Unrepressed Unconscious, Implicit Memory, and Clinical Work, by Giuseppe Craparo and Clara Mucci

The psychological and neurobiological characteristics of  the ‘unrepressed unconscious’ and the role of the right hemisphere


What do we mean by “unrepressed unconscious”? Are there differences between the so-called “unrepressed unconscious” identified by some authors, and the “repressed unconscious”, which has generally been the object of the psychoanalytical investigations of theoreticians and clinicians, starting with Freud himself? How do we understand the relationship of this “unrepressed unconscious” with the modes of implicit memory? What is the role of the unrepressed unconscious in the most recent clinical work? These are some of the questions the contributors to this volume have tried to debate and exemplify.

As is well known, Sigmund Freud was the first author to use the construct of unrepressed unconscious in relation to the emotional world, in both The Interpretation of Dreams and “The unconscious” (1915e). On the relationship between the repressed and the unconscious, he maintained that “the Ucs. does not coincide with the repressed; it is still true that all that is repressed is Ucs., but not all that is Ucs. is repressed”. According to Freud, the contents of the unrepressed unconscious are related to the emotional traces of childhood experiences, that he called “thing-representations” (Sachvorstellung). This concept proposed by Freud “consists in the cathexis, if not of the direct memory-images of the thing, at least of remoter memory-traces derived from these”.

4155to3wp5l-_sx325_bo1204203200_Wilfred Bion proposed a construct similar to that of unrepressed unconscious, when he wrote about “wild thoughts”, or thoughts without a thinker. On the other hand, “wild thoughts” are thoughts in which “there is no possibility of being able to trace immediately any kind of ownership or even any sort of way of being aware of the genealogy of that particular thought” (Taming Wild Thoughts).

working-with-difficult-patients-from-neurosis-to-psychosis-by-franco-de-masi-1781814392In this regard, it is also interesting to consider the interpretation given by Franco De Masi, who used the term “emotional–receptive unconscious” in order to describe a specific psychic functioning “present in every human being, except when distorted or weakened in those cases of psychic illness” (Working with Difficult Patients). According to this author, the notion of emotional unconscious exists alongside that of repressed unconscious, representing “the necessary condition for existence and functioning of the dynamic unconscious”. If, in neurotic patients, the emotional unconscious works as a receptive organ of preverbal and presymbolic emotional experiences which are secondarily symbolised, in non-neurotic patients, we can observe, in contrast, an impairment of the emotional– unconscious, characterised by “states or phenomena that are ‘not yet’ or are ‘proto’-psychic”.

Other contemporary authors, included in this collection, such as Mark Solms, Mauro Mancia, Giovanni Liotti, Allan Schore, and ourselves highlight the relevance of implicit memory in normal functioning as well as in psychopathology, starting with the emotional regulation and dysregulation carried on between infant and carer, which connects the right brain of the one to the right brain of the other.

In his chapter, Mark Solms underlines the necessity of a revision of Freud’s model of the unconscious on the basis of recent neuro-scientific findings, which are: (1) it is necessary to consider Ucs. and id as two different mental systems; (2) the id is the fount of the affective, non-declarative consciousness; (3) implicit memory is related to this affective consciousness (called also primary consciousness), to be distinguished from system Cs. (or secondary conscience); (4) an important consequence of this interpretation is that implicit memory is related to the id. According to Solms, “the deep structures that generate consciousness are not only responsible for the level (quantity) but also for the core content (quality) of consciousness”. Differently from reflexive or secondary consciousness, primary consciousness “is characterised by states rather than images related to perception of external objects”:

The upper brainstem structures that generate consciousness do not map our external senses; they map the internal state of the (visceral, autonomic) body. This mapping of the internal milieu generates not perceptual objects but, rather, the subject of perception. It generates the background state of being conscious. This is of paramount importance. We may picture this core quality of consciousness as the page upon which external perceptual objects are inscribed. The objects are always perceived by an already sentient subject. Affects are valenced states of the subject. These states are thought to represent the biological meaning of changing internal conditions (e.g., hunger, sexual arousal). When internal conditions favour survival and reproductive success, they feel “good”; when not, they feel “bad”. This registers biological value, which is evidently what consciousness is for. It tells the subject how well it is doing. At this level of the brain, consciousness is closely tied to homeostasis. (Solms).

