Sunday, December 27, 2009
Why Are We Anxious? (Part 3/6)
A reliving of pre-birth and birth imprint will evoke the exact same reactions as at the time of the original trauma. But in the absence of a reliving, the reactions or fragments of the memory will persist, such as a fast heart rate or high blood pressure. There will be a racing mind; racing because it is being mobilized by deep level imprints. There will also be the inability to think clealy; confusion. We are dealing with imprints before we had organized thoughts, so not thinking clearly is understandable. There will be difficulty sleeping, especially falling asleep.
When we relive a complete early pre-birth memory of which a high blood pressure was a part, then in the total reliving that fragment of the memory will also be included, and the patient should consequently see relief from the intrusive symptoms. If aspects of the original reaction are missing, the reliving is not complete and therefore not curative. If we medicate blood pressure and keep the high level reaction under wraps the complete reliving is not possible. That is one danger of taking tranquilizers. We feel better but in generally we will live a shorter life.
Any deep symptoms such as a constant low-grade fever or chronically elevated body temperature all point the way to the brainstem and some parts of the limbic brain. That is, they point to perhaps a pre-birth experience; pointing out the route the patient ultimately will have to travel. We may not see the problem for decades and therefore cannot imagine how early someone’s heart problem began. The way out for the anxiety case is usually stroke or heart attack. Realistically, the real way out needs to be the way in; feeling the anxiety untrammeled, naked and bare for what it is and was—pure terror; it is panic in the face of the threat of death—at birth.
Most of the current problems in neurosis can be traced to anxiety which is the most primitive reaction we have in common with many primitive animals such as the lizard. We need terror to alert us to danger. Strange to say that we need terror but it is true; and a nation of pill takers are voiding any chance at real health by suppressing the warning signs. It would be like suppressing the forerunners of a heart attack (angina) just to feel comfortable. I know how necessary this can be; it is not a moral position but one of survival.
Take obsessions. Patients will be openly anxious if they cannot carry out their rituals, the same if we are not allowed to act-out any of our neuroses. Sexual rituals are another example. The rituals, in short, attempt to bind the anxiety. The content of the ritual may have little to do with the base but is a channel for first-line reactions. As are many phobias, as well.
So again, what is it, this anxiety, and where does it come from? The way I found out is simply going to work every day and observing patients. In a session, as a patient is near the deep feeling of hopelessness or helplessness she often runs an anxiety attack. She has shortness of breath, butterflies in the stomach, pressure on the chest, high agitation and a feeling of near-death. She feels totally agitated and wound up and has no idea how to stop it. And it goes on until those feelings are connected and resolved. The person has no idea what is going on, it is incomprehensible, which aggravates the anxiety state.
This is not an idiosyncratic happenstance. Anxiety appears in nearly all of our patients at one point in a session as they approach the first-line. These feelings were so shattering when the baby was an infant that it was immediately repressed in the interest of survival and also in the interest of maintaining a functioning neo-cortex. It is an automatic process that keeps us from being overwhelmed. It allows us to survive in the most drastic circumstances. Can we imagine how the fetus or baby feels in the face of this terror? That fragility is still there inside. Overwhelmed can mean non-functioning, yet most of us have children, have to go to work, do the shopping etc. There is no time for dysfunction. Enter tranquilizers.
The reason it is called anxiety and not terror, even though it is the very same feeling, is that sufferer never knows where anxiety comes from and don’t know what it really is. We therefore treat them as separate entities. Anxiety began its life so early that it can seem totally unrelated to what is going on twenty years later. Because of the disconnection, anxiety seems to hang in space with no specific antecedent. Once the patient feels a trauma at birth gasping for oxygen the anxiety becomes the terror and the fight for life that it is and was. It now has a home—and an owner.
So again, where does it come from? A high level of anxiety in the mother will contribute to stress (and later anxiety) for the fetus. There have been many studies bearing this out (cited in later chapters). An anxious, pregnant mother, responding to her outer world—is stirring up the metabolism of her fetus, who is also responding to his environment. If mother’s anxiety goes on long enough, it will become a permanent state in the fetus, and change him for life. It so looks like genetics that we easily mistake it for heredity; after all, the baby seems to be born unable to sit still or learn in school.
