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Characteristics of a Psycho-Analysis

The links in the table on the left take you to sub-headings on this page.


What is a Psycho-Analysis?

What does it achieve?

Psycho-analysis is called the ‘talking therapy’. It would be more accurate to call it the ‘thinking therapy’. The results of this therapy are not consistent, and the reason for this is that people spend varying lengths of time in analysis, and their commitment to personal change is just as variable.

I consider that I have gone further into analysis than anyone else has ever done, and the results of my psychological explorations are given in the articles on my websites. I know both what psycho-analysis can do for a person, and what it cannot do.

The short answer to the question 'what does it achieve ?' is that it removes confusion from the mind.

Sub - Headings
Levels of  Mind
Motivation and Determinism
Quality of beliefs

The articles on my websites are written with two purposes in mind.

The first purpose is to propose that the mind is organised into structures, processes and patterns of thinking. The structures are independent of content, whilst the patterns are learned responses. Abreaction is a process. An example of structure is the loop of projection and introjection.[¹].  Examples of patterned thinking are forms of madness and forms of sexuality. [²]

Many people experience some form of personality disturbance during their life. So the other purpose of this book is to put forward some ideas as to why this disturbance happens. Such a disturbance can radically affect a person’s sense of identity

I start with a consideration of the influence of memory on a person’s character.
Then I lead into the influences of motivation and determinism.


Some aspects of a person seem to be fixed, and other aspects seem to be fluid. Beliefs can be either : fluid beliefs are open to deliberate change, whilst fixed beliefs seem to be impervious to such change. Fixed beliefs (which include prejudices) help to generate the person’s character, which is that aspect of their consciousness that remains constant despite the ups and downs of life.

Whatever kind of character that a person has, that character has its roots in the past. The past is the province of memory. The way that a person remembers their past experience governs the manner in which their character traits have been formed and consolidated. So memory is very important for producing a person’s character. Experience plus memory help generate the person’s fixed beliefs that underlie his character.

Why is the memory so important ?  Our memories are laden with positive and negative valuations about events. Memories that we enjoy pose no problems, but memories that we dislike have a restraining influence on our present attitudes to life and on what we can achieve in life. The more negative the valuation that we place on a memory, the more likely it is that it can lead to personality disturbance when we find ourselves in situations which evoke that memory. The memory may be conscious, or it may be exerting its influence whilst remaining below the threshold of consciousness. When negative memories are not very intense, such personality disturbance often produces behaviour that is deterministic and outside of our control ; when the intensity is extreme, we may experience madness.

In general, therefore, we put values on our memories. Problems arise when any negative valuation of a memory influences our present behaviour and activities. This is the realm of determinism, and exploring determinism is a central feature of a psycho-analysis.

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Levels of the Mind

Before proceeding further I need to define two terms that  I use to denote domains of mind that are below the threshold of consciousness. My use of the terms ‘subconscious’ and ‘unconscious’ are as follows.

Subconscious’ refers to those aspects of mind that are particular to a person.

Unconscious’ refers to those aspects of mind that are general to all humanity.

The subconscious mind has several ‘levels’ or departments.
For example:

The unconscious mind also has several ‘levels’ or departments.
For example:

The rationale for boundaries is that they enable a person to function reasonably well in a world of chaotic and complex sensory impressions.

In the early months of the infant’s life it has no ego and only experiences its subconscious mind reacting to sensations. Once the ego is in the process of creation then conscious life begins. [5]

The problem that faces the infant is that life is just too complex in its totality ; therefore this complexity has to be restricted in some way in order to manage at least some part of it. The subconscious and unconscious minds have few natural boundaries, so the only way to make sense of the multitude of sensory impressions is to create boundaries. Such boundaries enable the mind of the infant to manage the sheer complexity of life that it is witness to.

