Adam Blatner, M.D.

Posted January 24, 2012  I'm open to your comments

On another webpage I write about five levels of self-disclosure, which is another way of talking about a spectrum that ranges from explicit consciousness on one end to completely out of mind on the other. This paper notes the most fruitful mid-region for exploration and expansion, the pre-conscious. We all have multiple layers of disclosure operating with everyone in our lives:

The first level is what we admit to them and to outsiders. This level represents also what Jung called the “persona.” This level is relatively explicit, although unconscious elements are well-represented in our nonverbal communications, choice of clothes, etc.

The second level is more private, but most thoughts here, too, can be readily accessed. They are not for “public consumption,” but we might admit them to a confidante, a best friend, a therapist, a therapy group, a diary. Still, these are thoughts that are explicitly conscious.

The third level down are those thoughts that register in consciousness briefly, but we push them away. It might overlap with feelings that we notice, but can’t find ways to express. This is the preconscious and it’s the most workable and educable sector. We'll expand on this further on. Many people seem to have no idea this layer is there.

The fourth layer is the unconscious, what is not allowed into consciousness at all. This layer involves thoughts and feelings that probably have operated at one point but are so incompatible with the self-system that they must be buried.

The fifth layer is interesting, because it also seems out of awareness, but it’s quite likely that the individual has indeed never entertained a hint of such thoughts or feelings. They come into culture with new technology, with inter-cultural mixing, with learning about other people and how others have really different abilities and tastes. Interestingly, as our culture becomes more mixed and changes accelerate, issues, themes, phenomena that had never ever been entertained at any level of consciousness do become matters for re-thinking assumptions, controversy, paradigm shifts.

Percolating Up

The more we think about more things, the more things come into view to think about. It’s sort of like telescopes: Over the last century, as we constructed ‘scopes that could see further and be adjusted to pick up wavelengths of light that we might not be able to perceive unaided, it turns out there are thousands of phenomena that we hadn’t known were there, and the universe as a whole has become a zillion times larger. So too with communications, travel, and the advance of civilization: We just know about lots more than we used to, which includes the depths of psychology!

As we begin to talk openly about stuff that was formerly taboo, we’ve become increasingly aware that there are more different kinds of taboos, things that shouldn’t be mentioned in public, and things that shouldn’t be thought in private. As we dare to think such things, what happens is that a whole bunch more things begin to percolate up from the unconscious—culturally as well as individually—and we find ourselves faced with issues we never knew existed.

There are innumerable variations and forms of these that are still mentally taboo, hardly recognizable, and as-yet-without words. Or they have words, but the mainstream culture labels them as silly, trivial, crazy, imaginary, magical thinking, or in other ways worthy of being relegated to the trash-can labeled “Don’t bother even thinking about it.” This is called “discounting.”

The point to note though is that fields of discourse expand so that what was taboo is talked about, people can allow themselves to think thoughts that were previously unacceptable. Bubbles of what used to be unconscious come “up” and enter the pre-conscious and from there into the private consciousness. This is one way of thinking about the impact of a trend over the last century that I call “psychology-zation.” It’s also consciousness-raising.

(In the olden olden days, consciousness just was; there was no such thing as consciousness-raising, or higher consciousness. Even insight was a peculiar something that was rare and generally noted only by writers that few people read. In a vaguely similar way, for centuries many people had no sense of progress; the world just was. One might get off the wheel of karma through deep meditation, but there was no sense that consciousness itself was making any headway. It took many steps in the evolution of writing and printing and media, the evolution of machinery and electronics and inventions in general, before people began to recognize that the human species was in a process of accelerating transformation. Many people still hardly get it.)

The Pre-Conscious

Here are some of the issues entertained by the preconscious mind: If we can explore and increase disclosure so that people can admit and own their preconscious mind, that expands consciousness significantly, maybe tenfold! So focus just on that—and that is the rationale of psychodrama.

This third level, this preconscious level, has intrapsychic and interpersonal and cultural elements. What occurs to me but I push away overlaps with important, perhaps essential information about:
  - what I imagine you may be thinking about me, but not saying
  - what I imagine about you but are unwilling to ask you about to find out if it is so
  - what I would rather you didn’t do but I’m afraid to say it to you for fear of retaliation, or that I’d hurt you
  - how I’m afraid of your death, sickness, or leaving me in some other way
. . . then there are some other tricky ones...
    - what I imagine you’d say or do if you really cared... but just maybe you don’t know, so I can’t reproach you directly...
  - how I think you’re lying to me
  - what I fantasize about your mind, your background, why you aren’t more perfect, but I would never ask directly
  - might I be wrong about you and how could I find out without coming right out and asking
  - what I’m afraid you might find out about me but I can’t tell you

And these all mix with
   - I don’t even want to say these things out loud, even for me to hear them, because then I’d have to take responsibility for avoiding them or dealing with them and I don’t know how to do this, or / and it’s too scarey...

