Saturday, January 1, 2011

Language as Anesthesia 2

In our evolution we had the brain stem and limbic structures to handle outside danger. But our neuro-physiology in all of its wonder also “decided” how to handle internal danger: our stored feelings. There seemed to be a migration of cells upward and forward to develop a neocortex that could not only deal with outside menace but from inside, as well. “Deal with” is perhaps an exaggeration because what that new (neo) cortex does is suppress feelings. It also connects them to where they should finally go for full consciousness. But for the moment let’s concentrate on the menace. Thoughts evolved in part to anesthetize feelings. Ay ay ay. Could that be true? Do we have an internal anesthetic that the brain produces? Of course, it is the basis of nearly all pain-killers and tranquilizers that mimic the chemicals we produce inside of us.

So what happened? Well we went from the primtive nervous system to an higher order affair; from instincts to thoughts and beliefs, and those beliefs also are wonderful anesthetics. Witness all of the religions and cults. I was thinking about this when I watched TV the other day and saw the ads; almost all were for painkillers, Aleve, aspirin, Tylenol ad nauseum. Everyone seems to be hurting and almost everyone believes. Is that an accident? A strange coincidence? Don’t think so. Some of us take our painkillers straight; others go to India to find some belief system. So many actually think that some guy in India knows all the secrets of the universe. Nobody does. You know that an expert is a guy from out of town. The further we go, the more we expect from the “expert.” So allow me to repeat: no one in the world knows more about life than you do. All of those secrets of your life lies just below the top anesthetizing level. All you need is access, and you will become the expert you wanted from that guy in India. We actually need that “guy” or “girl” because we are so driven by our unconscious that it is all a mystery; for that we need an expert. Actually, I am that guy and I am not in India; I am in Santa Monica, as mundane and prosaic as that seems. The reason I am that guy is I can help you with access to your unconscious. I can help you find yourself and your own answers. I can never find your secrets out of my own brain. That would be ridiculous; and oh yes, you think a shrink knows those answers? Guess again, and I underline “guess.” You are buying that guy in India again only now he is in Beverly Hills in a nice suit. If he doesn’t help you with access, he is of no use.

I know I went to those shrinks for battle fatigue or whatever they called it in those days. And we did dream analysis. Ridiculous. I know how ridiculous it is, because I practiced it for years. When I discovered Primal I called many of those patients back and told them I was wrong and I think I have it right now. Some came back and some didn’t. They thought they were fine.

So here we have a feeling system, the amygdala, hippocampus and other structures, and over time some of those wily little cells began to migrate and they formed its antithesis; a pure dialectic. They formed the anti-feeling; not to be confused with the anti------. And the circuits leading upward were much more robust and numerous than the circuits from the cortex to the limbic system. Now we go to a cognitive/insight therapist who insists that the new insights and changed ideas they help you with can change those feelings; when everything in neurology militates against it. It is far easier for feelings to mount up there than for ideas to go downward and put down feelings. Still we try, and when we cannot, we use painkillers that simply add to what the brain already produces to shut down pain. Don’t forget that past feelings and needs are engraved into our nerve circuits; we are not going to eradicate them so easily. And they are not meant to be eradicated, in any case.


  1. Art: Language as Anesthesia 2; This, to me, is one of your best blogs and says a lot about what I have been trying to say with respect to language and thinking along with those loftier thoughts; 'ideas'.

    I loved the last line: "... we are not going to eradicate them so easily. And they are not meant to be eradicated, in any case." Agreed: just brought into the consciousness ... from which they should never have left, had we not been damaged. Jack

  2. Thank you Dr. Janov,

    This is what I was waiting for.

    More of such explanation and education is needed - why trauma never dissolves itself with cognitive therapy, hypnosis or analysis.
    Please continue on this very important road. I’m waiting for every line.

  3. Hi,
    I'm also struck by your observation that the brain "sparks up" in the morning in the order of evolution. I am experiencing non verbal awaking followed by feelings and that's when I'm completely breaking down with the grief of my abandonment issues. Then eventually my thinking mind kicks in and I can overcome my feelings. . . with the help of coffee and other things.

    The same in reverse in the evenings. . . for about a year or more now I have been self primalling. I thought at first when I read your blog that it might be ab-reaction because at first there were no memories to speak of or think about. Then I realised (thanks to more of yours and patients words) that memory doesn't necessarily take the shape of images or words.

    I was incarcerated in a boarding school for about 5 years of my childhood, so I learned to repress feelings of abandonment and rejection twice daily, two hundred times (or more) every year for five years. . . All I can muster is a vague image/feeling of not being able to sleep at night and missing my Mum in one of the several dormitories. Any-way, the feelings are really powerful and now that my fancy belief systems are all shredded and on their way to the recycling centre I can sense the force of my grief all the time.

    I need some advice about self primalling because currently and for the foreseeable future I have no other alternative. Luckily I do have a very nice Teddy who has been with me since I was 5yrs old. I was wondering if I could send him to your Primal Centre for training? He's very good at listening and appears not to have any strange belief systems.