The difficulty of trying to understand the multitude of sensations when boundaries are absent is illustrated very clearly by taking any powerful hallucinatory agent such as LSD. Such agents show that even our sense of time is a boundary. And when we go beyond boundaries we are likely to become disorientated.

The concept of boundaries can be considered to be part of any theories on the moral workings of fate and destiny (what is called ‘karma’ in the Eastern world). [6]

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Motivation and Determinism

A psycho-analysis focuses on psycho-dynamic psychology, on psychology which explores the dynamics of the subjective factors of personality. The most important subjective factor is that of motivation. Ordinarily the average person assumes that they know what their major motivations are. However, a deep psycho-analysis shows that this assumption is usually incorrect. A person’s major motivations are subconscious ones. Psycho-dynamic psychology is primarily a theory of subconscious motivation, motivation that the person is not usually aware of, motivation that is below the threshold of awareness. When such motivation becomes compulsive and influences normal activity then we have determinism functioning.

If you were to make a list of your major motivations, that list would seem to be eminently reasonable. However, once you begin to analyse your moods, actions, likes and dislikes, etc, you begin to discover that your list of motivations are usually only secondary ones. Your primary motivations will come as a surprise as you begin to discover yourself, and often you will find that these new motivations that you are discovering are unpleasant, even nasty, ones. And this is usually the reason that you were not aware of them. Any unpleasant features of our personality we prefer to ignore, and bury them (that is, repress them) into the subconscious region of our mind so that they no longer appear to trouble us. What a psycho-analysis proves is that these buried motivations still affect us even when we have no more awareness of them.

Now something unpleasant can motivate us, without our being aware of it. If the motivation is compulsive then we become deterministic in our behaviour. In other words, once we begin to explore motivation we immediately come up against the problem of determinism.

Determinism can be both subconscious and unconscious. Unconscious determinism I include in the concepts of boundaries and of abreaction, which are almost unchangeable during the course of a single lifetime. Subconscious determinism seems to be what troubles most people, since it is more obvious than unconscious determinism. Subconscious determinism means that a person cannot change their behavioural responses when they are under stress, because they cannot change their motivations. When the motivation stays the same, then so too does the behavioural response. The difficulty is that since the person is not aware of their subconscious motivation so therefore they cannot deliberately change it ; they can only deliberately battle against it.

Examples of subconscious determinism are:

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The problem that faces most people is that of subconscious determinism, of being unable to change their behavioural responses when they are under stress. How does subconscious determinism arise ?

To answer this question we first have to ask :
‘how does subconscious motivation arise ? ’

When motivation is subconscious it is because it arose in situations which the person has now forgotten, or it arose in situations when that person was confused.

a). The forgotten situations
These are usually past-life situations. When a person reincarnates back to Earth they do not bring memories with them but only attitudes, abilities and character traits (their strengths and weaknesses). The attitudes and traits help to produce similar motivations in this life that they had in the previous life on Earth. Such attitudes and traits have become independent of memory, and are very difficult to change. [7]

b). Confused situations
These usually indicate the influence of early childhood, especially the first three years of life. The child learns by trial and error. Learning is made more difficult since the child initially has no conscious ego. The ego is that aspect of consciousness that relates to the present, rather than to the past.  [A simplified view of consciousness is that it consists of present plus past, or the ego plus the influence of memory and determinism].

When a person dies on Earth, it is only the body that dies, not the ego. When the person subsequently reincarnates back to Earth, the peculiarity of the situation is that now the ego is subconscious. The mind of the new-born infant is not a conscious one but a subconscious one.

Once reincarnation back to Earth occurs, the ego of the previous life has become permanently subconscious, along with its abilities, attitudes and traits. From all this subconscious material a new, conscious ego has to be created. Any mistakes that the child makes in its learning are likely to be incorporated in the emerging ego. The more important mistakes occur through the wrong interpretation by the child of its relationships to its parents and to other significant adults. An interpretation that produces a sense of unhappiness is likely to induce fear and anxiety and guilt in the child.

