Sunday, September 4, 2011

On Being Alone

Being alone has so many meanings for most of us. The fear of being alone is usually not felt as such; rather one races to phone others so as not to feel alone. Why is that? Because of the compounded pain of being left alone a lot in childhood and infancy, added to the ultimate aloneness right after birth when no one was there for the newborn. That imprints a primal terror where a naïve, innocent and vulnerable baby has no one to lean on, to be held by, to snuggle up to, to be comforted. To be loved. And that also has multiple meanings: no one wants me; there is no one there for me: no one wants to be with me; I have no love and no one who cares, and so on. These become compounded and drive behavior when early life duplicates that feeling and hammers home its message: no one cares. One runs from the feeling and struggles mightily not to be alone. Or, depending on earlier events one stays alone out of that same feeling. These are by and large the depressives, the ones who were imprinted with hopelessness and helplessness.

And to be caught alone at lunch or at a store can mean: gee I am alone cause no one wants to be with me. Everyone can see that no one wants me. These feelings are terror-ridden because of their very early meaning when the imprint was set in and when being totally alone and unattended could have meant death or disaster. Just look at kids who are left alone in the dark; how terrorized they feel. Now imagine a one day old.

Whether one runs from the feeling or wallows in it depends on many other factors, not the least of which is the birth process, where a certain tendency was stamped in. Here the struggle to be born may have gone on for a short time when a massive anesthesia shuts down most of the baby’s vital functions and renders birth impossible or overwhelming. It is struggle and fail. Giving up is stamped in and later on in the face of that alone feeling one gives into it right away and does not fight it. Whereas a birth that ends up successful after a struggle can lead to a syndrome of fight and succeed. And this person does not wallow in the feeling, she fights it all the way.

What makes the behavior so importuning, so urgent and unwavering is the process of resonance. Remember how at the start of life events are imprinted in the lowest part of the nervous system; the brainstem and archaic forms of the limbic system.

Here is where deep and often catastrophic feelings/sensations lie. And they get re-represented in company with higher brain levels as they come on line. This follows our personal evolution until each distinct brain level has a representative of the first, primal imprint; an imprint that is only a memory but also contains the deep terror that occurred originally. The importance of this is that in the present when something happens that resonates with those early imprints, say, a feeling of hopelessness and frustration, there is a resonance as each level is triggered off. Happily, when the defense system holds we are not immediately driven to act-out; to get on the phone or to go visit someone. But when the defense system is weak, when the child was left alone time after time, then when there is resonance he must act out. He is without a good defense. The original feeling is close at hand, about to reach awareness. Let me clarify once more: the early terror is imprinted; it is re-represented on higher levels as the brain evolves. The experiences and the feelings become unified, congealed and compounded into a unitary force. When something in the present occurs which is similar to an old feeling; “I cannot do what I want. It is hopeless. I am all alone and no one wants me,” the old feelings are triggered off (usually, I submit, by similarities in electrical frequency of the pain and chemical similarities) and the whole feeling rises toward conscious/awareness where it must be combated. Either the person wallows in the feeling and is overwhelmed by it even when she doesn’t even know what “it” is. Or the compounded feeling drives the act-out, forcing the person into some kind of social contact. The difference is between acting in and acting out. The feeling may be the same; the reaction is different depending upon other early imprints which sway the person in different directions. Those who do not have this kind of pain can tolerate being alone very well. They do not stay alone as a defense; the use it to think and reflect and enjoy. Whereas, those with pain use it as a buffer against themselves; a different, lower part of themselves.

Those without an inner life, without access to themselves and their feelings must stay outwardly focused, must keep moving, and must avoid being alone. That is their sentence. So we see how the behaviorists have got it wrong. Two people can both like being alone; one enjoys it and uses it positively, while the other uses it to keep from feeling the pain. We could not tell from the behavior alone; that is why no single behavior is neurotic in and of itself. And unless we see the determining motivation we have no idea about the background of behavior. But if we ask, “why are you along?,” we begin to make headache into the feelings. If we take the behavior, any behavior, alone, we do the opposite.


  1. Hi Art,

    First, thank you for your therapy which continues to save my life (1978-80, West Hollywood Institute). I’m happily married to a fellow patient which also helps.

