Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Repression as the Master Gland

I have written extensively about repression and its lifelong damaging effects. The more I see of life the more I understand how deleterious repression can be. First of all, we need to understand that for almost every pain there is the commensurate repression. And the earlier and more remote the pains the greater the extent of repression. These pains call into being their antagonist. And the stronger the repression the more likely there will be disease, symptoms and decreased longevity. It is not the pain so much as the consequences of repressing it. We are putting a lid on an enormous force, a force that requires expression. Because the valence of pain is always higher as we descend down the evolutionary chain, later causes of disease can be imputed to our earliest traumas. Remember again, that lack of fulfillment of basic need even from our time in the womb, constitutes a trauma. It doesn’t have to be obvious; in fact, it is the less obvious of traumas that cause the most trouble. Yet they are easy to ignore.

The more life-and-death the experience the heavier the load of repression; and that can lead to an equally castastrophic life-and death affliction. That is why I believe that womb-life and birth trauma contribute heavily to later disease. It is not simply a belief taken out of the air; it is based on decades of observation of patients from many different countries of the world, to say nothing of a passel of related research.

The evidence is mounting that relates early (pre-verbal) traumas to later disease. In my Life Before Birth book I cite dozens of scientific studies that indicate how heart disease, stroke and cancer have their origins during the time we are being carried by our mothers. The investigators do not allude to repression; these are correlation studies—so many traumas at birth, so great the chance of this disease or that. These are statistical truths. We are after a bit more; biologic truths. We want to explain why these symptoms occur later on. What better way than to probe the unconscious of the patient?

What we see is that the earlier the trauma the more exaggerated/inordinate the response. That difficulties in the carrying mother often lead to an ill child—kidney disease, migraines, epilepsy, unable to sit still, anxious, etc. That these afflictions are also accompanied by deviant/neurotic behavior, high agitation levels, lack of concentration and focus, poor sleep and many other signs of overload. Massive repression can lead, in my opinion, to shattering illness such as cancer. I know it will shorten our lives.

OK so we all agree. Now what? We need to lessen the repression. How do we do that? We attack the pain, not “attack,” exactly. We feel it, as mundane as that sounds. Not so easily done since the defense system and repression won’t let it happen. We have to start with evolution in reverse; we feel small current pains, move to childhood, then infancy, then birth and finally, gestation. It is not done overnight. It takes many months, at the very least. But we cannot abrogate the law of nature and of evolution and hope to help patients get well. So rebirthing is out, period. So is forced crying or screaming or batting the walls. In fact, anything forced is wrong. It is gentle process if done right; no one is rushed into great pain. We know that repression sets in automatically because the system could not accept and integrate the early trauma. As the system is more mature we can tolerate more pain but who decides when and where? The patient’s biologic system, of course.

This is wonderful! Nothing to figure out; nothing to foresee, no special goal that we make for the patient. She makes her own goals; and her feelings does it for her. She feels one pain, it triggers off another related pain, and so on. In French it is called an engrenage. It takes time because we arrive at the heaviest pains last, and therefore the most obstinate symptoms or behavioral deviation is resolved last; for it is the very early traumas that pack the most lifelong impact. We can measure that impact through brainwaves and the vital signs, as well as through the biochemistry. We don’t have to guess as to impact; it is right there in the vital signs. We only need to know how to interpret them. So what makes for suicidal tendencies? When we see a reliving for birth or infancy trauma we know. And the patient tells us about its power.

With biologic truth so much is clear. With statistics we have to find a control group and do fancy calculations. And what do we find? A correlation between this set of facts and that set. We don’t really have to think much because the figures tells what we want to know. There is a difference between statistical calculating and real thinking.


  1. Art, those expensive studies you did in the past, do you still have all the documentation? Is it complete enough for a professional to understand (ignoring the fact that it has never been understood). If so, and if it's not too much trouble, can I have it please? I want to see if it can be useful.

  2. i wonder how someone can relive a biochemical insult in the first months after conception. It would at best have to be a reliving of the later distress that registered on the developing nervous system after about the third month wouldn't it? A very vague and pervasive somatic discomfort I suppose.

