Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Smart People Do Dumb Things

In the news today is the story of a very smart congressman who did something stupid; sending pictures of his body and his private parts to many women(LA Times article). For a public figure to take such a chance, knowing that he risks having millions see his photos (and they did) is stupid; or is it?

So what makes someone take such risks? His marriage and career in the balance. And why doesn’t his smartness kick in and stop him? I mean he loves his wife very much; why ruin the marriage?

Because no one is smarter or stronger than his need.

Need overwhelms any thought almost every time. Why should that be? Because need and its fulfillment always deal with survival, and always derive from very early in our lives when fulfillment was crucial. It is that which mounts and suffuses our critical capacity; no different from hypnosis where someone can suggest we lose that critical capacity and we do. We become Sinatra because we are told to. Or become Nazis because the pressure is there to become them. We lose our critical capacity. The congressman’s need shattered his critical mind.

What was that need? I surely do not know. But I have treated “weeny wavers” (excuse the expression) for years and have seen the motives behind what they do. I often have them do it(exhibit) where it is safe in group; and where afterward they fall into the feeling: “look at me! Pay attention to me. I am important. Please care about me. See me. Want me.” And so on. The penis gets the attention, which is what the person wants. And is often the only way he finds to get that attention. Those are not the only motives but we can be sure that deep unfulfilled need is behind it all. If not, the critical capacity would kick in and stop the act-out. And it is an act-out; acting out a need and feeling that was left over from early in life.

I have written how the right brain feeling areas work in see-saw ways with the upper level frontal cortex, so that when a need/feeling is too much the thinking brain steps in and blocks it. And vice versa, when the thinking brain is weakened, either with drugs or alcohol, or when the person just falls asleep, the feelings see their opening and march upward and forward and usurp thought. But deep need is always stronger than the higher levels. It was this way in evolution where survival was paramount; where feelings guided us to safety.

If the need is not a leftover, chances are, it will not be so strong as to shatter rationality. So here is a very rational and brilliant man, and yet he acts dumb. Because his need drives him toward “symbolic” fulfillment wherever that leads him. It guides him, not his rational mind which has taken a vacation for a while.

Let me say that need/feelings are always smart and they drive symbolic behavior to remind us of leftover lack of fulfillment. It keeps the gap alive. Paradoxically, they make us act dumb because we are acting out in the present needs from long ago. They are inappropriate now, but were appropriate back then. Always think “back then.” But those needs never disappear. They remain and make us act out in accordance with what they are and were. One man acted out with his penis, “be happy to see me,” something his mother never was. And the women he flashed were NEVER happy to see him but that never stopped him from trying. He needed a caring mother who was so depressed that she never even looked at him. She stared at the floor all of the time. The need is expressed differently depending on the circumstances of the deprivation. And who did it. If our congressman could have laid down and felt his need/feeling he would not have acted out.


  1. Art, I found this article extremely easy to read and understand. Well done.

  2. Jack if every competent primal therapist was able to train two competent therapists, they would multiply exponentially to make primal therapy securely established so that there would be no chance of it disappearing. The future of primal therapy would be guaranteed.
    This is not an unrealistic dream. We can start this chain reaction right now. It is absolutely possible, and probable, if we can get enough students.

  3. I really feel sorry for this guy. And I was also very moved by the compassion with which Dr Janov analysed this man's dilemma. It is tragic that he not only has this compulsion, but is now also being exposed to widespread public ridicule and condemnation.


