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.


  1. Art: As I see it, violence is just pent-up anger (repressed anger). If its repressed enough it eventually just boils over and the angry person is then left with outrageous rage.

    Feeling the initial anger bit by bit is the only way I see for getting though it IMO. Jack

  2. Hi,

    Art, is there a range of intensity to 1st line trauma? I mean, is there any one without any 1st line trauma at all? What are they like?

    I have very nearly attacked some other people in rage, I have threatened to and chased them but I stopped and apologised, shaking with remorse. I've nearly lost it with my kids (long time ago, before I did so much therapy).

    Can 1st line trauma affect people with symptoms that are non violent? I mean are there different types of symptoms such as the sexual act out?

    Also, what does intense trauma later in life do to the brainstem? Does later trauma exacerbate 1st line trauma.
    Research on traumatised soldiers shows it's worse in those who had issues from their childhoods.

    Sorry, so many questions.

    Paul G.

  3. Hi,

    I've heard that ecstasy reduces empathy and I believe that to be true from what I have seen in some of the so called friends I once had who use it. I've noticed how they tend to relate from a script, what they say is predictable and they can only respond glibly to other peoples' problems.

    One of these lost it with their partner and went after him with a sharp kitchen knife. That one finally admitted she had an "anger problem".

    A long time ago (after smoking some weed) another 'friend' went after his wife and child with a kitchen knife, stopped, then stuck the knife into himself. He was put into a mental hospital and given electric shock therapy. Now he's a therapist himself and tries to get me to go to his dance and movement workshops!

    I tell you that in life, sometimes fact is stranger than fiction.

    Paul G.

  4. Dear Dr Janov,

    this week a french magazine had this title on first page "what if violence was inside all of us?". We hurt each other so much even when we don't want to in our current relationships(triggered feelings)as long as it's emotional suffering we feel hurted ("oh you are too sensitive my dear!"). But when first line enter into action that's another story (listening to the yelling people next door always make us think that they are going to kill each other one day).

  5. Dear Art ,only one remark concerning "booga-booga"
    Since i listen each and every evening to the 2gate technique" by DrFrank Kinslow ,my eczema of som 15 !!Years is almost cured...
    My doctor once asked me 2shall we leave it(my skin) in this condition/full blown eczema!!) My response :Nooo! Only another ointment was (unsuccessfull) administerd!
    And what I could report of a psychic healer
    ...You and I !! although I was the 2 witness" woukd n o t b elieve it
    So what iis booga -booga -My chalatanic M.D. I think!!! Yours truly emanuel

  6. An email comment:
    "Your and your patients experiences are priceless...
    Thank you for your analitic and very informative article.
    Though very nicely written, I would like to comment few expressions you
    used in it:

    "The trauma during womb-life provides the internal pressure for the impulse
    while that very same
    event also weakens cortical defenses.
    We need to connect what had been disconnected; the link between deep
    feelings and top level control."

    Instead top level control is a top level consciousness/awareness better
    word? The control (deffence) will hopefully "catch up" sooner or later
    through brain rewiring untill some optimal level is reached?

    Is my comment worth a comment?"

  7. Paul: Hang on 60 days. I answer this fully in my new book out soon AJ

  8. A facebook comment:
    "Thank you. I agree. Also the sexual abuse and physical violence during the first six to twelve month also creates violent adults. I suspect this line of abuse is more prevalent as it is perpetrated by mothers' male partners or other male close relations. Serial killers received extreme and prolonged level of cause by their carers during the first one year of their lives.(dr Jonathan Pincus did extensive research amongst death row inmates in US)"

  9. A facebook comment:
    ""This post is particularly applicable to me as I work with violent offenders; and you are right Art, through whichever means, and for whatever reason (victim safety) all we do is teach them to gain the mental power most people normally have to contain their feelings. Iv been doing the work for some years and I work relatively closely at times with these (men)-- at times I gain insight into their underlying imprints, indeed first-line; feelings of suffocation, real physiological responses. I am thinking when I can finally move over to Primal my relationship with and experience in this field could provide real fodder for research... Inbox me privately if you are interested in continuing this conversation. As usual, many thanks for your stimulating posts, Jacquie x"

  10. I have often called many of those overwhelmed by 1st line feelings, people with no brakes. Serial killers struck me as people who were driven by very primitive emotions that got crossed up. But I note this. Primal pain seems to be at the heart of most serious or hard core criminals. If PP were to be admitted and perhaps PT employed at prisons, then real rehabilitation could take place. But then again, ifyou are looking for a place to keep future political annoyances and you need to build facilities to house them as good slaves, then you need a temporary excuse of another reason for building such places such as to keep hard core criminals who “can not” be rehabilitated. Of course, these are just the raving of a madman writing this in the 1st place so let the buyer beware ;-)

    Was reading some in “Primal Healing” last night or night before. It came up about adults uttering the cries of babies. Now some have argued that PT does not really have the solid science behind it or not enough of it. BS !!!! It has plenty. How many adults do you know that can cry like an infant. I know zero, personally. In fact, I have never seen or heard such a thing. Yet it happen in PT! Sounds like some serious hard proof to me. But what do I know. I am a mad man.