    I can see many strange belief systems in my friends and I wonder what they're holding back. Most of all I can see a particularly powerful belief in what some of the intellectuals call logic. I have noticed logic can explain anything anyway it likes. That's gotta be the most powerful defence mechanism there is. Most of the people who believe in logic seem to get very angry or defensive if and when their logic proves flawed or doesn't add up. I used to be like that.

    Many many thanks to all contributers to this really important blog and most of all to you Doc.


  4. Dear Dr Janov,

    your post reminds me of a documentary about human evolution. They said that our pre human ancestors started to develop an heavier brain in order to deal with a very stressfull environnement (draughts, earthquakes, floodings...)in that specific region of Africa where human history started. Then pre human moved nearly everywhere over millions of years. They were able to settle down in almost all kind of environment because of that brain. What made us survived as a species might kill us as well (as individuals and as a species).

  5. So ... it doesn’t matter what Einstein explains with his theory of relativity ... or what Arthur Janov explains with his primal therapy ... we understand it all on our own terms. The difference between Janov and Einstein is that by Janov "theory" we can involuntarily begin to “understand” what he says and that's when we have our anxiety and depression attacks... the need of love shows itself in painful memories… while Einstein's theory continues to be an intellectual question.

    We understand Janov through the pain that leaks through in reaction of shame... hatred and fear. With Einstein we need to remain in our heads about the mathematical calculations... but it’s certainly a lot easier to embrace if we are not hindered by the emotional relations... relations to how we "understans" Einsteins context.
    We have a problem… how shall we understand something… when something is what we do to not feel. To understand has become our culture's "task"... a man’s tragedy. If we didn’t understand we would have no choices… we would feel. If we could start with what primal therapy explains it would be “haven” sake.


  6. Languages as anesthesia

    I am a living example of that you are the guy, who can help us find the access to our unconscious. How did I find you? By insights and marketing!!! When I read the Primal Scream, I got my first insights. The general interpretation of an insight comes from the Greek word noesis and is the act or result of understanding the inner nature of things or of seeing intuitively.

    I know that you are skeptical about marketing. Nonetheless, the Primal Scream was an excellent example of marketing and fulfilled perfectly the interpretation of an insight in marketing:
    “Insights are most effective when they are/do one (or more) of the following:

    1. Unexpected
    2. Create a disequilibria
    3. Change momentum
    4. Exploited via a benefit that your brand/therapy can deliver.”

    However, Primal Therapy, was, and even more now, is up against serious gigantic competitors (operating in oligopolies) like, for example, the pharmaceutical industry and the cognitive therapy treatment. This is caused by the fact that the society needs efficient and rapid solutions, even if they develop side effects and shorten our lives.

    I needed Primal Therapy to be able to stay alive today. At he same time, I needed as well the pharmaceutical products as I needed the physical structural integration of the Rolfing. Maybe I was lucky to have developed epilepsy? If I tried alcohol and drugs the triggered seizures, like sex, coffee, and sugar, and if I tried cigarettes, I developed asthma. My dope was languages and, by mental preparation, to be one step ahead of my surroundings. I needed over the years to find an equilibrium to loosen my fascia in my body structure and gradually to quit the painkilling rat poison, Tegretol, which prevented my seizures. By following the Primal Principal, I could start to feel the original pain and resolve my neurosis (the use of this word now almost eradicated by DSM).

    There exist a proverb “If you can’t beat them, join them”. The problems of P.T. are often blamed on a few suspects/issues. It is tempting to think that we can solve the problems of P.T. by tackling these issues. But we cannot. These issues reflect basic human motives and are unavoidable.

    However, the same motives drive us forward. P.T. must establish itself as a credible player and must build alliances. It must recognize the need for other elements in the treatment.

    P.T. is complicated and must constantly develop repeatable, quality, auditable processes for its treatment.

    Passion for the therapy and it’s process. People are motivated by an inherent interest in the human body and brain and the quality of life. An organization that encourages this passion will benefit from a general respectability. Be it in California, India, Sweden or wherever we look.

    Jan Johnsson

    In 1492 when Columbus made landfall in the Caribbean, he believed he had reached the East Indies. Hence the name Indians of the original inhabitants of America was born.

  7. Life Before Birth will not be out until June 2011. Sorry we have been editing for what seems like 2 years. AJ

  8. An email comment:

    Art, Thanks for writing this. I always think when watching commercials, for drugs, or for that matter anything, how advertisers learn to use emotional pain to their advantage. They almost always try hard to bring up emotional pain, then offer a defense for that pain for sale. The pattern is, bring up the pain sell the defense. I suppose that if they didn't offer a defense for sale, and instead offered the connection, commercials would have an entirely un intended outcome. I think it was Marshall McLuhan who realized that news and T.V. Content were meant to be somewhat depressing, and the products for sale were meant to be the good news, or a way out of feeling bad. On the other hand, it's been my experience that addicts often talk, about their childhood, especially when high. The expression crying in your beer, has a meaning for many addicts. Few people ever find out what addicts are really crying about, usually underneath it all it's primal pain.

  9. I had some thoughts after reading Jan Johnsson’s post.

    PT seems to be fraught with dangers. So much so that only 2 people on earth are qualified to teach it. It seems most not guided by these, end up often doing tremendous harm. That being the case, this therapy is no easy matter. Lots of navigation rocks beneath the water. Perils when unleashing such primal forces.

