Sunday, March 29, 2009

Why I Am Right Brain

I discussed right and left brain in my “Primal Healing”. But I will take it a step further and make it more personal. I grew up a mess, anxious and in unrelenting pain. I was dominated by my right brain. I could not learn, focus or concentrate. I can now. But as I got into feeling and connection, my left brain began to take over its proper function. And I think there is a balance now. That is also what our research shows. Since I believe that the right, feeling brain is charged with an overall perspective, a coordination of disparate event, I was good at that and poor in point by point research. The details eluded me. Too anxious for that.

The good part of this is that it allowed me to see the grand picture and to place separate aspects of human behavior and feeling in a more holistic frame of reference. Thus, the right brain dominance allowed me a broad frame of reference, the connotative approach. I could pay attention to nuance and implications rather than the denotive process of each and every fact being examined separately. And it led me to an overall therapy that did not focus on this fact or that, like cognitive therapy or EMDR. It allowed me to deal with the whole human being. So there is a good part of being dominated by one’s emotions. Now as my left brain develops, and I think it developed very late in my life, I can add the intellectual dimension to what I am researching and put two and two together. Our research into our patients who had one year or more of our therapy found that there was this shift from right to left, forming a more balanced brain. Finally, we can find relief and harmony; no small matter.

Now why was I right brain? Judging by my birth primals I had a horrific, extended birth with a mother who became psychotic after my birth, and who gave me immediately to my grandmother who eventually killed herself, forcing my mother into an asylum. I was then given away to a strange family for some long period of time. The pain was building from the start and there was nothing I could do, no behavioral option that could get me love, or at least approval. There were no options to get out of my predicament. So I suffered. I never knew it was suffering; it was just ADD plus. (plus constant anxiety and nightmares) So generally when there is ADD, look for the suffering and treat it, not just the lack of focus or concentration. And when there are nightmares look carefully at gestation and birth; you will no doubt find many answers there. There is hope. The more we become integrated it will show in our brain scans and in our general feeling of relaxation. You cannot relax with an uneven, unbalanced brain; a brain that is skewed to one side or the other. Being normal means being balanced and harmonious; that is the best of feeling. You will never get there in one blow. It takes many, many relivings but the direction is always right. And slowly integration takes place and the imbalance becomes balance.

Generally of the scientists I have treated there is a common denominator. They got what passed for love by being smart and getting good grades. All they had to do was eschew feelings. So they grew up left brain dominant. Even when they understand the research and the importance of feeling, they cannot make the trip from left to right. They remain unbalanced. It is not an intellectual difference; it is a matter of a whole upbringing. You cannot by any force of will make that transition. The only way is to open up the right brain to feeling and then build on that.

Feelings come first, not the new ideas. That is why fourteen-year-old students I have spoken to get it right away. That is why my patients in pain and feeling also get it. Those who don’t, see feelings as some foreign land. It is strange and incomprehensible to them. A place never to tread. Feelings will eventually sway the intellect; never the reverse where one can understand it all with the left brain and then make the transition. Feelings change ideas; ideas rarely change feelings.


  1. Dr. Janov,

    The Primal community needs to become integrated so it can better serve the needs of a suffering humanity. The lost synergy due to the separation of the Primal Center from the Primal Institute from the Primal Page from the Primal Support Group from all the primally-and-not-so-primally trained clinicians who largely "get it" and struggle for a way to "bring it" in a helpful way... That lost synergy is the tragedy of the day, because it means the current status quo in repressive conventional psychology has the field to itself.

    A truly connotative mind should be able to appreciate that the imperfection and "nonsense" that you and your patients must have abided as the framework for Primal emerged through your work and experimentation -- those same imperfections have to be accepted at a more global scale in order for your discovery to reach the larger scope you envision. Left brain; right brain. Nothing is so cut and dry. I trust that your superior connotative skills will be able to extract the meaning in this paragraph, even though the words are so poorly chosen and strung...

    "There is hope." In your essay, the hope you identified is for a right-brain "mess" to achieve balance. That's only half the hope, Dr. Janov. You may not be able to speak for the other half, but please don't sell it short. We're all somewhat human.


  2. Very interesting post, Dr. Janov. I must say 
    that is a pretty harsh start for a child!

    I remember you writing about one of your birth
    primals in a book of yours from the early 70's,
    "Primal Revolution" I think it was.