    I feel I have always been alone so it isn’t difficult for me to agree that ultimately we are all alone philosophically. I would definitely be in the category that finds being alone useful.

    I recently tested as an INFJ (1% of the population) on the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) test. So I’m curious, how does Primal theory mesh with introversion and extroversion or is this really sympaths and para-sympaths?

    Thank you,


  2. Well, I got another book full of goodies. Dr. Malcom Kendrick ( a “gid” Scotsman )”The Great Cholesterol Con.” He rips up the prevailing theories of the establishment medicine gang (thugs, really) for 217 pages out of 270. But its only 63 pages (203-266) you need to read, really bad out of 270 in all. But its not just about medical fraud (oh so common says I), but about stress and the real cause of heart attacks and stroke, which related substantially to Primal Theory. Why? Its all that reference to the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic systems, known in medical speak as the HPA-axis and HPA-axis dysfunction. High permanent stress causes permanently high cortisol release which causes all the medical ailments leading to hear attack and stroke as well as artery degradation behind them.

    It is sympathetic activation that causes this break down. Plaque does not build in veins, ever. In fact, when arteries are cut our and placed in vein paths, they get healed. Veins placed in artery paths suddenly develop atherosclerosis Veins are controlled by the parasympathetic system so they are immune to the activation and cortisol.

    But he lists all the organs affected by each system and how. It reminded me of German New Medicine in that you could trace but maladies and determines, at the very least, whether a person was a sympathy or parasympath. That does not help PT treatment but it does build in that grand unified theory of psychology which Art may or may not be working on enthusiastically.

    Most fascinating is the type of stress and psychological injuries that cause rates of heart disease many times that of one nation or place in comparison with another. Displacement of a race or culture into a foreign land and culture can take 20 years off a life span. Taking one out and away from their community and social network can do the same. He did not mention primal Pain but obviously, that is rather important, too.

    But to me as I read his examples, I was of the opinion that many trans-placed peoples had been done so deliberately by social engineers. Glasgow, Scotland, in 1946, had a plan drew up to build 5 areas a bit outside Glasgow to build new residences so they could get rid of “slums” in Glasgow, supposedly. We had such a thing done in Portland Maine back in the 50s and 60, which was completed about 1970. Nasty stuff.

    The real problem for the Scots, muck like Irish, was that they had a very solid tight community in those “slums.” There were poor financially or in luxuries but rich in social connections and resultant mental and physical health. They lost is all in the new building and ended up with the highest rate of heart disease in the world in the 70s, I think it was. A great read. I got is used on Amazon. It has many implications on many things.

  3. I had a few things come to me over the last day or 2, illustrating the difference tween smooth mental control and serenity and inner physical turmoil vs conscious mental chaos and less inner turmoil.

    I am very at ease so it feels. Relaxed as hell. At peace. But it is not that way inside. My urine can come out dark yellow at times. I can brighten it right up by taking this stuff that undergoes chemical transformation inside to release singlet oxygen to reduce spent oxygen or regenerate reductase in some things. Vitamin B2 makes urine very bright yellow unless it has been oxidized. But it can be fixed/reduced so it can do more work again or otherwise is shoved out the bladder darkened. I take a lot of supplemental stuff that helps all sorts of things.

    But now my father, on the other hand, is full or horrendous nightmares and can barely think and is not rational. Chaos is the only way to describe him. A extremely neglected child in infancy and youth. Worse, he reacted to it in ways that further alienated him from others. Yes, he is terrified of being alone and constantly seeks attention. Hence, this article rang a bell.

    But his urine, on the other hand, is always so bright and lively. I am saying to myself, how can that be? He must be a wreck inside yet he experiences far less oxidation than I do, and I even look 100 times healthier than he does. But I suspect it is that he does not have the inner “stress” on the body that I do, for his cortex can not hold back anything. Everything pops up into the cortex and raises hell with him. Maybe a bad conscience, too, for all I know ;-) So his cortex releases some of the anxiety and leaves his body less harassed. He still suffers from typical sympath overstimulation but it attacks the cortex with its leaky gates rather than the body as much.

    So I who look marvelous and am in great shape physically, still show signs of inner attack because the cortex will not allow any disturbance and the primal core is cool with that. So my inner body take the hit, instead of my mind. Its gotta come out one place or the other, right?

