Although many people realize we unconsciously push thoughts, feelings and actions away from consciousness, for too many people the notion of being able to bring our hidden mental processes to light in a way that adds control to their lives remains a mystery.

When learning an activity we can consciously recall things when they are in the first stage of being learned, but when an activity is really "learned" many aspects of it will go into the unconscious - much as computer storing information which is not visible on the screen; for example when learning to use a typewriter (or keyboard) we can at first name the keys of one row in sequence; the conscious order of the keys is no longer necessary and we us the keys "automatically" or unconsciously, rather than consciously thinking where to find that key we need. If we kept everything in our conscious mind about even simple things, we would be like a 1,000 legged creature trying to recall and move all legs - the result would certainly be paralysis, and paralysis is what occurs in most of us to one degree or another.

Not only do activities become unconscious, so also do feelings and attitudes. These are learned in our earliest years, even months of life. Whatever events and feelings that were frequently expressed form patterns that surround us and become an emotional climate, or sort of culture that we as young children have to assume is "the world." In order to adjust or cope with our environment we all then form our own patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving as adjustive reactions to the emotional "outside." If our family emotional "climate" is benign, that is, nurturing and supportive of growth, that fortunate individual will be able to grow emotionally. New experiences with the outside world will be used to build knowledge, skills, interest and good emotional attachments to others. If, as is the case with most of us, (our human history of misfortunes being what it was) relatively few parents can give their offspring this kind of upbringing. When negative, irrational patterns predominate in the family the child develops patterns of defense in order to tolerate those negative influences as best they can. These defenses in response are also negative and are patterns of thinking, feeling and behaving which inhibit growth. In other words, they learn maladaptive behavior.

Some learnings relate directly to ourselves and some to others; and they connect to each other. A bright person who has internalized a notion that he/she is stupid will express this attitude toward self by not trying to learn things which are well within their ability to learn. In relating to people they may hide their brightness from others, thus expressing their need to maintain the unconscious self-perception they grew up with - "I am stupid." This learned perception which is hurtful was in reaction to being treated as though the person was stupid. The trying to hide brightness from others can be learned by early leaning that intelligence is not valued and even may be met with disapproval. Both patterns are certainly inhibiting to growth of that person.

As stated above, we cannot function at all without many things being stored unconsciously but when that reservoir of feelings, ideas and attitudes is benign we can learn from the world and adjust to different objective and emotional environments from those which we knew as children. For such lucky people life may sometimes be objectively difficult, but dealing with it will not be frought with handicaps from within which do not allow us to think clearly and perceive accurately our objective world-and thus be able to have feelings that are relevant to the situation rather than feeling "the sky is falling" to an ordinary occurrence.

Interpersonal Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy is one of the therapies that work at trying to help you to help yourself gently and kindly into being more positive in the world that you live in.

Drs. Maxine and Arnold Lehrer
Clinical Psychologists,
Associates in Psychotherapy, P.A.