Saturday, June 3, 2017

I Promise I Will Be Faithful: No You Won’t

Now why can’t some men and women keep that promise? Well there are many reasons but if we ignore the imprint then we are forced to look at the present for all the answers; whereas the current situation may provide only a few elements.

So what does that mean, the imprint? It means, say, for a man, that he needed love from his mother but all he got was indifference. That lack is imprinted, sealed by the unfulfilled need permanently. It lies on a lower strata so that no matter how loving the girlfriend is, he needs more. Why? Because the nagging, “I am not loved” lies below, agitating him to go elsewhere. And he will become known as a womanizer because he needs to seduce many women, all for the same ending, more infidelity. That, “I am not loved,” drives him every day.

With a woman who was never wanted by her father; that is, who left her feeling unwanted because he was so bound up in his own pain, she is a “sucker” for anyone who really shows he wants her. That need, “I am not wanted,” drives her and makes her give in immediately when a man looks at her and says he finds her beautiful. And yet, no matter how much a man wants her, she needs to seek out other men because “I am not wanted” continually drives her. She needs constant reassurance and assuaging.

A promise is a top level cortical expression; never a match for a deep-lying survival force. How do we know? Because when patients feel that need in all of its agony, they no longer have to promise anything; their body will do it for them. And when we see the huge amount of pain/force involved in experiencing the feeling we know how big a motivator it is.

None of this is conscious. The old need remains pristine pure but the person is never aware of it. The “promise to be faithful” sits on top of, “I can’t be faithful until my mother loves me.” After a sexual encounter, there is that nagging feeling of malaise, not being satisfied. And the person won’t be until he or she feels the real need in its exact early context. Every so-called fulfillment, every affair, after the time of the critical emotional window when need had to be fulfilled is, by definition, a symbolic fulfillment. That is why it is not really satisfying. Remember, that need in the first months of life meant survival as an intact human being. It had to be gated and repressed. Meanwhile, the feeling/need circulates in a sort of reverberating circuit seeking connection and never making it. If it were not symbolic, then one love affair should be satisfying.

That is why all compulsive behavior has to be repeated time and again. It doesn’t matter if its food, pain-killers or sex. Need dominates. It is a way of papering over pain. And because it is a temporary palliative, like a tranquilizer, it has to be done ad infinitum. Of course there are any number of other reasons. But many marital guide books cover those. It is just the imprint that is missing.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Can I Find a Partner?

It occurred to me that there are ways to find out if we can fall in love, whether we can sustain a relationship and how close we can be to others. We can enter into our physiology for answers to these questions; for in that physiology lies our history, our emotional past that can help predict the future. We can slice into the problem from many different perspectives but for now I will choose only one: oxytocin. I call it the hormone of love. When we make love our oxytocin levels mount; if we rub an animal’s belly levels rise. Making love tells us the importance of oxytocin since that act is the origin of life.

Oxytocin is a neuro-hormone that is a key hormone of love. When the level of oxytocin is low there is less emotional attachment, less interest in social engagement, less caring and bonding, and less touch ... in short, less love. "Less love" has a physical base. Less love early in our lives can be found in an imprint, which affects many systems. These effects are measurable. In some respects, love is a measurable entity. The imprint affects sexuality, particularly how key brain structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus translate pain into sexual behavior.

Oxytocin is found only in mammals. When it is high, one experiences a sense of relaxation, rest, and growth, repair and healing, loving behavior and emotional-attachment. Love and nurturing early in our lives are necessary for optimum health, and healthy brain development cannot take place without it. It isn’t just that low oxytocin levels are an indicator of early neglect and lack of touching, it also indicates a dysfunction of the entire system, and serves as a prognosticator of our later mental and physical health. Its presence says, "I was loved and could develop normally,” its lack says, “I was unloved and my system is skewed.” It is one of the key indices of how much love we received in infancy and around birth.

In the same way that we may increase sexual drive in males with testosterone injections, it may well be that we can "inject love" into people, or at least inject a hormone that encourages it – give people a shot of love, so to speak. This shot may help us attach to others and bond with partners, allows us to feel close to someone else, to feel and empathize with their feelings and pain. Bonding is a strong emotional attachment that helps us want to be with one another, to help and protect one another, and to touch and become sexual with one another. High levels of oxytocin encourage and strengthen bonding. Because early trauma and lack of love affect the output of this hormone, the ability to relate and have good sex later is determined even before birth and just after.

Someone can swear she is full of love, only to find herself very low in the essential hormone of love – oxytocin. It is actually good news that "less love" has a physical base, for there may be something we can do chemically to alter that state, and there is certainly something we can do psychologically to change it, as well. At sometime in the future we may be able to determine what proper love from a parent to a child is through the measurements of various hormones, not the least of which is oxytocin, which, as I state, has been in wide use to help birth along, affecting contractions in the mother. (Pitocin).
Early parental love is a permanent painkiller. Rats who were able to self-administer painkillers by pressing a lever did not do so when given oxytocin. Oxytocin (OT) inhibits the development of a tolerance to drugs such as morphine, and also decreases the painful withdrawal symptoms that occur when one is taken off these drugs. The degree of addiction can be measured by the severity of one’s withdrawal, yet oxytocin reduces the severity of these symptoms. Love will do the same thing; early love calibrates the system for life. A current shot of love, such as someone hugging and kissing us, may well change the levels temporarily. If we rub the belly of an animal the oxytocin levels will rise immediately, but once the initial critical period of the system’s development has passed, every change we can effect will be transient. Once we arrive at adulthood, oxytocin levels are fairly set. One can be given a shot of it, but it will not have a permanent effect, for once low levels of oxytocin or high levels of stress hormones are registered early in life, it is difficult to re-establish normal set points. After the critical period to receive love is over, the only way to normalize the system is to neuro-chemically relive the early events that dislocated the set points. The “critical period” is the time when a need must be fulfilled. It can never be recaptured. After that period all we can do is play catch-up.

If we are to ever have any chance at normalization we must feel again "unloved." That enables us to go back to the point of deviation or dislocation and rewrite the scenario and return the body to its correct set-points. . In that way only can we right the ship and return to the original biologic settings. It is that agony with all its concomitant biochemical components, that, when fully experienced, helps normalize the system. And when I mention “normal,” it seems to me that one of the key indices of normality is the ability to give and receive love. This is what patients should expect out of a psychotherapy.

We do know that in our measurements of the salivary cortisol (the stress hormone) there was a return to normal levels after one year of Primal Therapy. (see Primal Healing for a full discussion). In various other avenues we find the same phenomenon. True of heart rate and blood pressure. We assume it will be true with oxytocin levels. We make that assumption because our patients state over and again how they finally could relate to a partner and feel comfortable in an emotional relationship after the therapy.

There are many kinds of hormones that play into love and sex; I am extracting these for discussion and to show how early experience affects adult behavior. Many years ago we studied testosterone in our male patients. We also classified those who were low on testosterone as parasympaths – those dominated by the passive, reflective, healing nervous system. Those, who were high in testosterone, tended to be sympaths, meaning they were more aggressive, goal seeking, optimistic and ambitious (looking ahead, an analogue of the birth process). After one year of Primal Therapy, those who were low on testosterone tended to rise, while those who were very high tended to come down a bit; in brief, their systems would normalize.

