Monday, December 26, 2011
On the Right and Left Brain. There Is No Cure Without Their Unity. (Part 2/10)
THE LEFT BRAIN
It is the left that is the thinker and the believer. It is the cognitive side, devoid of affect. This analyzing but unfeeling hemisphere seeks out single solutions for complex problems; its focus is narrow and superficial especially in my field. It believes what it is told and obeys readily.
One job of the left brain is to re-represent a feeling higher up in the nervous system. It helps symbolize the feeling as the conceptual brain comes online. And we can use that symbol (“he is suffocating me”) to gain access to the right unconscious (real early suffocation). We rely on evolution, understanding how early lower levels of consciousness move upward and forward pushing the next higher level into action. And in those high level actions there are imbricated the lower level imprints—in this case, real suffocation. So we do not have to guess what is there. The nervous system seems to join similar feelings, seamlessly, into its nerve bundles, classifying them as a single category for storage. Therefore, we know that below the symbol lies the feeling, and we are rarely disappointed. We in our feeling therapy never try to change the re-representation/symbol/left-brain alterations of the feeling, (you suffocate me), we only use it to open the door to the imprint, to history. Trying to convince the person that he is wrong in his belief that his wife is suffocating him, is ripping out the belief from its proper context and destroying the organicity of the experience. “OK. I now understand what you mean, doctor, and I see that is not what she is doing.” It is not her; it is his past that forced the belief. It comes not from outside but from inside. If we have no access to that inside we will mistakenly think it is simply her erroneous idea. Again, the belief was given birth by the feeling. The feeling on the right holds it in place.
I hesitate to say this but the left brain when left to is own devices and not softened by the right, is a tyrant, an unfeeling fascist who can do harm. Look at it in social terms; every fascist state denies the needs of its people and suppresses them when they show their face. So needs are not fulfilled and indeed are punished when they want fulfillment. The State is not democratic until acknowledges needs. We are not normal until needs are either fulfilled or felt; until the right brain sees the light of day.
The left brain is the symbolic self; it rises last out of evolution. It has the job of translating feelings from the past into current notions and beliefs, and helps us live in the present. Strange, because it does not speak the language of the right but it can translate it into its own verbal language. Clearly the right does not speak English but it speaks in its own way. Isn’t that odd? The left (say, in psychotherapy) tries to put words onto something that has no words; it is speaking the wrong language but is doing the best it can. Its language is numbers and statistics, after all. It is in theory and beliefs; that is why left brainers love theories and hypotheses. And they stick by them no matter what the reality. So they use the theory to interpret the patient’s words and cannot learn anything new that might contradict the theory.
You cannot get a doctor’s degree in my field without quoting a bunch of numbers. The only proof a student can proffer to get a diploma is statistics. And voila, there is the sought-after diploma, at last. But what happened? On the way the left crushed the right forevermore, never to be returned to is proper place. And they give the student the diploma with the right brain attached in case he may need it in the future. Alas, he doesn’t; I mean, he does, but he can’t find it. He lost it in the seven years of desiccated, disembodied, devitalized and etiolated study.
You see the problem we have had in psychotherapy? Left brain doctors adopting left brain therapies and getting left brain answers for their results. They publish in left brain journals for left brain scientists. Perfect. It reinforces itself and reifies the results in a closed circle of reason. Then a lonely right brainer comes along and says, “Hey I have a new idea.” No one wants to hear it. They are busy perfecting the minutia of their theory. They have a very good rationale for what they are doing.
We do need the left side for science and the right side for feelings but never one or the other. And if we have to make a critique of any other therapy it is because it skews to one side or the other. The right brainers get involved in airy-fairy approaches with little science behind them, (feelings and imagination from the right run wild), while the left brain maintains a narrow focus not seeing the implications nor totality of the event. We need both; left and right working together, good imagination and feelings even beyond the facts, and facts that place feelings and imagination within the constraint of science.
The problem we have in our profession of mental health is that those early experiences lie on the right and do not tell their secrets to the left. That is one reason it remains unconscious. The experience has no words nor scenes to help us know and remember them. After all, life in the womb is wordless and bereft of scenes. Here lies the problem. Ina verbal, intellectual therapy we are trying to learn about the unconscious with a language that is on the left. It’s watching the game from the far-away left bleachers and understands nothing. The right is trying to inform it with its anxiety, obsessions and depressions but the left can’t hear it. The right has the key responsibility for integration of the two sides, but it cannot do it alone; and too often the left is not interested. It has its modus operandi and does not want to be bothered. It never wants to get too emotional. It cries a few tears and believes that is the extent of human emotion. It is not. Clearly, the right is more “human.” It cares about the living and it cares about feeling.
