Wednesday, December 22, 2010
From a Patient
"A coward dies a thousand deaths, but the valiant taste death but once"
Act 1 Scene 2 Line 32 of "Julius Cesear", by William Shakespeare.
This was sent to me by a patient:
Throughout my life, in every major endeavor, I have given my all in the struggle for success. Each time I would work long hours filled with enthusiasm, damn the sleepless nights, damn the overwork, damn every obstacle, whether it was my restaurant, my advertising agency or whatever all along the way. And with each I would progress to what I perceived as the pinnacle of success… and then, almost like magic, it would all collapse and turn to shit. I would be left broken, awash in pain, feeling helpless and worthless, and thinking of suicide. Oft times it would take years for me to recover enough to begin anew on to the next big project, culminating with the same results. Over and over I was dying my own thousand deaths.
Finally, in my late 50s, at the end of my last great failure, I became extremely ill and convinced my life was over, I was welcoming the opportunity for death. But in 2005 some weird fortune landed me in Primal Therapy.
I had no trouble getting to my feelings. I was what they call a mélange. All my feelings, at all three levels, were coming up at once. On the surface it was an ugly business with all that pain, but at the end of each session, I would be more relaxed and feel better than at any time I can remember.
Early on in my therapy I began descending into birth feelings. Now I was quite skeptical of the whole notion of birth Primals. I could not wrap my mind around the idea of having a clear memory without pictures in my head. Nonetheless, here I was: I was in the middle of a devastating toddler feeling. At that time in my life I suffered severe eczema. My parents would put socks on my hands and tie them to the bars in my crib, so I could not scratch myself bloody, then leave me there alone to cry myself to sleep. The itch, the helpless feeling of being so restrained, and the abandonment by my mother was hideous.
But then the feeling took a new turn. It slowly became all physical. I started to cough. The itch and restraint became the pain of being crushed. I felt smothered. Then as though there was some camshaft-like machine inside me, my body went into a writhing, waving dolphin motion. My head pushed against the padded wall in the therapy room. Time lost meaning. It was just forever. The feeling of suffocation was like sharp needles from deep inside my chest jabbing out through every pour of my whole body. This next is a little difficult for me to explain because during the feeling there were no words. The words came after, when I was integrating the feelings and connections with the help of my therapist. I pushed and strained and pushed and strained as the feelings became more intense. I felt like I was doing something wrong. There is something the matter with me. It’s too much. I was dying. The terror and panic accelerated until I got to a point when I thought I had made it through, and was finally going to be free… but too late. I was spent. I gave up to die. My whole body gave up the ghost and collapsed. Then my body went into wave after wave of the most radical trembling I could ever imagine.
This sequence repeated itself (I didn’t seem to be in the driver’s seat) again and again until my body just quit. The feeling slowly dissipated and left me drained, but so relaxed. It was as good as feeling gets. No fear, no panic, terror, or tension. Life felt good.
Then in discussing with my therapist what I was going through, I made the connection that what I had just experienced is the pattern of my life: struggle, fight, suffer, and plough forward to success… and then collapse – give up the ghost to death. I was amazed at the clarity, and simple obviousness of the connections.
“So,” you say, “that’s all nice, but what does that get you?”
The short of it, in Janov’s language, is that when those feelings come up at times when they are re-stimulated, the valance will be reduced. (Here I should add that this Primal was not a one shot deal. After some years I am still having to relive that scene or related scenes. This is because I can only tolerate such excruciating pain for from 10 to 30 seconds at a shot, and my birth was besought with all this agony over a course of at least hours. That’s a lot of pain to feel in order to free myself of it.) In addition when those feelings come up, I know what they really are, and I can separate those historical feelings from my present life.
But let me elaborate to give you a more concrete context. After about a year and a half of reliving those birth scenes repeatedly, I realized that I was not close to death, and had a brand new life to live. I decided to go to graduate school and get my MS in marriage and family therapy. Applying and getting accepted is no easy chore, especially for an old man. CSUSB gets a lot of applications but they only accept 12 students a year. From the git-go all those old birth feelings come up. I feel weak and helpless and I’m convinced my efforts will be for naught. I tell my therapist, “What’s the use. Even if I got accepted, which I probably won’t, I’ll be 70 when I graduate.” And he said, “yes, and you will be 70 even if you don’t.” Every time I would think about all I had to do just to apply made my arms feel weak, and found myself thinking, what’s the use? I had to get really great references, and it had been so long since I was in college, most of my old professors were already dead. I had to write a letter of intent, which meant the best pitch letter I’ve ever written in my life. But I could do all that because I have felt my pain in its proper context. I knew the enemy, and had sufficiently weakened it by reliving it to where it no longer had complete control over what I did. I didn’t have to fail.
I got accepted and quickly found out that the battle was just begun. I started the program on my 69th birthday, and found myself face to face with 11 beautiful women, all brilliant scholars, with young facile minds and energy that far eclipsed mine. This is where I really began to understand the connections I had made in my sessions. I continually feared that I would struggle, do well, and just at the point of graduation, or sometime before, I would fall on my face. I felt like it was all over at the end of every quarter. That old feeling would start to overwhelm me, but this time around, I could just lay down and let myself have the feeling, or I could hold off until my next session, and grapple with it again.
This time success was mine. I not only graduated, I managed to get the best possible placement with an organization filled with great people. But I’m not through yet. I’ll have more opportunities to give up and collapse in agony. I’ll also have to feel those feelings so ruinous in my past, and make them work for me as I continue to live my life with all the fullness I can muster. And, of course, I never fail to be amazed with every Primal and the personal growth that comes with it.
By Frank Robinette
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.