  3. I thought this was a very good post in particular, Art. It had a nice style and flow to it too.

    You say:.... These are statistical truths. We are after a bit more; biologic truths. We want to explain why these symptoms occur later on.

    I agree that's exactly what we want. And on this level I think you (and your theory) stand alone.

  4. Art,

    I certainly understand the importance of the caution you're craving in participating in Primal Therapy. We are probably already in a too sick condition when the shock-like sensations such as anxiety and depression is our everyday life ... one step too far into the evolution... something that must be handled.

    This is something you see in old people... a chock-like state... people who no longer has any cognitive ability of defense... when life is almost at an end. This is also true for young people... who in one way or another are on the outside of a social potential defense.

    This is something that is made clear when you by yourself feel what pain contains. I'm not saying there is no pain left ... what I'm saying is… you probably reached a point where you know how to deal with the pain… pain possible to deal with by yourself.


  5. Hello Art,

    I understand perfectly well almost all your sentences in the today's Reflection except for the last few: "With biologic truth so much is clear. With statistics, we have to find a control group and do fancy calculations. And what do we find? A correlation between this set of facts and that set. We don't really have to think much because the figures tell what we want to know. There is a difference between statistical calculating and real thinking." English is not my natural language so maybe that is the reason I don't understand what you want to say. Help me please!
    Jan Johnsson

  6. Richard. look into Primal Healing. There is the full discussion. Most of it was lost when we moved from Paris to L.A. I have no idea where it is but cost over 1 million dollars at the time for all three researches, including two double-blind studies. That is why it cost so much. We needed control groups. no one really cares about our research anyway. My scientific article appeared earlier this year in the AAPPH journal. art

  7. Dr Janov: I'm not quite sure what the title of this article means,and I don't understand the last paragraph, which is frustrating, because it seems important in terms of what "real" knowlege of human beings is. Nevertheless, the rest is a very clear article summarising some keys findings of your reserch and therapy with human beings in distress .As always, it is a pleasure and an inspiration to read you (still a very very clear mind and a good heart at your age).

    I find it tragic that you write that "no one really cares about our research anyway".To me that is a reflection of how sick the world is, rather than anything about you and your work.During my lifetime, everything I have ever cared for, or found profound and important (like Primal), has been almost always totally ignored and scoffed at by the majority. No wonder I have been so rebellious and so full of resentment towards mainstream society .


  8. Jan: You need less imagination, in my opinion, when you manipulate figures and statistics; it is true that you do not get beyond the facts but sometimes we need to seek out truth beyond facts, and for that we need imagination, vision, seeing the possibilities. AJ

  9. Jan: There is an obvious place for statistical studies. What has been denigrated is biological truths; what we observed in our therapy, for example. We do not seem to trust experience and observation, mostly what figures tell us. It is a matter only of emphasis. I see epilepsy among very repressed individuals and those who were repressed very early. It informs me about origins. I make note of it and see it again and again. Then we treat some epilepsy effectively and have some of our ideas supported. That is all. art janov

  10. Grahame Can you hang on for a few months. It is all explained in Life Before Birth. art janov

  11. Another curious (but off topic) question, Art:

    Of your therapists, who learns and functions the best at their job: The ones with a greater or lesser history of pain?

    I could imagine that therapists who have had more pain could be better therapists simply due to a (possibly) greater ability to relate to and understand their patients, in a pain-relevant way. Trauma (and the integration of it) must ultimately be an potent education in itself, albeit a dark one.

  12. Dr. Janov,
    Are you familiar with “Springer”? Could this be an avenue for you?


  13. Art, this is the best brief version of Primal Therapy I have read from you, and clears IMO some misconceptions about how Primal Therapy is conducted, and my contention that in your practice, the patient is king.

    That 99% (or thereabouts) of all the medical diseases are actually merely symptoms of the one disease: neurosis, or as you state here "repression." I just wish the whole health-care profession would see this and then act accordingly. It would indeed be a major revolution (The Primal Revolution). I would like to see this started before your death and for you to get some global recognition for the work you have done since 1967.