As we mature, the left comes on line, and the right is relieved because it can “dump” some of its load onto the left. What it dumps is the energy and force of the feelings and imprints; not the content. The left hemisphere is like a shadow of the right, only vaguely aware of what the real feeling is. Yet in a vague way it understands a bit. The left is always looking through a screen trying to figure out what the real feeling is. So the person feels depressed but doesn’t know about the deep and early hopelessness and helplessness imprinted there. Then we have a doctor who labels it depression, when that is not the feeling at all. It is a left brain tag from the left field stands describing what may be wrong. Diagnosis is a label not a dynamic description. The left will try to make the emotional information rational, as best it can. When that load is too heavy with right side profound hopelessness, the left side can be overwhelmed. There is then a profound weltschmerz that overcomes the left, as well. And the patient just feels down. The doctor says, “You are depressed.” The patient says, “thank you,” and now what? How do we treat depression when we do not know what it is? The labels don’t tell us much but feelings do. Labels and diagnoses are left brain and can only approximate the right. When the patient plunges into right brain deep hopelessness the depression begins to lift and we have learned something.
So the poor left side, that aloof insensitive guy in our head senses depression and struggles to make sense of what is going on inside. Confusion reigns. (Unfortunately, only the right orbitofrontal cortex, around the eyes, can look back into our history and suss out our old feelings.
As the load of pain increases the left is obligated to fabricate paranoia or fantasy of some kind, “They are after me and want to kill me.” Or it can adopt booga booga, far-out, spacey ideas that are beyond reality. We might call those ideas “crazy,” but it is only the left trying to accommodate the pressure from the right; to encircle and bind the terrible force, and to make it rational. The left is trying to fabricate a rationale for the feeling without knowing exactly what the feeling is; a strange paradox. But if we asked the person who was rationalizing what was the feeling behind it all he would have no idea. It all remains unconscious because of the lack of connection. We see this in the political sphere where groups want more and more arms because they feel unsafe. They concoct an enemy that we must arm against. They will never feel safe because “unsafe” is an imprint, an imprint that forces the left to find a rationale--an enemy. Yet they will only feel safe, ultimately, when they have gone back to feel "unsafe" in its original context.
One would think that the right simply dumps what it can to the left and that is the end of it. But no. There are filters that scramble the message so that only a bit of the memory/feeling gets through. The left must guess what the feeling is, and it manufactures ideation to cover it. To produce the message and its comprehension we must address the brain that is holding the old, old secrets, and we cannot do that with the left brain; that means we cannot use the intellect to accomplish the task. We must seduce the right brain to give up its pain, and it does so reluctantly—and slowly, and methodically and ever-so hesitantly. It is not in a rush to feel pain but it will do so if it is not thrust into it abruptly. Gently, gently is the watchword. The left must relinquish its hold, as well. And we must use the language of the right; simple sentences, a light tone, unforced cadence and mostly non-verbal cues; a touch here a nod of the head there. If you want to talk big words and long sentences go to the left and ruin the session. And above all, do not use abstractions that the left side loves because that throws the patient into the wrong brain and stops feelings in their tracks. We use her body language to tell us where to go; a cough, a tear, a tension all speak volumes and talk to us explicitly. When we feel someone is hurting, a little hug will bring forth the tears, whereas a lengthy discussion or positive cheerleading won’t. It is only what we do in therapy but it takes years to learn it.
Now we see why the ideas we manufacture are so unchanging; they are defending against a deep unconscious feeling that is not changing. And we/the left don’t know about this. I find this incredible that we have feelings on one side that are not recognized on the other. Alas, that is the human condition. It makes us eat chocolate and drink vodka and yet it is as if that side belonged to someone else; I guess in a way it does. What happens is that the left side takes the leitmotif of the right-side feeling and gives it structure. The right cannot do that; structure is not what it is about.
So we have a danger (of the feeling—lack of oxygen at birth or lack of love)which forces the manufacture of an enemy. And now the left does what it can to protect itself against that enemy. In extreme psychosis one puts foil covers on the head to stop the aliens from getting in.
