The part of the mind whose contents people resist bringing into awareness.
Sigmund Freud assumed that the human mind was divided into three divisions: the id, ego, and superego, which, in turn, had both conscious and unconscious portions. The id, motivated by two biological drives—sex and aggression—operates according to the pleasure principle, seeking satisfaction and avoiding pain. Guided by the reality principle, the ego's goal is to find safe and socially acceptable ways of satisfying the id's desires without transgressing the limits imposed by the superego. Developing from the ego in childhood, the superego, or conscience, has as its goal to apply moral values in satisfying one's wishes. Both the ego and superego operate consciously and unconsciously, according to Freud, while the id is entirely unconscious.
In psychoanalytic theory, developed by Freud in the treatment of normal and abnormal personalities, the preconscious and unconscious minds are the repositories of secret or sexual desires that threaten our self-esteem, or ego. Once in the unconscious, these repressed desires and fears give rise to anxiety and guilt, which influence conscious behavior and thoughts. Freud attributed the cause of many psychological disorders to the conflict between conscious and unconscious urges. In order to understand abnormal behaviors and eliminate them, he theorized, an expert was required, who, in a trusting relationship with the patient, would employ techniques such as dream analysis and free association to retrieve materials buried in the unconscious mind. Thus, the driving forces behind behavior could be understood, and unresolved unconscious conflicts and anxiety could become a source of insight for the patient, eliminating the primary source of abnormal behavior.
See also Repression.