Saturday, October 24, 2009

On Being Touched

I saw a movie last night. The mother walked by her son and ruffled his hair and moved on. A seemingly innocuous event. But wait! So many of us never had that; so what does it mean? It means that someone acknowledges your existence. If parents walk by you, never smile, touch you or make you feel you exist, you come to believe you don’t. No one has to say you’re bad, I don’t love you. It is all in those very little events. Having hair ruffled day after day means you exist and are wanted, important and loved. When it does not happen day after day it means the opposite; and you come to believe it without ever realizing it. You begin to act as if you don’t exist for anyone. You shy away, never say the kind things you should because who you are and what you do does not matter.

When a parent massages you head it says volumes; I like you, I love you, you are very important, my attention is totally on you, I want to make you happy. That is all absorbed unconsciously and sometimes consciously. “Sometimes consciously” because if you never have had it you then realize something, but if you always had it, it is in the nature of things; nothing exceptional. You deserve just by who you are; and it means you can be who you are without anyone saying anything like that because it is implied and absorbed. You don’t think it matters? It matters.


  1. lucky kid. in the movie at least

  2. Big trigger, big pain.
    All I know is, if my mother acknowledged me, it was only because she had a list chores or, she needed someone to dump her frustration. For this reason I was happy if she didn’t see me at all.

  3. This little story is to important to just be published in this relatively obscure 'place'.
    Please have one of your trainees send it off electronically to about 200 (or more) newspapers (or 200000 publications for that matter).

    This kind of communication of yours is, more than anything else, precisely what the world needs to receive as much of as possible.

  4. This blog appears about the psychological concept called mirroring. I live in Finland which is well known for the quietness and shyness of its people. This element of avoidance taken to its extreme creates a certain social type (avoidant A1 type in the context of Ainsworth's attachment theory) associated with rural dwelling, who stays by himself (essentially a male phenomenon) and does not speak to people. Mothering style is seen as the key factor. Mothers try to order and structure their children's experience too much so that they become the arbiter or mediator for the child's interpretation of the world. In extreme cases the child feels so engulfed by the mother that he withdraws from her and the landscape to which she pertains. This is an example of bad mirroring of the other whereby his own experience is subsumed. In most cases though Finns simply take the mother's view over and above their own - until alcohol swings things back the other way and they assert their own physicality without concern for decorum. The balance is best when the perception of the child by the parent allows room for mutual negotiation of needs and desires so that each person can understand and respect the other's perspective. (B1-B3 type). The boy having his hair ruffled may be being touched and acknowledged but it does not mean he enjoys this enactment upon him and he may feel overwhelmed by it. Parent and child is a two-way street.

  5. Will, of course you are right. I don't remember my mother or father ever touching or holding me until I was 15 yrs old. Also, I don't remember ever wanting to be touched or held.
    When I was 15 my father started reading a book called 'Tough Love'. He started giving me hugs and forced my mother to hug me. He would yell at her when she refused. The whole situation was very uncomfortable for all of us.

    I always thought it was perfectly normal for parents to hold their kids, but I didn't think my parents were abnormal until I was 15. I didn't think I was abnormal until my brother started talking about psychology many years later. I am grateful to my brother because until then, I thought I was almost perfect and I had no interest in psychology.

  6. Makes sense to me. The greater the lack of love (pain), the greater the emotional reality deficit in the present. If I were not loved, I can not in my heart (2nd line) or guts (1st), believe that it is possible for me to be loved. Despite seeing any intellectual evidence to the contrary.

    As an adult, the most tender and intimate touch of a lover would feel blank and hollow. The feeling is blunted because there is nothing much for it to resonate with stored in the brain as emotional memory.

    I am thinking of an analogy of an air craft trying to land in a storm at night. If the runway had enough lights, landing. If not, crash and burn.

    If the plane landing represents the feeling of being loved in the present, the runway lights would be each emotional memory of childhood.

    Each vicious look, beating or cruel word by a parent can and does put out those runway lights one by one. Each hair ruffling (genuine act of affection) can light one up one at a time.

  7. Will,

    I think what you might be saying is that if a right behaviour doesn't come from a right feeling, then it may not be worth that much. That's certainly what I think, and I think it's also why our ability to teach a parent how to be a great parent is ultimately limited if they are encapsulated in their own neurosis - and likewise their own "eccentric" feelings.