It is pretty much the same in all cases. For example depression, which most often has at its base deep hopelessness. Until the person feels fully that hopelessness, in context, the tendency to depression will stay. And it stays a threat for a lifetime. Where does the feeling come from? Many places and many different times; perhaps at birth being impeded from coming out into life or being strangling by the cord; whatever engenders hopelessness—insuperable odds. This may be compounded later with feeling unloved with no chance at love by two statues (parents) incapable of love, compounded again by a husband later on who is cold and indifferent. All this exacerbates the feeling of hopelessness. So, depression is not a feeling; it is the result of feeling, the suppression of it. The left side is often playing whack-a-mole; knocking down any sign of that hopelessness as soon as it shows its face. The person, driven by right, obliges the left brain to stuff itself with pain-killers without even knowing that there is pain. And if the left knows there is pain inside it rarely knows what it is. That is because the right is protecting the left from too much information--pain. The right is both a friend and an enemy. Choose your weapons; you cannot have both. When you feel fully you have only a great friend who liberates you.
The left brain loves categories which is why the new psychiatric diagnostic manual is as thick as the Manhattan phone book. Each new behavior has a category, so instead of seeing how feeling underlies it all, the experts, under the emprise /hold of the Behaviorists decide to concentrate on diagnostic categories, as if that can really helps or makes a difference in therapy. So now they want to include forgiveness and also gratitude as categories; the only thing left out is sneezing but it won’t be long. The truth is when my patients begin a certain kind of deep cough they are usually into something from deep in the neuraxis and it is truly diagnostic; so you see coughing is a diagnosis. Why list each behavior in lieu of the motivation/feeling behind it? Because feeling has been left out of the mix. So those left brainers are building one by one several thousand diagnostic categories and they do it because the insurance companies require it for payment. Nothing to do with science; nothing to do with the brain or psychology or people’s suffering; more to do with finance and economics. Categories are not people; they are things, inhuman, devoid of humanity and suffering. Doesn’t that fit nicely with giant insurance corporations? And isn’t that perfect for the left brain?
The left adores vocabulary. Big words to confuse and obfuscate(oops)meaning. We then have to wade through the verbiage to see if we can understand it. Again, feelings lead to simple language; the more abstracted we are the bigger and more complicated the words. And that is why when we professionals read textbooks or scientific reports they are almost indecipherable. But if you want another professional to respect you, you need this kind of vocabulary.
If we meet someone who is inflexible we have a left-brainer. If one is thinking about divorce because the wife is so rigid, think about a therapy that will help her join with the flexible, creative side.
The left side has a certain arrogance to it; it can’t be wrong---at least until it is humbled by the right side truths that show it reality. Meanwhile, the left side is that of defense, “I am not wrong. You (or the devil) made me do it.” The left-brainer cannot accept emotional reality until he checks statistics to be sure; to have his unreality verified. The left side, in short, doesn't easily adapt to new ways of doing things. It is obdurate and unyielding. The left-brain doctor thinks she can cure addiction without acknowledging the right. She focuses on the addict’s bad ideas and compelling behavior. But neglects where the feelings lie. The left does not like to hear emotional truths, therapist or addict. It is an unconscious conspiracy of two. But when the load is so great on the right there is a burst-through of pain, and the left can no longer function well, drastic measures are required. “Burst-through" means from right to left; the right is now a gate-crasher. It has to get out no matter what. It needs freedom from constraint, a constraint that may have begun during the birth process where egress out of the womb was blocked.
The left side is the “aware” side, (of full conscious/awareness), and when the depths of emotional pain surges forward the person is suddenly aware of what is down there. But the left side often flees from that knowledge. It is a very reluctant customer, and accepts ideas most skeptically.
The problem is that those early traumatic experiences lie on the right and do not tell its secrets to the left. Worse, the left side is largely indifferent to it throughout life. The left wasn’t even “alive” when all the sturm um drang took place. That is one reason it is unconscious. And why we do not know about it. The left hemisphere has its modus operandi and does not want to be bothered. Its focus is outside. It never wants to get too emotional; in fact, it can’t. There is insufficient emotional equipment on the left. So the person has mastered economics and knows nothing of the body she carries around all of the time.
Too often the left won’t help out with feelings, and indeed, runs from the right and its contents. The left senses danger. While the left brain is telling her analytic/cognitive therapist, “My parents could not show their feelings but I knew what they meant and I forgive them for it,” the right brain is screaming to her feeling therapist, “Hold me. Touch me! Love me just a little.” And that need/feeling is burrowing away in our unconscious stealthily doing its damage, weakening the heart, raising blood pressure and going about the job of killing us because the left brain refuses to acknowledge the need. Not only “refuses” but aids and abets suppressing the need and keeping it out of contact with our left side thinking, comprehending selves.