    If I understand correctly, you still have birth
    primals, over 30 years later? As you say, it 
    takes many relivings to resolve the pain of a
    massive trauma.

    It would be interesting to know how you started
    getting more right brain in the first place - in
    other words, how you started getting primals in
    the first place. I guess a critic would ask: "Well, you developed Primal Therapy, who was YOUR therapist?"

    My best guess is that it was some kind of
    dialectal process that began when you discovered
    primal pain and started learning from your patients?

    Sorry if the question is too personal or if it 
    would take long to answer it. I am just being


  3. Dear Dr. Janov,
    Thank you for this significant confirmation.
    20 years ago I could not form a complete sentence and could only understand fraction of what I read, - I was right hemisphere dominated.

    Some things got better while others remain, because I never had a chance to primal at the Primal Center.

    In “Disabled” I describe how early childhood abuse imprinted fear while reading out loud. Flashbacks still hinder me today.
    Sieglinde Alexander

  4. Traudl: Keep trying cause we do need that left brain. dr. janov

  5. AnttiJ: Very perceptive. It is not too personal. It is just such a long reply, so complicated that I will defer for a while. dr. janov

  6. When my brother introduced the topic of Primal Theory/Therapy to me, I immediately sensed that it was something very important. My first thoughts were "None of my flaws are my fault. I couldn't have avoided the way I am". I felt a big sense of relief. I thought "I can just forget about trying to improve myself until I get Primal Therapy".

    I went to my bedroom (my brother and I were living in a hostel). I sat on my bed and I felt very relaxed and contented. Right at that moment, it felt like my bedroom was becoming very dark and evil. It was like a dark force had just entered the room, and something terrible was just about to happen to me. I began to shake. I went upstairs to my brother's room and asked him if I could sleep on his floor. I wanted him to talk to me or do something if the feeling got worse. He was embarrassed by my behaviour, but I was too spooked to give a shit. I kept shaking on his floor for a while, and then the feeling gradually went away.

    This all happened only about half an hour after he had introduced Primal Theory to me. My brother's words had instantly put a hole in my defenses. He had given me 'permission' to relax, but obviously my mind wasn't ready for that. (I suspect I was close to experiencing a primal, because Dr. Janov mentions a feeling of dread or doom at the point when a person is beginning to slip through his defenses).

    Our parents were extremely neglectful. However, when I look at some of the shocking births, kids being beaten and kicked by their parents, and I see how dysfunctional some people makes me think that I (and my brother) dodged a few bullets. Because of my intense initial reaction to Primal Theory, I am not surprised to see others rejecting Primal Theory before they have any significant reaction at all. Perhaps they can't afford to have the reaction that I had. For some people, it might lead to a dangerous situation. Maybe just a few words can be dangerous if a person allows himself to fully understand the implication of the words. So as soon as the implications start to form, they are destroyed by the left brain.

    As for those who reject the words even before they have tried to understand them....well.....this is because Primal Therapy has an image problem. If you want to believe that I am a fragile person who has been sucked into a cult, then all of my words will look like that.

  7. Richard. It doesn't have to be so scary. Under therapeutic control we make sure that no one plunges into terror abruptly. dr. janov

  8. I was forced to be right handed, and as an adult, once I started using my left hand I found myself much more open to my feelings. Using the right side of my brain (which controls the left hand) helped me tremendously in getting in touch with my emotions, my empathy. Have you considered handedness in how we use our brains? As a society we still are not open to left-handed children, they are encouraged to "switch." Of course it overlooks the child, but perhaps it's also a way to ensure that the child's feelings won't "get in the way." What do you think of this?

  9. Listen Richard. It looks bleak now but it won't always. You know we have a foundation that helps pay for some people's therapy. I hate to see you suffer. If there is anything we can do please contact my office. There is a way out. Luckily we have found it. So Hang On!! dr. janov

  10. Traudl:

    I enjoyed your article - you write very well. Your fathers education techniques remind me of my grandmothers. Though she was ultimately well intentioned, when it came to kids she was terribly insensitive. She gave myself and my other family members compulsory piano lessons for years (which I utterly hated) and due to her ancient "spare the rod, spoil the child" mentality, after all those ghastly lessons I could not even construct a chord, which is totally fundamental to music theory.
    A few years later, when the lessons had finally stopped, I got my brother to show me how to construct a chord out of vague curiosity, and I learnt it in about 10 minutes - so easy. I know that if there's one thing that shuts down a child's mind to 'normal' responsiveness and learning it is a climate of intimidation. And look who gets called stupid for it - alas, a bit ironic.

