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All about Unconscious Motivation

Some psychologists believe that a important portion of human behavior is energized and directed by unconscious motives. According to Maslow: “Psychoanalysis has often demonstrated that the relationship between a conscious desire and the ultimate unconscious aim that underlies it need not be at all direct.” In other words, stated motives do not always match those inferred by skilled observers. For example, it is probable that a person can be accident-prone because he has an unconscious desire to hurt himself and not because he is careless or unaware of the safety rules. In the same way, some obese people are not really hungry for food but for attention and love. Eating is just a suspicious reaction to lack of attention. Some workers damage more equipment than others because they harbor unconscious feelings of aggression toward authority figures. Psychotherapists point out that some behavior is so habitual that the reasons for it are not available in the person’s conscious mind such as compulsive cigarette smoking. Sometimes maintaining self-esteem is so important and the motive for an activity is so threatening that it is simply not recognized and, in fact, may be disguised or repressed. Rationalization, or “explaining away”, is one such disguise, or defense mechanism, as it is called. Another is projecting or attributing one’s own faults to others. “I feel I am to blame”, becomes “It is her fault; she is selfish”. Repression of powerful but socially intolerable motives may result in outward behavior that is the opposite of the repressed tendencies. An example of this would be the employee who hates his boss but overworks himself on the job to show that he holds him in high observe. Unconscious motives add to the hazards of interpreting human behavior and, to the extent that they are present, complicate the life of the administrator. On the other hand, knowledge that unconscious motives exist can lead to a more careful assessment of behavioral problems. Although few contemporary psychologists deny the existence of unconscious factors, many do believe that these are activated only in times of anxiety and stress, and that in the ordinary course of events, human behavior from the subject’s point of view is reasonably purposeful.

Updated: December 27, 2013 — 4:53 am

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