The mother’s anxiety will over-stimulate the fetus and impair her nervous system, creating a child with an imprint of a high level of stimulation; she may feel overwhelmed by every little thing that happens throughout life. As an adult she might respond to her husband asking her to bring the salt to the table. He is met with an angry, “Do you really expect me to do everything? Get it yourself.” Everything becomes too much because it was during womb-life. Everything that was too much, then, is laid down as a substrate, and all new demands work against that substrate. So one little new request made of her as an adult has a magnified impact. And if by chance she made an error on something she would immediately turn it around to make the accuser wrong. She cannot be wrong and immediately transfers terrible feelings of having made a mistake so that the other person feels wrong. He ends up defending himself. Again, it is not so much that she has done something wrong, but that small error has resonated with something very important in her that may mean I am not loved.
If now this person suffers panic attacks it means that the basic terror is close to the surface; hence the chronic feeling of being overwhelmed (overwhelmed by feelings). We see an example of this in the monkey study discussed in a later chapter. Mothers were given cocaine which stirred up and agitated them, not unlike a maternal anxiety attack, and we saw the result; impulsive offspring more likely to take drugs as adults. Anxious monkeys take to alcohol as do we. And what makes them anxious? Sporadic and unpredictable separation from the mother; lack of steady love.
Let us suppose those fears were channeled into elevators, a fear of being enclosed as the object of terror. The terror is deep brain; the focus is higher brain. Psychotherapy cannot cure a deep brain terror by a discussion with the higher brain; it is not where the wound lies. There can be circumstances in life that could create such a phobia, such as being stuck in an elevator or another enclosed space as a young child, but real terror—a life-and death event, only rarely derives from happenings in late childhood. The imprint is the origin, terror becomes the reaction, and phobia becomes the focus. We need to separate each so we understand the problem, and then address the imprint with its reaction. The imprint generates all of the rest.
For a fetus, the mother’s womb is the external world. A womb environment that keeps the fetus in an alert state eventually becomes part of the baby who will be a more aggressive, hyperactive child who cannot focus or concentrate in class. He will grow up hyper-vigilant. This may be useful if he becomes an undercover cop but is bad for his longevity. Conversely, if the carrying mother is depressed for a lengthy period of time, her baby may go into “down” mode, perhaps for life as a personality characteristic. He may love cocaine later in life. Or even better, methamphetamine, which puts the body in an “up” position.
Anxiety is often manifested by choking or smothering sensations, dizziness and a feeling of impending doom. And quite soon the patient will cough and choke in a session that is a harbinger of a birth pain that is breaking through. During a reliving of the birth trauma later on, when immersed in the experience there will often be coughing and bringing up sputum in large amounts. There is now the context.
Actually, doing that (coughing and choking) in exaggerated fashion while anxious will help a person feel better. And we recommend it to our patients when they do not have deeper access for the moment. It is simply the discharge of the some of the energy of the feeling. None of these need a cortex or higher level brain function. That is one very important reason that words cannot cure it. It is basically visceral and sub-cortical. These manifestations are (coughing, suffocating, drowning) telling us that they emanate from a very primitive brain organization and from a time when there was only an inchoate cerebral structure (lacking a fully developed neo-cortex) to handle trauma. There is no insight that can treat it because it began its life long before we had words. First-line knows no words or screams (patients never scream when in the birth sequence), there are only grunts and moans. If there are childhood cries or words or screams it indicates higher brain levels are involved and therefore not a true reliving. We simply cannot fool the lower brain. The higher one? Yes. Otherwise, how on earth would we elect psychopaths to office? When we do not have lower level access we are not anchored into feelings so we cannot judge the veracity of what others are saying. We fail to see nuance or subtleties (because we cannot feel it). We just don’t get it. We should get it because otherwise we can be fooled or tricked.
Terror is what we see in lower animals who are frightened by another animal. Their reactions seem like pure panic. We see this in some individuals who undergo MRIs. The minute they are enclosed in a steel and cement sheath panic surges forth. It is approximating what happened originally. It takes the confines of such a machine to reawaken the primitive feeling. The patient may believe it is the machine that is producing anxiety, but it is the primal panic from the confined, enclosed space; the womb in which he tried to exit for life. What the MRI does is stimulate a resonating memory; not a memory in the way we usually think of it, but it sets off a bodily reaction. If we do have this kind of anxiety having an MRI exam, we can be fairly sure that we endured a difficult birth or pre-birth. It is, in short, a differential diagnostic tool to separate out those with healthy births from those with traumatic births. We can teach the technicians who perform MRIs to tap the leg or foot of the person at irregular intervals so that one cannot organize a full-fledged anxiety reaction. Or offer an eye mask so that the person stays unaware of his surroundings. When this distraction fails there might be an anxiety attack.