    So the 2 of us are good examples of the 2 ways pain can wreak havoc. I prefer my way but that’s me.

  4. To those in the field of psychology who need to "feel" the consequences of our need?
    If we only could "understand" how fantastic it would be to experience the satisfaction of our need for mom and dad ... to be with them in warmth ... warmth we as neurotics cannot imagine the effect of. Just lie on mother's breast… look in to her eyes in a flourishing "rush" of hormones to satisfying the need and silent be resting in tone of physiological awareness.


  5. Mary,
    You got it right. art I have never gone by the usual diagnostic categories so half the time I do not know what you mean. You understand that it is the cognitive crowd that runs diagnosis via marking each new behavior as some kind of different neurosis. Introversion is an example. It is so simplistic as to be useless. Try parasympath...and see Primal healing for a discussion of it.

  6. Hi,

    -"You understand that it is the cognitive crowd that runs diagnosis via marking each new behaviour as some kind of different neurosis"-.

    Art, there are some personality typing systems that link personality types to childhood trauma and shows there are a limited variety of predictable patterns/types.

    In the light of this do you think the MBTI (and other similar systems) has any relevance?

    There is a strong (humanistic) re-action against personality typing because it is supposedly 'dis-empowering' to label people. But I havn't found it dis-empowering to recognise my type (or other peoples', though I try to avoid burdening others with my 'judgement' of course).
    I mean the implications of these systems is that there are a limited number of 'types' and we tend to fall into one category or another.
    Apparently even the words and grammar we use and the way we inflect is predictable and indicates type. . .

    I have found it hard to ignore certain fixations and compulsions repeating in my life and find descriptions of my 'type' all too familiar to discard as merely a label. I have benefited from recognising my own predictable 'act outs' and the predictable triggers that set me off again (it's always the same ones).

    The 'cognitives' find this sort of thing fascinating because it gives them categories and behaviours and remedies and palliatives etc etc (which have no lasting effect of-course).

    Nevertheless, for having studied personality types and also attending panels, I feel I am better at recognising and discriminating between what's real and essential about my character and what is personality and defences.

    What I know about Primal Theory and how I feel my pains is not in conflict with these theories and systems.

    I wonder if the Primal Clinic has enough case studies to test the theory of personality independently? That might be one very effective way to spread Primal Theory because it would offer the cognitives' origins to their behaviours whilst using a common system.

    Perhaps I'm just being too simplistic here.

    Paul G.

  7. John Speyrer, the webmaster of died last week. His website is now in the hands of the international primal association. Doyou think that these people have done much to spread the primal message?

  8. A facebook comment:
    "Art that is exactly what I have been feeling in my sessions. The earlier feelings of being stuck and the terror of dying is compounded with later parental neglect...alone and hopelessly unloved. The gates are intertwined and now it becomes I can't make it by myself. I'm all alone and trapped, it's too much etc... All this is triggered continually in the present."

  9. Another facebook comment:
    "et quel boulot de s'en sortir!"

  10. Paul: What I know about Primal Therapy is in direct conflict with those other approaches. Look. if you believe that there is an imprint of early memory, and that it is engraved into the system and endures, then you know you have to deal first with those imprints if you want to change. It is no more complicated than that. art

  11. Paul again: Look I cannot be expected to know and master every therapeutic approach that comes along but first you need to learn the science behind PT then see how other approaches lines up with it. Once you know the principles behind the therapy it should make comparisons fairly easy. I think the only thing that is valid is to find a quicker more efficient way to get to feelings. We have been working on this for over 40 years, and I doubt someone else will find it. You need years of clinical experience to hone the theory and the therapy. So first suss out the scientific and biologic laws in our therapy and then see how other therapies adhere to them. art janov

  12. Gordon: absolutely not. Sorry to hear about John. I think he tried but the association has nothing to do with me except they took my name to enhance their credibiliity. art

  13. for most of my life, i had social anxiety, so i preferred being alone; then about five years ago i started on anti-depressants (zoloft at first, and now trazadone at bedtime, to help me sleep), and the anxiety evaporated, and i started to enjoy being around other people; but i still feel no great need for you suggest, Art, i'm probably one of those struggle and fail types; in any case, the imprint is likely so early that i can't get to it on my own.