  4. Come dream a new world with me
    Where you and I dance furiously free
    Run naked in the wild grasses
    Make time heavy with sense as she passes
    Sing praise songs to the wind
    Forge a new land where we've never sinned
    There is a place beyond hurt
    Where creation's dreaming stirred up more than dirt
    A universe reflected inside a single tear
    Oh precious tear that spills away war and fear
    Come dream a new world with me
    And glad that you could only be
    Son of the salt of the earth
    Caressing, untying knots of pain in this momentous birth

  5. Hi Art ,would lying down and feeling my d e s i r e not to be alone have kept to save the money and stay at home .
    Or was it was it wiser to drive to town ?. Yours emanuel

  6. Emmanuel: Hey I am not a counselor and I never make long distance recommendations. Otherwise, do what is wise. AJ

  7. Richard: What constitutes being a competent therapist, and how long does it take to gain competency? I sense that this is something Art has been contemplating for a long time. Why, I ask, is it not obvious what Art has being saying and writing about for years in the world out there? It is a subjective experience, not an objective one. Science, by it's nature is objective.

    My take, for what it is worth, is that there are only two kinds of people that 'understand' (in the real sense of that word) the message. The first are the obvious ones that are in such great pain and have tried almost everything else and the Primal notion is all that is left and makes sense. The other are those that have had a re-living of an old feeling from childhood and had a 'eureka' moments. This group, I feel, is very rare.

    I get the feeling, though I could be wrong, that you Richard feel it can be explained (cognitively) and that it will be grasped. To me, the only ones that 'grasp it' are those that have a feeling experince that makes total sense of it. Others, as I see it, just pass it off as a maybe a good idea, but too difficult to put into practice, specially in the way we currently deal with things. A nice idea, but alas just that; an idea.


  8. Hi Jack,

    When I read The Primal Scream in 1984 I was convinced I needed help but had no idea that psychotherapy is such a hotch potch of differing ideas and theories. I assumed Primal would be in any psychotherapy.

    Once in one of these other psychotherapies unless one has already been through a great deal of self reflection and received much guidance and studied a fair bit one becomes controlled by the "transference" and keeps coming back for more, the hope for cure ever driving us on but cure of what?

    My body work therapist certainly helped me get to my feelings but he himself (in his nice room for one hour) had no way of taking me where Primal needs to go. I couldn't perform for him nor myself. He's a nice guy though. . .

    There are many people in half effective therapies like this; do they know better? Both therapist and they may have even read the Primal Scream or know of the ideas but how does that fit into the 50 min hr?.

    As long as most peoples' gates are not blown or leaking then the combination of some witnessing by the therapist and their willing belief in the process keeps most patients in an enticing re-invention of their personalities. . . I must be making progress because I keep coming back for more.

    Occasionally one gets to meet post CBT patients who are 'cured' and 'living their new lives'. There's one particular person I know whom I find hard to be with because they seem so conditioned and false, their patter is predictable and their behaviour unbelievably controlling and dismissive.

    I was also re-invented by/in psychosynthesis ten years ago. All that achieved was another new set of defences whilst I acted out my fathers' wishes (again) by trying to be the successful businessman (but doing my own thing). The "time" the therapist let me take (client lead) simply allowed me to expose my hidden agenda to the therapist but remain immersed in my defences.

    I probably fall into your first category, what do you mean by eureka moment because I have old flash backs. . ? They get stronger the more I cry for my mum.

    Paul G.

  9. An email comment:
    "Dear Art,

    I thought you would be interested in this article. It's quite an interesting finding. Having lived in NYC for a very long time, I can attest to the fact that city living can be quite stressful---much as I love NYC. But, of course, it's not as stressful as the old imprints are! Nothing beats that.

    I am an old patient and trainee, and miss the Center. I had intended to come back for more therapy and training. But I have been battling Late Stage Neurological Lyme Disease (and other associated Tick-Borne Diseases). This battle is taking everything I've got, unfortunately.

    I am following your blog, which is great though. As always, you were right on about the Weiner debacle and Strauss-Khan. I had high hopes for Weiner, as I did for Eliot Spitzer. It's quite sad that these bright, impassioned guys have flamed out with the scandals. If only we would pay more attention to the good that they do instead of the sex scandals . . . Strauss-Kahn is another matter, though.

    My best to you, to France, and to the staff, I wish I could be there.

    How City Living Stresses the Brain - Yahoo! News


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.