Monday, April 9, 2012
On the Mystery of the Unconscious Part 2/2
We have seen in my past blog how we go in and out of consciousness in ordered fashion. In therapy we start at the end and move to the start, evolution in reverse. We start in the present and move to the past, to the origin of the nervous system. The thrust of the therapy is to begin with the end product in our evolution, the neocortex and move slowly downward. And this order is unshakeable in every way. An approach that defies this order is doomed to failure. The brain is an orderly entity that brooks no insurrection. So we begin on the third line (present) move to the second line (childhood) and finally the first line (after conception to months after birth). When we are anchored in the present it then allows us to dip into feelings, and those feelings become the vehicle for a deeper descent in the brain. Words are not the primary vehicle, feelings are because their origin is lower down. It is like a mine elevator that takes us ever so slowly into the lower depths. Words cannot be the primary vehicle because they exist on the top level. We descend in therapy to where feelings lie, where they begin their organization; those feelings begin their and our liberation. Evolution dictates how our therapy works; for if we want to provide connection to feelings we need to be cognizant of where feelings lie. And obviously, we cannot produce connection only on the cortical top level of the brain; we are connecting lower level imprints to higher level understanding. We need to learn how to descend to lower levels of consciousness where our pain lies. Our job is the opposite of most other approaches who cover over the pain. We let it rise in ordered fashion. Perhaps more accurately, we descend to meet them.
When deep levels rise faster and higher than higher levels, as in rebirthing, we’re in trouble. This defies the natural order of the brain. That is why hallucinogens are so dangerous; unleashing deep levels prematurely. They are too powerful to allow connection so they produce only abreaction, or they rise to produce strange ideas, sometimes psychotic ideas. These are never connected but simply the effluvia of too many and too strong feelings. All because the doctor has decided to skip evolutionary steps and produce what looks like super dramatic results; too dramatic to be of any therapeutic use. What I am describing is a neurologic dictatorship; it allows no disobedience and demands absolute loyalty. It is merciless, permitting no second chances, no opportunities to take a different route. Follow the prescribed evolutionary route or suffer. Evolution, as I have said, is pitiless. If we want to get along with it we must learn its rules. So of we want to take a fast route to the depths of the unconscious and use drugs we will pay a heavy price. We can’t trick mother nature.
We know more about how drugs work now based on the neurologic hierarchy; how we react to them, how we come out of them, how we suppress different brain levels with different kinds of drugs. And because of this evolution we never want insights, ideas, to precede feelings; that is not how it happened in our history. We didn’t speak before we had feelings. Why should we speak our insights now in therapy before we get to feelings? Evolution! We were first all brainstem, then limbic, finally neocortex. Each brain has its secrets, and it is our job to find them out.
Each new level absorbs part of the previous level, which is why as we descend down the hierarchy of consciousness and feel on one level we are also feeling part of the previous deeper level; we feel about our childhood but it may incorporate without our knowing it, aspects of the birth trauma, as well. When the previous level is too strong it may well interrupt the feeling. So we feel on the level of childhood and suddenly there is gagging and choking as the deeper level of the birth trauma is surging forth. It does this because our gating system between levels is impaired. It is impaired due to the heavy load of pain which has weakened it.
Only when we follow evolution do we have a chance to get well. We need to know how to read the instructions; they are there and are obvious to the attentive. When we try to outsmart those instructions we get in trouble. And those who want to outsmart it are those usually in their heads: the intellectuals who believe they know better. They think that way because they are bereft of access to their feelings; they do know more and would inform them of evolution. There is nothing like access to feeling to keep us straight. We can think straight when those ideas come fluidly out of our feelings. When we don’t feel, our ideas are not anchored, become detached, and can be anything. That is why when doctors concoct a theory from their heads it may have nothing to do with us humans, and their therapy goes off track and cannot be curative. The reason is that it is all intellectual and ignores the human body and physiologic system. Theory must evolve out of the human experience, and not out of the head of the doctor. So intellectuals become therapists and superimpose their beliefs on to how we do therapy. (I am not against intellect, only intellectuals). They superimpose their beliefs onto feelings, and what that does is suppress feelings and make it look like the therapy is a success because the patient can no longer feel her pain. But it won’t last and she will keep on having to do it. Because feelings will surge their head again and again upwards, searching for neocortical connection. Connection means final relief. No connection, no relief, no matter what anyone believes. Well yes, a bit of relief for a short time but nothing definitive. When I discuss connection it means taking a lower level feeling towards the neocortex. We need to access feelings to do that.
