Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Anthony Wiener and His Sexual Compulsion

 The recent chapter in the Anthony Weiner sexting scandal brings to mind the old adage, “The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.” I think Weiner’s disgraceful downfall shows that we, as psychologists seeking to explain sexual compulsions, need to turn that saying on its head: The mind is weak when the flesh is willing.

By now, most of us have heard of the sad and sordid escapade that threatens once again to torpedo the political career of this once rising star of the Democratic Party. It came as a shock two years ago when the married congressman from New York was forced to resign after being publicly exposed, quite literally, for texting photos of his private parts to a woman he had never met. We would think that after a world-wide embarrassment he would have learned his lesson. But another surprise came this week when it was revealed that he continued to carry on internet liaisons even after his remorseful resignation, his apologies to his wife and constituents and, most importantly from my perspective, his promise to change his ways and stop his incredibly risky behavior. Now, after his wife and the public forgave him the first time, Weiner is under pressure to drop out of the race for mayor of New York City. Still, he is standing firm, no pun intended. He appeared at a press conference with his wife in tow and vowed to stay in the race. She admitted that it took a “whole lot of work before I could forgive Anthony.” Given his compulsion, she may have to forgive him over and over again.

 A year ago, I commented on Weiner’s resignation in my blog, ending with a line that turned out to be prescient: “He went away, but his needs didn’t.” On the surface it may sound like a simple thought, but the idea of being driven by insatiable yet unconscious needs is key to understanding why smart men do such dumb things.

 I will not get into the politics of it all, whether he should quit or not. My question is: What makes someone take such risks, with his marriage and career in the balance? What force is so strong that a public figure with such a formidable intellect – and so much to lose – cannot stop himself, especially with the whole country watching? Why doesn’t his intelligence kick in and stop him? Why can’t he reason himself away from this behavior?

 In his press conference Mr. Weiner admitted that he and his wife are in analysis to figure out what is wrong. But he’s kidding himself if he thinks he’ll ever get to the bottom of what’s driving him through conventional talk therapy. If you don’t believe me, just ask Woody Allen. Psychoanalysis simply bolsters the cortical intellect which has failed him so miserably so far. That part of the brain – and the psyche – remains completely out of touch with the deep impulses that are driving his serial sexual act-outs. “Figuring out” is, I am sure, what he has been trying to do for years. The more he tries the more distant and out of touch he becomes from those impulses he needs to control. He is battling forces that will not recognize nor submit to intellect.

Clearly a therapy must address the lower brain where those impulses reside if it is to be successful in cases of obsession. Any therapy that ignores two thirds of the brain cannot possibly succeed.

 To understand this seemingly unfathomable dynamic of destructive compulsions and obsessions, I must explain my hypothesis of the three levels of consciousness. The human brain is really three brains in one: the primitive brainstem, the limbic system, and the neo-cortex, or thinking part of the brain. It is constructed in layers that correspond to the way our brain develops from infancy, and also how it evolved in stages over millennia, from shark to chimp and to human brain, respectively.

These neurologic stages of brain growth correspond to three distinct levels of consciousness: the earliest, pre-verbal stage of infancy, followed by childhood and finally present-day awareness. At each level of brain development, we have specific needs that must be fulfilled uniquely. The earlier the needs the more lasting the consequences when they are not fulfilled, and the more grave the imprint on the person’s nervous system and personality. We are discussing the instincts for survival so that when there is a trauma the in infancy, we have a need to be touched and nurtured tenderly, the need can be thwarted or diverted but never erased. It lives on as an imprint. It is engraved forevermore and drives later symptoms and behavior. The disconnect between that deep imprint and a knowledge of it is great, so great that this makes the thinking brain unable to suppress its force, which again, I remind you, had survival value early on. On the second level, we seek fulfillment of emotional needs: to be listened to, to feel secure and supported, to get an empathetic response to our hurts and fears. And the third level involves intellectual stimulation, communication and understanding by the parents. Fulfillment on this level can lead to clear and logical thinking, and an accuracy of perceptions. Problems arise when those needs at any level are not met.