  14. Hi,
    I have read up nearly all your blogs and reply comments since 2008. I am overwhelmed and my belief system has consequently been 'de-constructed' particularly about God. I'm glad but it's frightening. So many simple niggling questions now have answers. There seems to be a Big Lie that we are collectively co-opted into. I found your clinical ideas via Alice Millers' books (yes, she referred positively to your work).

    We English 'clients' might hope that these books would have been reccommended to start with; but no! Therin lies the self explanatory reason, just read Alices' FAQ list on the subject of what to ask therapists in order to be sure before you start with them on what they themselves have achieved with unlocking their own traumas. I found Alice Miller by pure chance, looking through Waterstones' Section on Psychology & therapy. Within minutes of accessing your web-site I find your blog and web-site answers more or less directly or indirectly every question she says therapists should be willing to answer for their prospective patients.

    "Luckily for me" I had a private English boarding school education so I know a lot about English Elitism and how that works to cover up the truth.
    I would say that in England therapists do not tell their clients the 'facts' as do you because they know some of their clients (if not all) do not want to hear them either. Thus there is an alopathic approach with "add on depth, if you want it, or find out about the seriosness of your condition (denial) later"; but without a padded, soundproofed cell and only one hour to work in, once a week, how on earth are we to get any deeper than a few disconnected tears and some sort-of vaguely helpful insight? Thus we only get so far. . . You've written about this in many different ways and I can see it happening to me and others in England. Even when the therapists are "Body Work" or whatever so called "integrative" system of "wholeness" their marketing alludes to, there is a pressure to maintain their status by with holding information about our neuro-biology, they are the knowers, thus we the "client-group" have to become the "insighters", bloody guess-work if you ask me! It's like being back at school again. Sometimes it feels as if the Therapists have forgotten the theory or are not up to date or are so fixated on their clients "feelings" (and their own identification with them) that they cannot actually CATCH THE FISH when it swims by! Some ****ing disconnect or other! In them, not just us "clients". This dilemma feels so familiar from the way classest elitism was instilled into me, it's everywhere in UK. Therapists are the white collar priests arn't they?

    I know I'm a difficult case (spot the counter-dependent intellectualising) but really I now know it's not all my fault, I feel as stuck as the day I started therapy 5 years ago. I even feel obliged to my therapist and guilty that he won't answer my questions (from Alice Millers' FAQ list).

    Are there any licenced Primal Therapists working in UK? If that's a difficult question to answer shortly.I would not be surprised. Are there problems with recognition of your work by the various governing bodies? Nobody wants to discuss the plain truth do they?

    I hope I can come to do Primal Therapy; even your blog is helping me join stuff up.

    Best Regards

    PG UK.

  15. Andrew: All of us have had plenty of pain but those with first line pain can quickly recognize it in others. AJ

  16. Sieglinde:I never heard of Springer and I cannot open your link. AJ

  17. Nenad:I am now trying to sell my book BEYOND BELIEF There I discuss a lot of your questions. art janov

  18. Woody. There are no therapists in England I can recommend. Best you do it in Santa Monica. Here i know we do good work. Do not compromise on your health and your life. art janov

  19. Amazing how what happens in our earliest stages of pre-natal development has such an impact. Obviously, as some have mentioned on this forum, prevention would be the best. But as Woody mentions about elitism suppressing, many in our world do not want healthy functioning and capable minds, free of pain and in control.

    Many forces are at work to resist healing of the mind and body. PT will always be for the brave individuals who do not tread the well worn path most follow. We would all like to see the world heal but it almost seems a certain impossibility.

    Those who question the accepted among us throughout time have always been very small in number and not appreciated. PHilosophers, maverick scientists, prophets, some "heretics," and other such independent renegades as come along every once in a great while. Lets hope they always come along.

  20. Dr. Janov,
    would you like to try the direct link:
    click on the link "subjects"
    and psychology.


  21. Sieglinde: what am I looking for? AJ


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.