Wednesday, May 25, 2011

On Incest

You asked me to write on incest but I think I already did months ago. I have treated a number of prostitutes, including one in France who was the daughter of a Nazi officer. Nearly all of the prostitutes had incest as a child. Of all the women psychotics I have treated a good ninety percent of them had incest very young. There is nothing more devastating than incest for a woman. Also for boys but that is very very rare. I have seen one case; he was in great pain but not psychotic. In incest the person who is supposed to be your protector becomes the danger, and since the mother is nearly always complicit in this crime, and it is a serious crime, the child has no place to turn. She keeps it all in to horrendous effects. It is not less a crime when person of the church, those holy beings, commit it. The result a lifelong misery. No amount of money or apologies will help. It can mean I am helpless and hopeless not worth anything, not worthy of proper love---worthless. There are many reasons they turn to prostitution but they learn soon that their only key role in life is to serve and to be abused. They come to expect it and lead lives of great danger as a result. And worse, the mothers, glad to be relieved of sexual importuning, blame the child for seducing the father; as if a young child could ever think of that or calculate such behavior. So the pain is doubled: they are abused and then blamed for it. How can anyone survive it? And of course, several of my patients were warned that if they told they would be killed.

The amount of pain this all leads to is beyond imagination; it takes months and months of reliving before they can even get to it. It is most often deeply buried. Do not think that any other therapy that avoids feeling the pain can even touch the problem. We have films of some of these women reliving incest. It will be shown in some months. You cannot begin to imagine what happens to these girls. The fury they feel, pounding the walls for months on end. And of course they are usually into drinks and alcohol because of their pain. My German girl did not crack up until her father abandoned her for her younger sister. She was a severe alcoholic, coming to sessions dead drunk. I had to discharge her because she was too drunk to benefit from sessions. She needed in-house therapy, something we cannot do. Churches who allow abusive behavior are nothing more than a criminal enterprise. If any other groups, not religious, did the same thing there would be an outcry for prison for them. Religion covers a multitude of sins.

The girls are forced to keep the terrible secret inside until they literally explode, their thinking crashes; they are often ADD as that pain keeps bubbling up interrupting thinking. One girl who I wrote about, starting hallucinating on the street. She was a former patient who now realized something bad was happening. She came back and opened up to her incest which was totally unconscious. The amount of pain she was carrying around was enormous; no wonder she was barely functional. Of course many of girls become lesbians; men are dangerous and to be avoided. The avoid pain by avoiding anything that reminds them of men. Will medication help? Of course. But it helps repress. Is that what we want? The pain needs to be expressed, in small titrated doses.

We do not want these women to be overwhelmed. So we go slow and never enter that area until the patient is ready for it. When they finally get there they cannot wait to relive it; they know that they are finally going to eliminate their suffering. To be rid of the pain you have to feel it; there is nothing else we can do.


  1. I thought this was an engaging and superbly written post. I hope people pass it around, online.

  2. Makes sense. Yet I find myself getting angry.


    I'm not sure.

    I know whenever I hear feminists claim that rape is the worst thing in the world, something that rapists should be KILLED for doing, I get angry. When I tell them the largest group of rape victims are males in prison, they tend to laugh. As if imprisoned men SHOULD be raped as a sort of "punishment-plus" even if they were jailed for shoplifting.

    I'm not saying raping females is "good." I'm just wondering why male suffering must pale by comparison.

    Maybe I'm reacting to the fact that my mother's bipolarity trumped all other family members' problems...including mine.

    I also bristle at the "zero sum" presentation of pain. Just because men don't act out their suffering the same way women do can't mean guys' pains are lesser. Just like a loudly crying woman might just be abreacting.

    Current gender politics pushes the idea that men's lives are easier...and that real men don't cry. How then is a modern male to even READ about Primal Therapy if he's told feelings will unman him?

    Again, I'm not arguing with Art, just noticing my reactions.

    Feminism said it was about equality, yet seems hellbent on boxing men in more and more. One result is breast cancer getting much much more funding for research than prostate cancer, though both kill at similar rates. So how much of that is due to men, shamed to not show feelings, soon forgetting they have any? Males who then shame other men for "bellyaching" about having a "sore ass"...chortling about how THEY'd never have a finger shoved up THEIR butts for "no steenking rectal exam!"

