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Superordinate Skills: Ego-Unconscious


  1. Conscious is assumed here as more related to mind/intellect and Unconscious more related to 'Body'
  2. 'Body' refers to the sense that deep down means down 'inside my body' and the term is useful especially for body therapy/ ('past', is usually 'deep down' also)
  3. Feelings are distinguished from emotions as being more in conscious awareness and emotions (e.g. crying, anger) as involving powerful/visible bodily processes
  4. Conscious effect Subconscious processes and unconscious processes can effect conscious ones
  5. Issues become more deeper (dynamic) as you descend the mind-body arrow
  6. Different techniques can be used to effect different levels on this 'spectrum of awareness'
  7. Some techniques can be used well for 'enquiry interventions' and 'therapeutic interventions'

Key words: Unconscious, outside awareness, states, excursions, ego states, parts, moods, and infection

There is some language we can introduce here that can be helpful for understanding what we are doing in the various psychotherapy units and their associated skills during this workshop.
If you refer back to the previous 'egg diagram' you will notice that the half way line designates the division of conscious and unconscious. In this entire semester we are examining processes that are in the unconscious realm, using techniques to access 'states', defenses, emotions that are within this level of functioning.


It is useful to employ the term 'state' as it implies a different target zone than feelings and thoughts and sensations. Sometimes people are immobilized by past conditioning and background experiences to behave in ways that we could term patterns and moods. People tend to play out well-worn familiar dramas from earlier learning experiences. These are 'chunks' of experience felt powerfully within and acted-out somewhat helplessly.
For example, let us look at everyday moods. Our language skills (see subsequent section), teach us to observe phrases like "I was in a mood". Who is this 'I' they refer to? What is this container they were 'in'? (The mood.) We know also from anger management and domestic violence situations that people will repeat behaviours that are highly replicable, seemingly irresistible. Here the person will confess, "I don't know what got into me" and so forth. How can 'something' get into 'someone'? Is it possible for our "I-self" to be pierced or opened up like a brain?
We could refer to the 'I' as the normal 'balanced' adult state indicated in the top half of the 'egg picture'. So when people say "I don't know what gets into me" or "he pushed my buttons" they are referring to a small excursions away from their normal balanced adult state, where they have behaved in ways that are inexplicable and don't even understand themselves much. Hence we refer to this as an unconsciously driven pattern. We then seek to identify this pattern with enquiry interventions and to help the person identify a more ideal behaviour pattern with appropriate therapeutic interventions.

Ego states

Historically much of this talk was referred to as ego states. Modern popular psychology and Transpersonal Psychology refers to child ego states and so forth. Berne (1964), described much of this in his work on Transactional Analysis (T/A). However, here we are not using the term ego to get into Freudian or T/A terms. It became shorthand language to refer to normal adult state/normal consciousness and so forth as an adult ego state.
For example, strong emotions can so be so powerful that the normal ethical adult reasoning can be so lost that the adult ego state can be seen to be almost 'possessed'. In this latter term I am clearly nor referring to demonic powers or references to Exorcist 1 or 2! However, I'm using dramatic language to indicate the level of power these emotional states can have on the adult ego state. Surely, we've seen someone 'behave like a child' and compassionately we know it's better to treat them 'as a child' (sympathetically and kindly with hugs!) until their 'adult' functioning returns.

Ego 'Infection'

Consider the following: Nazi Germany, Wild-West hangings or 'lynch parties', accused murderers being 'excused' on the grounds of "temporary insanity", arguments over football teams, political parties or religious issues. For most of us consider a recent sulky/sullen mood or any mood that you found "difficult to get out of, at the time". Consider also whether you felt a sense of 'returning' to your normal self. What happened to you and where were you!

'Amnesia' of states

The entire process of infected states includes an aspect we could term loosely amnesic. For example most people can't remember the exact experience they were in at the time it happened when asked to recall it at some later stage. More insidiously, they also are unable (usually) to describe to you with any objectivity what is happening to them at the time they are in a 'mood'. (Unless you've never tried to talk rationally to someone who's in a mood of any sort!)
It appears that the normal adult ego state can be infused, contaminated or infected by these more subterranean/unconscious states and emotions. Occasionally, these states are referred to in client friendly language as 'parts' or even sub-personalities. (After Assagioli). Some of these 'parts' could play quite positive roles also like the instance of 'being mother' or acting protectively like a parent even though the person is in adult years.


In the psychotherapy units described here many times we will also use shorthand language like psychodynamic, dynamic, intrapsychic and so on to refer to unconscious states/moods/behavioural patterns. Simply these mean 'forces' outside of normal adult awareness or functioning that are determined by previous conditioning, childhood patterns or at least issues actively operating deeply inside the person.

Why different language?

There are several reasons to argue for a different language here.

  1. People are more complex than a mixture of simple thoughts and feelings.
  2. Recent research (Yarrow-Radke and Parsons) indicates childhood experiences are a powerful effect on adult functioning.
  3. Tackling problems within the learning 'set' that they occurred may be more fruitful than tackling them as abstract symptoms, with no context or deeper meaning
  4. Earlier deeper experiences can be more meaningful to the client in terms of making sense of their life
  5. Working at a more global level means a bigger chunk of the problem can be addressed
  6. More appropriate techniques and procedures can be used
  7. Deeper resolutions are possible which can be more satisfying and even more effective

(The analogy in 5-7 could be that of using a lever and pulley system to hoist a heavy weight instead of a jack or your own muscle power. The idea is that you gain a mechanical advantage. Another analogy might be the anatomical one. It is better at times to view the brain problem as a tumour or lesion than as biochemical imbalance or bleeding sore. It's a more efficient diagnosis. Closer to home its better to see someone as depressed than someone who cries a lot, doesn't get out of bed and feels suicidal as 3 separate, disparate behaviours.)