Thursday, September 26, 2013
Suicide is Painless (More on Suicide with some additions)
I was discussing the difference between self destructive behavior and suicide with a colleague. They are quite different, although you would think that suicide is destruction of the self, but it is not at all like that. To understand, we must go back to the imprint, as so many of my suicidal patients have done.
In many of these cases, the person has experienced an oxygen deficit, perhaps due to a heavy dose of anesthesia to the mother during labor, or being strangled on the cord during birth. And after an agonizing attempt to get born, death approaches and there is a sense of impending relief. That memory of possible relief is sealed in so that later, in the face utter hopelessness, an impending divorce for instance, death becomes the answer. An attempt at suicide follows. The memory of possible relief becomes stamped in, or engraved, and it endures for a lifetime. It is the last link in the chain of pain, as it were, the logical denouement when current hopelessness can set off the primordial (primal) hopelessness where death lurks and where suicide seems the logical step.
You may wonder: how is it that hopelessness today sets off the same feeling created during birth? It is again the chain of pain, the descending links between levels of consciousness. It is known as resonance, where one feeling, which evolved out of similar feelings at earlier stages, ultimately triggers the earliest related feeling that was originally imprinted at the start of life. I have written that it may be a specific neurological brain frequency that sets off the imprinted counterpart. Each deep feeling, such as hopelessness, matures and evolves onto higher brain levels where there are more advanced levels of consciousness. Thus the deep imprint becomes reflected in the same or similar feelings higher up. Conversely, in our therapy we start at the top, the last stage of the evolutionary chain, and work down the chain of pain to those earliest imprints. Normally the gating system keeps the brain from evoking those deeper levels but when one has undergone years of neglect and lack of love, the gating system falters. Then, a current frustration can set off profound feelings of hopelessness impressed deeper the brain. Here we may see violent act-outs as those more powerful feelings are elicited. It is why, for example, a student’s current fear of failing in class can set off a full-blown anxiety/terror attack. The manifestation of the feeling in the present gets amplified through resonance. Thus, the current feeling sets off the same deeper feelings until the whole system is engulfed in utter hopeless feelings. And worse, there is no scene attached to it, since it is pure feeling, naked and unadorned, the exact same feeling from gestation and infancy, rising again to smother the person and make her suicidal. It is the most profound hopelessness. The current feeling has triggered its progenitor with sensations of approaching death becoming paramount. When that feeling becomes excruciating one may want to kill oneself, just as the fetus/infant had no other options. The accompaniment of this hopelessness is nearly always lower body temperature, the parasympathetic nervous system dominance.
That early hopelessness is later expanded and ramified as the whole system and brain mature. As each new brain system comes on line, it adds its emotional weight to the feeling. But it is the same feeling with increased neuronal development. It is that feeling that is the essence of depression. As I explain in my extensive article on the subject, “The Mystery Known As Depression,” it is the system’s effort to suppress the feeling that produces depression. So depression is not a feeling; it is what happens as that feeling is blocked from higher level access. And when we unravel depression that is what we find: utter, unarticulated hopelessness. And as it is felt and experienced with all of its pain, the depression begins to leave, at last.
This means that we must not trump evolution and experience the deep feelings too soon in therapy. This happens when gating is leaky or faulty. And it is here that for a time the patient must be given pain blockers to temporarily hold back resonance. We are not blocking higher levels of expression, only that portion of the feeling that might be catastrophic if experienced too early. Inadvertently, I think this is what doctors are trying to do with their drugs; sever the possibility of triggering off deeper pains for a time. They are attempting to block resonance, though they may not even acknowledge that it exists. Yet, painkillers that work on lower levels are targeted precisely for that. We can only feel those deep hurts as the body and brain allow – current hopeless feelings first, then those from childhood and finally infancy, where the deepest feelings always lie. I use the word “compounding,” because these are not different feelings; they are the same feeling compounded. The child just seems unhappy and sullen and no one knows why. And certainly the child has no idea at all, nor do his teachers. He is in the grasp of that early primordial, devastating feeling that no one can say or name. It is literally ineffable – so deep and overwhelming as to defy description.
What has this to do with self-destruction? Let’s take a literal example of destruction, cutting oneself. This is a later ploy, making hurt obvious. It is a plea for help: “Please see my hurt. See that I hurt.” This in lieu of screaming out that hurt. And the cutter is not often aware of what she is doing or why. It was never acknowledged by anyone because perhaps the parents had no idea of that hurt, or even that such emotional hurt existed. There are many aspects of this. For one patient, the feeling was, “I’m trying to let the hurt escape,” even when she had no idea what it was. She just knew it was inside and it had to come out. In therapy, that is exactly what we helped her do – let it out in methodical ways, so she no longer had to cut herself.