    I don't know. Maybe I'm also reacting to "women and children first" rules that make men tertiary beings. And how the loudest yellers in my faux Primal therapy got all the if my and others' feelings didn't matter as much.

    Why do societies "understand" female act-outs while punishing/shaming men for theirs? Would a woman arrested for prostitution be abused as much in prison as a male arrested for "waving his penis" in public?

    Again, I'm just sharing feelings (or thoughts about feelings) that bubbled up. I'm not trying to downplay female suffering. I just wish male pains were accorded equal respect and seriousness...getting similar help.

  3. Off topic (sort of)

    Art, what do you think about the effect of metyrapone described in this excerpt from current news?

    "Recalling painful memories while under the influence of the drug metyrapone reduces the brain’s ability to re-record the negative emotions associated with them, according to University of Montreal researchers at the Centre for Studies on Human Stress of Louis-H. Lafontaine Hospital. The team’s study challenges the theory that memories cannot be modified once they are stored in the brain."

  4. Dr. Janov,

    Another side of incest:

    Some of the victims revealed the secret, that they have sex with every man who shows kindness. One told me, “that this is how I understand love” – “this is how my father loved me”.

    Others withdraw from sex completely. They let marital sex “happen” (because they must fulfill their duty) and barely can wait (each time) “until he is finished”.

    One victim from Russia told me, nearly every mother there tells her daughter, “if you get raped by anyone (incest is very common), you better enjoy it, because nobody cares”.

  5. May I cut in, Nick?

    I don't think the brain ever changes a memory - it changes the wiring around it. Memories don't change in themselves, our reactions to them change.

    A repressed memory will lead to a painful reaction once recalled or part-recalled. The reaction to the memory will be *as though* it was being experienced in the present. For example you might have a terror reaction in response to an old birth memory even though you are no longer under threat (so very irrational).

    Once the memory is integrated the conscious response becomes rational. The old memory will not then lead to a terror response. You will remember *that* you were terrified but you will not feel terrified - integration.

    The neurotic system is basically an "emotional autopilot", and it can only be shut off through conscious integration.

  6. Dear Art ,some naive and rhetoric questions :why on earth does something like "love" lead to such devastating effect resp. behaviour ?
    Is it intrinsicin the biological act ,The "will" to procreate at any costs?
    Or just another case of Primal Pains in action
    All the tortureres throughout the ages would "they " have been able commit their crimes without this seual (?) feelings(?)
    Yours emanuel

  7. Andrew: Could I say it better myself? NO

  8. Emmanuel: Hey. try again. This is not clear. AJ

  9. A facebook comment:
    "There are so many gems here.. tho 'the person who is supposed to be your protector becomes the danger' is also true of less abusive/violent forms of parental treatment. I agree with you, incest is absolutely horrendous and unimaginable. I wonder how anyone can stand it, I imagine psychosis a normal response. Art, wondering if you'd every consider working within an in-patient setting? Would you be open to it if they (psych ward) wer open to you?? I would like to know your thoughts on this. Jacquie"

  10. Another facebook comment:
    "God, there is so much in this... I fear it goes over most people's heads, perhaps you want to consider 'hashing' it out a bit Art? (Sorry, I don't want to act as your editor, lol). What is this connection btwn sexual arousal and such triggering? I don't really understand, but I too know it to be true. I had a dream last nite that blew my head off. Graphically volatile. It completely felt like it was of as I was being conceived; yet I was also another party in it; there felt terrific danger, and yes, I would say I met the conditions you describe. But I don't want to go into it too much as this is facebook. I can't believe you are doing this work. Thank 'god'. x x x"

  11. An email comment:
    " thanks a lot for those lines. I ordered El grito primal especially for this friend of mine (she's from Colombia). She has started the book in french but keeps on reading it very slowly .I guess it's too painfull for her, she underlines almost every words. she cries a lot. We had an argument last week. A lots of triggered feelings in both of us. She says very hurtfull thinks sometimes. She's craving (?) to live with an old rich man who will "save her" from prostitution but she breaks up every three years because she can't help going back to prostitution. She says she's ambitious and that she needs to work. One day she told me crying that she had enough of looking for love with her clients and the next day it's the most beautiful and helpfull job in the world. I'm sad I cannot help her. I like her a lot but it seems that this times things have turn too bad. Faithfully yours."

