Monday, August 18, 2014
The Merger of Nature and Nurture: How the Outside Becomes Inside
Over the years the question is always raised, is it nature or nurture? What causes so much behavior and so many symptoms: the genes or experience? I vote for both, and if I had to give an edge it would be to experience. But I am getting ahead of myself. Because what seems like genetics may now be experience, and vice versa. That is due to the new field of epigenetics where experience modifies the genes, how they express themselves, if they are blocked and how they are modified and when. We need to look at them as an organic unit, each influencing the other. Perhaps for a lifetime. Certainly there are pure genetics; color of hair and eyes, but when it comes to plasticity, malleability and flexibility of symptoms and behavior we need to consider both.
Such a thing as heart attacks in our fifties. If we don’t consider experience and only genetics we will never solve the puzzle; for it turns out that stress changes the lymphocytes, the white blood cells to increase, and when that happens the extra cells stick to artery walls slowing blood flow, forms clots and produces a block in blood vessels: and, voila; a heart attack. The problem is that we tend to look at current or childhood stress when the real origin may be in our womb-life. (see: “New Study May Explain Why Stress Can Cause Heart Attacks.” Nolan Feeney, Health Research, June 22, 2014 (see for ex: http://time.com/2909884/chronic-stress-heart-attacks/)). As I have noted, stress is life endangering when it is at its most potent and stressful. We need to take off our blinders and look further into the past, where experience, deleterious experience, is not so obvious. We cannot see the fetus suffering from a mother’s smoking but it is there. Here is the first inkling of how the outside (stress) becomes inside (heart attack). What happens with stress is that it de-normalizes the system; either too much or too little. One lady I saw felt “toxic,” no one knew what she meant but she decided to move to the desert to feel “non-toxic.” Until she had the feeling; her mother was a chain smoker and she was toxic to the daughter she was carrying. She produced heavy toxicity in her; it became an imprint and remained in her system. Once relived, many times over, she was over it and finally knew why so felt toxic.
But there is much much more.
I also want to introduce you to an important scientific paper by M. Meloni (The social brain meets the reactive genome; neuroscience, epigenetics and the new social biology Hypothesis and Theory. 21, May, 2014 (see http://journal.frontiersin.org/Journal/10.3389/fnhum.2014.00309/abstract; the full text is available for free)). He sums up so much of the new science of epigenetics, malleable and less fixed than we might imagine. And they are heavily influenced by genetic factors. And like us humans, genes need always to be considered in the context of their milieu. It is the interaction of genes and environment that bring the phenotype into play……and too often we look at the phenotype (what we can see) and ignore origins as the cause of our problems with behavior and symptoms. When someone grows up in an alcoholic, violent environment we understand the causes of his delinquency. Why not growing up inside the womb of a heavy smoker? Doesn’t that help us understand his later breathing problems? Only if we know where to look. And that environment is often womb-life. The good part of this is that when we can tease out some environmental factors they can sometimes be reversed. Not so with genes. Therapists need to pay attention to the latest research in birth practices and pediatric discoveries, that I often write about. Just that simple fact, that we respond to our environment can lead us to discover proper origins. I hasten to add: we respond more forcefully as that environment becomes earlier. And as we grow up and have children of our own, that environment can be passed down the hereditary chain. In short, what happens to us in our lives can be visited upon our offspring. Not always the bad stuff but also the good; mother rats who often licked their offspring had healthy offspring and so was the baby’s offspring, as well. (This is Michael Meaney’s work, as well as Moshe Szyf’s). What they noted is the Primal position, as well, that there are critical periods in life when the environment affects us the most. And clearly that is in the first weeks of life; not life on the planet, but life inside the mother ship. I am writing mostly about methylation and how the environment becomes embedded into the cells where nurture becomes nature. I mean if our life experience affects our offspring it acts like genetics; yes? I mean the outside has become the inside.
In animal studies they find that methylation patterns during the critical period can be engraved in parts of the limbic/feeling centers; i.e., the hippocampus. And those patterns become stable and enduring. And that can mean being vulnerable to later disease. (They say, “modifications of methylation patterns (the imprint) are encoded and form long-term outcomes”). Briefly, imprints can make you sick. Abuse is what seems to change methylation patterns, and especially during the critical period. What is important here is that heavy methylation in the feeling centers can ultimately lead to mental illness. It becomes the crucial for bad mental reactions. The imprint has altered the hippocampus in such a way to make one vulnerable to further trauma. The imprint is a fixed an enduring form of cellular memory according to Meaney/Syzf/Meloni.
The researches and I, both have come to the conclusion that the imprint can endure for a lifetime. Once fused it is most difficult to pry nature away from nurture. They, in effect, become one. And when the fetus or infant is stressed the expression of the genes change. They can be up-regulated toward expression, or down-regulated toward repression. ( a lot depends on what chemicals are “borrowed” to embed the event/memory, the acetyl group or the methyl group). What investigators are finding is no surprise at all. That licked/loved infant animal babies are far better at handling later stress. And vice versa; when babies are not loved they have a harder time handling stress and adversity. Do I mean that love is that important? Yes. It is no wonder that the rate of lost productivity in jobs (30%) is due to some form of mental illness. Very early stress leaves offspring less adventurous, much more cautious and wary. And above all, they are more susceptible to drug addiction. They are in imprinted pain. When booga booga addiction centers miss out on all these early causes there is no way they can cure addiction. As I have said numerous times, “You cannot love addiction or neurosis away.” The point is that adverse early events leave a mark, a trace, an imprint that endures and affects behavior and symptoms. It is then too late for love. Yes it helps a bit but once brushing up against the imprint it is useless. Because of the pain the gates won’t yield to feelings; they won’t let them through.
We human beings are social and so are our brains. They take in outside life and transform it into lots of internal stuff. And then we look at the phenotype and say, aha, it is genetic; or worse, we say, “It is your job that is causing so much stress.” It is rarely both; either we are born with it or we got it last week. Like high blood pressure, for example. It is Primal Pain that kills us prematurely, not so much diet. Although I would not neglect diet, but normal people generally choose healthy diets, according to any number of studies. If your system is balanced so will be your food choices, and choices in life, for example, like a proper partner.
So who we are is not in the vapors. It is in concrete experience; and that experience usually predates our life before birth (to name my most recent book). There is where we need to look and there we will find causes; we will find key memories that have driven us and caused so many symptoms that have been a mystery. There we will find cure.
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.