Examples of mistaken interpretations are :

It is the child’s understanding of its situation that matters, since this understanding governs its response. Irrespective of whether the parents are good or bad parents, if the child thinks that its situation is bad then it reacts accordingly. If it thinks that it is to blame for the bad situation then it becomes confused.

Confusion produces mental pain, which is obviously unpleasant. Therefore the child becomes motivated to avoid the pain, to avoid the confusion. [8]. If the confusion is regularly prolonged then the child seeks to avoid or to neutralise the situation by developing a fixed pattern of thought and activity as a shield against emotions such as fear, anxiety and guilt.
So determinism is created, the determinism being the fixed pattern of response that is acting as a shield against psychological pain. 

The determinism is a response to a subconscious motivation to avoid mental pain. If the determinism is not resolved in adulthood, then it will carry over to the next incarnation on Earth.

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My view of the origin of determinism is that it arises from confusion. In some incarnation, a person (perhaps as a child) mis-understands the situation that he or she finds themself in. So an emotional response arises, resulting in an attitude to that situation. Whenever that situation repeats itself in the experience of the person, so the attitude repeats itself. This attitude, and the belief that sustains it, becomes part of the subconscious mind. And the attitude carries on from one life to many other lives. This repeated emotional response to a situation produces determinism, but it arose in a specific situation in the forgotten past.

I generalise this view.
All subconscious determinism can be attributed to specific events at some times in the past, even in previous incarnations, where mis-understandings arose in particular situations.

One aim of a psycho-analysis is to explore a person’s attitudes to one or more problems and to try to understand the causes of those attitudes. All subconscious determinism arises from some motivations that the person is not aware of. Therefore the motivations themselves are also subconscious. What psycho-analysis has proved is that if any particular subconscious motivation is brought into consciousness then that motivation loses the power to effect the person’s behaviour. In other words, the effect of understanding the reason why a person acts the way that they do in a particular situation leads to the end of the compulsion to act in that way.

Understanding a problem has the result of ending determinism, and the problem ceases. This is the rationale of psycho-analysis.

To be more specific, a psycho-analysis changes the negative valuation of memories into positive or neutral values. Experience plus memory help to generate the person’s fixed beliefs that underlie their character traits. By changing the values attached to memory so thereby a psycho-analysis transforms the person’s system of beliefs. And the transformation of memory and beliefs enables the person to accept their past life, blemishes and all, even any people who have been oppressive to them. Determinism is replaced by choice. The person acquires greater freedom to be what they want to be in any situation. This is what a long psycho-analysis achieves. [9]

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A variation on confusion is self-deception. In both states of mind, a person’s subconscious mind can be at variance with their conscious mind. Quite often a person will say one thing and then act in the contrary way. The contrariness is caused by subconscious motivation. In confusion, the person cannot understand their actions ; in self-deception, the person offers an explanation for their actions. Self-deception brings in the topic of rationalisation : the person attempts to justify their contrariness so as to ease their conscience. The self-deception here is that the person deceives themself in order to avoid blaming themself. Self-deception is the means, the rationalisation is the belief, that pacifies conscience.

When many beliefs are tied together to form an overall pattern of rationalisation,
then the person has become attached to an ideology.

When no rationalisation is offered then this indicates confusion rather than self-deception. A person’s general attitudes to life, and his /her purpose for existing, are not usually well thought-out but are based on vague ideas and clear prejudices. All such general attitudes and all such ideologies (whether religious or secular) involve self-deception and confusion, and therefore indicate a low degree of self-consciousness. [10]

The problem with self-deception is that if we deceive ourselves then we will also deceive other people. And other people, in their self-deception, will deceive us. Hence we can end up manipulating people but denying that we are doing so. And we may be manipulated by other people who likewise deny that they are doing that. Hence self-deception has a powerful effect on personal relationships. Personal relationships become based on misconceptions and confusion rather than on reality, and conflict is more likely to occur than harmony.