For Solms, the id is bonded with affective consciousness, and the contents of this mental system are not characterised by repressed representations, but by emotional states related to unrepressed unconscious.


the right hemisphere “is the seat of implicit memory”

Prior to his death, Mauro Mancia, in his well-known writings of 2006, posits that the right hemisphere “is the seat of implicit memory” and he further observes that the discovery of the implicit memory has extended the concept of the unconscious and supports the hypothesis that this is where the emotional and the affective, sometimes traumatic presymbolic and preverbal experiences of the primary infant–mother relations, are stored.

Considering the implicit memories of the earliest relational exchanges, Giovanni Liotti underlines how, under the rubric of unrepressed unconscious, go modalities of preverbal and pre-affective consciousness and specific early experiences implicitly remembered. He also stresses how, in the earliest phases of extra-uterine life, relational experiences are memorised at the implicit level as sub-symbolic representations (Wilma Bucci’s term) of what we have come to refer to, after Bowlby, as internal working models (IWM). “Implicit relational knowing may be conceived as a continuous articulation of various motivational systems that works outside of the reflective consciousness”, “from the cradle to the grave” (Bowlby’s expression).

Liotti underlines how the explicit memories, both semantic and episodic, of attachment have been extensively and systematically studied in adults using a structured interview, the adult attachment interview. Forms of dissociations between implicit and explicit memories and forms of incoherent attributions of meaning are evident in adults whose mental states with regard to attachment are “dismissing” and “preoccupied/ entangled”, respectively. Liotti interestingly attributes these two forms of discrepancy between implicit and explicit memories of attachment to the influence of points of view verbally expressed by the carers and their own feelings towards the child. In disorganised attachment, “the implicit memories connected to the innate disposition of attachment and survival defence normally assume an integrated form because they are conceptualised in two different spheres of experience”—that is, danger on the one hand, and desire for comfort and protection, on the other. But in disorganised attachment the two sets of experience are, indeed, both directed at the same person, therefore the sub-symbolic representation of the self–other connected to the innate disposition of attachment is dissociated from that of self with the same other connected to the disposition of defence for survival.

As Kernberg and colleagues confirm, forms of dissociation and splitting can be used to indicate the lack of integration between implicit representations of the self and of the carer in disorganised attachment. But, as Liotti very cogently underlines, “the cause and the psychic mechanism at the origin of this type of disintegration, however, differ significantly if we adopt the classical drive theory or the evolutionistic multi-motivational theory”. Instead of seeing this disintegration as the result of the effect of two different emotions, desire and destructive aggression (as a Kleinian view would lead us to point at), in this evolutionary multi-motivational perspective, Liotti considers fear without solution as the pivot around which multiple affects turn: desire for help and comfort, on the one hand, rage, sadness, and helplessness, on the other.

schore-jpeg-2For Allan Schore, the implicit self is located in the right brain and is the basis of the functioning of the human unconscious. He argues that “the early developing right brain generates the implicit self, an early unrepressed unconscious nucleus of the self” and that “the current, expanding body of knowledge of the right hemisphere suggests a major alteration in the conceptualisation of the Freudian unconscious, the internal structural system that processes information at nonconscious levels”. Affective phenomena cannot be understood without an understanding and consideration of affect regulation between mother and child and, for Schore, “the emotion-processing right mind is the neurobiological substrate of Freud’s dynamic unconscious . . .”. The mother as the regulator of arousal, through the right brain inter-mediation, contributes to the further self-regulation for the child; the process of this intersubjective neurobiological exchange is inscribed in implicit–procedural memory in the early developing right brain.

