Sunday, April 24, 2011
On the Nature of Violence and Abuse
I was reading about serial killers in the newspaper today, and it set me to trying to explain what is involved in their act-out. And so I will start with a major assumption. Notice, this is writ large and there are many exceptions.
I have noted in many of my works that trauma to a carrying mother in the last trimester of pregnancy can damage the neocortical brain cells, the cells which, inter alia, control and shutdown feelings. They weaken the defense system. And they leave a mark or tag on the deep-lying brain cells; what I call the first-line. The mark is one of great impact since traumas to the fetus usually have a life-and-death urgency. A birthing mother who is heavily anesthetized seriously affects the baby who also may be profoundly drugged. He is fighting for air, for oxygen and for breath. He is terrified and that terror lingers on for a lifetime. It is the imprint; the first-line imprint. On this level lies terror, rage, deep hopelessness and helplessness.
The imprint leaves a residue of violent reactions which are only weakly contained. They add oomph to later imprinted feelings. So what should be simple anger at someone who insulted us, there is rage. Indeed, whenever we see these violent feelings and reactions we can presume that the first line is involved. Instead of feeling, “I would like to sleep with her,” there are attempts at rape. The imprint has left these powerful traces and at the same time has weakened the defense system. So being in a locked room produces terror, not simply fear. The first-line imprint is engraved by life-and-death experiences into constantly challenging control. So when we see impulsive act-outs we can be sure that the first line memories have left us with first-line reactions.
I once treated a rapist who did indeed hate his mother and by extension, women. But had he not had very early imprints I doubt whether he would have been a rapist. All this makes anger management superfluous. It is no different from those who have wild and weird ideas. The first-liner is pressured to concoct ideas that grow out of deep and painful imprints. It is a mental act-out as opposed to physical act-outs. Whenever we see someone into “booga-booga” we can bet there was serious early trauma. One case of a woman I saw who lost her mother when she was one year old, seemed to be making it well in life except for her strange belief systems. Those belief systems were the harbinger of a psychosis to come. When her husband lost his job she lost it. That added trauma pushed her over the top.
The trauma during womb-life provides the internal pressure for the impulse while that very same event also weakens cortical defenses. So the difference between wanting to have sex with someone and raping them is the difference of first-line. It is usually psychosis making.
And I might add that the difference between a slight headache and a migraine is the resonance factor; a current adverse event triggers off lower level pains and causes an overload and a symptom. If there were no resonance then the person might have an annoying headache but no migraine. On that lower level perhaps lives the contraction of blood vessels when there was so little oxygen during birth. And that reaction lives on in the imprint. When the adversity is bad enough in the present it can set off the original physiologic reaction. That is as true for migraine and high blood pressure as for acting-out violence; it includes the appearance of such serious diseases as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. All this might not be manifest were it not for “grandmother” pains that have lying around for possibly decades waiting for their summons.
There is also the possibility that later trauma, rape or incest can also produce violent act-outs but it is my experience that those cases are the exceptions. The serial killer is awash in first-line imprints. He may have wanted to kill his mother but without the first- line urgency he won’t kill women. If he undergoes serious continuous trauma with a violent mother he may later seriously act-out .
Remember those deep, remote memories are simply raw and vague impulses at the start. They are not embedded into specific scenes or images during childhood. They are what they are, undifferentiated forces. They become channeled depending on the life experience of the offspring. A seductive mother in a rapist I saw years ago, who constantly teased her son and drove him crazy, produced someone who could not control his impulses.
I should also note that most of these individuals are or have been on serious drugs; a sign that deep pain is driving them. And the drugs they take, ecstasy, for example, further weakens their defenses and exacerbates the problem, provoking feelings.
So in day-to-day life these people get in trouble because they do not have the mental power to contain feelings and then take drugs which further lessens control. I said before that anger management is useless because the source for the impulses lies way below cortical, cognitive processes. We cannot “manage” deep impulses; we need to feel them and experience what they are and where they came from. We need to connect what had been disconnected; the link between deep feelings and top level control.
The problem is that we are often not aware that there are deep-lying pains surging upward for connection so we go on “managing” them, thinking we have no choice. We do.
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.