Insights from the unreal

An article entitled ‘Are you sitting comfortably?’ in this month’s Therapy Today by Lucy Cavendish reminds us how works of fiction can be relevant to how we might make sense of the real world. Certain stories appeal to us because they chime with our sense of how the world works; or we can be touched by the narratives of fictional characters who we identify with for reasons we can’t explain.  Something in our unconscious mind makes these connections for us.

This connection between fiction in literature and our unconscious mind was the subject of Marilyn Charles’ 2015 in-depth study in Psychoanalysis and Literature: The Stories We Live By.  Here Charles discusses how widely this applies, how our brain interacts with myths and tales handed down through the generations and in fact with works of art in general.  Somewhere in our unconscious mind we recognise patterns that have emotional meaning for us.  At this deeper level of mental processing something somehow makes sense.  So what governs or controls our unconscious processing?  What puts our mind together to make it work in this way? 

The answers to these questions are likely to be found in our earlier lives when our emotional foundation was being developed.  We don’t forget what we experience, even if we can’t cognitively remember it.  According to neuroscientists, an amazing 95% of brainwork actually happens outside of our consciousness.  But while we may have no cognitive memory of this, the chances are it will have had an impact and maybe a role in shaping who we are today and how we unconsciously respond to things. 

This doesn’t mean that our more familiar, conscious, processing is insignificant.  In fact, developing a conscious awareness of something that is going on for us can be the first step towards developmental change at the deeper, unconscious and emotional level.  And it is when you start to feel differently that you will know that deeper and positive developmental processing is happening.

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