When it comes to love, however, oxytocin is by far the most important hormone. The question we now face is what came first: lowered oxytocin and then the inability to love and to bond, or the lack of early love, which lowered the set points of oxytocin? I would choose the latter. Because hormones are so sensitive to early trauma, we must take care not to blame high or low levels to genetic factors. We must never forget the critical nine months of life in the womb.

Bonding is the most positive aspect of human relationships. We learn how to bond emotionally in adulthood through early bonding in childhood, as simplistic as that sounds. It cannot be taught! And it certainly cannot be taught in later life. Attachment is pretty well set in our childhood. It is not something we learn; it is something we feel. It is also something biochemical. Those who did not bond very early on with their parents may well be condemned to a lifetime of broken, fragile, tenuous relationships. It may be in large part due to deficits in the hormonal wherewithal such as oxytocin. Oxytocin researcher Thomas Insel has remarked that, "Many of the affectional ties to the mother observed post-natally (after birth) could be laid down by pre-natal experience." Life in the womb may determine life outside the womb for decades to come. If the early relationship with one’s parents was distant, alienated and glacial, it may be a harbinger of the love relationships we have or don't have later in life. The earlier the alienation from one's parents, the more trouble there may be in relationships later on. I have seen it in hundreds of my patients. It approaches a biologic law – if my sampling of our patients is any index.

In certain mountain rodents such as the mountain vole, a species that lives an isolated life (as differentiated from the prairie vole, which is more social), a shot of oxytocin proved to encourage bonding and pairing between voles. After repeated injections there was a long-acting anti-stress effect, which calmed overall behavior and gave rise to a strong tendency to bond. This again indicates that early love supports calmness and serenity. Those humans who are able to bond with others have high levels of oxytocin. Love seems to be the ultimate painkiller and a permanent one. It prepares us for the challenges of life and is the ultimate survival tool.

Need a good sex life? Be loved early on by your parents. That means, inter alia, right after birth and for the few months afterward. By that I mean plenty of hugging and kisses. Touch is ne plus ultra. Suffer from perversion? It may be because early in life, you were twisted by your parents in the quest for love. Parents whose personalities made implicit demands on the child to be someone else—non-coomplaining, passive, listening never speaking.

There is enough evidence to show that a newborn's heart rate, body temperature, and respiration rate are governed by the mother; when she is loving and nurturing towards the baby she carries, there is a positive affect on the baby and the set points of heart rate and blood pressure become normal. Any neglect she inflicts changes the biochemistry of the baby, perhaps permanently. Her anxiety and depression during pregnancy may very well alter the offspring's sex hormone levels. We know, for example, that anxiety in the mother can and does alter the sex hormone level of the fetus and can feminize infant males. So what we see is that once a male is feminized he is vulnerable, more vulnerable to a lack of love during infancy and childhood. He may become homosexual as a result of a cold, distant father, while the one who is not vulnerable will remain heterosexual. We need to understand that at certain levels of vulnerability, stress, trauma or pain can produce an overload and channel them into a symptom. In this sense, homosexuality could be considered a symptom, in the sense that there is a latent tendency, a feminizing, which only becomes overt homosexual behavior due to trauma; i.e., the lack of a father’s love. If the father’s love is there, it remains a latent tendency.
The female prairie vole, when treated soon after birth with steroid/stress hormones, showed an increase in masculine behavior, such as mounting. Most of us don't have to be injected with stress hormones; stress in the womb and just after birth accomplish the same thing, and may indeed masculinize females.

Although we may think that an injection is something special, the same chemical process takes place naturally. We can inject oxytocin, or we can massage the animal, and increase oxytocin levels that way. We can create stress for a pregnant woman, or inject her with steroids – the psychological effect is precisely the same as from a needle. A mother can be kind and loving and raise the serotonin levels in her offspring so that he can better handle adversity or a doctor can inject serotonin into the offspring and produce a temporary calming effect that is no different than that created by a loving look from the mother. A mother can "inject" oxytocin into her baby through her milk, which contains high levels of the hormone. Love, or what looks like it, can be injected. When "injected" naturally and at the proper time it will produce a loving human being.

Oxytocin means "quick birth." A synthetic oxytocin known as Pitocin, is given to mothers who need stimulation for contractions. I surmise that some mothers who need oxytocin to expedite the birth process may have had a history of pain that lowered their levels so as to make giving birth difficult. Statistics indicate those mothers who give birth by cesarean have lower levels of oxytocin. Additionally, when oxytocin is given to mothers to facilitate the birth process, it also enhances the love they feel for their child; they nurse better and are more relaxed with the baby. Conversely, a chronically anxious mother may leave her offspring with low oxytocin levels, which will contribute to the child having trouble later in life with bonding and forming attachments, as well as harboring a latent tendency to addiction. Thus, lack of early love translates into inadequate chemicals with which to bond, creating a vicious cycle of misery – unhappy relationships, poor sexual function, and failed marriages with suffering, abandoned children who bear the brunt of something that had its root causes in the infancy of the mother.

Loving feelings are transmitted to the fetus through the biochemistry and oxytocin levels of the pregnant woman, and then later through physical contact, which again raises oxytocin levels. If we were not loved early on, looked at, touched, listened to, nuzzled and adored, those biological changes, subtle though they may be, follow us throughout our lives. Yet a mother who takes good care of herself, is not depressed or anxious, does not take drugs, and eats properly, will produce a loving child.

If the traumas of birth, pre-birth and early childhood are inundating the system there will be an eventual overload and breakdown of the neuro-inhibiting, suppressing systems – serotonin, as well as oxytocin. There are many chemicals that live in the gaps between nerve cells, neurons; some push back and while others facilitate the message of pain. They are either information blockers or enhancers. Supplies of neuro-inhibitors will be used up over time in the fight to keep pain down. These supplies are not inexhaustible. It is the very earliest pains that have the highest valence and require the greatest amount of inhibition. These biochemicals will be used in the battle against emotional deprivation. The system will eventually be less sexual as the hormones of love become transmuted into the job of holding down pain.

A therapist can ask us, "Were you loved?," and we may insist, "Absolutely," yet we are betrayed by our oxytocin levels, which are far too low, and by our stress hormone levels, which are far too high, and also by our hormone levels which may be quite deviated. They speak too. The body and its physiology do not lie. Indeed, we may have been loved after birth, but suffered severe traumas in the womb of which we remain completely unaware. Our physiology will tell us the truth.

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Difference Between Romantic Love and Sex

Romantic love exists. Emotional attachment exists. Yet they involve different brain structures and different biochemistry than what drives pure, lustful sex. Once there is attachment or love, a separation can cause pain. Oxytocin helps to quiet this pain and can function very much like other neurotransmitters and inhibit suffering. To listen to my patients is to understand the terrible pain of a child separated from his parent; the cry of separation is an attempt to bring that parent back close again; it is true in nearly all animal forms.

There is a structure within the brain known as the cingulate cortex, which is responsible for that cry. This cortex is like an arc overlaying the limbic/feeling area and also deals with aspects of emotion. This area plays a role in maternal care and loving. The cingulated cortex is responsible for making the chemicals of comfort, and is also involved in inducing a sense of empathy, the ability to feel what others are feeling.

The cingulate cortex is endowed with endorphins, internally produced painkillers. When animals cry (as a result of separation from their mothers), these painkillers surge forth to ease the pain. When such a separation is abrupt and goes on for a long time, the baby’s pain becomes imprinted in the brain and remains. It is more pain than what a young body can tolerate.