One of the aims of a psycho-analysis is to eliminate self-deception and confusion, so that the person can clearly articulate what they believe and understand why they believe it. The process of eliminating self-deception and confusion requires the development of both awareness and insight (or intuition) [11], and results in the gradual unfoldment of self- consciousness.

My definition of self-consciousness is :

Self-consciousness is the combination of awareness and knowledge of one’s conscious and subconscious motivations.

This definition implies that an ordinary person has only a little degree of self- consciousness, since subconscious motivations remain hidden from view. Even the problem of determinism is denied by many people. So past views on self- consciousness were little more than an acknowledgement of awareness, that is, that the person can observe themself, whether thinking or acting. These views are insufficient, since they cannot explain self-deception and the origins of conflict. The unfoldment of self- consciousness requires an understanding of psycho-dynamic psychology. Without such an understanding a person will always be a stranger to themself.

My own psycho-analysis I call my self-analysis, since I did it on my own without any therapist to help me. It happened spontaneously, without any deliberate decision on my part. At the start of it I had hardly any self-awareness. I was not even sure what was an emotion and what was not. Seven years later, by the end of my self-analysis, I had acquired enough information about how the subconscious and unconscious minds work that I was able to discover some hidden laws of their operations (the laws of abreaction). I obtained this knowledge by the practice of awareness, plus a sufficient flow of intuition and reason. 

[A long and intense psycho-analysis never really ends. Even after it appears to have finished, the person will continue to get occasional insights into himself for many years afterwards. A psycho-analysis develops self-awareness, and it is this self-awareness that continues the intermittent process of understanding oneself.]

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Quality of Beliefs

The degree of maturity or immaturity of an adult is heavily dependent of the beliefs about oneself and the world that one holds. These beliefs are influenced by, or even created by, childhood experiences. When a child interprets its relationships it creates beliefs about them. If it feels the relationships to be happy ones then its beliefs are positive or good ones. Such beliefs are changeable when new situations arise ; changing beliefs causes no problems and so they can be updated quite easily in order to fit the new situations.

However, if the child feels that its relationships are bad ones then its beliefs become negative or bad ones too. Negative beliefs become associated with fear, anxiety and guilt. Such beliefs cause a major problem : it becomes very difficult to change them. To change them would mean facing up to the associated fear, anxiety and guilt. In effect they become fixed beliefs. Because they are unpleasant beliefs the child switches off awareness of them, and they become subconscious.

The advantage is not always with the happy child. Happiness can cause its own problems. Consider a child who has a pleasant childhood. It creates beliefs about its world and the situations that it experiences. As it grows older these beliefs are modified to suit new situations, or even replaced by more realistic ideas. Because the beliefs are good ones they remain conscious. This is a continuous process and ends when the child becomes an adult with a mature outlook on life. Its beliefs are now fairly set, even rigid, and produce a fixed frame of mind. In other words, the mind of a mature adult is structured by fixed beliefs, beliefs which are usually conscious ones, beliefs which the person is aware of. Such people do not change very much in later life unless they experience some form of crisis that shows them that their beliefs are now inadequate. Most people find it a stressful, even distressful, task to adapt to change.

Now consider a child whose childhood is far from pleasant. If it experiences fear and intense anxiety in any particular situation then its beliefs about this situation remain fixed and do not alter. As it grows older it represses these fears and associated beliefs instead of correcting them ; these fears and beliefs become a permanent part of its subconscious mind. The subconscious mind has no sense of time, so nothing gets diluted in it by the passage of time. Anything that is put into this aspect of mind stays in it unchanged, even when the child has become an adult. Hence the childhood way of handling fear produces effects on the adult character.