So now we have one good reason not to use words when treating those with many first-line symptoms. We are dealing with a non-verbal animal rummaging around in the lower reaches of our nervous system. It is basically visceral as our insides feel as though they are exploding. The hysteric is a good example; someone with barely any control, unable to concentrate, scattered, all over the place, explosive, overreacting, seemingly overcome with feelings at all times. This is someone with first-line (lower brain) damage, deprivation during womb-life, at birth or just after. Words are not going to slow this person down who seems like she is in a rush all of the time, including a rush to get the session over with. She wants to get better now! She needs to be allowed to go to those remote places that drive her; driven by very early deprivation of need. This is far below the verbal level. Or if the person is not able to access the deep brain we can give painkillers that will suppress its force for a time until she can feel her feelings.
Too often, the therapist or physician sees their job as eliminating the symptom, because it is considered a sort of a mystery that is unfathomable. And of course the symptom is uncomfortable and could be life-endangering. And when we just attack the symptom there is the tacit assumption that it is there for no good reason; otherwise why not attack the source? Battling symptoms is usually a vain exercise. There is no end to it.
Review of "Beyond Belief"
This thought-provoking and important book shows how people are drawn toward dangerous beliefs.
“Belief can manifest itself in world-changing ways—and did, in some of history’s ugliest moments, from the rise of Adolf Hitler to the Jonestown mass suicide in 1979. Arthur Janov, a renowned psychologist who penned The Primal Scream, fearlessly tackles the subject of why and how strong believers willingly embrace even the most deranged leaders.
Beyond Belief begins with a lucid explanation of belief systems that, writes Janov, “are maps, something to help us navigate through life more effectively.” While belief systems are not presented as inherently bad, the author concentrates not just on why people adopt belief systems, but why “alienated individuals” in particular seek out “belief systems on the fringes.” The result is a book that is both illuminating and sobering. It explores, for example, how a strongly-held belief can lead radical Islamist jihadists to murder others in suicide acts. Janov writes, “I believe if people had more love in this life, they would not be so anxious to end it in favor of some imaginary existence.”
One of the most compelling aspects of Beyond Belief is the author’s liberal use of case studies, most of which are related in the first person by individuals whose lives were dramatically affected by their involvement in cults. These stories offer an exceptional perspective on the manner in which belief systems can take hold and shape one’s experiences. Joan’s tale, for instance, both engaging and disturbing, describes what it was like to join the Hare Krishnas. Even though she left the sect, observing that participants “are stunted in spiritual awareness,” Joan considers returning someday because “there’s a certain protection there.”
Janov’s great insight into cultish leaders is particularly interesting; he believes such people have had childhoods in which they were “rejected and unloved,” because “only unloved people want to become the wise man or woman (although it is usually male) imparting words of wisdom to others.” This is just one reason why Beyond Belief is such a thought-provoking, important book.”
Barry Silverstein, Freelance Writer
Quotes for "Life Before Birth"
“Life Before Birth is a thrilling journey of discovery, a real joy to read. Janov writes like no one else on the human mind—engaging, brilliant, passionate, and honest.
He is the best writer today on what makes us human—he shows us how the mind works, how it goes wrong, and how to put it right . . . He presents a brand-new approach to dealing with depression, emotional pain, anxiety, and addiction.”
Paul Thompson, PhD, Professor of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine
Art Janov, one of the pioneers of fetal and early infant experiences and future mental health issues, offers a robust vision of how the earliest traumas of life can percolate through the brains, minds and lives of individuals. He focuses on both the shifting tides of brain emotional systems and the life-long consequences that can result, as well as the novel interventions, and clinical understanding, that need to be implemented in order to bring about the brain-mind changes that can restore affective equanimity. The transitions from feelings of persistent affective turmoil to psychological wholeness, requires both an understanding of the brain changes and a therapist that can work with the affective mind at primary-process levels. Life Before Birth, is a manifesto that provides a robust argument for increasing attention to the neuro-mental lives of fetuses and infants, and the widespread ramifications on mental health if we do not. Without an accurate developmental history of troubled minds, coordinated with a recognition of the primal emotional powers of the lowest ancestral regions of the human brain, therapists will be lost in their attempt to restore psychological balance.
Jaak Panksepp, Ph.D.