Mother Nature knows that a baby needs two parents to care for him. Pair bonding is the result of two adults becoming attached, having sex, having a child, and loving that child. With the love these parents themselves received early in their own childhoods, they have the oxytocin and vasopressin that enables them to love their own child. Love is the foundation, therefore, for survival because when it is lacking, the child does not get the love he needs and he suffers, and the system becomes skewed and dislocated. Later, there may be disease and premature death as a deviated system is forever out of whack. A baby needs to be caressed and feel the sense of touch, which is the baseline of love. Without it, the brain changes and is less adaptive.

Alterations inside a pregnant woman, who does not want her baby, can affect the brain development in the womb so that the frontal cortex of the fetus becomes impaired. This has implications for later learning and adaptation. The mother's attitude, if not loving, adversely affects her fetus. It is one reason that we cannot be taught to love later on, though we can be taught to behave in a sociable manner. Love is not something to be taught. It is something we learn through our experience.

When the stimulating hormone, dopamine, and the repressive hormone, serotonin, are both at proper levels, there can be feeling and love. When serotonin is too high, there is too much repression and the ability to love is less. When dopamine is too high there is too much agitation and not enough cuddliness to allow love. A proper balance is needed among all the hormone systems. This is particularly true with oxytocin in females and vasopressin in males. After sexual orgasm, both of these levels rise by hundreds of percent in both parties, as if to say that attachment and closeness are part of sex or perhaps "should be," according to nature. It's nature's way of saying that sex should be taken seriously and is part of the syndrome of romance.

Constant random sex has nothing to do with love and is more or less a release of tension. It actually contradicts nature. However, there are two different brain/biochemical systems involved – one for pure sex and the other for attachment. We can be attached to someone and still have sex with someone else without love. There is evidence that in the latter case – sport-sex – the oxytocin and vasopressin levels are lower.

What are we to make of all this? That love exists and it is has physical effects. It can sculpt our brains early on. It is an intimate part of sex, and it ensures healthy development, both physically and mentally. Love is not an ethereal entity, but something we can measure. It may be a more accurate gauge of our state of being than all the protestations of love we might make. Love really does make the world go round.

Monday, May 1, 2017

On Why We Can't Express Our Feelings

Having feelings and expressing them are two different animals; and I choose those words carefully because having feelings means having access to the feeling structures of the limbic system in the brain. Expressing feelings means access to the thinking neocortex. The only time expressing feelings is important is if the state of having feelings precedes the expression of them. Then the comprehension is an evolutionary outgrowth of those feelings.

Unfortunately, when I was doing insight/psychoanalytic therapy I thought that expressing feelings in a session was tantamount to having them. Not the case. In fact, too often expressing feelings can act as a defense against experiencing them; smothering feelings in a flurry of abstract ideas. When I say “it is two different animals,” it literally is: the primate (monkey) feeling brain versus the human thinking one. Animals feel even when they have no means to expressing them.

I have been writing about this for the last forty years, and just now, new research is coming to the fore to verify this. Early on I posited the notion that one aspect of expressing feelings was the proper connection between the right and left brain hemispheres. Now it turns out that this is basically true; (see Science Daily, May 27, 2008. “Why Are Some People Unable to Express Their Emotions.”) Italian investigators have found that there is a deficit in interhemispheric transfer with those who cannot express their feelings. What that means is that the feelings lying on the right lower brain do not make the trip across the corpus callosum (where emotional information is transferred from one side to the other) to the left understanding, comprehending verbal side. Since eighty percent of all emotional information cross the corpus callosum from one side to the other, it seems logical that there is one key locus for the problem of alexithymia, or the inability to express emotions. It seems obvious now that for help in expressing true feelings one needs access to right side lower brain sites. It does not help to engage oneself in a therapy that is primarily intellectual; an interaction through the realm of ideas. Expressing feelings in words is not feeling those feelings. One can express feelings precisely but cannot necessarily feel them. What is required is a therapist who has access to her feelings and who can know when someone has access or not. So we need a therapy of feeling; one that takes feelings into account, and just as important, a psychological theory based on need.

What seems to be the problem is a dysfunctional cortical frontal-limbic circuits. In particular, the orbitofrontal area. As I have written elsewhere the right orbitofrontal area (behind the orbits of the eye) contains a map of our emotional life and emotional history. It is internally oriented. The left, on the other hand, is externally focused. It is interesting that panic attacks often accompany this condition (alexithymia). These attacks usually emanate from deep in the brain (the brain stem) and are associated with trauma in the first few months of gestation.

A new study (Brain’s Gray Cells Appear to be Changed by Trauma of Major Events. Science Daily June 4, 2008) indicates something I have maintained for decades: “ This suggests that really bad experiences may have lasting effects on the brain.” I believe that the earlier the trauma, (especially during gestation) the more widespread and long-lasting the effects. It seems that the set-points for many physiologic functions are established in gestational life. These dislocations of function remain fixed and unalterable; whereas trauma after birth can often be compensated for. In short, there is a permanent deficit in gray matter when traumas occur while we are being carried in the womb.

We can’t get well just expressing our feelings; we can only get well by experiencing them.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Why We Overeact

It always seems like a mystery when we see ourselves or someone else react inordinately to some some event.. But it is not overreaction; it is that we are reacting to things we cannot see. Once we lay bare the feeling or event that caused the reaction it all makes sense; it is then reaction not overreaction.

Let me explain. When something happens in the present it triggers off related feelings or memories on lower levels of consciousness—in the unconscious. It is what I term “resonance.” ( It may be that the nerve or neuronal circuits have the same frequency so that when one feels neglected or ignored it sets off memories of the parents neglecting us and we “overreact” to the slight in the present). It seems like an overreaction but it is not; what we are reacting to is just hidden from sight. That same feeling can resonate with being ignored in infancy; (no one comes when the baby is crying in the crib). What seems to be happening is that the synaptic weight of the memory is commensurate with the valence of the very early painful imprint. Each level of consciousness contributes its share to the total feeling that will coalesce to produce a unified, cohesive neuronal circuit, finally offering meaning and power to the event. It is that meaning/power that can drive one to kill when a girlfriend leaves her lover—“I feel abandoned (by mother). I can’t live without her.” Murder is clearly an overreaction but when placed in context we can at least understand it. Think of present-day trigger as a dredge that digs deeper and deeper widening access to the most powerful and remote memories. That dredge goes where the feeling leads it. It seeks out related events associated by feeling.
Although the resonance/frequency connects all the top and lower level circuits the weights of the memory are not the same. The valence of some memories is greater than others and become more powerful as we descend down the chain of feeling to the level of birth memories or even to events in the womb. 

