Thursday, November 25, 2010

More on Self Esteem

There is so much discussion of the notion of self-esteem that I think it warrants more discussion; we need to find out what it is, actually. So first of all, is there such a thing? No. Why not? Because it is not a feeling. It is an idea, one that friends or therapists can use to bolster it or diminish it. So what is it? It is a sense that I am accepted, loved, approved of, wanted, desired, and believed important.

Normal, loved individuals never think about it. They just have it and act accordingly. Those who need to think about don’t have it. And so when others tell you what you need to hear, you are important, valued and approved of, it temporarily lifts the esteem a bit. This is an artificial lift. It dampens the real feelings, feelings that were installed from womb-life onward.

So why do we feel we have low esteem, something that needs to be bolstered? When we are born we begin to follow orders. Parents tell us what to eat and when to eat. Where to sit (and not fidgit or move around). When to go out and when not to. We are not told, “What would you like for dinner?” What time do you want to eat?’ Ad infinitum. Bit by bit it sinks in; “I am not important and no one cares what I think or feel.” Especially at the dinner table where the “important” people talk and we listen; no one elicits our opinion about the color of the walls, the kind of chairs we sit on and when we are allowed to have guests in. This is how esteem is created, not necessarily by a parent saying you are important, but rather by being treated from infancy onward as someone who is important. Parents who value you are governed by their feelings; parents who do not value you also are governed by their feelings, which quickly become the soundtrack of your life.

This can all be compounded by parents who do tell you that you are stupid and incapable. Or they keep you from handling important tools. Or they don’t take the time to explain things. What does that do? It means that you are not important enough to be worth anyone’s time. An impatient parent who is tense and anxious makes you feel unimportant. You have to speak right away and wait for the answer, which may not come. You have the feeling that you cannot take up too much of their valuable time. It creates the subtext, “I am not important”.

Right after birth when the newborn is left alone and not hugged and cuddled right away, the groundwork for low self esteem is created. If thereafter you have to struggle to get them to pay attention, you are building feelings of inferiority. It is those wee events throughout our early lives that construct permanent feelings of being unimportant. If parents wait for you to hug them, instead of them rushing to embrace you, another neurotic block is there to reinforce your low esteem. It is not a thought-out process. When parents are aloof and heavily repressed as individuals, and cannot respond to the child with feelings, with alacrity and passion, there will be another compounded feeling in a child who now feels worthless and not worth anyone’s time or anyone’s love—worth less.

Alright, we now go to get our esteem lifted. Can we do that? No. Our therapist thinks we are wonderful and praises us; that will last for a short time but the real feeling rushes back in. And that feeling is the result of a myriad of events, all of which spell “I am not important. I am unloved.” Those feelings set in during the critical period which probably occurs before the age of six. Anything after that is symbolic fulfillment and won’t last. But we can become addicted and need praise more and more because it is symbolic fulfillment, long past its due date. When we are complimented (and someone who feels unimportant can be “bought” for a single compliment), it eases the pain momentarily. It operates like a tranquilizer; softens the blow. “You are such a good person. You are so important to me.” The reason the real feeling is never thought out is because it is a feeling that is the result of thousands of very early experiences. Those experiences coalesce around very few feelings, but those feelings drive so many symbolic act-outs.

The very fact that a child in crib can cry out for his mother for a very long time instills that sense of being unimportant. Remember, “esteem” is a word. You do not necessarily “feel” esteemed. You feel loved and that does it all. Once you feel loved you no longer search for that elusive “esteem.” Those who go on searching will never find it. It is too late. And it is not one thing you are looking for—esteem. You are really looking for someone to help instill a feeling inside you that he cannot do; someone who can undo what happened to you. No therapist can lift your esteem level; only you can do it by feeling those key experiences where little by little you came to feel unloved and unworthy of it. Until then you need praise and more praise cause the real feeling is seeping through.

