Monday, November 17, 2014

How Do You Know If You're Neurotic?

One way is to see if your brain gates are in good working order.  Is your unconscious too close to top level neocortex? Are the gates too strong and unyielding so no feeling gets through?    Is repression too strong or not strong enough?  And what does that mean?  Part of what it means is that, is the brainstem imprints impinging on the top level neocortex?  Or is the ideational brain so powerful as to gate and suppress most feelings?

For example, someone who is severely claustrophobic means that deep terror imprints are trespassing onto the neo-cortex. The result is the exact terror/anxiety that is imprinted down deep in the brain is close to full experience again.  So how is it usually treated?  With pills that help the gates along; i.e., SSRI’s, the same chemicals that were used up when the early trauma occurred in an attempt to push it all back down.  So all that is happening is that we are trying to load up on the same chemicals emptied out in the first battle against trauma.  In short, gates can only hold so much pain; then they give way and we receive the full brunt of the terror/pain below.  So instead of letting the pain up bit by bit, we suppress it and that keeps us from experiencing it. That means no chance of getting well.   And why is that? Because we really don’t know what is down there, how it happened, how strong it is and what happens if it is unleashed.   With the claustrophobic, his brainstem memories are close to the surface.  Wonderful!   Oh wait a minute.  Very few shrinks know that and therefore, would not take a chance on meeting the wild beast.  Freud warned against 100 years ago.   His legacy is to help us be terrified of terror.  What chance has the poor patient? So much of psychotherapy today is bottling it all up.  Or when they try to release it, they have the patient do nutty stuff like screaming, pounding, running around, etc.  Mostly because they do not know what is really down deep.  Release in their therapies means expressing feelings randomly. That is not feeling; it is catharsis, and that gets no one well.

Yes catharsis feels good for the moment, but it has to be repeated ad nauseum because it is not resolving.   Resolution means returning to the scene of the crime, recognizing that there was a crime…….against our humanity….and plunging down deep to feel it over time.
So what is another clue to neurosis?  Aah, I forgot, we usually don’t know it because it is all repressed and place out of sight.   So if I told you that you were neurotic, filled with unconscious pain that has deviated the system, you would not accept it.  Your behavior since birth seems normal; and it was and is adaptive to the harm we received.

If I said that you were compulsively sexual you might answer, “So what, it feels good.”    But the drive inside can wear down your system prematurely because there is a new need, tons of sex to release what?  Pain.  Or take having to keep busy, going and going all of the time.  You are very productive. So what is wrong with that?  Anything that is far out of the normal often means an unconscious drive.  The system is under constant pressure, in the same way that one cannot stop working all of the time.  We think it is only a choice; but a choice we are forced to make.  Like drinking. “I love a cocktail or two,” one might say, but he drifts into several a night, then alcoholism.  To kill a pain one almost never feels. “Alcohol calms me,” it is claimed, with no understanding about why you need calming, and from what?

We talk about addiction like it is only a bad habit and bad for your health. Never that is has deep roots that must be eradicated.  So we find ways to control it, manage it and divert it. Those therapists who cannot go deep into their own pain are certainly not about to embrace a therapy that dips down deep in the brain.  But imagine, if they could experience what is inside of them how it would change their approach to therapy.  They would know what is inside the patient because it is also inside of them.  It is no longer alien, or a stranger.  If the therapist doesn't have an access to a feeling experience,  he is forced to take control, push down, and manage the pain.  He will be forced to treat his patient as he treats himself…..with unfeeling ploys.

No one suffers chronic nightmares without up-surging pain that forces entry into the thinking cortex. It makes the cortex work overtime in an effort to control imprinted pain.  It produces encasing rumination in ways that cannot be controlled or stopped.  Yes there may be other reasons; but I have treated many, many cases of nightmares and I nearly always find the terror inside them.  We have found a way to get inside of them and have them experienced slowly over time.  It is not an aberration; it is adaptation, a way to manage the imprint of terror, the very same terror found in the nightmare.  It is a base, an origin and an imprint.  It is not a mystery.  Take away the imprint and the nightmare goes away too.  Otherwise, we are constantly dealing with a memory and a feeling that will not go away.

