We’ve all had the experience of falling in love with someone who turns out to be absolutely the wrong choice. Many of us have done it more than once. At MenAlive, you can hear me share my confessions of a twice-divorced marriage counselor. Why do we make seemingly crazy mistakes in our love lives and in many aspects of our lives? My colleague Daniel Lieberman has some important answers.
“There’s someone living in your head besides you,”
says Daniel Z. Lieberman, MD in the Introduction to his book, Spellbound: Modern Science, Ancient Magic, and the Hidden Potential of the Unconscious Mind.
“You think you’re calling all the shots—that you’re in charge of your thoughts, feelings, and choices. You’re not. When it comes to how you think and feel your way through life, at best you’re the copilot. At worst, you’re along for the ride, at the mercy of a part of your brain that’s overwhelmingly powerful but entirely unseen, influential but utterly secret from you.”
Getting to understand your unconscious mind may be the most important thing you’ll ever do in your life. Dr. Lieberman is a knowledgeable and compassionate guide. After the success of his book, The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race, he told me that his book on the unconscious mind, was the one he’s been wanting to write his whole life.
He says the unconscious is
“a vast collection of neural circuits working all the time, just out of sight—just out of mind. It determines whether you will be enthusiastic or bored, full of energy or barely able to keep your eyes open. It can make you compassionate or fill you with hatred. It chooses what you desire and who you fall in love with. It can solve seemingly impossible problems with the gift of inspiration, and sometimes it possesses you completely, plunging you into an alien world of mystical experience.”
I was fortunate to receive a pre-publication copy and shared these comments: “Spellbound” may be the most important book you’ll read in your lifetime. In a world where mass shootings become commonplace, domestic violence and suicide are on the rise, and the global climate crisis gets worse each day, too many people have given up hope. Dr. Lieberman offers real solutions that few people have even considered.
You can learn more about the book and Dr. Lieberman’s work on his website. You can also watch a short video, “Knowing Your Unconscious Mind Changes Everything,” here.
Clinical psychologists George Pratt and Peter Lambrou, offer this insightful story about the subconscious mind in their book Code to Joy: The Four-Step Solution to Unlocking Your Natural State of Happiness:
What’s the moral of the story? If you are a flea riding an elephant, before you make any plans, you might want to check out what your elephant has in mind. You may not want to go where the unconscious wants to go, but you best get the know what your unconscious mind has to say.
“This point is more important to your life than it might seem,”
say Pratt and Lambrou.
“The flea of the story represents your conscious mind which includes your intellect and power of reason, your ambitions and aspirations, your ideas, thoughts, hopes, and plans. In short, everything you think of as you. And the elephant? That’s your subconscious mind.”
Many of us have had the experience of consciously making plans to meet the man or woman of our dreams only to become attracted to someone who breaks our heart and causes us great pain. Why did it happen? To understand, we have to tap into our subconscious mind to see why we pick the partners we do. We’ve had the experience of consciously picking a job which we were sure was going to work for us, only to have it turn out to be a disaster. Again, our subconscious mind is at work.
Everyone wants to live a joyful life, have deeply loving relationships, and join with others to make the world a better place for all. Yet too many of us become depressed, irritable, angry, and discouraged. We vow to take more time for ourselves and learn to relax, but we continue to act in ways that stress us out. Why? Once again we must better understand our unconscious mind.
The Power of Our Unconscious Mind
When I was in graduate school I learned a lot about various psychological theories and therapy practices. I learned about Freud and the ways he understood the subconscious. But it was a contemporary of Carl Jung who truly sparked my interest. Dr. Lieberman takes a deep dive into Jungian theory and practice. He offers this quote in the first chapter, Into the Darkness,
“We believe that we are masters in our own house only because we like to flatter ourselves. In reality we are dependent to a startling degree on the proper functioning of the unconscious psyche, and must trust that it does not fail us.” C.G. Jung.
Leonard Mlodinow, PhD., is a theoretical physicist and author of Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior. He says,
“Though the unconscious aspects of human behavior were actively speculated about by Jung, Freud, and many others over the past century, the methods they employed—introspection, observations of overt behavior, the study of people with brain deficits—provided only fuzzy and indirect knowledge.”
But things have changed in the last decade.
“Sophisticated new technologies have revolutionized our understanding of the part of the brain that operates below our conscious mind,”
“These technologies have made it possible, for the first time in human history, for there to be an actual science of the unconscious.”
George Miller, Ph.D., one of the founding fathers of modern cognitive psychology, says that the conscious mind puts out an average of between 20 and 40 neuron firings per second while the unconscious mind puts out between 20 and 40 million firings per second. So, when we’re talking about the activity of the subconscious mind vs. the conscious mind, we’re looking at a difference of 1,000,000 to 1, which is roughly the difference in weight between an elephant and a flea.
New research from the field of energy psychology has highlighted the importance of healing early life trauma, often held in the subconscious energy fields of our bodymind. Only by healing the way these traumatic memories are held in our subconscious mind can we learn to be more joyful and productive in our lives. Drs. Pratt and Lambrou offer this thought experiment to help us understand how it works:
Imagine you are standing just outside your home, surrounded by a dense fog, so thick you can’t see the other side of the street in front of you. You look to the left, to the right, but can’t see more than fifty feet in any direction. You are surrounded.
How much water does it take to create the blanket of fog that has completely isolated you from your world? They ask.
A few ounces. The total volume of water in a blanket of fog one acre around and one meter deep would not quite fill an ordinary drinking glass. The fog actually contains 400 billion tiny droplets suspended in the air creating an impenetrable cloak that shuts out light and makes you shiver.
This is what happens when we have painful and traumatic experiences in our lives that we just can’t shake. Pratt and Lambrou call it “the fog of distress” and we’ve all experienced it. What is it made of? It is partly feelings, partly beliefs, and partly bioelectrical memory traces locked into our bodies.
Most importantly, it operates below the level of our conscious minds. Humans are adaptable and generally we handle the ups and downs of life without any lasting negative effect. After one of those “bad days” the experience simply vanishes from our minds without a trace and we end up a little older and wiser as a result. “But not always,” say Pratt and Lambrou.
“Sometimes, especially when we are very young, we have experiences that we cannot shake. Even if they seem insignificant, no more substantial than a glass of water, when these upsetting experiences evaporate, they then condense into billions of droplets of anger, fear, self-doubt, guilt, and other negative feelings, surrounding us with a suffocating blanket that suffuses every aspect of our lives for years to come.”
As a psychotherapist, these are the kinds of problems I deal with everyday in my practice. Dr. Lieberman’s book is definitely helpful for those who are wanting to heal from past trauma and how it gets held in the subconscious mind. But doctor Lieberman takes us way beyond healing our trauma on a magical mystery tour into the farthest reaches of our creative passions.
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