The left is often fear-ridden, jumpy and startled, with good reason because when the imprint rises from the depths the person can begin to feel terror, not a pleasant experience. The right side is literally strangling while the left side senses panic. Think of this because I cannot get over how bizarre it is. The right side is holding the actual memory and its sensation/feeling of strangling, while the left side is screaming at her husband, “You leave me no room to breathe.” When the right moves toward conscious/awareness that actual sensation starts to become conscious (always think conscious=right intrusion; the transformation of the left from simply “aware” to conscious). But when we insert tranquilizers into her system she will stop yelling, “You leave me no room to breathe.” Because we have further stuffed that feeling deeper into the unconscious so that for the moment it no longer drives the left side to yell about strangling and no breathing room. The closer the right moves to the left the more impelling the behavior. When the right moves all the way over into the left we have a primal. For that we need help because the defense system usually won’t allow it. It is only when the defense system has already opened and the right has broken through that we suffer and become partially aware of it.
When there is a strong right-left defense system, with the person heavily on the left, his interest for a lifetime will be business, science and external symbolic focus (like money and scientific facts). The arts are over on the right; which is why the artist often suffers and takes drugs. He is living inside the pain; the good part is that he is also on the side of creativity.
If one is to be liberated from the unconscious we have to suffer again, as unfair as that seems. The pain has to surface so it can be connected. The right has to cross over into the left; no cure without that. Remember, when all those different approaches out there discuss making us conscious, we need to know what and where the unconscious lies and what it takes to make it conscious. The left almost never has a clue. The right does. It never tells us the reason but we can feel it. The left knows the reason after connection because the feeling is there. The right is ready to connect when the left is. When that connection happens we can finally experience joy. The right has met its soul-mate and what a relief! We are connected, integrated. But wait, there is more; much more to this story. Let’s look some more at the left hemisphere.
The left loves the mechanical. It works point by point in meticulous fashion. It is the left side that is cognitive and helps form belief systems. Its focus is narrow and channeled. It does great brain surgery, but as I noted, don’t ask it to do a riff in a jazz piece. It can read the notes but cannot feel the music.
The left often thinks it feels but it only thinks it. It cannot feel it until it feels, as simplistic as that sounds. It is basically detached from feelings and is devoid of emotion. The left loves numbers, statistics and categories, and the so-called “objective facts.” It is the hemisphere of abstraction, of shredding the emotions out of emotional events and human interaction. Think here of cognitive therapy; it shreds the last ounce of feeling from psychologic observation so that we are left with dry facts.
I note that one of the key functions of the left is to suppress feeling. When the right feeling threatens to become conscious the left rushes in to shut it down; it orders the gates into action. The prefrontal cortex moves against the rising feeling on the deeper right and we remain unfeeling, which is one way we block bad feeling—numbed out. The left makes sure that there is an infusion of serotonin and other inhibitory chemicals (GABA and other repressors) to bolster gating against the right.
It is the left that forgives, blames, regrets, is ashamed, shows gratitude, remorse and appreciation; all of which are not necessarily feelings but looks like them, and can be faked. And if in a criminal proceeding you do not show remorse and say how sorry you were to kill that girl you will not get a reduced sentence. But if you can fake sincerity you will get off sooner. Why? Words, words, words. If we cannot feel we must take your word for it. If we can feel we can suss out the feeling in your words. If there is any.
The left side can manufacture all sorts of rationales to explain why there is and was no love or why I was not wrong and you are. It is expert at defending, while the right succumbs to these left-side rationales, and burrows itself more deeply into the physical system. We do need the left side for science and the right side for feeling.
So now we can understand such symptoms such as obsessions. Obsessions are not just thoughts; they arise out of obsessive feelings which drive them. They are in evolutionary order; feelings at the beginning followed by thoughts and beliefs. One may try doorknobs ten times a day to get over the fear of something being there, i,e,. bugs. The right feels very unsafe, perhaps in the womb with a very highly strung, anxious mother. Later on, years later, the left tries to keep the imprinted unsafe feeling in bounds by checking the gas jet twenty times. What is diabolic is that the obsessive rarely if ever knows what lies in the right brain that makes her do it. So isn’t it obvious that when the two sides connect it means the end of all that?
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.