The conscious and the subconscious are doubtless interesting psychological phenomena. Indeed, our ability to manage and effectively integrate the two together may not just hold the key to our everyday sanity, but furthermore also to our survival, and our ability as human beings to function, and interact with the world.
My mind was drawn back to the phenomena of the conscious and the unconscious recently when I helped my friend Michelle with her new college course. She was confused by the conscious and the unconscious in particular. I will talk about them in relation to my own gender identity, in my childhood, as well as in relation to an abusive stepfather. I will then talk about how I integrated them together, and how I made that integration last and endure for a healthier, happier me.
To be conscious in the psychological sense is to be aware of what is going on, your surroundings and your actions, and how they affect you and others.
The unconscious though is a little more insidious and clever. It is not the same as the physical state of unconsciousness, whereby you are asleep and unaware of what is going on, but instead much more about the mental processes taking place within the self.
Understanding the unconscious is crucial to mental health. It is very unwise to ignore it or refuse to accept the part it plays in your life. But why?
As a way into all this, before I talk about myself, let me use a fictional example. The example of the current story arc in the soap Coronation Street involving the characters of Tyrone Dobbs, and his abusive partner Kirsty Soames. Many props first of all to Coronation Street for tackling the massively taboo subject of male domestic violence in an honest and truthful manner.
We know that Kirsty joined the police to please her father, we know too that Kirsty is scared of her far. We also know that Kirsty’s father is a violent bully. However, we also know that as well as being paranoid, Kirsty is also violent towards Tyrone herself. In short, a ticking timebomb.
Viewers will have heard her utter those fatalistic words;
“I’M TURNING INTO MY DAD”
Now clearly, Kirsty is not literally morphing into her Dad, and she does have some awareness of her behaviour, since without it she would not be able to tacitly identify similarities between her own abusive behaviour and that of her father. However, her unconscious is damaged. Through it, she is replicating her father’s behaviour, ruining her relationships with others, and generally living a miserable experience, constantly reliving and replaying the abuse she suffered as a child in an adult context.
So, herein lies the problem. Childhood and adulthood require different responses from a human being. However, if a person is still deeply traumatised by childhood, as is the case with Kirsty, then they may seek out control of others, in order to protect themselves from an irrational but insatiable fear that something may go wrong, particularly if, as is the case with Kirsty, she loves Tyrone deeply. But unfortunately love cannot cancel out a damaged unconscious, it only exposes it further as there is so much conflict between childhood memories and adult experience. Kirsty needs to stop playing those childhood tapes and to work hard to let the memories go, probably with professional help.
She knows what she is doing is wrong, but she also finds it hard to escape from this learned behaviour. The unconscious is a hard merry go round to manage, especially if it is working against you.
The scenario with Tyrone and Kirsty though is thankfully fiction. I want to turn now to talk about my unconscious, how it affected me, and how to better control it.
I guess I did try to push the trans part of myself into my unconscious in my early years. I tried to do my best to fit and conform. I was just extraordinarily bad at it. Also, my unconscious affected my self esteem greatly, and still does sometimes before I tell it inwardly to fuck off. You see to be told every day of your life that you are useless, and a vegetable, and a waste of space for about fifteen years does not exactly do the self esteem wonders. It nosedives it in fact, into a pit. But fuck knows where the bottom is.
Also,these pearls of wisdom were metered out by a man who was physically taller than me, and stronger. He would belittle, mess with your head and conspire with himself to make you feel like the worst human being on the planet. And it worked.
I believed all this shit for many years. Yes, I am healthy and happy now, but it was not always that way.
A problem I had for many years, as a result of this behaviour by this scumbag, was a tendency to over apologise..
I would be sorry for anything, from the weather to the state of the economy. It is a tendency which my current assistant Zina has helped me away from thank fuck because it is irritating, and really has no place when someone has run over their OWN toe with a shower chair.
But thinking about it, the over apologies were not genuine sorry’s since no wrongdoing had occurred. What they were were protection mechanisms, guarding against any possible threat. Mechanisms intended to placate and appease, and stave off any potential threat. But when you are dealing with a non abusive person, such mechanisms become redundant, since there is no threat present.
The other way in which my subconscious affected me at this time was to resolve never to be like that idiot. I am compassionate, kind and caring. To the idiot I would say thank you, you have made me who I am today.
I was also generally sad, and crippled by low mod and self esteem. Now I have learned to take risks, and enjoy the world around me, and all it has to offer.
What y0u need to do really, is to be conscious of your unconscious. Yes, that may sound like double dutch, but it is true double dutch.
You have to integrate the conscious and the unconscious, so that the two are not working against you but for you. So you are not trapped inside the prism of abuse, but instead healing, loving and living. It is far more beautiful and far more fun.
A damaged unconscious is a pernicious thing though. It took years of work to heal it, and I still have wobbles. However, I am far happier, and more whole today than ever before.
My one regret is this though. If I had not been in the grip of an abusive stepfather, I would have transitioned probably as a young child. I always yearned to. But what matters I guess, is that I did it at all. Thank you Mike, for making me who I am today.