Examples of self-destructive behavior are myriad, but all the manifestations come from subdued feelings. There are people who set themselves up for certain failure, who always make sure things turn out bad, who drink themselves into oblivion or who repeatedly get involved with a low-life they know is bad for them. Here the driving forces are nearly always deep-seeded pain. But in the strict sense, a sense not in the psychoanalytic lexicon, these are secondary effects of imprinted hurt.
An example: one patient in graduate school could not get feedback from his professors for a paper he turned in. After weeks of “trying to get through” he sent a most nasty letter to the instructor. For that, he was delayed in getting his degree. So he shot himself in the foot (self-destructive) because he could never get through to his father and also because he literally couldn’t get through in being born. Being blocked from getting what he wanted and needed had set off a rage in him, and as we know rage is first line, brainstem originated. It is the seat of the most atavistic anger possible. He was helpless before this surge of fury. Resonance reached down and dredged it all up, surging beyond control. He knew when he sent the letter it was wrong; this is what used to be called “emotional.” His emotions got the best of him. They weren’t irrational; they were real but buried deeply.
In the news, there is story of a man who went on another mass killing spree, this time at a supposedly secure Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. The shooter walked through the facility with a shotgun and calmly fired at defenseless people, killing twelve. Somewhere he might have known that it was suicidal but that was a faint force against his feelings. A month before the rampage, the killer had told police that he was being followed by three people who were talking to him through the walls and ceilings of his hotel room and sending microwave vibrations into his body to deprive him of sleep. In this case, we see clearly that the killer’s feelings are so deep and so remote as to seem like a machine controlling his brain. Otherwise he would know it derives from deep in the brain. It has been discovered that when such disturbed people hear voices, they really do. And what those voices really say is, “I hate.”
Here is the important point. This man did not suffer a “thought disorder.” If it were a simple thought disorder then it might be treated with more healthier thoughts; i.e., cognitive therapy. But to believe it is a thought disorder means to ignore the evolution of the brain, to deny that there are lower levels with their own characteristics and functions. To believe this means that the thinking cortex arrived de novo with no antecedents, and that it was not anchored anywhere in the brain. It is considered by cognitivists as an entity unto itself. These are the deniers of evolution, the “creationists of the brain.” They might not agree to this characterization but there can be no other. It is feelings that drive thoughts, in the here and now and in the history of the brain. The killer suffers from a feeling disorder. Until we acknowledge that we will go on treating the wrong thing in the wrong way. Feelings have that great power in history, and when it comes to the brainstem, unleashed, it can lead to murder. Ideas, remember, are the last vestige of brain tissue that we can resort to. Feelings slop over boundaries and surge into the ideational brain where we manufacture ideas to match them. The most bizarre come from the earliest imprints where they provide a terrible neuronal force that the cortex has to deal with. When ideas no longer do their duty, a stroke cannot be far off.
How can we be so sure? We see this in our therapy: as deep feelings rise they can sometimes provoke strange ideas. When we give patients medication that addresses mainly the lower feeling centers, the paranoid ideas may disappear for a time. We would not think of attacking the ideas head-on. We address the underlying feelings, but again, only when they can be safely integrated. Indeed, when a patient is on the verge of a deep, heavy feeling, she may get paranoid transiently: “They are trying to suffocate me.” We know immediately where it comes from and can treat it post-haste. Once our patients begin to relive deep brain imprint those paranoid ideas disappear.
So what are the self-destructive people among us doing? What and who a re they destroying? The feeling self, the one with all the pain, but they are not destroying it, they are keeping it from destroying them. Drinking into oblivion seems self destructive but it is the person’s means of keep pain under control.
Suicide and self-destructive behavior, then, are indeed two different things. Even though suicide attempts to destroy the self it is not, oddly, self destructive. Suicide means one final act. It is not anything in the present that causes it; it is the result of a deep memory. And yes, if one could, then screaming it out could help temporarily, since it would relieve the pressure. There are some acts of suicide that are a cry for help; taking a certain amount of sleeping pills, for example. And there are others that say, I really don’t want to live anymore; that is a jump off a bridge. That is final, no call for help. It all seems so helpless and hopeless; they want to die for relief. No more pain; that’s enough. That’s why the theme song from the television series “M*A*S*H” rings with a profound kernel of truth: “Suicide is painless.” Killing oneself is not meant to be self-destructive, per se; it’s meant to kill the pain, which has come to subsume the self.
In Primal Therapy, we get patients gradually down to those deep feelings that are so disturbing. It takes time, but when they get there, they discover real relief, the kind that lasts and lets them live.
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.