Saturday, February 28, 2015
Why Am I Banging On About Womb Life?
I am sometimes accused of too much emphasis on the trauma of birth and/or life experience in the womb. So let me explain why this is so. My conclusions are based on almost fifty years of clinical observation now added to by hundreds of scientific articles in major journals. It is not that these article “prove” my point, but that when joined with science helps add weight to it all. We should pay close attention if we want to understand ourselves and our families.
One of the key articles supporting my position is by at least twenty authors including the well-known scientist in Canada, Michael Meaney. (“Antenatal Maternal Anxiety Predicts Variations in Neural Structures Implicated in anxiety Disorders in Newborns.” Anne Rifkin-Graboi et al. J. of American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Soon to be published).
Among other things the authors wanted to find out the effects of maternal anxiety in carrying mothers on the fetus/baby.
One thing they wanted to know was how this anxiety affected the white matter of the brain, consisting heavily on nerve fibers, their myelin sheaths and their connections. So what were some of the effects? “Children were classified with fearfulness and social withdrawal. This predicted risk factors for anxiety disorders.” And Anxious, carrying mothers resulted in stress reactivity in offspring and affected the changes in neurotransmitter functioning such as norepinephrine. That also dysregulated cortisol production (stress hormones). And this high cortisol level can cross the placenta and affect all kinds of processes including many of the neurotransmitters.
It altered uterine blood flow that directly affected brain development of the fetus. We begin to see how massive the effects are of maternal anxiety. There are many changes in the limbic system and the relationship of the neo-cortex and various feeling sites. And there is diminished control on feeling states. There is less corticol control, in general which predicts behavioral problems later on. And the crucible of all this begins early on in womb-life. There is really no free way out of all this. Giving a mother calming drugs produces all sorts of corollary problems. We need to extirpate some of the latent pain stored deep in the brain, before pregnancy. Otherwise, we get later distress when the child is temporarily removed from his mother; separation anxiety. This becomes a child who cannot sit still, cannot concentrate and fidgets, is restless and has to keep on the move as the imprint is compounded by later traumas. This is how it all starts and builds from there.
Without going more deeply into limbic structures, there are adverse effects on them (especially the insula and amgydala), which impairs integration of feeling with higher levels. Some of the current anti-anxiety medication works on these limbic areas to produce a calming effect.
What the study found, which is not my experience, is that is that produced inhibition of behaviors. I have found the opposite; early anxiety drives external behavior, not inhibits it. But it does adversely affect information processing; complex thinking is diminished. This may be due to decreased/slowed overall brain development.
What all this is about is something I wrote about 30 years ago: the prototype; the crucible that structures later abilities and malfunctions. These are the formative experiences that channel our thinking, emoting and behavior for the years to come. They determine how well be learn or don’t learn. We must pay attention here and that is why I go on about it. They are absolutely formative of who we later become.
There is a related study on white matter (Brain white-matter changes seen in children who experience (early) neglect.” Jan 26, 20015. The MAMA Network Journals).
It isn’t just anxiety that is the culprit here. Neglect and indifference also play a major role. Again, white matter is part of the crime. Children who grew up in a Romanian institution show “compromised brain development.” It is not just that this seemingly ephemera happening affected how the brain develops, but it has far-reaching effects throughout development. Just ignoring a baby for a protracted period can adversely affect his brain.
The point of most of these kind of studies is that brain development depends heavily on experience. Sometimes it can be seen as physical brain impairment; other times it shows up as brain dysfunction; a not-so obvious event. Things do get better if the child is placed in a loving home, but in my view there can be a residue of impairment,”Dyslexia, cross dominance, confused thinking, “etc. It is not obvious but what I see in some adopted children is often some subtle kind of brain affliction. This is not even to mention limbic dysfunction and difficulty in controlling and sorting out feelings. And what amazes me is that something like neglect, this vaporish behavior, without physical substance can do such physical damage. And why? Because love is like that. It is an energy field; feelings travel and have an effect. They change brains and alter our physical development. And interestingly, even the physical connection between the two hemispheres of the brain is affect by neglect.
I seriously doubt that all these impairing effects can be fully reversed when I child is placed in a loving home. There seems to be a lingering residue. Better to grow up in a loving home than to play catch-up. Then our brains can find equilibrium, balance and normality.
There is a related study from the University of Cologne, Germany (Novel form of experience-dependent plasticity in the adult brain revealed. Feb. 6, 20015). Essentially, what they are finding is that experience can reorganize connectivity in the brain, in particular, the limbic structures such as the hippocampus. Thus, I assume that life in the womb can give us a leg up on how well our emotional brain functions, how well we remember and how good is our thinking processes. Neural stem cells in this area can regenerate over a lifetime so that the hippocampus goes on and on intact. And I believe this depends on not too much trauma.
And when we have a good gestation, birth and infancy there is a stronger liaison between the top level thinking and lower level feeling. We are connected. In short what takes place in the brain early on depends on our experience. Deprivation of our basic need is not good for our connectivity later on, and that means our fluid interaction to our feelings many be impaired. The brain is quite fluid, it seems, and when we treat it well it comes back to guide and help us.
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.