Perhaps you can add to this list. It’s a big arena, and it’s also where most psychopathology operates, because we are fairly sure that others will judge us negatively. Many of us have had big doses of this growing up, many only occasional doses, but there’s also the whole culture that operates to offer rewards and punishments, good and bad grades, winners and losers, in such a way that it’s easy—probable, even—that kids grow up feeling “misunderstood” and distrusting.

Nor is this the parents’ fault: They may be unendingly supportive and still kids feel this way about their peers and others, also because they project their own judgmental-ness on others.

Group Process and Safety

Right now it’s mainly the context of therapy. In a sense, there’s an implicit contrast of non-judgment. It’s not just the therapist, but the others in groups. This ethos recognizes that everyone—bar none—has a number of weaknesses, frailties, buried and unresolved issues, and that these do not mean that the person is in fact especially weak or sick. This is a broadening of the human condition. (It may be odd to say, but I think it’s the equivalent to everyone finding out that everyone—kings and princes, rich and poor, all have guts and unpleasant innards. Or the line from Shakespeare’s Tempest—“If you prick me, do I not bleed?”

We are only emerging from a culture that colluded in pretending that we’re all okay, we know what we’re doing, we’re informed, competent, and moral. It’s not politic to talk about how others are okay enough, forgivable, but really not all that okay; people often do not know as much as they pretend to know, they have more doubts than they let on, it is not a moral weakness to have doubts, people are far more ignorant and uninformed than anyone wants to make a point about, and hypocrisy is more of a norm than an exception. Horrors!

The key is to recognize that it’s not either-or. Many fairly competent and sane people have a generous range of incompetent areas and peculiarities. Duh, already. Let’s not be so shocked. This leveling of human nature is more forgiving, compassionate, less idealizing, and, in effect, balanced and more authentic. It’s a shift in world-view that makes it easier to get down and real and engage in activities such as “encounter groups.”

Therapists call this state being “psychologically-minded.” Most therapists recognize that they themselves often have wounds and imperfections, but it’s still a bit touchy to announce this publicly, because it is perceived by therapists and maybe by more than a few non-therapists that those who put themselves forward as therapists should be more “together” and perfect than those who are “neurotic.”

Well, indeed, I think this is a little so, in that those who would be therapists should know they themselves have issues and are working on them. A bit of humility is good. But that does not in itself disqualify someone from learning skills of helping others. There are so many thousands of aspects of mental and social functioning that it’s entirely possible for each therapist to have a couple dozen areas they are less than perfect about, and even some clear faults or foibles, and still have many other areas of competence and insight. It is so not either-or, that’s the point.

Back then to working on the realm of the pre-conscious:

Therapy as a Sacred Ritual

It may seem a bit of a stretch to think of therapy as sacred, but here is what I mean: I think consciousness-raising needs a safe, loving contexts, and creating such a context for the purposes of consciousnss-raising, and that this is considered a kind of healing, is in a larger sense, spiritual. Therapy done in a spirit of we're all human and how can we support each others' coming forth is in that sense a sacred ritual.

In safe situations, people can begin to move from “I can’t admit it to myself, even” to “I can admit it, and share it with people I can trust.” Implicit here is that at the level of the confidant, there are several corollary messages. “I can look at a wider range of who I am, my weaknesses confessed, if I believe that you will look at me with compassion, empathy, kindness, non-judgmentalness.” I make this point because there is a strong social reassurance dynamic in confidential confessions within a framework of shared humanity. “Hey, I have some of the same problems,” or, “I don’t have the same problem, but I have others kind of like that”—either way, what is going on here is a kind of loving.

So in that sense, therapy is a sacred ritual. It’s as if we all put on a special uniform of shared caring, the gown of compassion—or maybe we take off our clothes and can bear to stand the scrutiny of other naked people seeing our (for most folks) far-from-perfect bodies, and not judge. We’re just people, folks, with strengths and weaknesses; is it time yet to admit it?

Well, no, the world is by no means there. Most folks are still trying to be right, to be superior, to be one-up; and correspondingly fear anything that will show a chink in their armor. But the seed has been planted, people are doing it, and the reality of our psychic world, its complexity, its multiple channels of development, is being seen and noted by more and more people.

The next step is to recognize the sheer normality of human development, the normality of complexity of maturation, the actuality of our leaders and teachers, parents and heroes, all having weaknesses and faults. Can we bear it? Only if we can dare to think for ourselves, give up blind idealization and other forms of idolatry.


This category—bringing level three up to level two—is what therapy is about.Therapy or open group process or human relations opened to the next step in consciousness-raising—self-help groups, adult education classes, maybe even more liberal churches—all involve opening to the pre-conscious mind, the reality that we are all still in process. That process has to do with opening to ideas and feelings that are difficult to admit socially, but they are real and it helps to get them out where they can be more consciously dealt with.

At level two, in a healing context—not merely a co-dependent and collusive one of I won’t criticize you if you don’t criticize me—people can creatively discover new ways to work out their issues. They can generate compromises, cut deals, find ways to express that which previously had no healthy means of expression. This is healing.