    Maybe with repression your left brain splits from the right so you can concentrate intellectually no matter what you're feeling? Obviously that's not the case for kids at least.

  11. Andy,
    I hear you, I relate.
    Ongoing childhood fear paralyses the connection between right and left hemisphere. I believe it is a corpus callosum disconnection. It was, in my case, not only about reading. It was also piano, violin and singing lessons, among other daily intimidating occurrence. If I did not hit a perfect high C (controlled by a piano tuning instrument), or a sliding tone on the violin, the hazelnut stick hit my head.

    Today, I read a few lines out loud without a problem. But, as soon as I realize that I am reading out loud, I begin to stumble.
    Certain psychological abuse experienced in childhood, becomes a non-erasable trauma, a
    burn-mark for life. At the age of 46 I became the phoenix who rose out of the ashes of childhood trauma.

    Would you credit your supportive brother, that your grandmother’s intimidation did not manifest as trauma?

  12. Hello, my name is Dean and im from Slovenia ( Europe ).Im very fascinated on Janov's blog.Well im law student and i love ( art - paintings ) very much.My organism must combine left and right brain i i can feel diferents quality of my emotions.But trouble is that lawyer must be hard, rationalistic and outside, because that society expect from me.Trouble is that if i actually open totaly to artistic - paintings : i have no jobe, because i cant live from art aut here in slovenia because we have no market here.How can my body regulate a hard environment?

    thanx and all my respect to Artur Janov and his wife ( btw: i order a book The Biology of love- so i can't wait it for ).

    Thanx Dean

  13. Last night I experienced a very powerful dream that must have been close to a Primal. The feeling was building up over the last few days...something had to give.

    In my dream I was a young child. I experienced this feeling: "I am too small to be living alone in this big world". I felt utterly unprotected and 'parentless' and the feeling grew rapidly in my stomach. The world started to feel enormous and extremely dangerous.

    The feeling grew to as much as I could take, and then I repressed all of the meaningful 'flavour' of the feeling. The flavour was instantly 100% gone, but I continued to feel a boiling 'anxious' sensation.

    In other words, I didn't need to repress the feeling completely. I only needed to repress the flavour of the feeling to make it manageable.

    At this point I was very AWARE of the meaning of the feeling (parentless and vulnerable) but I didn't FEEL the meaning. I didn't feel the 'flavour'. I only felt the 'anxiety'. This must be what Dr. Janov is talking about when he describes the difference between awareness and consciousness.

    If I had continued to feel the flavour I would have been completely dysfunctional. As soon as the flavour was gone, the continuing anxiety pushed me to take action.

    I started running to my mother, and as I was doing this, I realised she was a child too. She was a big child living in the same 'parentless' world. She was just as 'parentless' as I was.

    I needed to tell her what I had just realised. Regardless of how horrible the truth was, I needed her to know it. I wanted to tell her: "Mummy, you and I are both children. There is no-one to take care of us!!!" I was terrified but I was brave enough because I didn't feel the flavour.

    My mother started to get scared and she refused to listen. I kept trying but she refused to listen, and then her face turned to hatred.

    Then I woke up. If I can get that much insight from a very brief dream, imagine how much insight we can get from a Primal. Obviously, during a Primal, the 'flavour' would have stayed connected to the anxiety.

  14. Richard,

    Very nice the way you shared the intimacy in your dream. I know if it was me, writing about a dream like that would put me right in the feeling. Did you have an experience while you were writing?

    It's interesting how you use the word "flavor". I know what you mean. There are these unique "flavors" -- it seems like we have the capacity to recognize an infinite number of them. While the energy of feeling is always the same, the flavors are the unique part. Dr. Janov wrote somewhere about the brain being a frequency analyzer. I feel there must be some truth to that hypothesis. Feelings have unique signatures. You use the "flavor" analogy. I think of them as being like music. There are so many songs built off the same notes and simple harmonies of the scale, and yet each one has that unique "flavor".

    I'm an information scientist by profession, so I like to ponder the implementation details of things like this. But not here...