    I remember seeing a documentary article from a while back where a woman was in tears, saying: "How can you give love when you don't feel it?" She was speaking about how she did not like her daughter, and was sad about the fact. This to me was an expression of a truth and, as such, a display of sanity. I really do think there are countless people who believe that you can give love *behaviourally* without the feeling. And that of course is not true...until maybe the child comes to live in the same fantasy of "behavioural love" as the parent?

  8. Hi John,

    I liked your aeroplane analogy and I agree with you.

    The way I see it is that feelings are linked to "functions" somewhere/somehow compartmentalised in the brain, in the same way that senses like sight and touch are compartmentalised (zoned) within the brain. So, I think when we talk of "hurt feelings" in the traumatic sense of it, what we are really speaking of "hurt functions".

    When the functions have recieved traumatic input and likewise retain the signiture of overwhleming pain, they then become don't-go-there zones of the brain that our conscious mind must avoid (aka repression). So, to reclaim the 'function' you must confront the damage - and resolve it. Until then you can't feel love: how on earth could you when that part of yourself is literally off-line? Clearly before you can be open to others you must first be open to yourself. To believe that you can feel love without this "reclamation" process (aka primal therapy) is like believing that you can see a picture with an amputated visual cortex.

  9. John, Will, and Andrew:
    You guys make me _extra_ pleased to read this blog! :]

  10. John,
    May I take your trigger lines a step further: “As an adult, the most tender and intimate touch of a lover would feel blank and hollow. The feeling is blunted because there is nothing much for it to resonate with stored in the brain as emotional memory.”

    A gentile touch can also trigger an early manifested condition, especially when sexually abused in early childhood. A touch later in life can waken an early imprint. A (neurotic) memory signals: your body will be used again, or, what do I have to give in return for this kindness?

    In another primal memory: a baby lays isolated in crib crying in need for it mother’s touch. Mother comes and spanks the child instead of comfort. The need for touch, feeling save, was replaced by pain. In this case, the hand of a mother becomes the imprint of a threatening instrument.

  11. OK, I said that I was probably not going to write again because many of my posts get refused here for reasons I am not told.But I will try one more time because I really loved Dr Janov's last article here.

    I can totally relate to what he is saying. My parents NEVER ruffled my hair and thus, made me feel at least a bit loved. With them it was either bourgeois niceness (at best), or, at worst, in my mother`s case, outright hatred and accusations of laziness (my father always staid "nice" ..and detached. He is a bit more authentic and real these days). While I did not feel the full impact of all this while young, because I was "busy" with studies, TV, and playing, I have felt this lack of acknowledgement of my existence most of the reast of my life. And I am feeling it more acutely these days for some reason. I mean, I just DO NOT EXIST for anyone . I am just a passing shadow for all the other shadows .And that hurts.

    Janov's article also brought to mind a similar story of his in "Prisoners of Pain" (page 227), in which he relates the story of feeling the warmth and kindnes of a woman who was inducting him into the US Navy during WW2.The memory of that simple experience stuck with him for a long time. That also resonated with me, since such kindness is so rare (or so it seems to me). And so, many of us labor perpetually under a feeling of loneliness, alienation and barenness, a tragic consequence of this disgusting ignorant superficial civilisation, which I detest from the bottom of my desolate heart. Marco Ermacora Canada

  12. I'll try to contribute to this lively discussion.
    If we can reclaim (to some extent)our capacity to love (by primal therapy), than maybe the critical period of the need for love is never really completely ended. How do we know it? Well, if a gentle touch received at age 25 can resonate and help someone feel his unfulfilled need for touch at age 4, than it looks as if there is some kind of continuity of the need for touch beyond the critical period. Indeed, it could be that in humans (or mammals) the need for touch and gentleness is never completely closed by passage of time, although it might be closed by the valence of pain involved to repress the need. What a miracle is our brain: despite all the pain, storing carefully our capacity to love, for some better times!


  13. Marjan:

    I would say that 'critical period' has more to do with the time a need must be fulfilled to avoid catastrophic pain and its accompanying effects. It should not mean to the 'forever elimination' of the function.

    Critical periods are interesting though. I think it shows that the brain is going through a developmental sequence, and that a critical need must be fulfilled at a particular time to ensure that the next developmental step can be reached. Pain for a child must ultimately mean "you are screwing with my developmental evolution" and so sensitivity to damage must also mean that.

  14. losangelee, I wish I could hold you in my arms right now so you could cry and shake and whatever for as long as you need to! I'm sitting here crying just from reading your comment! I don't know where you are, but just know that someone on this planet is feelin' ya!


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

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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.