The pain from that deprivation creates an imprint in the brain that remains hidden from awareness but continues to drive behavior years later. That is how a person like Weiner can act out in destructive ways and have no clue what is driving him to do it. The real cause is hidden in his past, but stored in the lower levels of his brain, and his consciousness. There is no rationality there. The brain has to wait millions of years in evolution and decades in personal maturity before one can properly use the cortex to figure things out. He is acting out a need and a feeling that were left over from early in life. It is so early that it remains unconscious all of the time. It cannot be remembered in the conventional sense of the term. But it is a concrete memory that altered so much of him without his knowing it. At a press conference given by the offending congressman during the original scandal, someone shouted out “pervert!” Was he a pervert? Yes, in the sense that his basic need was perverted or twisted in order to feel loved. Otherwise he would never have lost his control, and he would never have this perverted need, his needs would never have been so direly distorted in the first place. It had to be such a strong past unfulfilled need as to crush his judgment. That need forced him to channel it into bizarre behavior, especially for a well-known politician. It had to be diverted just because it was never fulfilled. He was driven to be well-known, to be seen and appreciated and judged a “man.” Only his parents never saw that.

 The congressman’s unmet needs decimated his critical mind. What was that need? I surely do not know. But I have treated “weeny wavers” (excuse the expression) for years and have seen the motives behind what they do. I often have them do it (act out the exhibitionism) where it is safe in group, and where afterward they fall into the feeling: “Look at me! Pay attention to me. I am important. Please care about me. See me. Want me.” And so on. The penis gets the attention, which is what the person wants. It is often the only way he finds to get that attention. Those are not the only motives but we can be sure that deep unfulfilled need is behind it all. If not, the critical capacity would kick in and stop the act-out. The act-out is always saying the feeling; we only have to pay attention.

 No one is smarter or stronger than his need. Need overwhelms any thought almost every time. Why should that be? Because need and its fulfillment always deal with survival, and always derive from very early in our lives when fulfillment was crucial. It is that which mounts and suffuses our critical capacity; no different from hypnosis where someone can suggest we lose that critical capacity and we do. We become Sinatra because we are told to. Or become Nazis because the pressure is there to become them. We lose our critical capacity.

 The problem is in Weiner’s case that he was both combative and impulse ridden. That forceful combativeness also may signal early infant trauma, meaning brainstem forces at work. That is where not only pure impulses exist, but also rage. What happened to him early on stirred up what I call first-line reactions, brainstem activity that is imprinted and remains as a constant threat. Those impulses took on yet another flavor dimension in his infancy and youth when the constellation of his family life directed them in a specific direction. I do not know what his family was like but I have treated others with similar problems. What might they be? A father who belittles the boy and makes him feel like a “sissy.” A mother who dominated her son; he was close to her but somehow felt “unmanly.” And his father reminds him to stop crying and act like a man. Which is what Mr. Weiner was doing in his act out: acting like a man; proving he was a man. But before we draw any conclusions I remind you that there are a myriad of reasons and I may not have touched on his. The point is that he was driven by powerful, primeval forces that he could not control, nor could he learn from because they were deeply sequestered in the brain. Out of sight but nevertheless omnipresent in driving him.

 So to sum up, here is a very rational and brilliant man, and yet he acts dumb, so dumb as to ruin his life. Why? Because his need drives him toward “symbolic” fulfillment, wherever that leads him. That primitive need is what guides him, not his rational mind which has taken a vacation for a while. He is acting out in the present the needs and feelings from long ago, and that disconnect is what makes him look dumb. Those old childhood needs never disappear. They are inappropriate now, but were appropriate back then. Always think “back then.” One man might act out with his penis — “Be happy to see me” — something his mother never was. The women he flashed or texted never were either, but that never stopped him from trying. He needed a caring mother, but it’s too late. He can’t stop because he’d have to accept that he’s never going to have one.

 It is most interesting that the hapless Weiner used the sobriquet “Carlos Danger” in his emails, acknowledging the danger both to him and from him. He now claims that the behavior is “behind me.” So long as it is below him, imprinted deep in the brain, it will always be a clear and present danger.


  1. I am sure your writing skill is still improving, Art. This article was interesting and very easy to understand.

  2. The logic of being illogical in academic circles!

    Fundamentals of the terms of academics in psychiatry and psychology are the field of medicine and cognitive activity and not as it ought logically thinking of what caused the symptoms.

    The cognitive activity an academic phenomenon... phenomenon to not be aware of the hopeless cognitive activity against physiological reactions accompanying the child in us... resulting in physiological reactions now cognitive interpreted. This is the main issue to be solved within psychiatry and psychology... the issue of physiological reactions from the child in us.