Conversely, a single criticism can devastate someone who feels unimportant. Why? Because it triggers off the real pain; “I am unworthy and (you) they just proved it. If there is one thing that most of us cannot tolerate it is criticism, even slight criticism. We spend our lives staving them off so we won’t have to face and feel those feelings. And those who feel bad about themselves do whatever they can to avoid criticism. When it does occur the person can manage to immediately rationalize her behavior or displace it onto someone else. “I would have done better if you had not done………” It can never be their fault because behind that accusation is a mountain of pain.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

On Exorcism

There is an article in the N.Y, Times (Nov. 13, 2010. “For Catholics, Interest in Exorcism is Revived”)about a serious trend in the Catholic church which is not so catholic, after all, and not quite sane, to boot. American Bishops are meeting to discuss how to prepare more priests to implement exorcism because the demand is so high. What the clergy say is that they need help to distinguish between those who claim to be possessed who may need psychotherapy, and those who claim to be possessed who are normal or legitimate, and would need the church’s help.

The clergy believes that not everyone who wants an exorcism really needs one. “It is only use in those cases where they devil is involved.” I presume they mean where someone is “possessed” by the devil. Now in case you think this is crazy, just remember that something like 80% of the population believes in the devil.

So let me get this straight. Those who are possessed by heaven and hell will decide on those who are possessed by the devil. None of all of those has anyone ever seen, felt or touched. It is all socially sanctioned delusions; all of it, by definition. But let us not be too quick to condemn it; I think they know that something dark and painful is in there but they just don’t know what it is. So they extirpate it symbolically where believers scream and yell, writhe and roll and do everything but put it all in context, which would really get rid of it. Real bad things did happen but it is not the devil; it is pain, and it is indeed in there and needs to get out.

We must not be too quick to condemn this since it is little more than what the electroshock therapists and the psychosurgery doctors do too. They slam, bang it, cut it out, do everything but solve what “it” is. If all of them, clergy and doctors knew what lay down there, there would be no surgery, shock or exorcism. All of them imply a mysterious, dark force, that like the “id” of Freud is unknowable, immutable and life-enduring.

And, immodestly, if they all knew that there was a way to get down deep in the brain safely without shock and/or surgery they might do it.

Now how on earth can a clergyman decide on one who is possessed be sane and one who is possessed be not sane? Possessed means insane, in my book. It is, as I have stated, a delusion, something that exists only in the person’s mind. But of course, if you believe that he/she/it/they exist you have no choice to agree with possession. And while we are at it I assume that those clergymen who abuse children would be possessed. By what or whom? By their childhood and their parents. They seem to be helpless before their criminal acts of destroying children. Their way out: let’s blame it on the devil. When you deal with “angels and demons” you are not, by definition, in reality, except the one you manufacture. It is called consensual validation; I believe because you believe, and since we all believe it must be true. Wonderful!
The priests claim that they can heal, not because they have the power; the power comes from Jesus. So now you have to believe in another abstraction.

Well you say, the notion of the devil has existed for thousands of years so there must be some truth there somewhere. Yes, the truth lies in the very early imprints that exist in the unconscious, which drive us unceasingly, and which, perforce we must give it a name—the devil. Yes, there is evil, done by humans, and if we do not know how pain drives us to be cruel, how unfeeling humans can be so bad with others, we remain at a loss to understand.

I understand that the church is training to do exorcisms because there are many shrinks doing training in primal therapy who have no idea what it is, what the science behind it is; where all you have to do is scream, beat the walls and wail. So shrinks, in the name of science and psychology, are doing no more than exorcisms.

I have seen films of exorcisms, and I have seen films of the Holy Rollers who roll on the floor and scream and yell, and then feel better afterwards. I call that abreaction. It is Primal without the feeling and the connection; but it is close. I have seen patients who talk “in tongues;” who babble on and on nonsensically but they get relief. The church says that those who can do that are no doubt possessed. In my groups I have patients get on their knees close, face-to-face, and babble but I want them to through all that to express their real feelings without any words. Within minutes the tears and sobs flow. It is a very good technique. When that fails I get the atheist to get on their knees and pray to God for what they really want; again, tears and sobs….and, real needs and real pain. They say that the ordinary work of the devil is giving in to temptation. It is not the devil, it is pure unresolved need and pain. When my patients feel all of that they are no longer driven to cede to temptation.

All of this, the church claims, is bringing back the old church values and “sanity,” I presume. Pardon me if I disagree.

Monday, November 15, 2010

On the Loss of Freedom

The hallmark of neurosis for me is the loss of freedom; and the impossibility of gaining it back. Because unfulfilled need makes us obsessive and compulsive and deprives us of choice. So we have to drink, take drugs, work so hard, eat so much, unable to rest; you fill in the blanks. We have reduced our choices and narrowed our perspective. We lead more superficial, narrow lives; lives bereft of feeling because feeling has been buried along with our basic need.

