Sunday, July 8, 2012
What Happens to Us When We Were Not Loved
Regrettably much of modern day psychotherapy reinforces the split, or disconnection, between the deep primal universe and our thinking frontal cortex. The feelings leaking up from the primal universe are treated by most therapists as aberrations requiring suppression by our thinking minds, the cortex. We now know differently. That universe not only exists and is quantifiable (feelings can be measured along with the level of repression) but is also crucial to our health. The body has a voice, and it tells us if the level of cortisol, our stress hormone, is high, and if serotonin, a brain chemical that suppresses other brain activity, is low; the body can override anything the cortex would have us believe. If there is a discrepancy between what we believe and what physiological tests indicate, we should be suspicious.
One patient began therapy saying that he was coming for intellectual reasons because he believed in our philosophy. Little by little we found that he could not sleep, was agitated constantly, and could not relax. He organized his day so that he always had something to do and some place to go. His vital signs were high—a heart rate of a constant 95 and blood pressure of 160 over 100. He wasn’t seeing us for philosophical reasons. He was ashamed to be “neurotic” like everyone else and could not stand being a “nut case.” This man had what I call “leaky gates.” His inhibitory, repressive system was defective. There are many reasons for that, as we shall see later. One important reason is the birth trauma, which diminishes the frontal inhibitory cortex from proper development. He had trouble controlling his impulses, which surged forward during sleep, waking him up, causing him to ruminate and think about any number of trivial things. His gating system was inadequate for proper sleep.
We have done imipramine binding studies (blind) of blood platelets. (with Open University in Milton Keynes, England). Blood platelets have a high degree of biochemical resemblance to nerve cells, including neurotransmitter uptake and binding sites. We reasoned that we could measure through the blood, by surrogate, the serotonin production in the brain. Imipramine has a role as an antidepressant. It blocks the uptake of serotonin so that more of it remains to help repression. That is why it is important that levels normalized after one year of Primal Therapy. Our informal analysis of a number of patients in Europe found that manic patients were low on binding. It is something we expected, as their frontal control mechanisms were faulty. We assumed that early trauma compromised the development of prefrontal brain tissue.
Within our brain system resides the left frontal cortex, which has a tremendous capacity for self-deception. Once we understand its role in evolution, we should be wary of relying on it for accuracy and truth about internal experience. We can rely on the left frontal cortex for external perception because that is its role, but not for internal understanding. If we want to know about our primal universe of feeling, we must appeal to the right brain and right prefrontal cortex. We can trust the right side; it is the repository of our truth. Unfortunately, it forces the left side to lie and deceive; above all, to lie and deceive the self.
Brain research has shown that if we receive a lack of love early in life, there are fewer key cells to help us think, concentrate, focus, and connect our thoughts with our feelings (see for example Teicher, et al., 2002). Once we understand that hidden feelings drive much of our behavior, we will then understand how important it is to connect our thoughts with our feelings. Without connection, we cannot control the behavior or the physical symptoms that grow from such feelings.
Through conventional psychotherapy, we manage through various insights and drugs to achieve temporarily what should have occurred had we had loving parents very early on. Both drugs and therapy allow us to achieve at least a temporary state of ease through enhancing the effectiveness of the defense system. I submit that cognitive/insight therapy is in effect a tranquilizer and increases left hemisphere repression to the detriment of feeling.
Drugs kill the pain from not being loved early in our lives, making us believe for a time that we were loved, or at least, allow us to think we are doing just fine. Because early love optimizes the amount of repressive chemicals we secrete, when there is an absence of love we have a loss of those chemicals and are rarely comfortable in our skin thereafter. When someone has a traumatic birth, the entire biochemical system is altered, and the body may, for example, produce less alerting, vigilant chemicals, rendering an individual sluggish, passive, and non-aggressive. Such early life experiences are imprinted neurochemically into the brain and influence our lives in adulthood.
The notion of the imprint is key to our work and to an understanding of neurosis. Once an experience is imprinted neurochemically, our neural connections are permanently affected, meaning that it remains within our brain’s system for a lifetime. However, it appears that it is possible to change the imprint through reliving the experience in Primal Therapy. The distress caused by the imprint may be diminished with drugs or alleviated to a degree with conventional psychotherapy, but the imprint is indelible, and ultimately wins out.