The deeper circuits provide the impulsive, importuning force for some of our uncontrollable behavior, forcing us to “overreact”. We will scream and yell or even punch someone. The point is that when we approach the lower levels of imprinted pain we are also approaching the shark brain with all of its possibility for murderous rage. In my experience it is very rare that events in childhood can trigger off anything more than terrible anger and tantrums. In other words, when we start off life with heavy trauma at or before birth our later criminal/psychotic tendencies are given a boost and are better understood. Since those memories are so remote and sequestered we usually have no access to them; thus our current reactions remain a mystery. So something in the present sets off a gathering of these weights on each level which ultimately merge under the rubric of a feeling. The deepest levels of brain organization engender the most heavily weighted memory; it has to be because on that deep-lying level lives our survival mechanisms. On that level lives life-and-death events that require life-and-death reactions, including rage. It is the level we can only arrive at after one has integrated smaller less life-endangering events. The need to be picked up just after birth is primordial. That thwarted—unfulfilled need can turn into rage. Or at least it can be the trampoline that adds volatile fuel to the mix later in life. We can judge from someone’s behavior how deep the memory/imprint is. If there is uncontrolled, rageful, violent behavior we can be fairly certain that very early imprints, often during gestation and around birth, are behind it. In short, anger has levels. The most recent causes would not involve murderous behavior. But when coupled with traumas on even lower levels it can adumbrate into violent tendencies. It is when a current mild event sets off exaggerated reactions that we know how deep the imprinted painful memories go back. And when I discuss behavior it can also encompass symptoms—raging or violent headaches, for example. I had a patient who suffered from migraines. She took aspirins for it, and called these pills her little bullets. It is pretty clear symbolism.

In most current psychotherapies the focus of each session is the act-out of the feeling rather than on the feeling/need itself. This analysis of the by-ways of behavior is an interminable task, skimming the surface reactions. Focusing on the deep internal imprinted reality finally makes it all have sense. The problem is that we cannot approach that deep-lying force with words. We must speak the language encased in our most primitive nervous system. It is for this reason that psychotic rage cannot be treated with conventional psychotherapy. Thus a slight misunderstanding can provoke a massive outburst of behavior. In order to make a dent in our raging behavior we need to delve deep in the brain and its unconscious where the organization of rage gets its start. We can see why it is not a good idea to plunge people in remote and painful memories in psychotherapy because the system is not ready to integrate them. The patient will tumble into overload and the result is a scattered, dysfunctional human being. lost in symbolism. It is also not a good idea to keep all focus on the present when there are icebergs of feelings lying deep ready to disrupt our forward progress. In my patois,severe overreactions are when third line current events set off first-line, brainstem reactions. The feeling may be identical on all levels of brain function but their driving force is quite different. There is no way that a here-and-now behavioral approach is going to solve deep-lying historical tendencies.

Friday, April 14, 2017

The Importance of Good Care on Child Development

From New Scientist 23 Sept 2000 page 18, "You Are What You Eat," by Claire Ainsworth: "A mother's diet in the first few days after conception could determine the health of her unborn child for life". An embryo sets its growth rate according to its environment. If a mother is malnourished the growth rate is slower as part of the adaptation for survival. This leads to low birth weight. Babies that are born small are subject to high blood pressure, diabetes and strokes in later life. This is the work of Tom Fleming of the University of Southampton England. This is an extrapolation from rat research. Source: Development (vol 127, page 4195)

Excerpt from "New Scientist" 16 December 2000 by Meredith F. Small, professor of anthropology at Cornell University. Her book, Kids: How Biology and Culture Shape the Way We Raise Our Children, published in April 2001 by Doubleday.

Human young are dependant on their carers to help them navigate through their crucial early years. So to get the emotional and physical help they need, they must be highly sensitive to the behaviour of their carers-and that makes them particularly vulnerable to family strife. Several studies have shown that it is unpredictability that really stresses kids. British researchers found, for example, that the cortisol levels of some children are lower at school, where life is predictable and stable, and higher at home, where they believe anything can happen.

Normally, their reaction to stress helps kids cope by directing energy to parts of the body that need it most, but if stressful situations are not resolved, the damage can be far-reaching. Megan Gunnar, an expert on stress in children at the Institute of Child Development at the University of Minnesota, points to a growing awareness that stress in childhood is a major mental and physical health risk.

"One reason to worry about stress in childhood is that this is the time when we learn how to manage stress-patterns that we will carry forward into our adult lives," says Gunnar. "And we don't take the hit on some of the health consequences until we are older. Increasingly, we are finding that many of those adult diseases that knock us down when we are 40 or 50- heart disease, high blood pressure and so on-are detectable in childhood, when the patterns are set."

Gunnar and others have shown that when very young children are abused, neglected or bond poorly with their carers, their cortisol levels are high even in mildly stressful situations such as play and they are unable to cope. And several recent studies of women who had been abused as children show that they are biologically vulnerable to depression and anxiety as adults because early experience permanently altered their hormonal responses, making them hypersensitive to stress.

Flinn has uncovered two abnormal patterns of cortisol production in children under continued stress from family trauma. Usually, kids have a constant low background level of cortisol, which peaks when they are under stress. But some highly stressed children have chronically high levels of cortisol. They are also shy and anxious. Another group of children has abnormally low basal cortisol levels interspersed with spikes of unnaturally high levels. They also show what Flinn calls blunted cortisol responses-their levels don't rise as they should during physical activity. Just as worrying, they are less sociable and more aggressive than kids with normal profiles.

Some of these kids have been stressed since they were conceived and they probably missed certain sensitive periods for obtaining normal cortisol profiles, though how exactly the response develops is still unknown. These children also have weakened immune responses, fall ill more frequently, are easily fatigued and don't sleep well. Looking at his record of children who are now adults, Flinn is finding that some of them seem to be permanently affected by stressful events that happened while they were in the womb, in infancy or during early childhood.

Friday, April 7, 2017

Birth Trauma and Psychosis

A report about the relationship between prolonged labor and its complications to schizophrenia has been issued by Reuters Medical News and can be found on the internet. ("Obstetric Complications Correlate with Brain Differences in Schizophrenia." http//psychiatry.medscape.com) This is a report by Dr. T.F. McNeil of the Malmo University Hospital in Sweden. (American Journal of Psychiatry. 2000, 157:203-212.)

Using the magnetic resonance technique to study aspects of the limbic system (hippocampus) in 22 pairs of twins in which only one had diagnosed schizophrenia, they found that the mentally ill twin had smaller hippocampus. There was a significant correlation between labor complications and brain shrinking. Prolonged labor was one central culprit. The authors write, "Trauma at the time of labor and delivery and especially prolonged labor appear to be of importance for brain structure anomalies associated with schizophrenia." (Reuters. 2/22/2000)

What the authors contend, something I have described for decades, is that the birth trauma has something to do with later mental illness. Further, that the feeling system is grossly affected by this trauma. This means that birth trauma affects all manner of feeling states later on, whether of suicidal tendencies or criminal proclivities. So the central questions: "Why does one twin become mentally ill and not the other?", can be partially answered by reference to the birth trauma. Not only the birth trauma, but most importantly, what happened in the womb. We must consider the background, historical effects that made the neonate vulnerable to the birth trauma.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Prenatal Life and Its Later Effects

When I first wrote about how the birth trauma and prenatal experience affect adult behavior it was considered “New Agey.” Now, there are literally hundreds of studies verifying this proposition. There seems to be little question now that the carrying mother’s mood and physiology can produce long-term effects on the offspring. That means us.

Let’s start with a simple bit of research; Dr. Daniel Schacter, psychologist of Harvard University has reported on a study where subjects watched bits of a TV series and then had their brainwaves measured. (see: Science, Sept. 2008).

They found when the subject remembered the event, the single brain cell signature was the same as in the first viewing. They reported that it seemed like a reliving; which of course, has been my position. What do you call it when a memory brings up one’s exact history with its precise early physiology. This happens to our patients every day. When there are certain triggers the brain conjures up its history, intact. That is why our behavior is so compulsive and unwavering; our history motivates us all of the time. We are largely victims of our deep unconscious brain.