Bailey Endowed Chair of Animal Well Being Science
Washington State University
Dr. Janov’s essential insight—that our earliest experiences strongly influence later well being—is no longer in doubt. Thanks to advances in neuroscience, immunology, and epigenetics, we can now see some of the mechanisms of action at the heart of these developmental processes. His long-held belief that the brain, human development, and psychological well being need to studied in the context of evolution—from the brainstem up—now lies at the heart of the integration of neuroscience and psychotherapy.
Grounded in these two principles, Dr. Janov continues to explore the lifelong impact of prenatal, birth, and early experiences on our brains and minds. Simultaneously “old school” and revolutionary, he synthesizes traditional psychodynamic theories with cutting-edge science while consistently highlighting the limitations of a strict, “top-down” talking cure. Whether or not you agree with his philosophical assumptions, therapeutic practices, or theoretical conclusions, I promise you an interesting and thought-provoking journey.
Lou Cozolino, PsyD, Professor of Psychology, Pepperdine University
In Life Before Birth Dr. Arthur Janov illuminates the sources of much that happens during life after birth. Lucidly, the pioneer of primal therapy provides the scientific rationale for treatments that take us through our original, non-verbal memories—to essential depths of experience that the superficial cognitive-behavioral modalities currently in fashion cannot possibly touch, let alone transform.
Gabor Maté MD, author of In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction
An expansive analysis! This book attempts to explain the impact of critical developmental windows in the past, implores us to improve the lives of pregnant women in the present, and has implications for understanding our children, ourselves, and our collective future. I’m not sure whether primal therapy works or not, but it certainly deserves systematic testing in well-designed, assessor-blinded, randomized controlled clinical trials.
K.J.S. Anand, MBBS, D. Phil, FAACP, FCCM, FRCPCH, Professor of Pediatrics, Anesthesiology, Anatomy & Neurobiology, Senior Scholar, Center for Excellence in Faith and Health, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare System
A baby's brain grows more while in the womb than at any time in a child's life. Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script That Rules Our Lives is a valuable guide to creating healthier babies and offers insight into healing our early primal wounds. Dr. Janov integrates the most recent scientific research about prenatal development with the psychobiological reality that these early experiences do cast a long shadow over our entire lifespan. With a wealth of experience and a history of successful psychotherapeutic treatment, Dr. Janov is well positioned to speak with clarity and precision on a topic that remains critically important.
Paula Thomson, PsyD, Associate Professor, California State University, Northridge & Professor Emeritus, York University
"I am enthralled.
Dr. Janov has crafted a compelling and prophetic opus that could rightly dictate
PhD thesis topics for decades to come. Devoid of any "New Age" pseudoscience,
this work never strays from scientific orthodoxy and yet is perfectly accessible and
downright fascinating to any lay person interested in the mysteries of the human psyche."
Dr. Bernard Park, MD, MPH
His new book “Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” shows that primal therapy, the lower-brain therapeutic method popularized in the 1970’s international bestseller “Primal Scream” and his early work with John Lennon, may help alleviate depression and anxiety disorders, normalize blood pressure and serotonin levels, and improve the functioning of the immune system.
One of the book’s most intriguing theories is that fetal imprinting, an evolutionary strategy to prepare children to cope with life, establishes a permanent set-point in a child's physiology. Baby's born to mothers highly anxious during pregnancy, whether from war, natural disasters, failed marriages, or other stressful life conditions, may thus be prone to mental illness and brain dysfunction later in life. Early traumatic events such as low oxygen at birth, painkillers and antidepressants administered to the mother during pregnancy, poor maternal nutrition, and a lack of parental affection in the first years of life may compound the effect.
In making the case for a brand-new, unified field theory of psychotherapy, Dr. Janov weaves together the evolutionary theories of Jean Baptiste Larmarck, the fetal development studies of Vivette Glover and K.J.S. Anand, and fascinating new research by the psychiatrist Elissa Epel suggesting that telomeres—a region of repetitive DNA critical in predicting life expectancy—may be significantly altered during pregnancy.
After explaining how hormonal and neurologic processes in the womb provide a blueprint for later mental illness and disease, Dr. Janov charts a revolutionary new course for psychotherapy. He provides a sharp critique of cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and other popular “talk therapy” models for treating addiction and mental illness, which he argues do not reach the limbic system and brainstem, where the effects of early trauma are registered in the nervous system.
“Life Before Birth: The Hidden Script that Rules Our Lives” is scheduled to be published by NTI Upstream in October 2011, and has tremendous implications for the future of modern psychology, pediatrics, pregnancy, and women’s health.