Suppose that as an adult it finds itself in a situation which mirrors an unpleasant childhood one ; it now feels itself acting from its childhood subconscious fears and associated beliefs instead of from its mature mind. This means that although it is an adult it can act childishly in situations that it finds unpleasant. Usually the person cannot do otherwise. This is how determinism is created, by childhood fears (and anxieties and guilt, etc). The more fears that a child experiences, as it grows up, the less rigid will be its mature, conscious mind. Its subconscious mind will contain conflicting beliefs based on these fears. The more conflict that exists in its subconscious mind the more unstructured, the more changeable, the more amorphous will be its character as an adult.

The happy child has fixed beliefs at the conscious level of mind. It can lead a fulfilling life in a stable society. But it finds it difficult to change when society changes. The unhappy child has fixed beliefs at the subconscious level of mind. Its quality of life is poor in a stable society. Yet it can change, when necessary, as society changes.

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In general, our character depends on our system of significant beliefs. If our beliefs are non-contradictory then we will have a stable character ; if our beliefs are conflicting then we will be unstable in some degree. In effect, the beliefs determine the person. The importance of these views on beliefs is fundamental to understanding the results that psychological therapy achieves. Significant beliefs are only forms of fixed ideas.

The French thinker Rene Descartes formulated his philosophy as : I think, therefore I am. From my experience of life I transform his viewpoint into a more modern formulation in order to give a definition of the modern person.

His expression becomes :

I think ideas, therefore I am.

This leads to :
I have fixed ideas, therefore I am.

This leads to :
I believe, therefore I am.

Finally, we end with :

Each person is the sum of their beliefs and fixed ideas.

Some thinkers have defined a person to be what they do, to be their actions. This view was understandable when psychology was in its infancy. But it is an erroneous view for today. A person does not change themself by changing their actions. The person changes themself only by changing their thinking, by changing their beliefs. Changing a person’s definition of themself will automatically change the quality of their life.

The whole rationale of psychological therapy is to facilitate this process.

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The number in brackets at the end of each reference takes you back to the paragraph that featured it. The addresses of my other websites are on the Links page.

[¹]. My in-depth analysis of the process of abreaction is given in the five articles on Abreaction.  See first article, or see home page for a list of them.
The loop of projection and introjection is described in the article Projection and Introjection on my website Discover Your Mind. [1]

[²]. My website for articles on sexuality is The Strange World of Emotion. For articles on psycho-somatics and madness, visit my website Patterns of Confusion. [2]

[³]. A person has at least two personalities, his social identity and his individual identity. See the article Two Identities. [3]

[4]. There is an article on Personal Evolution on my website A Modern Thinker. [4]

[5]. The infant has to create its ego. This process is described in the article Creating the Ego, on my website Discover Your Mind ; or the article Vulnerability of the Ego, on my website Patterns of Confusion. [5]

[6]. The idea of boundaries is described in the article on Determinism, on my websites Discover Your Mind and A Modern Thinker. [6]

[6b]. I use the term "drug" in a neutral medical sense, meaning that it is an agent that changes the psychological mood of the person. I am not interested in the populist meaning of  "drug" as something illegal - this usage allows our prejudices about other people to distort a serious topic. [6b]

[7]. There are articles on reincarnation on my website Patterns of Spirituality. [7]

[8]. There is an article on Confusion on my websites The Strange World of Emotion and Discover Your Mind. [8]

[9]. There is a more general article on Determinism on my websites A Modern Thinker and The Subconscious Mind. [9]

[10]. There are two articles on ideology on my website A Modern Thinker. The articles are Paradigm and Ideology, and Structure and Ideology. [10]

[11]. In these articles on psychology  I treat insight and intuition as equivalent terms. However, I separate them in the article Reason and Intuition on my philosophy website A Modern Thinker. [11]

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The articles in this section are :

Characteristics of a Psycho-Analysis
Character Transformation
Process of Psycho-Analysis
Content of a Psycho-Analysis
Zig-zag Journey through Change

Copyright @2002  Ian Heath
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Ian Heath
London, UK

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