We keep having broken relationships, brief rapports, truncated love affairs because we started out in life like that; inconsistent love, sporadic affection, parents leaving. We are prisoners of these patterns because we have no idea as to the why of it all. We are on automation; acting out unthinkingly a continuous, repetitive behavior that we utterly cannot control. It controls us. And what is “it?” Need, deprived need that keeps in the unceasing quest for fulfillment. Always symbolic since it is far too late for love from “them.” So we get it from professors, bosses, partners, foremen, wives, husbands, friends. But we never get it and the task goes on ad nauseum. We never get it because the critical window is closed; it is over, done with, finished. Getting that love is no longer possible; the love as that little baby. That is why some women want sex all of the time. They need to be touched like that baby. It was why some of us seek approval over and over to try to get that tyrannical judgmental parent to see the good in us, and above all to say a simple but evasive sentence; “you are really good.” That simple sentence might avoid a lifetime of seeking approval; but ah no! We first get involved with those very critical people and then try to make them approving. Otherwise it would be too easy. We as neurotics never go straight for love. We take the parental route, circuitous; we re-create our childhood again and then try for love. Ay ay ay. We are prisoners of pain. We create our prison and then spend a lifetime getting out of it. We travel the world over trying to find the real home we never had. We idealize the women we meet and do not see who they really are until reality sets in slowly over much time. Another divorce; locked into divorce and broken relationships. If only we had access to our feelings we could get involved with decent, normal, non-neurotic people and be able to stay and grow old together. We could give our partners love and be able to feel their love. Usually, it is the opposite; we don’t want real love, we want a mother or a father, someone to take care of us, indulge us and give into our whims. When there is no old imprinted need we can stop acting out the past, trying to get something from our history and accept the love that may be there now. If we are totally narcissistic we may want total approval, total indulgence and total acceding to our wishes. That is not always easy to find but the one who is totally into herself or himself never stops trying. And they discard what little love there is for them. They look past love to the struggle, the struggle to get more and more of what no longer exists.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

On Repression as the Master Gland

I have written extensively about repression and its lifelong damaging effects. The more I see of life the more I understand how deleterious repression can be. First of all, we need to understand that for almost every pain there is the commensurate repression. And the earlier and more remote the pains the greater the extent of repression. These pains call into being their antagonist. And the stronger the repression the more likely there will be disease, symptoms and decreased longevity. It is not the pain so much as the consequences of repressing it. We are putting a lid on an enormous force, a force that requires expression. Because the valence of pain is always higher as we descend down the evolutionary chain, later causes of disease can be imputed to our earliest traumas. Remember again, that lack of fulfillment of basic need even from our time in the womb, constitutes a trauma. It doesn’t have to be obvious; in fact, it is the less obvious of traumas that cause the most trouble. Yet they are easy to ignore.

The more life-and-death the experience the heavier the load of repression; and that can lead to an equally castastrophic life-and death affliction. That is why I believe that womb-life and birth trauma contribute heavily to later disease. It is not simply a belief taken out of the air; it is based on decades of observation of patients from many different countries of the world, to say nothing of a passel of related research.

The evidence is mounting that relates early (pre-verbal) traumas to later disease. In my Life Before Birth book I cite dozens of scientific studies that indicate how heart disease, stroke and cancer have their origins during the time we are being carried by our mothers. The investigators do not allude to repression; these are correlation studies—so many traumas at birth, so great the chance of this disease or that. These are statistical truths. We are after a bit more; biologic truths. We want to explain why these symptoms occur later on. What better way than to probe the unconscious of the patient?

What we see is that the earlier the trauma the more exaggerated/inordinate the response. That difficulties in the carrying mother often lead to an ill child—kidney disease, migraines, epilepsy, unable to sit still, anxious, etc. That these afflictions are also accompanied by deviant/neurotic behavior, high agitation levels, lack of concentration and focus, poor sleep and many other signs of overload. Massive repression can lead, in my opinion, to shattering illness such as cancer. I know it will shorten our lives.

