What lies beneath?

An abstract view of an iceberg under a dark sky in an inky black sea.

Remember the Titanic, a doomed ship and a tragic love story. The ship undone by a hulking iceberg in the North Atlantic Ocean – Jack and Rose, the unwitting victims of the rigid social divide of a 1912 society. Rest in Peace Jack. Nice work on the acting front DiCaprio and Winslet.

What a tearjerker movie, an epic tale of love found, then lost, self-sacrifice and the snowball effect of bad decisions on the high seas. But underneath it all, this is also a movie about science and psychology. Really? Get out of here! Way to turn a perfectly good, cheesy romance story into something meaningful Janine. Sigh……

Anyhoo, if you could bear with me, I’d like to expand on this a wee bit. The main themes of love and self-sacrifice resonate throughout the film but there is so much more we can learn from it. Hello science! Yes indeed, we should have been alert to the key role played by the iceberg in this saga. It looms large and ominous as the cause of the catastrophic events that unfolded. How did the ship end up with a long gash down its side that crippled it?
Blue question marks on a blue background.

Well, if this was a whodunit, we would say that the iceberg did it. For most icebergs, what you see peering out the water is only about a tenth of their structure. The rest is below the water, lurking in the depths. It’s a deceptive sight, as what you see is definitely not what you get. The Titanic was gouged along its side by the part of the iceberg hidden below the water. So what lies beneath is a blinking lot of iceberg. A series of disastrous decisions also led to a huge loss of life in the icy waters.

Psychologically, our minds are a lot like icebergs, with the same potential to wreak havoc on our lives if we don’t know what’s beneath the surface. This is because only a small part of what motivates us is conscious and known. The majority of what we do is influenced by what is stored in our subconscious, and this is largely unknown to us. Yep, it’s annoying but there you go. We think we know why we do things and in part, we do…..for some actions. However, a large part of our behaviour is driven by unconscious stuff, stored up and filed away from when we were children, and this underground process continues throughout our lives.

Sigmund Freud, the great psychoanalyst, speculated that this part of the mind was not easy to access. He saw it as a dump box for urges, feelings and ideas that are linked to experiences we’ve had along the way during our lives. These feelings and thoughts have not disappeared and are always there, influencing our actions and our conscious awareness. The task of the subconscious is to attract towards us circumstances and situations that match the images we have within – and also to protect us from being hurt or experiencing emotional or psychological pain. So what does this mean for the understanding of our personal drivers?

It means we can only really become aware of what is in our subconscious minds by our behaviour, and by then it’s often too late, especially if we have mucked up. That can be very frustrating but it gives us clues. It’s also worth thinking about what kinds of situations we avoid, what fears do we consistently have, and what do we do over and over even though the acts are self-defeating? Do you ever beat yourself up because, for feck’s sake, you’ve done the same stupid thing again after promising yourself you wouldn’t?

These are the types of actions that give us useful information about what lies beneath! It also means that the reasons we think we do what we do might not be correct and there’s a whole other set of motivations at play. It’s therefore worthwhile being as skeptical and curious about our own behaviour as we are of other peoples’ actions. Both can be equally misleading as to cause and intent. The subconscious is very good at protecting us from finding out information about ourselves that we might not be ready to know, for example, that we may in fact be an a….hole. Yes, it happens to most of us at some stage.

Most importantly, if we are trying to adjust our behaviour in a particular area, we might need to shift the self-beliefs stored in our subconscious first, and that’s not easy, especially if we are unaware of what is motivating us! If we get curious and persist with trying to understand what is driving us to do what we do, then we can uncover all sorts of things about ourselves. Life then gets interesting from a personal growth point of view. If we are able to change our attitudes and feelings about ourselves and other people internally, our focus and external actions can shift in many positive ways.

This mental exploration can, in time, have an underground effect that shows itself as a different way of behaving. Accessing and exploring covert personal drivers then manifests as overt changes in behaviour. It’s challenging and tricky from a psychological perspective and not a goal for everyone. However, it is possible to discover the most interesting things about ourselves and is definitely a worthwhile task if we want to sharpen up our best selves. Self-knowledge and self-awareness are true personal development superpowers.

What lies beneath your iceberg? Worth thinking about.

P.S. Could Jack have shared the door with Rose?

Share your thoughts?