Saturday, March 14, 2009

Oxytocin (Part 1/5)

Feeling is the central organizing principle of human behavior. You can measure feeling in the brain, in the body’s biochemistry, in mother's milk, in saliva and in spinal taps. We can measure it in brain chemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine. Feelings are all encompassing, and love is the key feeling in human intercourse. It can be found everywhere in the system because feeling is everywhere. Except—except where it is blocked and hidden away. Then we have an index of pain and repression. So something like oxytocin can be a marker for love. Speaking broadly, it can indicate where and when fear and pain took the place of love very early on. Love is defined broadly as having one’s need fulfilled in a timely manner; that means even in the womb, during gestation, there are needs that require fulfillment. When they are not, there can be effects on all sorts of biologic processes, including oxytocin. When I state that a baby needs a calm environment, it includes gestational life. A depressed/anxious mother is not providing a calm environment; the fetus is all neurochemically sensitive to her levels of stress and responses.

Love is important because it ensures survival of the species; it is a kind of assurance that the offspring will be healthy and sexual, again to carry on a species that will be strong against adversity. Love also translates into mental and physical health, and provides the best chance for survival of offspring. It is not an ephemeral, mystical notion that floats above us in some never-never land. It can be measured; the processes of love can be quantified. Love makes us feel good. It also is an effective pain-killer, not for a short time, but for a life-time. Thus, when there is ample love even in the womb, it is reflected in an imprint of oxytocin levels that follow us throughout life. When those levels are high, we have a lifetime of adequate pain-killers in our system. When they are low, we can be anxious and in pain for most of our lives, and never know why. We may overreact to events because our resting levels are so high that almost anything can set it off. And we no longer have the wherewithal to block the pain.

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 some 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.

Oxytocin is critical in making a strong emotional rapport with others. Oxytocin 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 secreted by the pituitary gland, just below the hypothalamus. And it reflects how much love we have had and how much love we will have to give. And in fact, when we make love (men and women) levels radically increase. Sex and love meet here or at least should meet here.

To be continued next week…


  1. If love requires the chemicals Dr Janov mentions then low levels of oxytocin, serotonin etc. will surely affect the bipolar affect system which neurobiologists believe underpins our emotions and feelings. Indeed, some believe emotions and feelings are but the conscious aspect of this system. Or to put it more precisely, Cacioppo, Larsen, Smith and Berntson (‘The Affect System: What Lurks Below the Surface of Feelings.’p.223-243 from 'Feelings and Emotions') believe that emotions and feelings themselves are merely the 'conscious aspects of a subset of cognitive operations based around this affect system'.
    The notion that underlying our emotions and feelings is a bipolar evaluative system (or to put it more plainly, a pain or pleasure affect) is fundamental to an understanding of our emotional life. For Janov the automatic propensity of the organism towards pain (if needs are unmet and basic feelings are threatened) lies at the heart of his theory on how neurosis forms. Just as a bright light shone into the eye will cause an automatic retraction of the iris, so too the human body reacts away from physical and psychological pain. (And this holds for all organisms.)
    This bipolar approach to understanding the core propensities and biases of human emotions and feelings is very helpful. It gives us an insight into why and how emotions and feelings developed. It also points to a basic symmetry in human emotions in relation to their polar relationships: happy, sad; hope, helplessness , love, hate.
    However, the writers assert that positive and negative affects originate from two separate and distinguishable (functionally independent) processes. Calling their theory the, ‘Evaluative Space Model’ they detail how particular dispositions between the bipolar extremes are created by combining the antagonistic effects of positive and negative responses. In other words, both can be co-activated.
    The processing of appetitive information(a product of the activity in the medial orbitofrontal) and aversive information(a product of the activity in the lateral orbitofrontal) is separable at early stages in the brain and allows for individual dispositions towards different stimuli. Studies of affective asymmetry or innate bias within the affective system towards positive or negative responses, that are unrelated to the actual perception of external events, has produced fascinating insights into the purposes of emotions. Negative emotions serve the functions of mental behavioural adjustment, problem solving and convergent thinking. In other words pain precipitates necessary revisions in survival strategy. Contrastingly, positive emotions are affirmative and offer encouragement to explore, experiment and think divergently. In other words they give us the green light to proceed in our actions.
    So returning to Dr Janov's blog article, it would seem low levels of certain chemicals will drastically affect this system, producing affective behaviour that is not healthy or appropriate to human evolutionary progress. If too much pain is registered then a withdrawl or flight response will prohibit the pleasure/ approach stimulus which love feelings accompany.