The imprint is laid down in every cell of our bodies. It distorts organ function and re-regulates key set-points of hormone and neurochemicals such as serotonin. For it to be changed or eradicated, we need to go back to the moments when it was set down, relive the experience, and normalize the system. There is no act of will, no trying, that will normalize; only reliving the time of deviation will do it, and it will happen all on its own. That is why a depressive can come into a session with a 96-degree body temperature, relive a deep early hopelessness, and leave with a more normal reading. Why? Because the imprinted sensation/feeling no longer holds the deviation in place. That is, deviated readings are a product of the imprint. The body must react to deleterious early events; it doesn’t develop low body temperature capriciously. It is part of an ensemble of reactions throughout the system that keep depression intact. It is all part of the memory. We can fix this reaction (blood pressure, heart rate) or that with vitamins or New Age techniques, but to change the whole cascade of reactions we must address the time of the primal event.
When we address whole man or woman, we get a different set of reactions from when we address a symptom here or there. We don’t want to make the symptom well, we want to make the person well, and the symptom will often take care of itself. That is why in our hypertensives (high blood pressure patients), there is a significant permanent drop in their readings after one year of therapy. We don’t work on symptoms directly, we often know little about the minutiae of a symptom. We know about the human condition that gives rise to symptoms. Specialists often know more and more about less and less, more about one specific reaction (which is very valuable) but that often will not explain its origin and how to get rid of it. Instead they have learned through medication how to control and manage it.
One depressed patient came into sessions chronically fatigued and lacking energy. She relived a birth where the mother was heavily anesthetized; she could not get out no matter how hard she tried. She finally was brought out with forceps. But the fatigue was imprinted as was the lack of energy. She had been diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome and treated with various drugs. But the fatigue was a memory--that could only be treated with memory; going back to where it all started and feeling the fatigue in context. Then her vital signs came back to normal as did the energy levels. It didn’t happen after one session, but after many.
Just as conventional psychotherapy ignores the organic disposition of the brain, there is a converse problem in some circles of medicine where health problems are reduced purely to brain function, disallowing any psychological factors. Thus, in the current zeitgeist, an eating disorder such as bulimia exists because of low serotonin levels, a hormone produced by the brain, with many concluding that it is a function of genetics.
The belief that only physical factors matter is demonstrated in an arena of medicine known as biofeedback, which maintains that we can change a mental health problem such as anxiety by temporarily redirecting brainwaves, i.e., by having a patient imagine relaxation and then directing her brainwaves to the alpha range, which some therapists equate with a calm state. But is this sufficient criteria toward determining whether a treatment has been successful or not?
In biofeedback a notion of normality is applied to the patient rather than allowing the system to normalize through a natural evolutionary process of therapy. It is the therapist’s idea of normality. It is taking a piece or fragment of our psyche and treating it as if that were the be-all and end-all of the matter. Imagine that you are hooked up to an EEG machine and that you try through visualization, such as that in biofeedback, to change your brain waves to so-called normal. It is pure mysticism to seriously think that this will overturn the effects of a lifetime with an alcoholic mother and a violent father. Such a therapeutic process is dependent on imagining a normal state, which means thinking your way to health. What one achieves is an illusory state; in short, something that isn’t real or lasting.
To treat a patient successfully it is imperative that we take into account their psychological history, a history that might contain incest, abandonment, and neglect. Most importantly, we must consider an individual’s early physical and psychological development, and examine that critical period from gestation through the first three years of life, which science is just now beginning to recognize has so much to do with problems later in life. It is necessary to look at the person as a whole and consider the patient’s early history, taking into account physiological as well as psychological factors.
I call the gap between feelings-sensations and their psychological counterpart the Janovian Gap. I believe this gap is important in determining how long we live and how early in life we may fall ill with any number of diseases, both physical and psychological.
The only progress in psychotherapy is to become whole again, to retrieve a self that was lost long ago and to recapture feelings that we disconnected from at the start of our lives. Only a therapy based on the experiential, on the development of the individual’s brain, on evolution, can succeed. The patient’s whole system must be considered in such therapies so that the whole system can get well, not just a part of it.
Symptoms are the expression of an imprinted memory—memories of experiences we had in our earliest moments that have been laid down neurochemically within our brain and nervous system. That is what lies in the primal universe—monumental emotions of imprinted memories that have been sequestered in the far reaches of the brain. For a patient to get well, it is necessary to access those memories in a safe way, bring them to conscious-awareness and finally to integrate them. When that happens the individual’s entire system is harmonized, key hormones are normalized, and the system is finally righted. After a connection is made between feeling-sensations and the thinking mind, perceptions are more accurate and a sense of calm and relaxation never before known is finally experienced.
Teicher, M.H., Andersen, S.L., Polcari, A., Anderson, C.M., Navalta, C.P. (2002) Developmental neurobiology of childhood stress and trauma. Psychiatr Clin North Am. 25(2):397-426, vii-viii.
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.