  14. Another person about to die, if you believe the reports, is Apple boss Steve Jobs (from cancer). He is said to have had primal therapy. did you treat him? If so, how did he do in therapy, did he follow it for a long time or just spend a short time on it like John Lenon?

  15. Gordon: Never saw Steve Jobs. unfortunately. There are very few cancers among our long-term patients. AJ

  16. Art: Interesting about the supposed reduction in cancer rates from your patients; considering also that cancer rates are going through the roof in the industrialised world. As far as my own health goes, it's my only real fear because everything else seems to be sound (except a bit of asthma).

    No doubt it's not just a lack of pain grinding into the system, but the 'normalisation' of priorities that keeps cancer at bay in your patients.

  17. Gordon (and Art): i did a little checking, and there's a very interesting bio of Jobs (born 1955) on the website, which states he underwent "primal scream therapy" at the Los Altos Zen Center for a brief time, probably when he was 19 or 20, after dropping out of college and experimenting with LSD and eastern mysticism also; as i recall, at the time, there was a plethora of so called primal centers in California, most (if not all) of them bogus; so to say he had primal therapy is a stretch for sure.

  18. Grumpy: Believe me it is a stretch. I am always amazed how many charlatans there are ready to jump on the next popular thing. AJ

  19. An email poem:

    From old comes new only primal pain makes us real
    Often I feel aches and pains in a physical way
    Besides the struggle of compliment and appreciation
    From primal pain comes feeling that is eternal
    Whether dead or alive our being goes on

    You are the best
    There are few who really understand
    Now that I ring myself to you
    I realize that I am potentially relapsed
    I could go psycho at any time
    I also realize many doctors and police etc
    Are worse than me

    I see all existence as murder suicide

    Remain aware
    Gaining more insight
    Its understood
    Ready for anything everything

    Doing my best to empathize and sympathize

    See that criminals are victims in the start
    And never receive the love they needed in early life
    Even in the womb
    And are frustrated to hell
    To suffer rehab in many cases of juvenile delinquency etc
    Just having fun etc

    Its all like being on tv or in the movies
    Its never real until we suffer
    And our hearts break
    Anger sadness

    I have done no drugs
    No alcohol
    In many years
    No intent on doing them ever again
    Sure if I hung with the wrong people
    it would probably happen

    Fear is my guide
    Avoiding a psycho schizo
    Is like avoiding myself

    Do I hate all
    Or do I love all
    It just doesn’t fit
    I am trying to do the impossible
    Like changing my past
    And those before
    To repair the broken
    Which can never be repaired

    I say I want to save the world
    Yet did all kinds of stupid things
    What a waste of time
    What a terrible thing I am
    Then I get angry when others say I am a sicko
    Or agree and tell jokes about myself

    Sorry is not enough
    And even when its somebody else’s fault
    Its always me who ends up sorry

    I am a born loser
    Or was I born at all

    I am the laughing stock
    All existence hates my guts
    Always have always will

  20. Dr. Art, You article intrigued me & caught all my interest to the heart!

    I'd like to ask; I was born 7th month without anaesthesia but placed in an incubator for about 7 weeks, and then had a really tough & lonely childhood.
    Is this a "fight & success BUT still feel alone no matter what"?
    This is how I have been feeling along with hopelessness in my depression. IT's like no matter what I will do in life, I'll end up lonely. I imagine many things that can possibly happen & leave me alone, helpless & sad.
    When you wrote "I cannot do what I want. It is hopeless. I am all alone and no one wants me" you caught what I have been crying & so sensitive about. It's like I understand now why sometimes I cry when I feel I can't make something work. You put words to my feeling! (left brain work of course) and I sit more alone.
    The thing is, I'm not bothered by being alone, I usually like it, but at the same time, I fear it for the end of my life. I feel unworthy of companionship or peoples' kindness & time. When people do something nice to me, I cry. I feel I don't deserve it. In the midst of crying sometimes I feel like screaming "Leave me alone Please". Lots of contradictions...

    What could this mean?

  21. I quoted liberally from your blog post in my curation of a study that found pain responses can be shaped by learning that takes place outside conscious awareness. I linked back and related the example of the pain of being left alone to the study's general finding that unconscious stimuli have a pervasive effect on human brain function and behavior.


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.