    So now the question arises, is PT just too much for many? Out of reach? Inaccessible? Is there any possible compromise? Johnsson made the suggestion: “However, the same motives drive us forward. P.T. must establish itself as a credible player and must build alliances. It must recognize the need for other elements in the treatment.”

    I tend to think he may be right. While PT may be in good hands with Dr. Janov and Co., it may also be too restrictive to become widespread. And I do think it needs to become more widespread, though how much more I can not quantify. But perhaps just enlightening people in their current state might help them adjust treatments to be more helpful. Maybe we need a different view of drugs. Maybe there are many things that need a 2nd look. But surely it can not go on being so small and out of reach of the majority.

    An email also made me think. Our world encourages lies. We are told that this or that will make us happy, or that life is simple to solve if silly sitcoms were to be believed. And of course, the solution is to make more money, by this drug, buy this or that. How bout a new car to lift your spirits? Lots of lies for sale and little truth. Could this be part of the problem.

    I know some here do not like the thought process. They don’t trust it. Many are fooled by the inner brain. But this thought process is what brings many to PT to begin with. It is just that the world does not cultivate or encourage good thinking.

  10. I was an addict and had the damndest difficulty trying not to talk about my childhood, which kept wanting and threatening to come up, and which I have spent my entire life trying to ignore completely. So....yes, I remember it being just what you say in your comment of the 3rd January. And so, one just swallows another few somethings! Its wonderful, but difficult not being an addict now with much wanting to come out and nought with which to really 'get away from it'- which somehow was so, and yet confusedly for me is difficlt to understand!

  11. PG: your teddy can do your therapy but no one else. He won't make the mistakes that everyone else makes, including talking too much, acting smart, giving insights, blah blah. art

  12. Karen I wish to hell we had government support for you all. I don't believe in private profit in health and as you may know I have offered to therapy to several countries: no takers. art janov

  13. Apollo: I don't lie and if I were good at selling the therapy I would be rich. Do you really want a diluted therapy that can harm people? I do not compromise on what I know to be real and true. I am no good at marketing. Isn't it enough to make this discovery? art janov

  14. Yes it's enough Art to make the discovery.

    I notice people often talk as though the world is screwed if we don't advance PT. Can I give my fundamental outlook?

    Humanity has been in a state of serious mass-neurosis for probably longer than recorded history. We will continue to be infested with it for probably 100-200 years to come, and with all the pains and horrors that come with that fact. Without people like Janov then we could say more like 200-300 years to come?

    Alas - so be it. This is the age we live in, and that cannot be changed - not in our lifetimes. We can do our bit and our best. Our efforts are important, in fact critical. But they will not have an impact overnight, they will simply help to get very slow-moving balls rolling. But they will roll.
    With the advancement of critical knowledge we will, in time, clean our human selves up.

    We can't expect PT to change the world in itself - it won't. It's the knowledge of what screws us up that is so valuable, in terms of long-term projections.

  15. Andrew Atkin is so right when he writes that humanity has been in a serious state of mass neurosis for at least recorded history...I don't even read history books anymore...what's the point , reading about insanity? What puzzles me is what happenned to humanity way back when, losing touch with our fundamental humanity and developing social systems wrought with massacres, inequality, mental illness? I know that every major thinker that I have admired has pondered these questions, like Wilhelm Reich who wrote that he felt that he was stepping out of patterns that were 4000-5000 years old as he was making his discoveries. And Erich Fromm addresses all these questions in his book "The Anatomy of Human Destructiveness", with a realisticly optimistic prognosis for the long term.

    I can understand those people like Freud and Christians who think man is inherently messed up or "evil". I don't beleive it, but why then such neuroses on such a mass scale? And can it be reversed?

  16. "I know I went to those shrinks for battle fatigue... And we did dream analysis. "

    So, were you aware of the anecdotal stories of soldiers claiming to have reexperinced birth episodes under drug influence when being treated for battle fatigue (or shell shock)?


  17. Hi Art! No, I am not in favor of diluting so much but yes, I see a certain amount of promotion as maybe needed. Not over the top over inflated promotion, based on exaggeration and lies. But something that will perhaps get more to see what is going on. Most people are totally unaware that they are deceiving themselves.

    No one will win over leaders or academics. It must be the common man subjugated by those above them, that need to understand why they are being beaten on and held down. And the answer is not rebellion or politics, or science (so called). It is PT. But before they can accept PT, they really do need to know how they are constantly sabotaging themselves and who they continually do harm to others without realizing it.

    What is at stake? Oh, just wait a few more years and we are all going to find out. Can you Say more BP pollution? Genetically modified Foods, toxins throughout the environment? Mass programming and conditioning, I mean, education?
    More draconian laws and oppressive employers and business tactics? We are heading into a brick wall. If something does not change very soon, its as good as gone.

    Ever seen a train wreck type of person? They either reform or end up dead like my brother. I guarantee it. that PT has not reached any substantial gains in 40 years is not insignificant. The hand writing is on the wall.


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.