  12. Nick: Can you send me the whole article, then I will comment. AJ

  13. Another email comment: " You are a heart of kindness. I wish this world would put more investment in you. It seems to me that neurosis itself is abuse, abuse of the "kid" in yourself and others, and also an abuse of the "infant" in oneself and others. Abuses of our emotional selves and our physical selves, men who slug each other in the arm rather than give a hug, trying to see how much pain they can inflict in contests, ignoring the physical needs of others and ourselves, statements made and faces made that harm the emotional child in ourselves and others. They say "as you give you will receive", it is also true that as we "receive so shall we give", and unless we feel our pain we can't forgive from the heart, and we can never repent from the heart until we have forgiven from the heart. The heart, the feeling, is what rules. We are even abusive in terms of demanding repentance first, or forgiveness before the pain of what has happened has been felt.
    Where I am wrong please attend and reply. I like to learn."

  14. Nick: Hey I await to receive the full article but in my new book I discuss methylation where you add or substract part of the methyl group and you can reverse the pain and trauma. You can get an animal that was abused and when methyl is added (or subtracted) he acts normal. I wonder if what y ou write is part of methylation. art janov

  15. Hi Art.

    Here's a link to the whole article:

  16. Hi Art.

    Here's a link to the whole article about metyrapone on sciencedaily

  17. Thanks for a succinct wrap up of a lifelong ordeal that is set in motion by betrayal early in life.

    I know the horror of which you speak so clearly. In real life it is a daily - sometimes even a minute by minute - ordeal. I have struggled with the overwhelming feelings that "feel " so real, so overwhelming - yet are but symbolized act outs of the original, imprinted betrayal.

    At the same time, I was trying to feel enough pain in small titrated doses so as to keep the therapy advancing.

    I believe more boys may be subject to the same abusive betrayal than your clinical experience has yet shown. Perhaps not so close as to the numbers represented by women. But certainly far, far more than as you say, "for boys... that is very, vey rare."
    Perhaps what is rare is that few boys ever enter therapy - they will act out these pains.

    In my case,it was not my mother, it was performed by step grandfather. As I struggled for many decades with the "slow" pace of feeling such intense, agonizing pain, I felt both the pleasure of knowing that I was leaving behind a sordid, sad, and unspeakable past. But at the same, time the pace of healing felt too slow. I wanted to become more "real" faster than my body allowed. For years, I was as you say in one of your book titles, "a Prisoner of Pain."

    I had to learn to respect my body's chosen pace, and live within that pace - no matter how slow and how imprisoned I felt.

    You also state that, "the mother is nearly always complicit."
    In my case, yes. And, many years later, she confided openly to me about her suspecting that "something was going on."

    FYI. Is it just coincidence? Our family was raised in a staunch, highly disciplined catholic tradition. One of my uncles was a monseignor in the Catholic church. Which begs another question, does this pattern of abuse which I experienced persist more in certain religious sub cultures?

    I am happy to report that however, long it takes, - decades in my case - feeling works.

    Thank you for your first book, The Primal Scream, and thank you for your therapy, and thank you for your unending effort to get the primal message and the cure out there into the light of day. Your efforts bring more than hope to a sick world - you bring a cure and the chance to recover a real life.

  18. Hi Art my point: why is sexuality so "corruptible"
    - something that was "meant" to bring two strangers together to bring a new human beeing
    into existence ?
    I know every single biological drive can be perverted but why "love" has so horrible
    effects done to the most innocent victims,when it was meant to "support" life.And not for example to help.. torturers "doing their job"
    I hope I have made myself a bit more clear?..
    Yours emanuel

  19. Nick: I suppose there are all kinds of ways to interfere with our reactions to pain. Is that good? To deviate reality, to make us robots, unfeeling? We are supposed to have a stress response to harmful stimuli. I will study it more. thanks for the info. art

