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How can I find out what's in my unconscious?

Some people think that all they need to do is find the right dictionary of dream symbols and their unconscious will be revealed to them. Freud had other ideas.

At first, he attempted to discover the contents of his own unconscious by subjecting his own dreams, memories and slips of the tongue to rigorous analysis. Eventually, however, he conceded that no one can access their unconscious through introspection: "True self-analysis is impossible, otherwise there would be no [neurotic] illness."

Freud concluded that the unconscious can only be accessed through dialogue. In a psychoanalytic session, careful attention is paid to the types of relationship the patient unconsciously attempts to build with the analyst, which may be glimpsed by listening carefully to the words that pass from the patient to the analyst.

Psychoanalysis is sometimes said to work by making the unconscious conscious. In a sense, we can 'get to know' the unconscious by undergoing psychoanalysis, but only up to a point. It will subvert the very knowledge we construct to make sense of it, and we can never be rid of it. Something about it will always remain irreducibly disturbing, and approaching it will always be anxiety-provoking.



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