    Phenomenon of the child in academic circles do not allow themselves to be recognized for their own sense due to an academic formation as already passed possibilities to admit something be from long time ago... to be part of what the academic formation includes. In other words... that academics would devote his time to the child itself is not intellectually possible as it then recognizes their own ignorance of being academics!

    Getting help from academics is disastrous for the sufferer as academics need to see themselves as knowledgeable about something they cannot possibly be.

    If we do not first cleared what lies in our way to achieve an academic education in psychiatry and psychology... then will neo cortex alone be the one who "decides"!


  3. Bill Clinton, one of the smartest guys in the world, and David Petraeus, one of the most disciplined guys in the world, are living proof that intellect and will virtually dissolve in the face of imprinted, unmet need. "Mr. President! General! ...what were you thinking?!" But 'thinking' has nothing to do with it. Lines one and two trump third line every time, and even before line three knows it!

  4. Lots of people 'flash'. They don't use their genitals but they reveal very private secrets about themselves. They want their 'private parts' to be known by a friend. They want to create an intimate relationship with someone......anyone.

    Real friendliness is always intimate - it's not something you can just spread around. The irony is that most people are afraid of real intimacy -- they never proceed past the 'flash point' even after they have been married for decades.

    I know a female flasher. She flashes her body parts and she also reveals very personal secrets. Her self-manufactured illusion of an intimate relationship feels real as it resonates with her unfulfilled needs. As she gets closer to her needs, the powerful force of those needs makes the relationship feel more real to her....as if it were real love. The POWER of love. It's not the power of love, it's the power of need. And sometimes she diverts that power into a neurotic sexual release.

    None of it is real. And no amount of lecturing from me can convince a blind love-sick girl to walk away from her life-sucking leech of a boyfriend. He intimately exploits her weaknesses and triggers her powerful needs. The POWER of love.

    When she is drunk, she flashes in many different ways to any and every male in the room. She is a guaranteed good time. When she wakes up the next morning, she can't live with herself, knowing that she betrayed her boyfriend so easily. She feels like she has no integrity. And she still hasn't read a single word of Primal Healing. I have given up on her for good.

  5. A comment from Marco:
    "I have never heard of Anthony Weiner, but I feel for these people anyways.One other public figure I have read about lately was a Prof. John Nash at Princeton,a Nobel Prize winner, who was schizophrenic. They made a movie about him called "A Beautiful Mind".Naturally no alternatives to existing treatments were mentionned in the film.

    Luckily one of my main problems is not horrible schizophrenia ,but rather neurotic anger.I know that just reading books can't really help deeply. Nevertheless, I re-read last night the chapter "The Basis of fear and anger" in "The Primal Scream" which helped a bit. While reading,my anger and tension dissolved somewhat, and some of the underlying hurt began to rise. How wonderful to be understood, that someone like Janov can sense and feel behind the anger to the underlying condition! So I wish to thank the good and insightful Dr Janov for this indirect support from this and his other books.Here's the sentence from the chapter that always gets me:

    "I believe that the angry man is the unloved man- the man who could not be what he was...""


    1. Having been the victim of repeated sexual abuse as a child, after much study, therapy and participating in research for this issue, I am convinced of one thing. These people can NOT be cured. Their urges go beyond their intelligence. For my own self, I believe they should be destroyed. As in shot at dawn.

      I also finally learned that to heal my self or at least manage the demons this left with me that my biggest problem was to forgive myself for having enjoyed this as a child who didn't know better and believed I was being loved. I was an orphan and this left me with horrible problems of rage, mistrust and the inability to EVER enjoy sex as an adult. However, I did decide I would not let this rule my future. I learned to forgive the Sicko who put me thru this. I did not want to give him control over my life and future. But I could have easily killed him when I first realized what he had done to me.
      Had I not learned to manage these demons I could have easily killed him as well as many other people who abused me as I lived in so many different homes, growing up. Today, I am left with the inability to accept or trust love. Numb to most normal emotions but have lived a very successful life as a workaholic .

      I believe Wiener is a dangerous predator and is at risk of his sexually deviation escalating into worse acts.

  6. Another comment by Marco:
    "Here are two more (and last) poems by Emily Dickinson:

    Here's the compassion that probably motivates every true humanitarian:

    If I can stop

    If I can stop one heart from breaking,
    I shall not live in vain;
    If I can ease one life the aching,
    Or cool one pain,
    Or help one fainting robin
    Unto his nest again,
    I shall not live in vain.

