Wednesday, October 28, 2015
Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 4/20)
Neurosis is Inherited
People exude who they are from every pore of their being. I mean that literally. An uptight, tense mother radiates her repression. An angry father radiates his rage. They don't have to “do” anything; just be. But it is worse than that. When their underlying feelings show themselves, we instinctively sense we should avoid them or be very careful around them. They distort our words, detour our natural movements and disapprove of almost everything we do, not by words but by those looks. And worse, when they show no emotion, we know that feelings are what we keep to ourselves. The point is that even before we have words a child is undergoing a lifetime of experience. And the earlier that experience, the more impactful. It should be obvious; those early experiences that directly affect breathing, digestion and elimination are going to do a lot of damage and will last a lifetime.
Our genes form the matrix of later life; that much we agree on. But our epigenes, transformed by severe experiences, build a new “genetic” base that changes or distorts the evolution of our genetic code. Those new altered traits then become “inherited.” As I’ve noted, we too often confuse this with our genetic heritage, which is largely impervious to later events. The person becomes a meld of genes and epigenes, of genetics shaped by experience. Instead of saying, “she looks and acts just like her mother,” we need to say, “her mother was ‘infected’ with neurosis, which got imprinted into the system of the offspring, and now she is just as hyperactive and ADD as her distracted and hyperactive mother.” In other words, the infant who is being carried has caught what could be a fatal disease: neurosis, the same one lying inside the mother. The baby will reflect the internal life of the mother and that is what will be imprinted inside him and last a lifetime. Why? Because this is what had been learned in order to adapt and adjust. No words, no reprimands, no social neglect, just who she is, does it all.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, looked at what they call emotional synchrony, the non-verbal communication between mother and child (Waters, West & Mendes, 2014). In a phenomenon they dub “stress contagion,” the baby is learning how to manage the incoming stress of the mother. They did studies of several different mothers who gave a talk with a different audience – one approving, one neutral and one not approving. Guess what? The 14-month old babies reflected what happened. There were differences in heart rate and a greater stress response in those children of mothers who had disapproval. The children “learned” through some kind of osmosis. They were inculcated by the mother’s emotional state. As lead researcher Sara Waters stated in an article on the website of the Association for Psychological Science, which published the research: “Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion.” (6) Now imagine that the baby and mother are one, where the baby lives inside the mother. The influences are far more impactful.
So what gets transmitted? Odor, facial expression, lack of feeling, body movements and on and on. All of the parent is transmitted to the child. Even food preferences can be imprinted in the womb and passed on through generations. If you love sweets and cannot resist, it could be due to womb-life. In other words, the mother’s compulsion becomes your destiny. This can explain a good percentage of obesity in children. Bad eating habits begin in the womb, as do so many other compulsions. For the most part, people only see the visible manifestation of these hidden forces. So they ask, for example, “Why does this person eat so much?” We know that it is not current culture that is the sole cause; it could also be because the mother was indulgent and ate compulsively. While in the womb the baby is learning about his world and what to expect from it; hence lots of food is to be expected from a mother who indulges. More evidence is piling up to show how this early start can predict the early onset of disease and a shortened lifespan.(7) The fetus is not only aware of certain tastes and smells in the mother while she is carrying, but those memories can last a lifetime, and can affect so much of our interests later on. Mothers ingesting carrot juice during pregnancy, for example, had children who preferred it.
Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found that even the memory of a specific smell can be inherited (Dias & Ressler, 2013). The scientists trained male mice to associate the smell of cherry blossom with an electric shock, making them fearful of it. They then impregnated females with the sperm of these mice and found that the pups were also fearful of the cherry blossom aroma. Even the grand-pups inherited the fear of that specific smell. How did this olfactory trait get passed down through generations? Researchers attribute it to epigenetics, noting that DNA from the grandfather mice and their pups revealed epigenetic marks on the gene encoding the receptor for that specific smell, known as M71. In other words, this inheritance came through experience, not just genes. Like their traumatized grandfathers, the grand-pups were more sensitive to the aroma of cherry blossom because their receptors were also acutely attuned to it, more than control mice. The research “provides some of the best evidence yet that memories or developed traits can be inherited,” according to a report on the experiment published in New Scientist.”(8)
"Knowing how the experiences of parents influence their descendants helps us to understand psychiatric disorders that may have a trans-generational basis, and possibly to design therapeutic strategies," says senior author Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory School of Medicine.(9) In 2013, Ressler, who is also an investigator at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, delivered a Stockholm Psychiatry Lecture on the biology of fear at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Entitled "Neural circuits mediating fear, risk and resilience: from Pavlov to PTSD," the hour lecture can be viewed online.(10)
So are we born fearful? Could be. We can be jumpy, nervous and erratic, all due to epigenetics. It seems so early as to be genetic, but it is more likely to be epigenetic, the condition of the mother (and father) while carrying. So you say to yourself, “Did I inherit my mother’s craziness?” The answer could be, yes... but not in the usual sense of inheritance. Rather, who she was while carrying – hyperactive or depressed and down – left you with a neurotic inheritance that still shaped your life. This should teach us something about memory; for memories while being carried can last decades and drive and/or channel behavior. We do not simply “grow out of it.”
(6) For Infants, Stress May be Caught, Not Taught. (2014, February 3). Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/news/releases/for-infants-stress-may-be-caught- not-taught.html
(7) See the work of Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development, and others at the University of Southampton in England. http://www.southampton.ac.uk/medicine/research/groups/human_development_and_physiology_research_group.page
(8) Geddes, L. (2013). Fear of a smell can be passed down several generations. New Scientist, 220(2946), 10. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62827-4
(9) Mice can inherit learned sensitivity to a smell. (2013, December 2). Retrieved from http://news.emory.edu/stories/2013/12/smell_epigenetics_ressler/campus.html
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.