficient relief. At that time, he began to drink alcohol to cope. He recognized that this was self-destructive and sought therapy from a counselor, but felt that talking about his problems did not help. As we had been touching base every few months in an on-going fashion in my role at the time as his friend/mentor, he then told me about his difficulties.
I asked if he had consulted with his subconscious. He had not. When I asked him why, he said he had not thought about doing so. I suggested that he could do so, and he said he wasn’t sure he wanted to, but could not verbalize why. Finally, I asked if he would allow me to interact with his subconscious, which he permitted. I interacted through the process of automatic talking during which the patient is in hypnosis, and the subconscious is invited to talk. I asked his subconscious if he had suggestions regarding how the patient might deal with his psychosocial issues. The subconscious had three concrete suggestions, which I relayed to the patient when he alerted from hypnosis. Immediately thereafter the patient felt much better, implemented the suggestions, and stopped drinking.
A notable aspect of interacting with patients after holding conversations with their subconscious is that the patients often report they do not remember these conversations. Further, if I had discussed psychologically difficult material with their subconscious, patients typically are uninterested in being told immediately thereafter about the contents of the discussion. This observation provides one potential reason for people’s reluctance to interact with their subconscious.
People may be afraid of learning subconscious material that they cannot or would rather not consider on their own. While working with a therapist patients may be more willing to expose subconscious material because they will be provided with guidance in how to handle it. Further, as social beings, perhaps most of us function best while interacting with others, including when it comes to gaining insight from our inner selves.
People may not want to hear subconscious input because it may be inconvenient or cause internal conflict. For example, patients for whom substance abuse is a coping mechanism may not want to hear from the subconscious that they should abstain. Or, patients who are anxious about the uncertainties that might occur with change, may not want to be offered advice that would dictate change. Finally, patients who are in denial about their issues may be unreceptive to suggestions regarding dealing with these.
Listening to the subconscious may cause some people to think that they have inadequate conscious abilities. Many people feel that they ought to be able to solve their life problems on their own. In this setting, listening to the subconscious may be considered a sign of weakness, even though the subconscious represents a part of the “self.”
People might be afraid that they will be unable to find a helpful answer from their subconscious. When the nature of subconscious advice is unknown it can cause some people with anxiety to hesitate to ask for input, as they are worried that they may fail to receive answer, or worse yet, receive an answer that could cause harm.
During stressful times, it may seem it would take too much effort to listen to the subconscious. For example, it can be difficult to quiet the conscious mind when people feel pressured. Once a crisis passes, and it is easier to quiet the mind, people may not feel that there is as much to gain from interacting with the subconscious. Further, when they feel calm, people may choose against tapping into their subconscious because this has the potential of stirring up their feelings in what they think might be a negative way.
The five reasons listed above regarding why people may be reluctant to seek help from the subconscious are similarly applicable in answer to the question, “Why do people choose not seek help (from any source)?” For example, these reasons may explain why people hesitate to seek advice from family members, teachers, employers, mentors, or religious leaders. The following eight reasons are more specific to consultation with the subconscious.
Some people say that they do not trust their subconscious. Sometimes, this occurs in situations in which people have made major mistakes despite doing their best to choose the best course of action. In other patients this occurs because of lack of confidence in oneself, which extends to their belief about the subconscious. It is notable that most of my patients who lack self-confidence and choose to interact with their subconscious find that it is confident in its own abilities, and believes that the patients can learn to become confident.
The subconscious may want people to solve their problems on their own. I believe one of the primary missions for each of us is to learn to negotiate life challenges. Subconscious guidance may prevent learning opportunities, similar to how parents sometimes slow their teenagers’ social development by helping solve their social difficulties.
The subconscious may be reluctant to provide some information that would change a person’s course of action. For example, if a subconscious suggested that someone pursue a particular profession, an individual might alter their educational plan to exclude classes that do not seem to fit their professional goals. However, that person might benefit from a broad-based education, in which case they would be better off remaining unaware of the nature of their career until later in life.
The subconscious may need time to formulate wise responses. If an individual continually queries his subconscious, the subconscious may end up giving less thoughtful advice given the pressure to answer immediately.
People may feel that the subconscious tells them things that they already know. This may occur because some people are usually in good contact with their subconscious thoughts, and in others because people are completely out of touch with their subconscious, and thus not accessing thoughts different from their conscious ones.
It is sometimes unclear when people listen to themselves whether they are hearing their conscious or subconscious. In this setting, people may be concerned that the advice they hear represents what they want to hear and thus provides a misleading direction, rather than authentic advice from the subconscious. I suggest to patients that if the advice appears useful, they can follow it, no matter its source.
Some people may not understand how the subconscious works. For example, they may think that the subconscious is not part of themselves, or that the subconscious might control them against their will. The lack of understanding about the subconscious may make people hesitant to consult with it.
Some people do not believe the subconscious exists. In my experience, this kind of reaction occurs when patients do not want to hear what the subconscious might say because of some of the reasons cited earlier.
The Persian poet Rumi said, “The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.” Indeed, I believe there is great potential benefit in patients learning how to quiet their conscious mind regularly for the purpose of accessing their subconscious, given its wealth of resources.
Thus, people might be encouraged to identify reasons that they may be avoiding interactions with their inner selves, and how they might overcome this hesitancy. This kind of process can play an important part of therapy, and ultimately can lead patients to improve their self-reliance and resilience.
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This Article Was Originally Published on Psychology Today