  15. Can you post the link to the foundation, please?

  16. I think what might be one way to identify the charater of a hardcore left-brain thinker is to imagine someone putting together a jigsaw puzzle who can only see the shape of the individual pieces, and not the developing picture behind them. They make all sorts of false intellectual connections because they can't form a proper holistic perspective. I believe that many intellectuals are actually rather confused people - I see that "false connection" effect *everywhere*.

    The problem is they've built an education system (social hierarchy filter) in their own image so they migrate to positions of power anyway.

  17. Eric: Simply address the Primal Center and they will take care of it. Dr. Janov

  18. Dean: When you have a left-brain society it ain't easy to adapt from your right brain. dr.janov

  19. No: I am no specialist in handedness, but it makes sense. dr. janov

  20. I agree it's hard to live in a left brain society if you have a right brain tandencies, needs.I agree too, that left brain is important for understanding what's going on in life outside.But let me give an example: last night i was waching a movie on TCM -The Family with actor Donald Sutherland.I was very impress because it was so warm and beautiful.The movie was i guess from 60' or 70'.So im most often confuse , because today movies are such agressive and ego-oriented.I think that in 60' in america was a try for a right brain development in view of society or im i just imagine this?Take music for example: old rock is still today a great music ( lennon, byrds,hendrix,joplin) and so on.Most of theese was in such a pain ( like hendrix, morrison or joplin ) that they life was long only 27 year.But still they try express true feelings - it's very feeling music-( all of them had painfull childhood).Today for example we have just beat and cold, robotizing music.I't have nothing to do with feelings.It's just that you forget a hard working day and loss too much stres out of the body.But still: if you wanna be successful today and loved - you must forget for right hemisfere domination.IT'S society ( culture ) dictation - a survive mechanism.Or if you got so much power to create our own micro-environment and neglect a society needs.But this is still a struggle.
    Ps: i read The Primal scream ( 1970 )and Biology of love ( 2000 ).Such beauty and knowledge - i really loved it.
    Thanx , Dean

  21. I agree it's hard to live in a left brain society if you have a right brain tandencies, needs.I agree too, that left brain is important for understanding what's going on in life outside.But let me give an example: last night i was waching a movie on TCM -The Family with actor Donald Sutherland.I was very impress because it was so warm and beautiful.The movie was i guess from 60' or 70'.So im most often confuse , because today movies are such agressive and ego-oriented.I think that in 60' in america was a try for a right brain development in view of society or im i just imagine this?Take music for example: old rock is still today a great music ( lennon, byrds,hendrix,joplin) and so on.Most of theese was in such a pain ( like hendrix, morrison or joplin ) that they life was long only 27 year.But still they try express true feelings - it's very feeling music-( all of them had painfull childhood).Today for example we have just beat and cold, robotizing music.I't have nothing to do with feelings.It's just that you forget a hard working day and loss too much stres out of the body.But still: if you wanna be successful today and loved - you must forget for right hemisfere domination.IT'S society ( culture ) dictation - a survive mechanism.Or if you got so much power to create our own micro-environment and neglect a society needs.But this is still a struggle.
    Ps: i read The Primal scream ( 1970 )and Biology of love ( 2000 ).Such beauty and knowledge - i really loved it.
    Thanx , Dean

  22. Dean: I think modern music is now about interpreting meaning, rather than feeling it. It's full of emotive statements and direct and/or indirect lectures on someone's idea of the meaning of life, but nothing that actually emotionally impacts you - nothing "inductive". It's remarkably sterile on that level. No atmosphere. No mood. Melodies produced in a manner that strips them of any real emotional movement.

    Sorry for being off topic.

  23. I think it is interesting how people often choose music that matches their personality.

    Articulated people listen to articulated music. Wild people listen to wild music. Depressed people listen to depressing music. Sometimes depressed people listen to wild music.
    Music can be like a friend - an emotional companion.

    I often enjoy exciting music because it turns an anxious feeling into one of excitement. It makes me feel like my anxiety is pushing me towards something spectacular, instead of something terrible. For me, depressing music has the opposite effect. It feels morbidly unescapable (because Marion won't turn the damn music off) and therefore might be very useful during my therapy.

    Maybe the padded rooms at the primal center would have great acoustic properties! I will bring some of Marion's music. (I like Marion - she knows I am joking).


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.