In Schacter’s research on epileptic surgery patients, they threaded fine electrodes down in the brain of the subject. These electrodes could pin-point small brain storms at their origins. And they could make minute measurements during recall. The lesson? We can relive past events in their entirety, precisely as they occurred. What is very new in all of this is how early an experience can be to affect our later life. Think of the implications: that old memories reside in the same neurons (nerve cells) as were involved originally. That is why the neurotic cannot distinguish between past and present and sees reality through the prism of the past.

Let’s go back to the notion I discussed earlier of epigenetics. One genotype, a single genetic predisposition, can give rise to many phenotypes depending on what happens to those genes during gestation. So what we might imagine is genetic is genetic-plus what happens to us in the womb. So much happens to us in the womb; so much as been ignored in terms of the their long-term effects that many diseases remain a mystery because we are looking at the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong tools.

What I am learning is that events in the womb explain so much about later life. If you bend an emerging twig you are bound to get a distorted tree. The question has always been, “how’/ early is early?”

An example: someone is born with all kinds of allergies from birth on. A history of emergency clinic visits for all kinds of infections, asthma, breathing problems due to allergies, and in general, a very deficient immune system. Here is where we need to push back the envelope and direct our attention to those early months in the womb. When we do, we often find out that the mother was quite anxious and/or depressed. Or often, the marriage is falling apart. Or in one case, as her belly got big the husband was turned off and sought out an affair. The mother was crestfallen, fell into a depression, and we had a baby that was impacted by all this and was born with a diminished immune system, something that got its start early on in the pregnancy. Don’t forget that the immune system, in some respects, is our first inchoate nervous system, sussing out dangers and menaces and organizing defenses against them. This includes secreting some of the pain-killing neurotransmitters we know about today. What starts out to defend us ends up hurting us. If the immune system is comprised there is a good chance that natural killers cells will be diminished and weakened.

Because the baby can be born with higher than normal stress hormone levels, and because the immune system works in see-saw fashion with cortisol (high stress—low immune function) the fetus has possibly set the stage for a lifetime of immune problems. Here is where genetics plays a role; high stress in the fetus will affect those areas with genetic vulnerabilities. After all, what is the meaning of high levels of stress hormone during fetal life? It means an input that agitates the system to be chronically alert. And when the system can longer shut off that input we have the makings of an enduring primal imprint. That input is maternally induced. So we have a newborn with a high level of agitation already set in place many weeks earlier. Here is ADDHD (attention deficit disorder) waiting to happen. Over time the deleterious results can range from impulsive tendencies to migraine and high blood pressure (to hold down the imprinted input). It is then no mystery when the child cannot concentrate or sit still. It is not enough to know that there are high levels of stress hormones in the baby, but what causes it, in the first place.

We change natural killer cells after one year of our therapy into normal levels. These cells have as a key function, watching out for cancer developing cells and pouncing on them in an effort to contain them. So a mother’s distress while pregnant can spell life-endangering effects on her baby, not the least of which is later cancer. The earlier the trauma during womb life the more disastrous the effects. That is our important secret life.

What can be done about this? Treating it first and foremost, then make sure it will not come back? How do we do the latter? Reliving the earliest womb-life events. How do we do that? Well, luckily, each new harmful or adverse experience that remains non integrated is re-represented later on a higher level of the nervous system and is noted as the outsider or enemy. It is indeed a threat to the organism. I believe that there are specific frequencies that tie these events together. When we explore these ramified events and begin to relive them we are also reliving deeper and earlier aspects of the feeling and/or pain. And that is how we relive pure physiologic brain-stem responses without ever acknowledging it.

When there are certain kinds of triggers, the brain conjures up its related history, intact. That is why our behavior is so compulsive and unwavering; our history motivates us all of the time. We are largely victims of our deep unconscious brain. We can only reach deeper into the remote past as we gain more and more access to deeper levels of brain activity. We need to have real good access to our feelings first; then very early brainstem events. That takes time but it can be done.

And what about cancer? The beginning deformity of cells can well begin in the womb with mother’s anxiety due to her own history or due to her marital circumstances. In any case, the fetal system needs to gather its resources to shut down excessive input. Here is where many cells are evolving and gathering their identity, but instead there is massive repression and, ultimately, physiologic deviation, even at the cellular level.

One patient had three siblings all “messed up” and depressed. It remained a mystery why all of them were so disturbed, her parents were indeed loving; until she had very early primals (a systematic reliving of early trauma). She learned that in South America, for many years, there was a civil war. The father left to fight, coming home occasionally to make babies. The mother was in desperate straights, had no money and no one to turn to, fearful of the constant raids into her village. The children, even in fetal life, suffered. She was a loving mother whom the children adored, but neglect womb-life, which should not be ignored. It had far-reaching effects. It therefore is an indicator of what went on during fetal life. Can we imagine a doctor learning about a stroke with her patient and then examining his fetal life?

Low birth weight is associated with slow fetal growth and lack of development of various physical systems. If the newborn is abnormal in any respect, even birth weight, we may assume that something abnormal may have happened during gestation. Babies of depressed mothers are more often of low birth weight. At least, let’s consider it. Babies with low birth rate lack muscle, something that follows her into adulthood. Here is a quote from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study: (we) have shown that the risk for coronary heart disease and type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance is further increased in 60-to 70-year-olds who were small at birth, thin or short in infancy, but put on weight rapidly between 2 and 11 years of age.2, (55) A similar growth trajectory has been shown to predispose to type 2 diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance. “

People who suffer stroke tend to be thin or short at 2 years. There is evidence that these early events can lead to hypertension later on, which is an important risk factor for both coronary heart disease and stroke. A number of mechanisms have been suggested to explain these links.

We need to study Alzheimer’s disease as it relates to gestational trauma as well as birth difficulties.

Certain height and weight problems at 2 years of age is a well accepted indicator of childhood emotional problems. Why is this so? There are a number of answers. Growth of the fetus relies heavily on adequate oxygen supplies. Because of the large brain, which uses a good deal of oxygen, there is a physiologic demand from more and more. If these supplies become limited for any number of reasons the body growth will slow down so that the brain can be left intact. Hence, lower fetal weight. Let us keep in mind that cancer can develop and live without oxygen, and maybe that adapting to lower levels of oxygen in the womb is part of an explanation for later cancer. Deprive a cell of a majority of what oxygen it requires and you have one key element in the origin of some cancers. This an only be a hypothesis.

In experimental animals it was found that anything that increased fetal stress hormone levels could result later on in elevated blood pressure, anxiety and hyperglycemia. And when we fiddle with stress hormone levels we increase the likelihood of later cardiac crises. And cortisol level is also heavily implicated in signaling the birth process to begin.

Cortisol is a stress hormone because it sets in motion the alarm signals to combat too much and too strong an input. When it goes on for a long time it accelerates again, the possibility of dementia and a whole host of other diseases. Primal imprints do exactly that; maintain a high level of cortisol for a lifetime.

In nearly every study of prenatal life there is the implication that high stress hormone levels in the carrying mother can result in hypertension and cardiac problems later on in the offspring. Infants of mothers who were diagnosed as anxious before pregnancy had significantly higher stress hormone levels. What neuro-psychologist Paula Thompson has explained: “prenatal stress responses are dependent on mother’s stress level. But how babies show it is through a limited physiologic vocabulary.” She believes that the fetal stress response is already skewed and, given later stress, the earlier stress response does not change. It can be blocked, diverted, covered over, but it remains pristine clear.