The average claustrophobic sees it as a bother so they avoid closed rooms, tightly shut doors, etc. Unhappily, some therapists see it in the same way and teach them how to avoid the very thing that could free them…terror.  Once felt, it is gone not to intrude again into life and their nightmares.


  1. Hi,

    Your post reminds me of the way 'instruction manuals' on human development can be learned by rote to form a cognitive view of what is 'appropriate' and what is not appropriate behaviour for the patient (or hir 'offending relations'). Then the patient can train themselves to 'act as if'; or to act in contradistinction to their 'habit' (of mind). Or the patient can form an opinion about how others are or are not acting as they should according to the said 'instruction manual'.

    It's kind of funny when as children we read a book and get subject / object muddled up and begin to 'role model' orselves from the content 'as if' we are the hero of the story (or the underdog). . .

    But when therapy is based on modelling behaviour on 'appropriate child development stages'. . . well then we have therapists making brainwashing out of popular science. This makes the patients into "Method Actors" does it not?

    Not good for the patient but very marketable for the therapist.

    Paul G.

    1. Hi,
      So, it seems the trick the neo-cortex plays is 'rote learning' and 'play back' as if for real. If we get our little toddler children to 'click their heels' or to 'do as mamma & pappa wishes' and reward them as 'mammas & pappas little darlings'. . . Well then we make them into false selves and later they become the narcissists we all like to think we could never actually be ourselves.
      Toddlers are never narcissistic or bombastic unless they have been seriously frustrated. They just go for what they need. . . It's us parents and carers who make them into something different.

      Paul G.

  2. An email comment:"It's good to see the changes that are dramatic and permanent. My experience at feeling is that it takes me a long time to find the feeling up to 3 hours, then I feel it in chunks and have to go deeper as I go. I don't have vivid visual memories attached. I often feel like I am on the edge of a feeling but need help to go deeper, a push over the edge that I can't seem to deliver myself, not without a lot of time and work. Thus this is an infrequent experience. Also, I feel that I have sometimes gone into a feeling and the feeling was only partially primalled so that I am still "in the feeling" when I have to stop. This alarms me as I feel that any heightened blood pressure from it might stay with me. I cannot afford that. The experiment goes on and I am slowly changing but your clinic seems like the very best option to make changes safely and permanently and in a timely way.

    I have studied other so called clinics and often I find that the deviate even from some of your main principles, sometimes to the point at which they appear ludicrous to me. The Feeling Integration Center in New York is close to where my kids are and I wish primal therapy for them but the guy in charge makes a lot of wrong conclusions and I just don't trust him with my kids. Plus he probably charges a high price...

    I share the disgruntlement of many others who try to primal on their own due to a lack of time and money. I am furious with a profession that doesn't embrace your work and make it available through insurance, but insurance seems such a capitalist dodge in that it prefers quick less expensive approaches that salve but do not cure...

    What in the world can be done about all of this?

  3. I did put up a piece about this the other day but perhaps it got lost. As someone who has suffered from deep seated claustrophobia for most of my life I find this piece very enlightening. When I was kid I clambered down a sleeping bag head first and got stuck. The sheer utter terror that overwhelmed me until a friend managed to drag me out was something i did not understand until many years later when i worked out I had had a very traumatic birth. I felt shaken for days after that and every time I ever think about it I still have a strong sense of the Terror I felt. It was only after doing Primal for a while that I seemed to make a real connection with this and understood that having spent 4 days in my Mother's womb after the waters had been broken because the Doctors decided I was to be induced and forced to enter the world on thier terms and not mine, I must have felt incredibly trapped in her waterless womb. Trapped and unable to move at all. I don't get claustrophic so badly now. I don't get the panic attacks in confined spaces but instead decide I have to leave somewhere. I may always have a legacy of the experience but feeling the terror and connecting it with the event helps a great deal.