    Bibliographical reference:
    Ed. by Manstead, Anthony S.R; Frijda, Nico; Fischer, Agneta: Feelings and Emotions: The Amsterdam Symposium (Cambridge 2004)

  2. Hi, I wonder whether it is wortwhile to measure one`s oxitocin level like cholesterol etc. as I had these days ..simply to know "where" I stand in my "self-Handling " of my (loads..) of Primal Pain ?!! Yours emanuel

  3. The great American anthropologist Walter Goldschmidt, who is now 97, connects oxytocin with what he calls "affect hunger" which he envisions as the organizing drive of all live-birth creatures, the emotional lever for all nurturance and socialization. In his latest book, "The Bridge to Humanity (2006) he explains his concept of "affect hunger" citing not only anthropological findings, but neurobiological and psychological, as well. Although his critique of Freudian psychology is pretty good, he seems unaware of Janovian psychology and the fact that "affect hunger" is not supposed to last a lifetime, at least not to the degree that we neurotics experience it! Like so many academics, he takes the present state of modern neurotic humans for granted as the normal state of being, and adjusts his theories accordingly. Dr. Janov, I remember that many years ago you wrote an illuminating essay on this subject, published in the old Primal News, I think, in which you gave your views on how neurosis has shaped the destiny of humankind since we left the presumably healthier state of the hunter-gatherers. Would it be possible for you to update and post that essay here? I would love to set my eyes on it again and send it to Walter Goldschmidt! As always, with deep appreciation for all you have done for us! Hubert Meeker in Victoria, B.C.

  4. Gee! There are so many of you bright people out there that I feel humbled. It is letters like this that keep me in awe. I will write about bipolar in a future article. Dr. Janov

  5. I think it is a good idea to check your oxytocin level to see how loved you were as an infant and how well you can love as an adult. dr. janov

  6. Hubert. It seems to me that I studied with Goldschmidt many years ago. I really donno what article you are referring to. Maybe someone out there knows about it. I rarely keep my writing. dr. janov

  7. Hi, it will be fascinating to read a future article from you on the bipolar system. From the reading I have done (not that much as I have only been a psychology student for a short time) it would seem to be key, especially if neuroscience can continue in offering more insights into how it operates. Indeed, the asymmetrical pain/pleasure mechanism I mentioned certainly fits with Primal theory verý well. I just hope the politics within the psychology, which usually tries to defend neurosis, as Hubber 1 said above, rather than challenge the whole basis behind our assumptions does not get in the way. (which it no doubt will til science wins through) Though my reading is limited your ideas Dr Janov are the most helpful, direct and relevant I have come across in this domain. So thanks for your great contributions to your readers' lives.

    Clearly if there is genetic inadequacy in the production of oxytocin,serotonin dopamine etc. that person could never experience similar levels as someone who has a normal genetic disposition. But what are the chemicals that produce the initial feelings of love? Oxytocin it would seem acts,or reacts, to emotions,but what initiates that primary feeling?

  9. Hello I am not sure that a genetic deficiency is the problem. It seems to me more a nurture problem; that lack of love/trauma lowers these supplies, and is imprinted for life. This is particularly true right after birth where a lack of touch and caring matter a great deal. I don't think that oxytocin reacts--lower oxytocin is one facet of a lack of love registered throughout the system in various chemicals and neurojuices. Lack of love means not fulfilling need at the proper time in the critical window. Let me hear from others about this. dr. janov

  10. "Lack of love means not fulfilling need at the proper time in the critical window."

    Exactly! But I do think genetics also play a part,
    just not as big a part as is often attributed to

    An example: my mother and her twin sister were 
    both born prematurely. My mother's sister has 
    schizophrenia, my mother does not.

    It would be interesting to find out about their
    birth process; who came out first etc.

    Antti J. 

  11. Hi. You know that who comes out first matters because that little bit of being left behind or a delay in getting out can make the
    difference. dr. janov

  12. Will wrote: "But what are the chemicals that produce the initial feelings of love? Oxytocin it would seem acts,or reacts, to emotions,but what initiates that primary feeling?"

    I am not sure that you are sure what you are asking for (or at least I am not), but anyway:

    What most primarily initiates what we feel is our senses' and neurons' (~= our actention selection serving system's) responses to and interactions with and recordings of our lifetime's challenges (~=the features/factors of our own current and past environment).

  13. Re: Antti's mother and aunt.

    If they were not identical twins the different outcomes may very well be more due to a slight difference between their DNA than due to conditioning before and during the birthing process.

    [However, don't misunderstand my stance! My fairly (non-financially) philanthropically oriented opinion on this aspect of "What Is going on" is that an awareness of the kinds of factors and influences that Arthur Janov is trying to teach people about is far more seriously (sorely and 'endemically') missing (it actually as a matter of principle evolved to become "most missing") from the minds of the members of our species than is any awareness of the role of DNA.]