  20. Anonymous: you are welcome. It is why I write. art

  21. As a woman incest'd by both her parents, I wanted to share that it was primal therapy that enabled my recovery. Its been the only thing that facilitated access to my pain. Today Im still dealing with the aftermath, but the "new" vinuettes/flashbacks (at least to my conscious mind) do not paralyse me with fear. I can ride through them, assurred, on reflection, that it is today, by virtue of my courage to heal, safe enough for me to witness these movies and let go. Also, Im finally coping without alcohol. Its not all roses, I do wonder if I will ever be able to trust myself enough to trust another in order to have the life partner I desire. But there have been many gifts from overcoming this adversity;- Iam highly intuitive/psychic, an empathic healer, have helped others in their recovery from incest/dysfunctional families. I re-claimed my relationship with Spirit. To anyone mid-way, just starting or thinking of engaging primal therapy, its worth the pain, sweat and tears. In the darkness, a re-birthing occurs, and then come the insights. In the surrender to the process, its like remembering how to breath again, you give yourself the gift of feeling again. There are differences for men and women in recovery, and these needs must be met, but ultimately, the victory of the human spirit over adversity is the same.

  22. Dr. Janov,
    May I present an awareness from the inside regarding the subject of Incest and Rape that repeats itself presently in my life.

    In 1992-93, I wrote about my childhood abuse and included some incidents of incest and rape. It was the fact that I wrote these accounts in my native language that prevented me from revealing the whole truth. However, I was fascinated by the fact that less pain emerged when I translated the same scenes into English.

    English as a second language distance, helped me to look at the life-scenes from a different angle, one less threatening.
    While I was writing some of the individual episodes of incest and rape in German, it felt like I was standing in person in front of a fire – I smelled the smoke, saw the red and yellow flames and felt the heat; the translation however, distanced me. I saw each horror-scene like a paper-picture – no smell, no heat, no smoke. The pain was lessened or almost gone.

    Another discovery was, while writing in deep emotional pain, my left hand was faster than my right hand – so I made many typing errors. Further, my sentences displayed the vocabulary of the age-time I was in, when the rapes took place.

    Two weeks ago I applied in Germany for a victims-compensation. This application demands a full description in German of all 36 rapes and the incest I endured before I was 14 years old. Now the life-scenes, the full feeling of horror is back, but less potent. Something has changed:. I no longer feel worthless. I no longer fear the perpetrators, nor do feel like a victim. It seems that emotional writing, addressing the terror this way, connects the right and the left-brain and solves some painful feelings in the process.

    What is your take on writing down what you can’t say?

    Thank you for your answer,

  23. Sieglinde: I never really knew what exactly you went through but it sounds horrendous. good luck. art janov

  24. Dr. Janov

    Thank you for your empathy.

    Do you believe it is possible that we can primal (the second line), while writing about the experience of abuse?

    Scenes of my childhood experience are published at:


  25. Reading these kind of thing really makes you angry,this is a kind of a problem that can be only solved by the person who is getting abused.I am no expert in psychology but no matter what u think the results gonna be you should speak up.Also it can be prevented by making it mandatory to teach students about child abuse from grade 1.

  26. Thanks for this interesting post. Incest severely disturbs a child, who not only loses themselves in the process but loses support from those who should be protecting instead of using and abusing them. After having been through the agonising pain of recovery one of the most damning parts is the response of the family who demands the victim remain silent for fear of wrecking the sacred family system. Trust, intimacy and faith in human nature are profoundly damaged along the way. The fact that the victim continues to pay - literally and emotionally for years adds to the despair. Few therapists cope with the rage and pain and turbulent feelings needing to be expressed to find relief. The majority love the idealisation phase where they are positioned as a wise saviour, but hate the psychotic transference when the patient lashes out at them instead of railing their hatred and bile at the original offender. In retrospect, victims of incest are left powerless and overwhelmed by a host of intense and painful emotions, and the healing process hurts. If only their terror of the original abuser was not so great that they could rail at them instead. Maybe then the abuser would be able to feel remorse and understand the impact of their sick choice. Their victim ends up imprisoned instead of the offender. And then the victim is despised and shunned for being out of control as they struggle to regain balance. Unfortunately society still values the family unit over the rights of the individual and victims experience the double-bind of appearing odd for daring to pull away from their family as this challenges the norm. The system designed to support them actually works to destroy them. Go figure. At the head of such a system are sick individuals driven by the desire for power not love. It takes a while to accept that parents can hate and exploit the ones they claim to love, but still want social recognition and validation as good and worthy citizens for being a family. Maybe the definition of family needs to be deconstructed or rewritten to include basic entitlement for all members instead of outrageous entitlement for a few select members who prey upon the weaker ones.


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.