Sunday, July 12, 2015
Where Do Nightmares Come From?
I have been in a good position to know about nightmares, having had them all of my childhood, and also because I have hundreds of patients who have had them, relived them and understood them. Let me disclose what should not be a secret but is.
Nightmares are either first line memories (brainstem or lower limbic system) or terrible memory/imprints from childhood that have the punch of first line. That is, basically life endangering. The latter would be the loss of both parents during an auto crash at a young age.
I had a patient like that and it was devastating. In brief, his life became a literal nightmare. He lived it every day: depressions every day, agony, loss of drive, no ambition, giving up, feeling he could not go on. He felt his life was over.
Ordinarily it is the lowest level of brain function, the brainstem with its memories of pain; a mother smoking or drinking, poor nutrition, chronically anxious and fearful, unable to relax, constantly worried and totally confused. Taking drugs at the beginning of the pregnancy. All of this and more, leave an imprint of severe damage. That imprint impacts almost everything. This far we understand, but how do these imprints become nightmares? Because they were! I will use me as an example since I know me best. My mother was always hyper-anxious, a refugee from the Cossacks in Russia, had no parents and was actually a four year old. Illiterate all of her life. She had me by accident but was nowhere near strong enough for such a task, so she handed me over to my grandmother. From the start there was no one and from the very start there was a frantic mother who could not be a mother. I was born afraid. And as life went on with two empty parents I had no support and no care. That exacerbated the problem and it was compounded by terror and pain.
Where did it all go? The pain evolved like the rest of me: terror got partially suppressed but I was a fitful sleeper and never could concentrate. All my marks in school read “nervous”.
As I grew it got worse in school and I did badly. As I became an adolescent I could not learn nor focus, and above all, became plagued by nightmares; not only because of my gestation but because of the total lack of love and support for my terrors. Every night I was terrified by having to go to sleep, knowing that I would wake up terrified in the middle of the night. When I said to my parents I was afraid, they said if it got bad to go sleep with my sister, which I did. That became a nightly affair and lasted years. So how did it happen that my pain from way back and down deep rose to the occasion, so to speak, and pump out nightmares? Aah, here is where it gets complicated.
My pain was compounded daily by a psychotic mother and tyrannical, loveless father. No one to turn to and so the pain just built and built. It reached a critical point where my gating system could no longer hold back the force of the early imprints. The terror seeped through and there was nothing I could do to stop it. No one had any idea what they were, including my doctors. So I suffered due to a mystery that I now understand. Oh. Wait a minute. It is clear to me know that my symptoms evolved with me. I was terrified during gestation with colic and many other symptoms, then I had bad dreams all of the time as my childhood pain broke through, and then finally, when all my defenses crumbled the nightmares began. First line was evident because in my therapy they were the avant garde or forerunner of nightmares to follow. I would come in anxious and could not relax. I also could not concentrate. I was already far along in my therapy, and soon my nightmares rose. And what did they turn into? First-line birth trauma, beginning with severe anxiety and then terror and then suffocating and feeling stuck and unable to move. Wow, that was the content of my nightmares and my early life. They were one. Interchangeable. And the nightmares led me directly to my gestation and birth traumas, which I began to relive. As I did, my concentration improved and my anxiety lessened. I could sink into my skin. The feelings were finally fully experienced, as they were meant to be at the start, only it was too overwhelming to integrate.
So we must always keep evolution in mind when trying to understand all this. All my nightmares were terror filled, and since terror is organized very deep in the brain, that it should be obvious that nightmares derived from there and not later. Just as very fearful dreams may be limbic/feeling brain, but a bit of brainstem to give them power. The content of my nightmares (which have been gone for years) was of being in a dark hole with someone coming to kill me. I could not breathe. Someone coming to kill me was the inchoate realization that death was approaching. I made that terror into a phantom, which is why so many kids love horror films. They can feel that terror for a moment. They think it is the masked guy on the screen but we know better.
And what we also know is that as we evolve and have ideas and words we can be driven crazy by these forces and imagine that the guy in the ice cream booth “wants to kill me”. Our poor victim too sees death approaching and for the very same reason: death is approaching from way down deep. He too, gives it a content: the guy in the booth. I mean he cannot say, “Oh yes, my mother is taking speed or many cups of coffee and that is speeding me up. And also she is drinking whiskey all throughout her pregnancy. “ He has no idea where the danger comes from and that is the real danger because it can be acted out randomly. He will act on anyone in his presence.
One thing I have left out is the evolution epileptic symptoms. They often begin in childhood as petit mal and grow to grand mal major seizures. We have had good luck with seizures, often changing them from grand mal to petit mal, or from grand mal to no seizures as they relive convulsive pain from early on. We change the seizure from a major symptom to a major Primal. Not always but often. We lower the pain/terror threshold. We lower terror/pain to below the level where symptoms begin. They then are not cured but can be symptom free. I make no claims for cure; only that we have had some success with this problem. In the more severe cases what we see is a lessening of the symptoms. It the case of convulsions we see how the imprint impacts the whole system and causes seizures. In the case of nightmares, the terror is still contained within the limbic/feeling system and does not escape out to massively produce serious psychosis.
What stops psychotic symptoms is the same thing the blocks nightmares and panic attacks: first line blockers; heavy duty tranquilizers that put a cap on the brainstem imprint for a short time. Could it be that all three are related? No doubt at all. Do they come from the same area and same epoch of our lives? From my clinical experience, the answer is a “YES.” How so? Because the symptoms either diminish or go away as the terror is relived and brought to the surface. So then we can treat ADD, panic attacks, nightmares and many other symptoms with the same thing? You think I mean drugs? I mean Primal Therapy, which permits patients to travel down deep to reach those terrors that underlie so many divergent afflictions and relive them to be done with them. Oh yes, they also can be dulled for a moment with drugs which help repression. These drugs are called “anti-psychotics.” Why is that? Because they reach deep in the brain where psychosis emanates.
And that is the way with nearly every current therapy, alas. Psychiatry has become synonymous with drugs. Only because they have not observed the imprint which would give them the key answer to all their unasked questions. So they drug what they can’t see and then write theories about the mystery of it all.
A person doesn’t just suddenly become psychotic. He was already disturbed; only we did not call it psychosis. He has gastric problems or asthma or incipient cancer. He was highly disturbed but neither he nor us had any words for it. His system was going awry. Epigenetics was kicking in and methylation of cells was beginning. The whole system was becoming deranged. And compounding of no love and pain was taking its toll. And now we have to rewind the biologic clock and revisit our lives in a real way.
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.