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How do our thoughts and emotions come together to create who we are? In this lesson, we will explore the structure of the human mind and how each component interacts with the others.

What is the Human Psyche?

The word ‘psyche’ derives from ancient Greek mythology. Born a mortal woman, Psyche eventually marries Eros (Cupid), the god of love.

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The love affair between them is great at first but becomes filled with secrecy, betrayal, abandonment, and a near-death experience. Eventually, Eros and Psyche reunite, and she is deemed worthy of becoming immortal. The supreme god, Zeus, then gives her the name, ‘Goddess of the Soul.’The ancient Greeks saw the story of Psyche and Eros as an allegory of life. Their love was ‘born’ in the beginning, and in the end Psyche ‘dies’ and moves to the afterworld as an immortal.

Her long and rough journey in between was symbolic of the human soul navigating its way through life. She had to make tough choices and handle turbulent emotions in order to experience personal growth. In ancient Greek, her name eventually became associated with the word ‘soul’ or ‘mind’.

In psychology, we call the soul or mind the human psyche. It allows us to think, judge, and feel emotions.

Psyche: the Soul or the Mind?

Currently, there are two separate models used to describe the existence of the human psyche.

The religious model refers to the psyche as the ‘soul.’ It also supports the idea that the soul is independent of the body and exists both before and after our human lives here on earth. The second model, known as the secular model, refers to the psyche as the ‘mind.’ In this model, the psyche acts as an extension of the body and reacts to brain functions and outside stimuli.

Parts of the Human Psyche

According to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality, human behavior is the result of three levels of consciousness of the mind interacting with one another.

There are the conscious, subconscious and unconscious mind.

The Conscious Mind

Have you ever been so involved with a movie’s storyline that it made you cry? Or, have you ever been at a football game and you were so happy that your team scored that you jumped out of your seat? These are both reactions brought on by your conscious mind. The conscious mind consists of the sensations, perceptions, and emotions caused by our current awareness. It also includes sensory input, or information received from the brain via one of our senses.

The Subconscious Mind

Do you know the birthdates of all your immediate family members? Some people may have to stop and think about this. Others will be able to recall right away.

However, I doubt that many of us are thinking about our family members’ birthdays all the time. This is an excellent example of the subconscious mind, which stores information until we need to recall it. This part of your mind is almost like the attic in a house.

It keeps things stored away for you until you need them.

The Unconscious Mind

Are you able to recall any memories from when you were an infant? Even though your first years of life had a profound impact on who you are today, you most likely cannot remember much about this time. This does not mean that you have no memories however. Those memories are saved in your unconscious mind. The unconscious mind is a collection of feelings, thoughts, memories and primal urges that exist outside of our awareness.

It’s also the framework for our belief systems, attitudes, and desires. Even though these aspects of our unconscious mind remain outside of our regular awareness, that doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t access them. Sometimes they pop up in our dreams, are uncovered through therapy, or are discovered through personal reflection.

Lesson Summary

The human psyche is the totality of the human mind that helps us navigate through life. Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of personality states that the three levels of our personalities are the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. The conscious and subconscious mind both store information that is readily available, whereas the unconscious mind stores information that is outside of our awareness.

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