She believes that stress states in the pre-nate and neonate can be recognized by elevated heart rate, greater activity levels (gross body, single and multiple limb-higher reflex activation (Field et al. 2006). The pre-nate and neonate may show mistimed diffuse movement and overt grimacing. Will be rather clumsy and has a lack coordination. All this can be a predictor of later heart disease. That is only if we look at the problem in a gestalt overview.
Thompson: “One overarching goal of this article is to help clinicians understand the potential deleterious effects of prenatal stress. (See Thompson. “Down Will Come Baby.” Journal of Trauma and Dissociation. Vol. 8(3) 2007) She adds: it is hoped that increased knowledge of prenatal stress will inform psychotherapeutic treatment protocols, especially when treating severely traumatized and dissociated patients who may themselves have suffered early pre-nate stress. Further, when these patients become pregnant, appropriate treatment for the mother may benefit the offspring. When clinicians provide therapeutic intervention to a pregnant woman the pre-nate may also be affected”(Field, 2001; Ponirakis, Susman & Stifer, 1998. (My emphasis)

Let us not forget that (Thompson): one of the most dramatic changes occurs in the first moment of conception. The primitive cell carries the blueprint for an individual who has never existed before and will never exist again. While in the womb he is having the most important experiences in his life, because nearly all of it is of life-and-death significance. This is what Freud should have meant when he was developing his theory of psychoanalysis. Here lies the deep unconscious; a dark place with no exit and no words. Biologic responses dominate. In order to relive we have to include all of our physiologic processes, not just cerebral memory. The first step is to acknowledge these facts; a much more difficult step is to fashion a therapy for them. I think we have done that.

One of the key factors in high levels of maternal cortisol is the increase in the chances of a lost baby; or at the least some kind of prematurity. Again, those levels descend into the fetal system and change the baby in ways we are still learning about. Babies born to depressed mothers have higher levels of cortisol than normal. Here was what Lauren Kaplan and colleagues have to say about this: “in utero environment sculpts the uniquely plastic fetal brain resulting in long-term maladaptive patterns of behavior and physiology.” (Lauren Kaplan, et al, “Effects of Mother’s Prenatal Psychiatric Status and Postnatal Caregiving on Infant Bio-behavioral Regulation.” Early Human Dev. 2008 April; 84 (4) 249-256)

What researchers are now saying over and over again is that womb-life can unalterably affect the lifetime of the offspring. And, it is not only behavior that is altered but the physiology, as well. Does this mean a change in Primal Theory? Absolutely, it pushes the envelope much earlier for when imprints start and for their widespread enduring effects. It means that how the birth trauma is played out and reacted to depends on earlier life circumstances.

I want to reiterate my point about serotonin production in the fetus. For the first few months of gestation the fetus must “borrow” serotonin from momma; that is, if she (mother) has adequate levels. If she doesn’t, the fetus can’t go to the pharmacy bank and make a loan. She can be low in stock if she already has a chronic depression that depletes supplies. What is stamped in is a lack of adequate repression by the fetus and the beginning of a free-floating panic or anxiety, which only becomes evident years later as the defense system is under constant attack. This terror cannot be fully contained because of inadequate supplies of serotonin. Then we have panic attacks that are originated far earlier than we have ever imagined. But also these low levels of serotonin affect and retard development. It is as essential as food; it is food for the fetus.

We now know that a difficult birth can deplete the baby of adequate serotonin/inhibition levels. Later, all kinds of impulse neurotics—criminals—addicts, are low in serotonin, and obviously, low in inhibition. I don’t think we need to stop at birth for adverse effects on serotonin. It can happen as serotonin begins to function adequately, even in the last few months of pregnancy. Again, many of my patients are low in serotonin at the start of therapy but normalize after a year; therefore, it is a reversible phenomenon. (see a full discussion of this in my Primal Healing). It isn’t only serotonin; there is ample research now to show that the neocortical inhibitory prefrontal neurons are low in number due to a trauma at or before birth. These are poor inhibitors from the time of birth on. These individuals cannot wait, lose patience, have attention deficit disorder lash out with little provocation and want what they want NOW! They will interrupt because they cannot wait their turn to speak. All this means that we can be born with a tendency to Attention Deficit Disorder. It is not heredity but the experiences during womb-life that impacted that heredity. It seems like we are born with it but mostly we are not.

Now let’s push the envelope even further back. In a recent experiment, a scientist raised some rats after knocking out some of the building blocks for serotonin (the key element in Prozac), which is key for gating or repression. He then let the females mature, get pregnant and have babies. Of the 43 mouse embryos tested, 37 displayed abnormalities and brain malfunction. This indicates that the animal mother’s state affects the development of the baby’s brain. Her levels of serotonin can determine how her offspring mature. So, when a pregnant woman is chronically depressed, and hence low on serotonin, the baby’s entire life may be adversely affected. And the changes in her as a result of “heredity” will determine what kind of mother the offspring will be. Later childhood environment does count a lot but not as much as when the baby’s brain is rapidly evolving. In gestation, it is essential that the mother be normal in every way possible. Otherwise, she cannot fulfill the needs of her baby in the womb. And one definition of love is helping to fulfill the needs of the child. No fulfilling needs—no love.

What is very important for us to realize was that a mouse fetus does not make her own serotonin until the third trimester. It seems like the mother supplies what is needed until the baby can take over. But when the mother is low on supplies, she cannot fulfill what the developing baby lacks. Therefore, the baby carries around a load of pain. Now if we apply that to humans, there seems to be a time in gestation when pain or noxious stimuli impinge, but we are not yet able to produce enough of our own gating chemicals, leading to ungated pain. This residue will continue and may lead to bouts of anxiety later on in life. It becomes free-floating fear or terror. This is not due to heredity but rather to experience in the womb. This is why we should never neglect womb-life when addressing neurosis. Part of our in utero life, therefore, takes on hurt at a time when our system can do nothing about it. Nevertheless, it affects all later development. At thirty we may suffer from panic attacks (as excessive agitation) that began its life in the very early months of our mother’s pregnancy. It is pristine and free-floating, ready to spring forth whenever we are vulnerable or our defenses are weak. No talk therapy can make a dent in it. It leaves us fragile for a lifetime so that any insult in infancy and childhood weakens us all the more. Demanding and/or aloof parents can easily compound an allergic tendency, for example.

Catherine Monk and her associates studied anxiety in pregnant mothers. (Monk, C. et al.“Effects of Women’s Stress-elicited Physiological Activity and Chronic anxiety on Fetal Heart Rate.” Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, 2003. Lippincott publishers. Their conclusion was: “women’s emotion based physiological activity can affect the fetus and may be important to fetal development.” To think that there is a significant physiologic change but no later psychologic one would be to ignore the human brain.

Now as to the enduring effects of pre-birth and birth trauma. Alyx Taylor has shown that the baby’s stress response to an inoculation at eight weeks was largely determined by the “mode of delivery” of the newborn. Those who reacted the most were birthed by assisted delivery. Cesarean showed the least response. The central finding is that the stress response circuits (HPA circuit) in the brain help determine how a baby will response to future stress.

