Thursday, December 9, 2010
On Being a Psychopath
We have all met them; they are the conscience-free, manipulative, unfeeling and uncaring humans (if I may say that)that leave a well of destruction wherever they go. They know nothing of love or helping and above all, of gratitude. Once you give they want more and only see you as a sucker and pigeon who can be worked for more. How did that happen?
I could quote statistics. You know that a recent study of psychopaths found that they have damage in their feeling centers; no surprise there. (see “A Brain Gone Wrong.” Scientific American/Mind. 3, Sept. 2010). But we get that. They cannot feel and they cannot empathize; they do not seem to have the capacity for it. They have the shell of a human without the internal mechanisms that gives us our humanity. They have learned how to act charming, the better to manipulate others by obtaining their trust first. But it is short-lived and then the truth comes out. They care about no one. There are partial psychopaths who have some of these traits but manage to care once in a while, sporadically and with no depth of feeling. Nevertheless, they seem to be human. They do not scam or cheat others but they are not against it if they have to. Look at the driving business man or politician for examples. They raise prices, the rent, anything, because they care about themselves and profits and not others. They need to get 10% return not matter what it means to others. They don’t hate others but they love themselves more. That is not exactly true since they really have little love to give even to themselves. The politicians care about votes and staying in power; we all know that. They will say anything to stay in office; they are master manipulators and are able to twist other’s needs to make them vote against themselves and their needs. They all care not about others. It is no doubt the sine qua non of going into politics. There are some exceptions and you know who they are. They tell the truth, which is why they cannot stay in office.
This damage to the limbic/feeling structures can happen during womblife and is highly exacerbated right afterward when there is an absence of close human contact; perhaps weeks in an incubator with little or not human warmth. Then to compound matters there is indifferent unloving parents who never touch the child. I say that there is an “emotional band missing.” They seem to be short on feelings. It can begin when the mother is chronically anxious or depressed while carrying; they baby suffers and is already damaged before coming onto this planet.
So what about morality? Psychopaths seem to be immoral, but they are unfeeling; that is what the research evidence shows. They cannot feel or empathize with others so they, as Clinton said in reverse, cannot feel their pain. So anything goes. They cheat their closest friends, a la Bernard Madoff. They don’t feel bad about this “immoral behavior” because they cannot feel the pain they are causing; cheating people out of their life’s savings without a hint of caring. Their feeling band is missing and nothing anyone can do can put it back. That is why when they are caught they can never confess to their crimes; it is always someone else’s fault. We in Primal Therapy cannot treat them because they incorporate the therapy into their psychopathy and often decide to become therapists with no training. They harm many people and advertise so well that they con many. They scream and yell (we have taken them out of prison for the court) but never feel; they go through the motions of being human without being human. We cannot give them back a full brain. The damage is too early and too severe.
A research study at King’s College, in London, came out explaining the origins of the psychopath. He remains as I have described him (and psychopaths are mostly males) but the origin of the personality disorder needs to be pushed back a few weeks. In the study, the investigators used an imaging scan (MRI), on psychopaths (killers, rapists, etc.), and concluded that there were differences in their brains from those in the general population. Two of the culprits were the prefrontal area of the cortex, and aspects of the amygdala. There was an impairment between the connections in those two areas. In a normal brain, when there are emotionally stimulating events, the amygala responds. But in psychopaths there is a breakdown in this response.
The grounds for this condition, set up before birth, are exacerbated by birth trauma and lack of human contact right after birth. It would seem that in psychopaths the neural circuitry that connects feelings to higher level brain processes is deficient. Another way to put it is that feelings are not part of the conceptual, day-to-day cortical functioning. So while the person can be charming on the exterior, there are no sincere feelings underlying this facade. It is all a dumb show. Perhaps if the trauma did not exist before birth to damage the connection between nerve cells responsible for feelings and those in charge of comprehension the lack of touch after birth would not have such disastrous effects. However, when there is a pre-birth impairment of the connections between feelings and thoughts, the lack of physical contact right after birth is catastrophic. The result can be someone who not only has no control over his impulses but also has no means to experience his feelings. There may be learning but not emotionally integrated learning. The implications of the study were that psychopathy, in fact, could be a brain disease. I think it is more likely explained by epigenetic trauma.
The important lesson, though, is that psychopathy, much like other aberrations in development, bears the signature of what went wrong earlier in our lives. Memories are made indelible in our biology because they form guides to our future, instructions on how to behave in order to survive. That is, they become part of our “apperceptive mass;” always ready to serve our interest for survival.
Here is what one of my students wrote:
Psychopaths shed light on a crucial subset of decision-making that's referred to as morality. Morality can be a squishy, vague concept, and yet, at its simplest level, it's nothing but a series of choices about how we treat other people. When you act in a moral manner—when you recoil from violence, treat others fairly, and help strangers in need—you are making decisions that take people besides yourself into account. You are thinking about the eelings of others, sympathizing with their states of mind.
This is what psychopaths can't do. . .They are missing the primal emotional cues that the rest of us use as guides when making moral decisions. The psychopath's brain is bored by expressions of terror. The main problem seems to be a broken amygdala, a brain area responsible for propagating aversive emotions such as fear and anxiety. As a result, psychopaths never feel bad when they make other people feel bad. Hurting someone else is just another way of getting what he wants, a perfectly reasonable way to satisfy desires. The absence of emotion makes the most basic moral concepts incomprehensible. G. K.Chesterton was right: “The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason.”
 Reported in Science Daily, August 5, 2009. D. Murphy, Marco Catani and Michael Craig. Aug, 2009. See also, Michael Craig, “Altered Connections on the Road to Psychopath.” In Molecular Psychiatry, 2009. DOI 10. Pg 1038.
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.