Schore finally suggests that this transfer of non-conscious affect is mediated by a right amygdala–right amygdala communication. This somatic embedding of the unconscious is perfectly in line with both Freud’s statement that “the unconscious is the proper mediator between the somatic and the mental” (Freud 1960, “Letter to Groddeck”, 5 June, 1917) and the idea that the drive is, as we have said above, at the confine between the mental and the somatic. Moving towards psychotherapy, Schore underlines the role of implicit affect in so far as “unconscious processing of emotional stimuli is specifically associated with activation of the right and not the left hemisphere”.


the orbitofrontal cortex

Integrating both Allan Schore’s and Giovanni Liotti’s conclusions, Clara Mucci underlines how the orbitofrontal cortex, that is, the central mechanism of affect regulation in the dual hemisphere brain, accesses memory functions by implicit processing. So, that which Freud terms “preconscious”  is directly influenced by this regulatory activity that from external regulation becomes internal and self-regulated. The orbitofrontal cortex also exerts an essential role in co-ordinating internal states of the organism and the various representational processes, similar to the IWM as explained by Bowlby. In the case of early relational trauma, that is, a severe dystony between the systems, and the right brains of mother and child, they might lose the possibility of integration so that dysregulated somatic states are created, which, in turn, is coherent with current day understanding of how personality disorders develop as a result of dysregulation of affect and related pathologies. In other words, early trauma and insecure forms of attachment, including disorganised attachment, are encoded in implicit memory.

In his chapter, Giuseppe Craparo defines two different mental processes (transference–countertransference and enactment), as related to repressed and unrepressed unconscious, respectively, present in the analytic field. In accordance with Freud’s interpretation, the author suggests that transference involves the patient’s past and its re–evocation under the form of a psychic acting out in the relation with the analyst. Craparo clarifies the nature of mise en scène of the transference–countertransference, in contrast with enactment, which assumes the characteristics of a dyadic dissociative process the patient makes use of, through his/her relationship with the analyst, to control aspects of the self that are inaccessible to reflective functioning. According to this author, in contrast with transference–countertransference that is supported by acting out, enactment is supported by projective identification which is the psychic mechanism through which the traumatic emotions present in the patient’s unrepressed unconscious (disorganised) are conveyed to the analyst’s unrepressed unconscious (well organised).


“projective identification is the psychic mechanism through which the traumatic emotions present in the patient’s unrepressed unconscious (disorganised) are conveyed to the analyst’s unrepressed unconscious (well organised)”

Giuseppe Craparo, PhD, is a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist practicing in Enna and Catania, Italy. He is Assistant Professor of Psychology at the Kore University of Enna. He is also a member of the ASP (Associazione di Studi Psicoanalitici), a Member Society of the International Federation of Psychoanalytic Societes.

Clara Mucci is a psychoanalytically oriented psychotherapist practicing in Milan and Pescara, Italy. She is Full Professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Chieti, where she taught English Literature and Shakespearean Drama. She received a PhD from Emory University, Atlanta, and was a fellow in 2005-2006 at the Institute of Personality Disorder, New York, directed by Otto Kernberg. She is the author of Beyond Individual and Collective Trauma: Intergenerational Transmission, Psychoanalytic Treatment, and the Dynamics of Forgivenessas well as several monographs on Shakespeare, Psychoanalysis and Literary Theory.

        Their new book, Unrepressed Unconscious, Implicit Memory, and Clinical Work, has just been published by Karnac.


Reviews and Endorsements

36633‘A book dedicated to the “unrepressed unconscious” is a long-awaited contribution to psychodynamic theory and practice. It makes us address questions to which we cannot, and probably we should not, give final answers. How does the clinician move between the unconscious of neuroscience and the unconscious of psychoanalysis? What is the role of implicit memory in normal and pathological functioning? How are our ideas of different kinds of unconscious affected by our understanding trauma, dissociation, attachment, and implicit relational knowledge? Giuseppe Craparo and Clara Mucci have edited a thought-provoking book wherein the major scholars of the field are called to share their different perspectives, keeping us suspended between the longing for answers and the desire for new questions.’
Vittorio Lingiardi, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy

‘The notion of the unrepressed unconscious has been a major psychoanalytic puzzle since the inception of the discipline. Psychoanalytic thinking about the nature of consciousness has always implicitly distinguished between a non-conscious and a dynamically unconscious mental content, whether marked by distinctions such as repressed vs. unrepressed, preconscious vs. unconscious or, using Sandler’s three-box model, past vs. present unconscious. This excellent book attempts to map this somewhat controversial field and addresses the dichotomy from six distinct perspectives that share the wish to integrate contemporary neuroscience with psychoanalytic perspectives, using the clinical setting as the primary constraint on theory-building.’
– Peter Fonagy, Freud Memorial Professor of Psychoanalysis, University College London



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