I am not going to cite any number of relevant studies but one such article is of a review if many related ones. Nicole Talge and her colleagues reviewed the data on what happens to the babies of stressed mothers. (“Antenatal Maternal Stress and Long-term effects on Child Neuro-development. How and Why.” J. of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. 48:3/4 4 (2007) pp 245-261)

Nearly all studies claim an effect of the mother on the fetus. I suppose the real question is, “what can we do about it.” Years later it seems an impossible task, but it is not. Once there is an imprinted trauma during womb-life, the brain system closes down on the pain through inhibition/gating. Thereafter the effects are life-long. What we must do is go back to the originating source and undo the trauma. The way we do that is to relive the trauma and open the gates. It can be done, as I have explained elsewhere, is by reliving emotional trauma during childhood, which has at its roots the pre-birth event. When we fully relive the childhood event it incorporates the earlier trauma; each new related trauma is re-represented on higher levels. And when these later traumas are relived we see the disappearance (or reduction in the severity) of the symptom, as for example, high blood pressure. That is because the earlier trauma may only be expressed through specific physiologic reactions such as blood pressure or heart rate. To relive the physiologic responses can be enough given other variables. If we latch onto the related childhood feeling in our therapy it automatically (given deeper access) includes the earlier physiologic component of the feeling. I want to reiterate that there is a timetable of needs that must be fulfilled at that time and no other. Once the fetus has been impacted due to a high level of stress hormones that is it; the system gates it as best as it can, and no other mode of treatment except reliving can change it.

This is a change in our paradigm. It means that trauma that has life-long effects can occur during womb-life, and thereafter has profound effects on our later behavior and symptoms. How, therefore, can we possibly attack allergies, migraine and high blood pressure without an acknowledgment of the deep and remote origins of the problem? I have been writing about this for decades. The difference is that research has now caught up and begins to confirm our theory. And now we see why after one year of our therapy there is a normalization of natural killer cells; as I pointed out, these are cells on the lookout for newly forming cancer cells, and attack them. So we might say that one way to help forestall cancer is to make sure that our immune system is intact and strong.

One may rightly question how anyone can relive events in the womb with no scenes or words. Luckily, that part of the imprint is totally physiological. We don’t need verbal acknowledgment. That deep brainstem is also a very important part of our central nervous system and gives the oomph or push to a feeling. A single feeling will encompass all three levels of brain function. Again, there is no exit here except entering into the most profound of unconscious states as possible.

Friday, March 31, 2017

On Evolution and Revolution

When scientists were polled recently about the greatest discovery in science, the majority chose Darwin’s Evolution. It explained so much in so many fields of scientific endeavor. That includes psychotherapy. In my opinion evolution is essential in the treatment of emotional problems. To put it differently, no one can make significant progress in psychotherapy when evolution is not central to its process. The brain developed in three major cycles, first described by Paul MacLean. I describe them as instinct/energy, feeling and then thinking. Each evolved and has many connections to higher levels. If we do a therapy with only the last evolved; that is, cognitive/insight therapy, we have neglected a great deal of our evolution. It is tantamount to neglecting most of our ancient history and, of course, most of our early personal history. When we ignore two thirds of our brain how can we possibly get well? I think that the thinkers (the cognitive/insight therapists) “cure” their patients so that they think they are better. This leaves out physiology and feeling. 
Therefore, we need to systematically measure physiologic changes in our psychotherapy. Otherwise, we can have great new attitudes but our bodies may be degenerating. 

I have often called my therapy, “evolution in reverse.” It includes evolution as its kernel. And it is that sense of evolution that makes it revolutionary. Because it overturns most current thinking about the value of thinking, particularly in terms of measuring progress in psychotherapy. What we feel is what we feel no matter what exhortations take place. And those often buried feelings determine our actions. Feelings can be deviated but there is always a home for them in the brain. They cannot be changed; though we can change our thinking about them, denying or projecting them.

Thoughts, bereft of feelings are, in essence, homeless; they have no roots. So any proper psychotherapy must adhere to the laws of biology and evolution; we need to find our roots, the basis of some many of our thoughts and beliefs. The history of mankind is found in us today, and the history of man/us is found in us, as well. When we follow our history in reverse it again must adhere to the natural order of things. In therapy if we do rebirthing it defies evolutionary principles by attacking the most remote and early imprints first. We must start in the present, give ourselves a good foundation in regard to our current lives and associated feelings and then finally arrive at the reptilian/instinctive brain a long time later. These are biologic laws that cannot be disregarded. Thus it is clear that rebirthing cannot ever work; indeed it most likely creates damage; and I have seen and treated the damage it does.

Any ploy or mechanism by a therapist that defies evolution will end in failure because evolution is merciless and unrelenting; it is how we survived. It will not allow us to cheat on its principles. If evolution is neglected it will perforce end in abreaction; the release of feeling without connection and resolution. Bioenergetics, focusing the body and muscles violates that law. Focusing on bodily release (the Gestalt Therapy, “act like an ape!” is inadequate). LSD and hallucinogens completely disregard the neurologic order of the nervous system, and spray feelings everywhere with no possible connection. A Primal will teach us evolution because it will follow the neuraxis precisely and tell us where and how evolution took place.

The Brain's Evolution and Therapy

Do you ever wonder why it is that we fall asleep in reverse order of evolution? And why we come out of it in correct order. In means, first of all, that we are prisoners of the brain’s evolution; and when we start to become consciously/aware we move to the highest level of the brain. We come out of antiquity into modern life as though we have gone through the centuries or the millennia in proper order each day in order to achieve consciousness. We do the same thing in Primal Therapy; and in doing so we must strictly obey evolutionary edicts. We can no more change that order than do so in our sleep. And when we trump that order in sleep, psychosis lurks. If we do not have enough dream (second-line limbic consciousness) sleep we suffer. And we develop physical and mental symptoms. Now what is crucial here is if we trump that order in Primal Therapy we suffer from those very same symptoms. That is why re-birthing is so dangerous; it trumps evolution. That is why cognitive therapy cannot work; it trumps the feeling areas of the brain and ignores evolution. 

As with dream sleep, Primal Therapy enters the deep unconscious, slowly in ordered progression. Down on that deep level lies so many of our remote and life-and-death pains. It shows itself in our nightmares which are associated with terrible terror/anxiety states, and it is demonstrated in deep Primals where heavy pains reside. Until we have access to those imprints we can never know about life-endangering memories, nor include them in a therapeutic process. What this tells us is that we are evolutionary beings who biologically must adhere to the history of mankind; there is an order to the universe of which we are part. I cannot stress this enough. We do not take patients into birth traumas in the first weeks of therapy anymore than in dream sleep we go directly into deep sleep. Evolution is an ordered affair. We must not superimpose our ideas, our theory or our techniques on patients. The rule is that it is not up to us to decide for the patient, as for example, that she needs dream analysis, or neuro-feedback or rebirthing. It is always the patient and her readiness that dictates our approach. 

Each new brain level in evolution helps out with survival, otherwise it would not be there. The brainstem and early limbic system have everything to do with survival—breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and body temperature. Evolution continues with its survival strategies finishing up with the neocortex. What this structure can do is detect enemies not only without but within—our feelings. And when it does it helps us survive by disconnecting us from the source of the pain; a self we will never meet again until we have access to deep brain structures. That may be never; and that may kill us prematurely. 
As we travel through evolutionary time to the neocortex each adds its physiologic contribution. The reason that ideas cannot trump feelings is that feelings are integral to survival. They are a survival system. The neo-cortex is also very important to survival but in a different way. When we are in a coma without any neo-cortex really working our survival functions (heart rate, blood pressure, etc), are still operational. Animals survive very well without a complex neo-cortex. They won’t survive if the brainstem is damaged. We have to breathe no matter what.