Scientific American just published a piece called, Decoding the Body Watcher. (4-5-12) They ask the question, what is the difference being attentive to the outside world as opposed the inner one? They explain that while the top level cortex can attend to the outside, the older more buried parts (Insula and posterior cingulate cortex) specialize in our inner world. If we want to appeal to the inner world we need to go there, and we cannot do it by an act of will or conscious deliberation. “Will” is a top level event that has no roots. We need to go to the unconscious. If we remain on the level of ideas we cannot get there from here. We go there via the lower structures but need the higher levels to start us on the track. Descent can never be an act of will (top level); it is an act of total submission as we leave the neo-cortex behind. When we usually say “Pay attention” we mean using the top level cortex to focus. Abandoning the top level and sinking into feelings is the proper way to get feeling’s attention.
When we stay on unanchored cortical level the lower levels can dominate perception so that we mistake someone’s intention or their interest in us? Those lower levels can make us suspicious and untrusting. What the university of Toronto researchers found was is that we become victims of our feelings and have little control over them. Segal and Anderson found that feeling perceptions rely on deeper level brain processes, lower level consciousness—older brain systems.
So here is the key: we cannot rely on newer brain systems to access the older ones, especially the very old ones that lie deep in the brainstem. We mistakenly think that we can resolve our emotional problems from the top down; using the new brain to figure out the old one, the one that is millions of years away from the present. They suggest that we need to bypass the cortical area to get lower to feelings tapping directly into body areas. That describes what we do completely. When you do that you eliminate what Freud used to call the superego; you bypass critical judgment and let the feeling rise. You are not endlessly ruminating about what you are thinking or believing.
Imagine now going to a shrink who makes a mystery of the unconscious and presumes to tell us what is in our unconscious; something millions of years away in neurologic time. He will need something more powerful than the Hubble telescope to do that. It is impossible yet many therapies are based on that; thinking our way to health. Too often, we seek out doctors who will tell us what is wrong with us. They tell us what to do to improve when, as I repeat ad nauseam, only we can do that in a proper environment where we can access deeper levels. In our case, a quiet padded room with softened light. And unlimited time for the session.
Too often shrinks tell us what and how to think; to think positive and deny what our body is importuning all of the time. When doctors have little access to feeling, they can manufacture a therapy that offers us little access, as well. When we ignore access, all the other ways of therapy become alleviating, palliatives, quick-fixes, and don’t last. That doesn’t stop millions from trying it. They seem to want to learn how to stuff back those naughty feelings. Yet it is so much easier and freer to let it all out. But all of these old conventional theories come out of ancient times when feelings were an anathema. Feelings became equated with nuttiness; true to this day. You know, “John is so emotional. We need to be careful around him. “ Or, “so and so can’t think straight because he is so emotional. “ What this usually meant was that his feelings overwhelmed his rational mind. So long as his feelings meld with understanding he is rational.
It seems to be true that the only way we are willing to go deep into ourself in therapy is if we are already suffering; which means that the pain has risen into conscious/awareness. Otherwise, we seem to look for a little touch-up, a bit of suppression so that we can go on with our neurosis. We don’t seem to want change; we want to make our neurosis work.. I believe that in doing that we are surely shortening our life. The pain doesn’t leave; it stays and agitates and eventually will get at our heart or brain. There is no escape, just evasion.
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.