Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Unconscious/Suppressed Memories

Remember yesterday our friends the ego, id, and super ego. Today we will explain how Freud saw them in our mind. The ego is the conscious part of our mind. It is what we are aware of.

The unconscious mind has two parts where the id and the superego reside. In Freud’s view the unconscious is not all things that are unconscious but just the things that have been repressed. They are the things that the ego has deemed necessary to be "forgotten" so that a person can survive.

So there is a kind of war that is going on between the conscious and the unconscious. The conscious tries to keep memories, feelings and thoughts repressed so that they do not disrupt our lives. On the other hand the id and the super ego are trying to be heard and are at times, which is why we have moments of disruption.

The idea from Freud’s perspective is that the unconscious must be made conscious and dealt with. There were two other people who revised this idea of the unconscious Carl Jung and Jacques Lacan. There is also a lot of debate around the idea of the unconscious mind and suppressed memories, whether they are fact or fiction.

Now how does this relate to writing? Many times our characters may act out of character. They may do things that they normally would not do, just like we do. One explanation of this would be to help the reader see that there are other things driving the character that the character does not realize, until later. A suppressed memory of seeing a person getting murdered or of being abused as a child or…. You get the picture.

How would you, or have you, written about suppressed thoughts and memories? How could you write about the unconscious and reveal it to the reader but not the character?

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  1. Thanks Emily for the example. I agree this is hard to do. Thanks for the example even if it is a little graphic:)

  2. Hi,

    Intriguing post!

    Re: write about the unconscious and reveal it to the reader but not the character?!

    Most writers will end up with "tell" rather than "show". And, the only way as I see it is to allow backstory via third-party POV dialogue: someone who knows or has discovered a terrible trauma (varying degrees)within a character's life, which trickle feeds to a reader and pretty much explains why a character has tendency to do certain things. Not a doc, that would be too easy and a tad clinical.

    Example: a character who runs away when faced with minor traumatic events (rejection say or declaration of love), and even perhaps aware of why they're running but cannot stop the pain or shock felt albeit linked to past event. Meantime, reader symathy kicks in, but hopefully not having worked out the full crux at issue! ;)


  3. How very hard to do. I think Dean Koontz did it well in his book, "Life Expectancy." The antagonist is often at war with himself, or acts unusual for his role.

  4. Yvonne I understand what you are saying I'm glad you enjoyed the post.
    Thanks April for the example I'll have to look into that.

  5. I found this post fascinating and a little emotional to read, as there are so many issues from my childhood I do keep buried. Often when people find out I'm an aspiring writer their first response is, 'You could write about your childhood.' My answer is never! I can't abide what I call misery lit. I'm sure it does help some people to write about their experiences and for other people to read about it, but for me looking forward and not backward works fine. Not that I would want anyone to think I had a terrible childhood, I didn't. Just a lot of foster families and homes before I moved in with the people who became my family.

    So, I guess I would shy away from anything like this in my writing. Does that make sense?

    Ellie Garratt

  6. You reminded me of my psychology classes in college when I used to sit there and wonder if a degree in psychology was really what I wanted. LOL

  7. Hi Josh!

    As with Empty Nester, I too, studied psychology at 'varsity (it was one of my majors). I am enjoying reading your posts and being reminded of what seems like another lifetime to me now...I do not always comment, as I'm not a writer and therefore don't have anything worthwhile to contribute...but I'm a contented observer :)

  8. Francine what a wonderful comment thanks for taking the time :)
    Ellie thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. It is so important that we all move forward and not backward.
    Empty nester I'm so fascinated by psychology it is such an important part of all we do thanks for the comment.

  9. hmm...nice write...will check out that hitchcock movie as well...maybe dropping a sequence in the prologue or i dunno, its hard to put too much flashback in without clunking up the story a lot of times...will be interested in seeing others takes on this...

  10. An easy to understand explanation of memory suppressed affecting behavior. This is imperative for a writer to understand while developing character in a plot. Great post.

  11. This is the sort of thing that's hard to work into a story when you write fast-paced action stuff. I have a character who saw his son die and spent the next year doused in alcohol, and sometimes I fear I'm glossing over that horrible event because he's too busy to dwell on it in the story.

    I've noticed, though, that beta readers get a little cranky when the damaging events of a character's past are brought up often, and I do know how that can feel repetitive as a reader.

    Anyway, just rambling. Not that it had much to do with your post. :P

  12. I've wondered about this research a lot, whether you really can suppress memories and if so, whether they should be forced out or not.
    It can make for great fiction though, when we start to uncover memories along with our protagonist. Memento found a way to reveal to the audience without revealing to the character, but the character did suffer head trauma.
    So, I guess it is good to pull out all those yucky memories - after all we are not gentle with our character's well being :)
    Wagging Tales - Blog for Writers

  13. Very interesting to read, even if I'm not an author as such, I do still find it interesting on hearing about how to get into the mind of character and write from their own perspective.

  14. I can see myself in this quit a bit, especially from things I've experienced in my younger years. I think revealing these moments in a book would really capture a reader and also help them understand the characters so much better, but I am not entirely how one would go about sharing this in an effective way :)

  15. Since I don't have an answer to this myself, I will just keep reading your readers' comments because they're great! Wow. I'm going to wake up tomorrow morning still thinking about this question. Well asked, my Friend! :)

  16. I'm running behind on your blog. Interesting subject that now has me wondering about stuff I might have repressed from my childhood. I see how this can be applied to fiction and how I've written this sort of stuff without really thinking about why characters don't remember stuff they ought to.


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