Each lower level of brain function is designed to keep us alive. We can use lower levels to modify higher ones but it does not work in reverse. Imagine if the higher level neocortex could permanently modify brainstem functions? We survive because it cannot. Thus feelings can certainly sway ideas but ideas can only suppress feelings, not eradicate them. We see in our therapy how physiology and limbic feelings directly affect ideas and beliefs. A very rapid heart rate can push someone to go and do, yet no matter how hard we try we often cannot permanently alter the heart rate, especially the rate that is accompanied by anxiety. That is why we cannot “will” a slower heart rate over time. Ideas are hundreds of millions years away from physiological and emotional functions.

We know that the amygdala is pretty well mature at the time of birth so that we can code and register inchoate feelings. But the hippocampus is not yet fully developed for several years so that precision regarding the time and place and scene or origin is beyond its capacity. So we can dredge up feeling on the experiential level but not on the verbal one. So for those who claim to practice rebirthing we have to ask if there are any words to go along with the event. If there are, it is not a true event. We cannot overlook brain evolution in our therapy and perform what amounts to magic.

A patient who never wants to discuss her life but sinks immediately into her past will abreact and not get well. And when we observe a person’s history, we are also witnessing ancient history at the same time. A patient who cries like a newborn can never duplicate that sound after a Primal. One way we know this is in observing a patient make motions during reliving birth, and cannot duplicate that movement later on, no matter how hard she tries. Too often we see abreaction in patients who start in the present, begin a feeling and then immediately skip steps and goes to some kind of birth trauma. That kind of reliving becomes a defense. It interrupts and does not enhance connection. 

In dialectical fashion we descend to deep unconscious levels and immediately become conscious on that level. The unconscious is transformed into consciousness. This means that we will no longer be driven by those specific unconscious forces. We have access to our inner states. We thereafter will not suffer from such things as a bleeding ulcer or colitis without being aware of it. Chances are, however, that we won’t suffer from such afflictions.

Each lower level of brain function is designed to keep us alive. We can use lower levels to modify higher ones but it does not work in reverse. Imagine if that were possible; the higher level neocortex could permanently modify brainstem functions? 
But we survive because it cannot. Thus feelings can certainly sway ideas but ideas can only suppress feelings, not eradicate them. We see in our therapy how physiology and limbic feelings directly affect ideas and beliefs. A very rapid heart rate can push someone to go and do, yet no matter how hard we try we often cannot alter the heart rate, especially the rate that is accompanied by anxiety. That is why we cannot “will” a slower heart rate over time or consciously drive away anxiety. Ideas are hundreds of millions years away from physiological and emotional functions.

I remember seeing a patient who had just started therapy who told me that since he forgave his parents he feels much better; proof that ideas can trump feeling. Yet when he was measured his stress hormone levels (cortisol) never changed. Thus the neo-cortex can trump what we think are feelings without ever touching feelings, per se. The neo-cortex is most adept at deceiving itself. It can produce the thought of being well without really being well. Ideas here function as anesthetics. In therapy we certainly don’t want to being anesthetized in order to get well.

The brain is a complex proposition and to stay on any one level in therapy to the exclusion of the others means that any progress made in therapy is partial. To do reprogramming of the brain to achieve so-called “normal brainwaves” (biofeedback) is deficient and cannot lead to cure. 

When we wonder if we should call a therapy scientific we have only to ask, “does it elucidate and clarify the properties of nature?” We do not ask if it works because that is subjective and not always accurate. It is the difference between asking a scientific question and one that requires a moral perspective alone. Do we know more about humanity in this therapy or are we only after some sort of pragmatic, mechanical solution? Are we doing deep breathing or matching brainwaves to some ideal? Here the focus is on the technique, not the patient nor evolution; a major difference. When we focus on how the patient evolves we learn; when we decide on how we treat her beforehand we don’t. In short, can we learn from this therapy how to treat other human beings in psychotherapy? It is not a matter of defying evolution, but of harnessing it for the good of mankind. That is Darwin’s legacy. 

Monday, March 27, 2017

Why we Root for the Dodgers?

Why do we care so much when our team loses or wins? Why do we high-five each other when our man scores a touchdown? After all, it is he, not us. But wait. Not so. It is us too. There is something we have in the upper reaches of the brain called mirror neurons (in an area called pre-motor cortex). These are nerve cells in his brain that light up when the man scores a touchdown and also light up the same area in our brains when we watch it happening. We feel what he feels. If he wins, we win. It is neurological, which allows us to live through someone else, and also to empathize with others. It enables us to feel the same emotion when someone sings with feeling. It triggers all of the associated memories with that feeling, our loss, rejection, our finding warmth and/or losing it.


When we think about a song, we can have all of the related emotions all over again. It has been engraved in the brain and can be recalled at any time. The grand orchestrator seems to gather up all the disparate facets of memory, assembles them into a meaningful event and remembers it entirely. The memory is a network of brain circuits joining in an assembly of nerve cells to fill out previous experience. Thus any feeling in the present has the ability to trigger a whole host of memories and feelings that resonate with the present and glide along the same neuronal frequency. In this way a pain now, a rejection, can resonate with serious past rejection from our parents and thereby produce an anxiety attack. It gives weight to the present reaction, which may seem inordinate, but in reality is the bottom rung of a neuronal circuit.

It is in this way that we can summon up the memory of love, feel love and offer it to others. If we never had it, we cannot offer it to anyone, because the feeling is not there. Pain in the present, a humiliation, sets off an old memory; the gates rush in to block the resonating circuits to keep our reactions under control. The circuits involved are all part of the entire experience. We can block part of it from our past so we can function in the present.

My work involves getting below the gating, which keeps old memories at bay, to penetrate the antipodes of the unconscious and allow individuals to heal because they have felt all of the old pain that has gnawed away at them for decades. Suppose the circuits of the mirror neurons evolve early in our lives, even before birth, and are adversely affected by womb life. That may mean that the ability to empathize, to feel what others feel may be impaired. The person grows up without those abilities. The mother's body, which was the whole world to the fetus, has shaped a being with diminished capacity of mirror neurons - for now a supposition. Imagine that she was depressed and transmitted her pain through her hormones to the fetus who suffered. He could not feel what she felt because it was too painful. He withdraws. One way he may do that is through diminished mirror neurons. We will wait to see about this.



On the evolutionary scale, the feelings in music are much older than words, which came along millions of years later. It is why music can move us far more than words. It therefore has a greater impact; hence the singing commercials, which did not come into being until after World War II. 

The discovery of these neurons was made by an Italian team of scientists who used brain imaging techniques to find an entirely new class of neurons that become active when we are. Feeling what someone else is feeling is extraordinarily important for us to become humans who care for and about others. These nerve cells are found in the parietal lobe and allow us to imitate unconsciously the actions of our parent. So in some cases a male child will have an effeminate walk as his mirror neurons pick up clues from his mother. This is another way of saying that he identifies more with his mother than with his father. In essence, mirror neurons match actions and feelings of others with our own. It shows we are social animals, otherwise why these neurons? If we were social isolates we would not need mirror neurons.

So we can undergo what others undergo. We should high-five. We feel what they feel. It is a way we live through others; and it is a way we can block our own painful feelings through what others achieve in life. We therefore have a greater interest in baseball and football than what would be expected, because that is us out there.

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.
Editor