What Is The Preconscious And What Does It Mean To Me?

By Julia Thomas

Updated February 13, 2020

Reviewer Aaron Horn

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Most of us have heard of the conscious and unconscious mind, but the word 'preconscious' isn't as widely known or used. What does this unfamiliar word mean? Is it a different part of the mind no one talks much about? Or, is it a part of the conscious or unconscious? Learning about the preconscious mind can change the way you think about your thoughts and memories.

Preconscious Definition

The definition of preconscious psychology uses psychoanalytic theory as its' basis. Josef Bauer, an Austrian physician specializing in the brain, may have coined the word. Freud used it extensively for many years before he developed the idea of the id, ego, and superego as the three parts of the psyche.

The preconscious refers to the thoughts you aren't actively thinking of but can call to mind easily given the right trigger. In contrast, unconscious thoughts are repressed to the point that you can't remember them without extreme effort and specialized help.

The Preconscious In Psychoanalytic Theory

Preconscious does come from psychoanalytic theory, but eclectic therapists and others might also use the term in the same way. Freud's original conception of the term is a part of his theory on the levels of consciousness.

Conscious, Preconscious, And Unconscious

Freud talked about conscious, preconscious, and unconscious thoughts. The conscious thoughts are those we're aware of right now. We must actively hold these thoughts in mind. If we don't, that data might be stored in the long-term memory or the unconscious mind.

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The unconscious mind encompasses all the thoughts we have that we aren't actively thinking about at this moment. Within the unconscious mind, Freud said, there are the thoughts we can't easily retrieve. These may be traumatic memories or thoughts we have repressed.

There are also the preconscious thoughts we aren't thinking of now but can think of easily if we choose to or something triggers us to think about them. We aren't using those thoughts right now, but we can pull them out of our unconscious minds quickly and easily.

Some sources place the preconscious as a part of the mind that's separate from the unconscious. This interpretation of Freudian theory makes a clear distinction between the part of the mind we can access and the part we can't. However, whether the preconscious mind is a part of the unconscious or not, all three aspects of the mind can work together as we perceive and make decisions about our life.

Id, Ego, And Superego

As Freud continued to develop psychoanalytic theory, he had difficulty refining the definitions of conscious, unconscious, and preconscious. After that, he focused on the three parts of the psyche he identified as the id, the ego, and the superego.

The id is the disorganized part of the psyche where instincts and impulses rule. The superego is the part of the personality that's concerned with what we should do. The ego mediates between the id and superego to choose what you do. The ego is ultimately the decision-making part of your mind.

Freud also related the id, ego, and superego to the theory of conscious and unconscious mind. He saw the ego and superego as conscious parts of the personality. The id has our unconscious desires and drives that aren't accepted socially or within your conception of what's right and wrong.

The ego operates mostly in the conscious mind, although it may call on the preconscious mind for information and memories. The superego operates mostly in the conscious mind as well. However, there may be times when you have feelings of right and wrong without being aware of the thoughts that go with those feelings.

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The Benefits Of The Preconscious Mind

Your preconscious mind is a very handy thing to have. It provides several benefits that the conscious mind can't supply alone.

Stored Memories

Long-term memories are stored in your preconscious and unconscious minds, because your conscious mind only holds the memories, thoughts, perceptions, and desires, you're experiencing at this exact moment. Because the memories are close at hand, your brain power goes far beyond the thoughts you can hold in mind at any given moment.

Known Memories Are Easily Accessed

Your unconscious and preconscious minds contain all your memories that go back longer than a few minutes. However, you can't usually recall repressed memories from your unconscious without help or a very powerful trigger. The memories within your preconscious are all right there, waiting to be called on as needed.

No Need For Worry

A common misconception is that when you have a problem, worrying about it will get you closer to a solution. However, the truth is that your pre-conscious mind can hold those thoughts and work on them without you being aware of the process. Suddenly, the answer comes to you, sometimes even more easily than when you keep your conscious mind actively focused on the problem. You don't need to worry. Your preconscious mind is working in the background!

Intuitive Understanding

Our intuition comes across as a feeling, but it's based on thoughts we aren't aware of. These thoughts reside in the preconscious or unconscious. We may not consciously know the specific reasons why we have a feeling that something's right or not right, but more deeply, we do know. This intuitive understanding can be invaluable for self-protection and achievement.

Finding Solutions From Within

As adults, we try to draw conclusions and base our decisions on what seems the most true to us. In short, we want to rely on our inner resources to make important life decisions.

You have such a breadth of knowledge within your preconscious that you can use to solve life's problems. By calling on these memories and bringing them into your conscious mind, you can benefit from experiences and information you've committed to memory. You can learn from them long after the events have taken place.

How Therapists Work With The Preconscious

Whether you're experiencing emotional difficulties, trying to make an important decision, dealing with relationship issues, or trying to overcome a mental condition, therapy can help you handle each of those situations. Therapists, whether they practice psychoanalytic methods or other types of therapy, help you tap into the thoughts within your preconscious mind. They do this for several reasons.

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Connecting Memories

Often, we have two bits of information or two experiences we could put together to provide us with insights we may never have realized before. Both factors may be in your preconscious so that you aren't aware of them at the moment.

A skilled therapist, can prompt you to remember facts and events that will help you draw your own conclusions. If your psychologist knows your background at all, they probably have some ideas about what kinds of experiences you might have had that apply to the current situation.

For example, if you're trying to resolve a conflict with your child, your therapist might ask you to try to remember certain childhood experiences. Then, they might ask you to remember a time when you faced a similar conflict between you and an adult. By connecting these memories in your conscious mind, the therapist can help you decipher the differences and similarities between having a conflict with a child and having a conflict with an adult.

Teaching You Through Your Own Experiences

Therapists can help you connect memories from your preconscious to the conscious thoughts you're having during the session. In this way, they help you activate your mental resources. As you move from stored information to conscious thought, you find it easier to make these connections on your own.

Fine-Tuning Your Awareness

The main value of having information in your preconscious mind is in being able to quickly use it. We can only make reasoned decisions on things we're aware of at the moment. What we choose to be aware of can make the difference between making a positive decision and continuing to struggle. After you have an insight in therapy, your therapist suggest that you keep that insight in mind as you face an upcoming situation that might be difficult for you to handle. Of course, you won't have that information locked in your conscious mind from the time of the session to the time the event happens. However, you can call it up from your preconscious as soon as the event begins to happen.

If you would like to learn more about what your preconscious is and how you can use it to improve your life, getting into therapy is an excellent choice. Online therapy at www.Betterhelp.com is convenient and affordable. As you learn to navigate the conscious and preconscious aspects of your mind and thoughts, you can gain cognitive skills that will serve you well for the rest of your life!


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