Level Three: The Personal Unconscious

The personal unconscious has a border that blends with our active memory and information can move in and out of, or reside in, both the active memory and the personal unconscious. When information is in the deeper reaches of the personal unconscious it is not easily recalled, and if the information is connected to painful personal experiences, it can be difficult to recall without special prompting. Our personal unconscious includes everything that has ever happened to us, everything we have learned from both explicit teachings (e.g., what our parents, teachers, or friends told us was right and wrong) and implicit understandings (e.g., things we pick up from the body language of others about what is acceptable or not). The personal unconscious has a strong influence on our thoughts, feelings, and actions. For example, we might react defensively every time we encounter someone who looks or behaves a certain way, only to later realize that the person’s behavior reminds us of something that we were punished for earlier in life. Or, perhaps we secretly wish to be more like this person, but have learned that their behavior is unacceptable to the family or cultural system that we live in. Information in the personal unconscious is frequently accessed through our dreams, which is one reason dream interpretation can be an important tool for self-discovery.