    I have a friend who in her late 40's has just started to get dreaful panic attacks whenever she travels in an Underground tube train or an airplane (another tube). Is it not unreasonable to recognise the metaphor for a crowded tubular space with no control over one's destiny as being a representation of the terror of her birth in her Mother's birth canal. Only she can really know.

    I started to feel the terror of my birth and beforehand in nightmares of being trapped following a partial breakdown. I used to dream of walking down a tunnel and the floor and ceiling came closer and closer together until I was stuck. I was not allowed to go back so had to try and push forward. I would wake up screaming and would sit bolt upright in bed and put the light on. The total darkness of a room combined with the still lingering terror of the dream in which I could not move, was too much. The feeling of terror was so bad it caused me to wake up. I have never felt terror like it. I don't get those dreams any more nor the nightmares because I think I have felt the terror conciously and made the link to the event.

    There were times before i did Primal but read had many of your books Art,that I decided to stay with the Terror for as long as I could. To not try and hide from it. It was very tough sometimes.

  4. Not sure if my prior comment was posted in your blog Dr. Janov, so I shall simply re-post it here :) I just started to read your book but couldn't wait to ask you-
    I had a couple very specific questions that you may or may not have an effective response/answer to:
    - are there cultures or countries in the world where in general, those that were born and raised in said culture, have a very low rate of trauma (birth, early childhood and teens) during the critical period of the womb to early childhood? These same cultures would likewise have high rates of contentment, low poverty, low crime, quality jobs and cost of living, etc. Norway and Sweden are two that come to mind as well as primitive tribal communities in Africa, the Amazon and Asia.
    - how does a woman stop the cycle of seeking out and attracting the wrong men, i.e.; men with a similar trauma or worse trauma than myself? And how does one, once 'healed' from their trauma, find other 'whole, healthy and sane' partners??

    Thank you!!
    Amy in Oregon

    1. Amy, I thinkSweden and other Scandinavian countries is a good place to start but I never made a study of it and I should have. The best way to stop getting involved with the wrong people is to feel what draws you to them. Once patient had a very weak father who could not protect her so she got involved with extra strong bullies who could protect her, she thought. They turned out to be dangerous and violent. art

  5. “Are you normal if you think you are? Not necessarily. Are you normal if others think you are? Not necessarily. So how do you know if you’re normal? If you are normal chances are you won’t think about it. If you are not normal chances are you will. If you think you’re normal, you’re probably not. It all seems so Catch-22. Can normality ever be determined?”

    Art, you wrote this in your book, The New Primal Scream (beginning of Chapter 14) and then went on to answer the question exquisitely in my opinion.

    My guess is that a lot of people in this world are not normal, in other words they are neurotic. It doesn’t take a genius to work that out of course, one only needs to look at the state of the world today to come to that conclusion. Yet I would also guess that individually most people think they are normal, even when they are not, and likewise, probably think they are not neurotic, even when they are. That in itself is a real Catch-22, the true nature of neurosis, the most insidious of diseases in my opinion.

    You have asked it so many times before Art, that is, how can suffering humanity ever come to finally understand that the maladies it suffers and dies from, often prematurely, are perhaps attributable to and a consequence of the nine months we spend in the womb? Very little chance in my opinion, but perhaps I am unnecessarily pessimistic. Yet without that understanding humanity will probably continue to suffer, most without even truly realising it, and even those with enough insight to realise that they are suffering will seek for solutions and find none, none that is that are genuinely resolving and lasting. The pain will always win out eventually.

    Space never really was ‘the final frontier’, finally understanding what goes on inside our brains is.

    Lastly, and just a little off topic, I wanted to say how much I loved watching the video of the meeting between yourself, France and David etc. with Raphael Montanez Ortiz which is available on YouTube. That was really beautiful and very moving and I would urge anyone who hasn’t watched it to do so.

    As always, kind regards,


    1. Hi Steve thanks for the kind words. I had no idea I wrote about normal in on of my books. I do not keep any of my books on hand so I never know. I ought to start reading my own writing once in a while. thanks again art


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.