    © Emily Dickinson.

    And...I think Emily would understand what I mean when I say that talking to most people is like talking to brick walls:

    This is my letter to the world,
    That never wrote to me,--
    The simple news that Nature told,
    With tender majesty.
    Her message is committed
    To hands I cannot see;
    For love of her, sweet countrymen,
    Judge tenderly of me!

    Emily Dickinson


  7. An email comment:
    "Fascinating as always. I also am reminded of how this also plays a part in the attempts to drop into physical and non verbal abreaction and views so prevalent in religions and psychologies bent on control and repression. Dropping down two early leaves one defenseless as you noted in your comments about pain and hypnosis. It is then possible to entrap the mind in some pretty bizarre beliefs and act outs. It feels right to people because it feels so close to the source of their discomforts, yet it is purely symbolic and over loading. So the Weiners of this world end up being treated by a sick society in ways that only mask and further their problems, and like a thin balloon skin around way too much pressure it takes for little for the balloon to explode, This analogy causes me to wonder how many such "explosions" of the first line a system can handle before complete break down. Integration of course needs a sense of clear connection to current stresses, handling them so that one has a greater sense of security and sense of conquest over helplessness, and then beginning to slowly feel our way gradually into what must be the wordless terror of the "infant mind". The more I feel the more I understand your words, and that leaves me ever more convinced of your message Art. I wonder if people would be so convinced of "self help" and diving into wordless realms of consciousness if they had some sense of the term "mindless terror". It takes a clinic to heal what a community did to a child, and perhaps a new community. I am only speculating here, but I do think you will finally be vindicated and followed increasingly in social attempts to heal itself.

  8. I remember someone saying that 'politics is the province of the psychopath'....I think it would be difficult or impossible to treat an individual like this?

  9. Someone who I worked with in the past, was fond of whipping out his "Todger" at odd and inopportune times. He has now just left his wife and gone on a mid life crisis drinking spree of many months because he is trying to find something, but obviously does not know what. He is one of those people who everyone liked, but at the same time he now talks for England. It's almost as though if he shut up for a minute he might hear his little self crying in loneliness.

    On another note Art, I have sometimes wondered about a post war British fetish of Gas masks. It seems that the British porn industry produced magazines dedicated to this. Then in the late 80's or so they died out as those who were drawn to this either died or lost sexual compulsion due to age. I can appreciate that they would have been very young during the war and experienced either wearing a gas mask or seeing Mothers and Fathers wearing Gas masks. The trauma of war or maybe being really fussed over by mask wearing parents in a bomb shelter in an otherwise unloving cold household might have created the link between being loved (mutated into a sexual fetish) and these strange face masks? It is fascinating how these convoluted links come into being.

    1. Planespotter: I spent part of the war around the Blitz in London. It was an awful sight, all those bombed out buildings. art

  10. Art!

    Do you know how confident I am on the cause for cause... effect and consequence... that it is an impact driven by anxiety etc?
    I can in context of content be so clear about what it is I'm writing about and a while later be far away and be completely without "ability of concentration"... be aware in the process. That is where ADHD and other symptomatic explanations have its source... that is not difficult for me to understand!
    How the brain works to make this… for the academic impossible to become possible... that is for them to learn about… then we have the revolution in sight!


  11. i just watched how deeply and truly regretful mr. weiner told he was in the press conference two years ago. it reminds me of our ability to "truly" forgive... when there is a need for control.

    do we really know what it means to regret of doing something or forgive somebody (not be misteriosly triggered by someones reactions)?
    will we ever be able to measure it objectively?
    because the possibilities for cheating are many, many... and are not very much life supporting.

    how deep is the regret and forgiveness? the same as the need. the same as the acceptance of reality. but we are too busy proving to someone that we are sincere. to busy defending. to busy cheating again.
    it is perfectly ok not to know why before we are ready to know why.
    but i sense... there probably is pain involved! reason involved! past involved.

  12. An email comment:
    "This blog should be in the New York Times! Just finished Life Before Birth. Tough reading because of the biology/chemistry; nevertheless I know from personal experience that unconscious trauma from childhood can be retrieved. I doubt that I've ever gone to "before birth" but it had to have been extremely painful and dangerous, given the circumstances of a dying father, a raging war, and an unstable mother."


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.