  14. To suggest that genetic imperfections could play a major role in making many of us feel bad, is to suggest that 'mother nature' thought the hormone system could afford to be sloppy, or that there has somehow been widespread corrosion of the genes that are responsible for building the hormone system.

    When we were living in caves, I doubt our hormonal systems could afford to be genetically sloppy. The length of our fingers and toes, or the tip of our nose...yeah....those things have room for error. But understanding how your cave-woman feels, how and when you have sex with her, and whether you would risk your life to save her....well, I don't think those decisions could afford to be sloppy.

    As for genetic corrosion over the eons...hmmm...I guess it's possible.
    We are not cave-people anymore. We can survive without love....without understanding how other people feel....all thanks to our current technology and political systems. We are living in a huge safety net.

    If the decline in neurotic fatalities has resulted in rapid deterioration of genetics, then we should put more effort into studying genetic causes of chemical imbalance.

    I think it is rational to put more effort into studying the more likely cause. Trauma.

  15. Hubber1: I wish I kept copies of all that but I don't. I recently threw away over 100 boxes of my writings and research efforts. It just gathers dust. Sorry. Dr. Janov

  16. Emanuel:I don't see how it could hurt. dr. janov

  17. Richard: Hello again. I believe that nurture trumps nature almost every time. That is not to deny that nature counts; it is just that nurture counts more. What on earth is "neurotic fatalities?" dr. janov

  18. Hi Art. Good to see you are writing again.

    "neurotic fatalities" = people who are too genetically neurotic to survive. (referring to an ancient world when neurotic people were not protected by today's efficient technology).
    I didn't word it very well.

    The reason for my uneducated, philosophical (and probably annoying) rambling, is because I am trying to use common sense to get things into perspective. I think many academics hold onto the details, but fail to see a broader picture, because they feel too many pressures to follow a beaten path.

    It seems to me that many psychiatrists are quick to diagnose someone as having a genetic brain disorder. They believe there is one basic treatment....medication. America has an unusually high number of children with 'genetic brain disorders'.

    I challenge all psychiatrists to try to estimate how many people out there are likely to have an UNDIAGNOSED genetic brain disorder. Think of all the "partially autistic" kids who are never taken to a shrink for diagnosis.

    We might discover a whole world of bad genes.

    Let's not also forget that the human body is specifically designed to compensate for minor genetic variations.
    A genuine genetic inability to produce oxytocin or some other chemical....what does that mean? It must mean major mutation of brain bad that the brain is unable to compensate.
    Normally, if a valve is slightly too small, it could stay open for just slightly longer until the brain's chemicals are appropriate in accordance with the percieved environment. You know what I mean? Our body is full of tricks like that. We are too complex to rely on absolute perfection. (I'm no brain expert, obviously). I'm guessing a genetic brain disorder must be a major genetic flaw.

    Maybe I am wrong! But I think it is good to think in broad terms before plunging into details.

    I'm glad to see there are very smart people in this blog. We need more people who are able to go into the scientific detail without becoming biased.

  19. Hello Dr Janov. In repsonse to your response, I thought I would include my thoughts on "Nature versus Nurture".

    A while back lions were introduced into Australia as an experimental test, to see how they would adapt (eating kangaroo's). Because Kangaroo's are unadapted to watch out for lions, the introduced lions enjoyed a grand abundance of easy food. The interesting result was that the lions lost their territorial instinct (apparantly) and became a lot more social with other out-group lions.

    What this suggests is that the territorial instinct is not a "default" position for lions, and instead this instinct is *activated* in response to scarcity. I believe this shows a key characteristic of higher animals - the more advanced and intelligent the species, the more sophisticated its relationship to its instincts i.e. the more "triggers" and "switches" that exist which turn instinctive reactions on and off. A territorial animal much more basic than lions would be territorial in any circumstance, regardless of whether or not it's functionally necessary for survival i.e. no switch.

    I think this shows a key difference between humans and lower animals - we probably have the most sophisticated relationship to our instincts of all. Why wouldn't we? It would be a waste of our big brains if we didn't.

    My point is that regardless of our differing capacities to be behaviourally pathological (refering to genetic differences between differing individuals and maybe the different human races), pathological behaviours would surely need to be first triggered by environmental causes, at least more so than for other animals. Likewise, if you take away the deprivation (and that includes neurosis, which I think can be described as 'psychologically internalised deprivation') then you will almost certainly have a behaviourally sound human being *regardless* of their ultimate genetic capacities.

    For the human animal probably more than any other it takes two to tango, so to speak. So if you sort out the 'nurture' you probably won't have to worry too much about the genes, regardless of what they may be.


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.
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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.