OK so we all agree. Now what? We need to lessen the repression. How do we do that? We attack the pain, not “attack,” exactly. We feel it, as mundane as that sounds. Not so easily done since the defense system and repression won’t let it happen. We have to start with evolution in reverse; we feel small current pains, move to childhood, then infancy, then birth and finally, gestation. It is not done overnight. It takes many months, at the very least. But we cannot abrogate the law of nature and of evolution and hope to help patients get well. So rebirthing is out, period. So is forced crying or screaming or batting the walls. In fact, anything forced is wrong. It is gentle process if done right; no one is rushed into great pain. We know that repression sets in automatically because the system could not accept and integrate the early trauma. As the system is more mature we can tolerate more pain but who decides when and where? The patient’s biologic system, of course.

This is wonderful! Nothing to figure out; nothing to foresee, no special goal that we make for the patient. She makes her own goals; and her feelings does it for her. She feels one pain, it triggers off another related pain, and so on. In French it is called an engrenage. It takes time because we arrive at the heaviest pains last, and therefore the most obstinate symptoms or behavioral deviation is resolved last; for it is the very early traumas that pack the most lifelong impact. We can measure that impact through brainwaves and the vital signs, as well as through the biochemistry. We don’t have to guess as to impact; it is right there in the vital signs. We only need to know how to interpret them. So what makes for suicidal tendencies? When we see a reliving for birth or infancy trauma we know. And the patient tells us about its power.

With biologic truth so much is clear. With statistics we have to find a control group and do fancy calculations. And what do we find? A correlation between this set of facts and that set. We don’t really have to think much because the figures tells what we want to know. There is a difference between statistical calculating and real thinking.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Conversion Experience

The conversion experience is an important aspect of belief systems. Due to one cataclysmic event, a person "sees the light" and is inalterably changed. As a rule, this epiphanic moment happens suddenly, converting the individual from a suffering, despairing human being into someone who has found peace and salvation. It is a seemingly magical experience that appears to happen without rhyme or reason.

Many of my patients have talked about their earlier conversions. Things must be going badly — this is the sine qua nonfor the conversion experience. Further, the difficulties must have endured for some time before the defense system begins to crumble. The individual's current situation, compounded with past trauma, becomes more than the person can handle. Suddenly there is breakdown and conversion.

I recall how one patient put it: "I was broke, divorced and alone for some time. One day, sitting in the park alone at dusk, I felt something grab me and I screamed out all to myself, 'I’ve been saved!' What I discovered later in therapy was that I had been saved from a feeling that I was never saved, that my parents let me drown in my misery without so much as batting an eye. They did nothing to help me, turned me out at the age of 15 because I didn't behave, and let me flounder in life through drugs and alcohol without once reaching out to help.”

Naked before this neglect, unloved, alone, she fled into the arms of the mystical, where she no longer felt alone or unloved. Now that she had been saved, she no longer had to feel that there was no one to save her from her childhood hell. She now had renewed hope, the same hope she had lost very early in her life. This was the essence of her conversion; she had converted hopelessness into hope.

Therein lies the paradigm for the conversion experience. I call it a primal crisis. It usually occurs to people when they are in enormous pain or on the brink of it. It is really the snapping point and it occurs when the person can no longer defend. There's nothing else left for her to do but to be "saved" by God.

Very often, when my patients are on the verge of tremendous feelings, particularly the feelings that predate verbal abilities, they begin to shake and tremble enormously; they thrash and writhe as the force of the pain almost lifts them off the ground. One patient, while convulsing violently, screamed out that she felt a "force" shaking her. Finally she cried, "I’ve been saved, I’ve been saved!"

This occurred during a personal crisis, a period of utmost despair and hopelessness. For weeks she had been seriously contemplating suicide. Finally, her conversion experience told why she was suffering so much. By being "born again," she had been "saved" — saved from the discovery that she had absolutely no one in her life, not now, not ever. Her "rebirth" spared her the profound hopelessness that comes with the realization that she was utterly alone in an indifferent universe, that no one loved her.

Why do people tremble and shake while undergoing "religious conversion?” It's really a very short leap from the feeling fueling these convulsions to sensing a new, magical, benevolent force that controls one's destiny. It is childhood pain converted to a belief in childhood magic, the belief that anything is now possible. The form doesn't matter: Jesus, Buddha, Allah, pyramid power, communication with an omniscient seer from centuries past. One is now in another realm, another universe.

What we see in the conversion experience is how pliable feelings are; how easily they are turned into ideas and how those ideas have the strength of feeling. This process is not as freakish as one might imagine, since it aids in survival.

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.