Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sex Problems as a Form of Memory

That is the wonderful thing about imprints – they are a fountain of truth, which is exactly why we can count on its veracity when we see a patient with access who is reliving incest. We can believe it when we see loss of erection. It is telling the truth despite our will power, which is why we cannot will an orgasm, man or woman, without good deep access. The inability to become erect in a man speaks the truth of the system. We too often are trying to correct this so-called problem when it is in accord with internal reality; we are trying to tear it away from reality with our newly found psychological techniques. We can also count on its truth through measurement: when the body temperature rises or drops some three degrees during a session, we know the patient is re-experiencing a major trauma, either a major second-line (limbic system) trauma, or a significant first-line. Or more likely, both.
We have found that such memories are quite accessible through the use of proper techniques. Without those techniques, memories seem inaccessible. Nature is a good protector – such memories should not be easily accessed, as the lower centers of the brain hold survival functions and adaptation strategies that must not be tampered with.
Though a trauma may be long past, it remains within the body, imbued with the full force of the original event. It continually creates havoc. So long as the body is young and strong, there may be an absence of symptoms. But as it ages and weakens, symptoms will be manifest.
Once the imprint is blocked away from conscious-awareness, it is always a danger, a "foreign element" to be reckoned with. The danger is that it will intrude upon awareness and send the vital signs skyrocketing. The alien intrusion, such as being abused or abandoned by one's father, for example, makes the child feel unwanted, unloved, and unsafe. Under the experience created during the child's early years, the child becomes terrorized and repressed. Trauma then creates a splitting of the self – it drives a wedge between the real pained self and the unreal, or unfeeling, repressed self; the self presented to the public. Because of the split or disconnection we can no longer will our bodies to do our bidding. In sex, that means the body is out of our control. Our "will" remains on the top cortical level and cannot reach down to tell the penis what it should do, so it cannot stop it from ejaculating too quickly, for example. Very early trauma has compromised the development of the controlling orbitofrontal cortex, which could slow ejaculation.
Being disconnected means losing a bond with many of the processes that are mediated by lower levels. Thus, we have no way to control heart palpitations or lower our blood pressure, or will an orgasm. No willpower on our part can make a difference. We are trying to harness forces with which we have lost contact years ago. They are sending out orders in their peculiar silent language, shifting resources from one place to another and trying to warn us of danger. To illustrate, the level of the stress hormone, cortisol, may be raised to a high level, but all we will feel is the vague sense of impending doom, and we do not know from what. "Doom" was in the offing during perhaps a birth experience with too little oxygen. Or worse, we do not feel anything at all. This is a problem, and the essence of which I call the “Janovian Gap.” The wider the distance or disconnection between a deep imprint and the conscious/awareness of it, the more susceptible we will become to illness. The space between feeling/sensation and the cortical, "thinking" acknowledgment of it, is a precise measure, and in my opinion, a gauge of our longevity. One can say, "Yes, but the man developed lung cancer because he smoked 2 packs a day." I would say that the man smoked because of the gap between what he was experiencing physiologically and his conscious awareness of it; it is that gap that compromised his system, and his health.
Because of this disconnection between feeling/sensation and the thinking mind, the penis has a mind of its own, a sense of urgency to release pent-up tension. We need to experience the imprint, the level of consciousness where the disconnection took place, which may have nothing to do with sex. To feel the disconnect is to reconnect.


  1. Dr. Janov,

    Important material here, and it all looks quite familiar. I feel as if I've read it before, probably in one or your books.

    If at all possible, I'd like to know more about physiological processes that "let the pain out" of the memories. It's a funny thing that if you start with a belief system that takes catharsis as axiomatic, then all the different descriptions of and allusions to "letting the pain out of the system" automatically make sense. But when I ask myself why a memory should hurt less just because I felt myself react to it, I realize I don't know, and I also realize that I have a sort of "Primal religion" operating for me, a belief that feeling heals, and that this can be a placebo as well as a primary effect. (Knowing what we know, it should be both, right?)

    Previously, I had been studying material from classical conditioning, and encountered tidbits that suggest that aspects of memory can change upon retrieval, depending on conditions. (Although seemingly more importantly, those aspects have no hope of changing if there is no experience.) I forwarded some of that to you for comments as to how it might pertain to the primal formulation. I didn't hear anything back, and at the same time I realized that my focus was probably in the wrong place, not looking directly at the systems that process pain. I'm still fascinated by this question. How does deep experience "shear" the pain from the memory? It appears no one has the answer.

    I am continuing to look for scholarly work in the area of pain processing that would help provide a hypothesis for how this works. Any hints you might have or pointers to published research would be appreciated. I should think the Primal Center would also be ravenous for such research results.

    Thank you for your continuing efforts,


  2. Walden,

    I think your question is very reasonable and fundamental, and it is also my own.

    I am not replying on behalf of the primal center (which I am not associated with), but we can see that 'knowing' that the primal process works has begun with people directly experiencing primal's for themselves. You don't need a science, as such, to tell you when you have truly resolved a feeling, and that you feel [permanently] better for it - you can see that for yourself, when/if you have directly experienced that for yourself.

    Understanding how exactly the primal process works, on a clinical level, and why evolution has designed the neurotic system as it has, is a journey of discovery on it's own, and no doubt Janov and his team are only part way through understanding the primal process on this level. Fair enough, I say.

    My own best perspective, which I have essentially expressed in an earlier post on this blog, as follows:

    Say I punched you really hard in the nose. It would hurt like hell, but once the pain naturally goes away that would be the end of it. Now if that was so, then the next day when you recall the event of me punching your nose, you would then not feel a fear of your nose being punched again (unless the fear was rational because I was still in the room, or something like that). That's the difference. If your nose was beaten so hard that it lead to repression, you would then feel the fear out-of-context, and even the physical pain of the event would be threatening to enter consciousness. That's neurosis.

    When you integrate pain, the memory does not disappear: our *psychologcial response* to the memory is what disappears. All primal therapy does is put repressed memories into the status of normal memories. Primal therpy doesn't break down the memory, it breaks down the neurotic response to the memory.

    How does it do that, exactly? I myself think that at the heart of it, it is nothing more than the process of normal human learning.

    The primary tool of learning is consciouness. Where we are conscious is where we learn. We know that from everyday experience. "Re-connection" is where repressed material is brought into consciousness where it can likewise be developmentally responded to (natural learning), and therefore rationalised in the mind i.e. "yesterdays feelings meet today's reality", and likewise become functionally rational. But you can't learn (up-dated) a new response to an experience that is repressed. How on earth can you learn from something that you are not even conscious of? Like I said - consciousness it the theatre of learning.

    So how does the consciousness functionally facilitate the re/programming of neurological circuitry, which is clearly so integral to the ultimate mechanics of the primal process? That's a mystery; and for me, the consciousness itself is a mystery.

    --I agree with Janov that the brain as an information-processing system is not mysterious in itself, but the consciousness, in my view, certainly is. We cannot even begin to comprehend how and why it could or even should exist - only that it does, and that its presence is integral to the brains neurological programming.


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.