Fiona Brennan, author of The Positive Habit, on why it’s so important to make the subconscious conscious…
Emotions are the language of the body and when we ignore, suppress or fear them they remain trapped and have the potential to make us ill as well as unhappy. Take a moment to recall how your body felt the last time you experienced conflict. Was there muscle tension in your shoulders and back? Knots in your stomach? Did your chest and throat feel tight? It is possible that the experience even gave rise to a cold or a sore throat.
Negative emotions take their toll on the body, leaving us exhausted and drained and also challenging the immune system. The Latin root of the word ‘emotion’ is emovere and it means to move, or agitate. I cannot empathise enough that positive people are, above all, emotionally intelligent people; they allow their emotions, both negative and positive, to move through their minds and bodies. If you want positive mental health you must do the same.
Being controlled by negative emotions alone is debilitating; turning towards them with love and courage while at the same time self-generating positive emotions is empowering.
Freud’s theories about the unconscious and subconscious mind transformed our understanding of the human mind and form the basis for much of present-day psychology and therapy; terms such as ‘ego’, ‘anal repression’, ‘Freudian slip’ and ‘neurotic’ are all now part of the everyday lexicon of mental health. Comparing the mind to the three levels of an iceberg, Freud postulated that only ten per cent of the totality of the mind is on the conscious level. This is the part that most people identify with even though it represents a tiny fraction of who we are. Fears, habits and belief systems reside in the unconscious mind and if they remain hidden they can have a controlling impact on your life.
Writing down your dreams first thing in the morning is a fruitful way to access the subconscious. Even though you won’t necessarily immediately understand the dreams and their hidden meanings, simply being aware of their content may allow their significance to unfold itself to you. In the 1910 Titanic catastrophe the approaching iceberg was not seen in time and the consequences were devastating. Ignoring the iceberg of unconscious fears has the potential to cause chaos in your life. Having the courage to understand the deepest and darkest parts of yourself often reveals that the fear of the fear far surmounts anything you may find. You can literally steer your mind to safety when you become aware and by doing so, bring the subconscious to the surface of the conscious mind. Gradually turning on the lights for a child who is terrified of the dark will show them that all is well and that there is nothing to be afraid of. Similarly, dealing with the past will allow you the freedom to live in the present. The alternative of allowing your past to unconsciously dictate your present keeps you forever a hostage of history.
A common coping mechanism many people employ is to only focus on the present, avoiding dealing with the past. While this may indeed appear to be a positive solution, it is about as effective as sticking a Band-Aid on a broken leg. Freud once said, ‘Most people do not really want freedom, because freedom involves responsibility, and most people are frightened of responsibility.’ Are you afraid of responsibility? If so, you are not alone – many people shy away from it – but in order to live in harmony with yourself it is essential to take responsibility for your past with honesty and compassion.
This is an edited extract from The Positive Habit: 6 Steps for Transforming Negative Thoughts to Positive Emotions by Fiona Brennan. Published by Gill Books, priced at €16.99, it is available in all bookshops and online now.
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