    But here is a lesson in law and science. When you want to protect the many guilty or prevent knowledge from growing too fast or going too far, then here is what you do. Make the burden of proof so absurdly high as to make it nearly impossible to convict any guilty or prove any new thought or idea. And have lots of “authorities” commonly shout out: fake, forgery! Add in ad-hominem attacks and question their sanity as well. Point out their lack of degree or authority. Point out they are not lawyers or trained in such.

    There is a reasonable burden of proof and there is the almost impossible to satisfy. PT has plenty of proof and evidence. Absurdly so. Now in law, they nearly insist that you need 10 witnesses, a signed confession and video tape of the offense as well. Of course, this never happens. So many can get off without conviction . . . unless you anger someone, then it only takes a mere suggestion of guilt to hang you. It depends on who you are friends with.

    In science, you need pages of data, ancient written testimony which a University Museum is sure to make money on, with no political ramifications in the present, and verified by other sources of history, plus a dating method added, and at least half of academia willing to accept it. Even if you got all the evidence, without a majority vote of the elite gatekeepers, you lose. Then cries of fake and forgery come.

    But then there is hard science had hard law. And also Mother Goose and the man who shines the moon, too ;-) And never listen to mad men, ever ! They are so unorthodox.

  11. This morning I felt a degree of optimism when I heard that the news would announce a new research on consciousness. Wow... how exciting I thought. I sat and waited for the feature... once it was presented... it was about a man who by an accident had damaged his brain He felt himself to be much better able to feel what other people feel ... when they felt sad he perceived him selves to experience their grief… this they spend money on in a big research about human consciousness. wow.

    I do not know what is happening in this world of research. I thought at least that they have now at Stockholm University copied some of Art Janov Primal Therapy. But alas it was not. This university… which I have on several occasions asked to help out on a clinical trial of PT. I cannot… but HUGE regret what's happening in our corridors where science have its source. What is happening?


  12. Art,

    I hope you are doing well.

    Yours Frank

  13. Hi Frank,
    Look's to me that self- kissing-conformist scientists are so afraid of great Mr.Risk.There is a lot of space between"who learn,how learn,what he(she) learn?"and"we learn what we already know,who are you to ask for explanations?".It's very difficult when we try to find right solution and direction for our scientific work,and make compromise with theory,institutions..who already exist,at same time.How it comes with science development and benefits for human kind?Very,very bad..At this moment we must be satisfied with this level of useful knowledge we have,and,of course,to read and put under the sign of question all tabus and unkind themes.Have nice time!

  14. Frank: Science is built-to-order in that it must do what its funders (government) wants, and sometimes achieve the "results" they want (like proving bullshit such as the idea of problematic anthropogenic global warming).

    At base, the government wants scientists to control human behaviour, not help them feel and live better (hey the latter might hurt the tax base!).

    Also, primal theory is a spanner in the works. If you humble yourself to Janov then that's extremely disruptive in terms of theoretical thinking. They don't want that disruption. It's that simple. So with Janov it's unfortunately a bit of a "with him or against him" situation. Too many sacred cows.

  15. Art

    I just got reply… one of many …from the National Board on the issue of a clinical trial here in Sweden... they refer to something called "peer-reviewed journals" to justify a trial. Is Primal Therapy mentioned there? If not then perhaps it would be a good try. I may well believe that this journal already is licensed to selected forms?


  16. Frank: yes there is a journal article in a peer reviewed journal. The journal of pre and perinatal psychology about a year or two ago. aj

  17. Hi Dr.Janov,
    Are you ok..?Last time Frank ask you that,I hope you are.You are precious to all of us.Last two articles are very interesting,many doors are opened.I'm shore,doc.,that my birth was very difficult and I connect that fact with many my fears and bad life situations.You know,when I was 4 ore 5 years old,one night was unforgettable for me-I think,and feel-it was birth trauma feeling com up throe defend system,I was strangling and breathe convulsively,terrify to death.Mom comes,hang me on,talk to me,and we go quick to hospital with my father.In car I slowly recovery and doc. in urgency center said to my parents all is ok,I choose that I am fine when medicals said to me stay in hospital.So,when we backing home mother hold me tight and worm and I talk to her some my imagination heroic story,and father drive slowly,slowly.. That night was real "Hang on Life-Orca comes!..",and I was lowed,somebody jump for me..


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.