Tuesday, September 27, 2011

An Examination of Psychoanalysis (Part 3/13)

Freud's Second Model of the Mind: A Tripartite System

By 1914, Freud had reformulated his view of repression. He had originally conceived of the process as occurring in a simple and straightforward manner: the ego was the agent of repression, and the unconscious was the receiver of the repressed material. Now he contended that "a special psychical agency" was responsible for repression, which he called ego ideal, so named because it contained the ego's ideals, and had as its tasks repression, morality, conscience, censorship, etc. By 1923 Freud had changed the name of his new agency to superego, thus establishing his famous tripartite model of the mind.
In a nutshell, this model classified mental activity in terms of its
degree of accessibility to consciousness (whether it was unconscious, preconscious, or conscious), and in terms of its function: whether it was a part of the duties of id, ego, or superego. The ego and superego could operate on both conscious and unconscious levels, but the id remained wholly unconscious. Both ego and superego emerged out of the id, which was the prime material of the mind, and contained "the core of the unconscious, the source of all passions, and the biologically innate in man."[1]
Freud's last discussion of his model of the mind occurred in An Outline of Psychoanalysis (1938). Herein he maintained the germinative position of the id, and reaffirmed the same general topographic divisions and qualities of mental functioning described above.

Freud's three mental divisions often describe the interactions of the three levels of consciousness at a psychological level. The Freudian model does not correspond to the real neurological structures and functions which science is finding today.
Nevertheless, there are aspects of the Freudian model which cannot be discarded altogether. To be fair, the Freudian formulation does broadly imply (if it never specifies) some correspondence with underlying neurological structures. The psychological components of id, ego, and superego are seen as common to all of us, and therefore must rest upon those physiological attributes which as members of a species we have in common. In other words, the physiological side of the body-mind duality which Freud initially set his sights upon establishing and then abandoned must nonetheless have remained as a background to his thinking. Just because he could not see the connection does not mean that he ceased to believe it existed. We feel certain that if Freud had had the same experience and knowledge that is available to us now, he would have had little hesitation in renouncing (or drastically redefining) the id-ego-superego model in favor of a formulation which could be used interchangeably by both psychology and neurology. That is, after all, what he set out to discover when he embarked upon his Project.
Freud could not "see" the full unconscious, so he called it "blind." Because he did not realize that it could be known directly through feeling, he decided that it was "unknowable."

A Sexual Etiology of Neurosis: The Road from Trauma to Instinct

In addition to his work on The Interpretation of Dreams in the late 1890s, Freud was formulating his sexual theory of neurosis. Since patient after patient had reported infantile and childhood seduction traumas, Freud first conclu ded that these experiences were the cause of adult neurosis: the memories of the trauma had to be repressed, and so various neurotic defense mechanisms were developed. By May of 1897, however, he had shifted this view to what he termed "a big advance in insight" in which he now saw impulses rather than memories as the cause of the problem:
The psychical structures which in hysteria are subjected to repression are not properly speaking memories...but impulses deriving from the primal scenes.[2] 
Thus, what Freud had originally viewed a result of personal traumatic experience, he now saw as a result of universal and innate impulses.
By June of 1897 he had conceptualized the Oedipal Complex (hatred of the same-sexed parent by the child), and by July he was "viewing the psychoneuroses in terms of a vicious and dynamic circle of perverse libidinal impulses undergoing continual repression and resurgence."[3] {Emphasis added.} Freud himself wrote:
The result (of the repression and resurgence process) is all these distortions of memory and phantasies, either about the past or future. I am learning the rules which govern the formation of these structures, and the reasons why they are stronger than real memories, and have thus learned new things about the characteristics of processes in the unconscious. Side by side with these structures perverse impulses arise, and the repression of these phantasies and impulses...gives rise to new motives for clinging to the illness.[4] {Italics added}
By September of 1897 Freud had completed his fundamental writing to his friend Fleiss about "the great secret which has been slowly dawning on me in recent months." The great secret was a realization that the reports of early seductions from his patients were, in most instances, simply not true. This was no easy admission for Freud to make, as it brought into serious question the validity of psychoanalysis as a method of psychological investigation. After some inner turmoil, however, Freud reasoned that the commonality of the reports was in itself significant, and that surely it was reflective of some common, underlying principle of human behavior.
Freud now moved on to solve his theoretical dilemma by proposing just such a principle: reports of childhood seduction traumas actually represented infan
tile seduction wishes. These wishes were secondary manifestations (derivatives) of underlying (primary) instinctual impulses. In other words, infants and children have innate, sexual impulses toward their parents. These biological impulses give rise to mental wishes which must be repressed because of societal sanctions. The wish then surfaces in adulthood as a report of trauma, because that is the only acceptable way to express it.
What is the significance of Freud's theoretical shift? It seems twofold.
First, by minimizing the role of trauma in neurosis, Freud moved the focus of psychoanalysis away from personal, concrete experience and placed it on impersonal, imperceptible instincts and impulses. One of Freud's biographers, Ernst Kris, contended that, with this revision, Freud "turned psychoanalysis into a psychology of the instincts." The irony here is that although instinct is a legitimate scientific concept, Freud's successors have not brought Freudian instincts any closer to scientific (neurobiological) validation than they were in Freud's day.
The second significant aspect in this shift is the validity and meaningfulness Freud attributed to internal psychological processes. Although the memories of seduction traumas were not true in terms of external events, he contended that they did represent a kind of "pseudo-memory" which was a significant and meaningful fact in its own right. He further understood that repressed fantasies and wishes (which arose as the pseudo-memory of trauma) could exert the same lasting effect on personality as the actual experience. This innovative viewpoint really constituted a new view of reality. Intangible wishes, emotions, and fantasies --in short, the invisible inner worlds of man -- were recognized as having a directive impact on us equally as potent as the impact of the visible, external world.

Freud's Mechanisms of Pathology

Three more concepts in Freud's theory of infantile sexuality bear discussion. After 1900, Freud proposed three "fundamental mechanisms of pathological development," which were the vehicles of adult neuroses: fixation, regression, and the pertinacity of early impressions. He drew all three concepts from the biological sciences, reinterpreting them in a psychological context.


As we know, Freud by this time strongly believed in infantile sexuality. The question was not whether or not one had had some kind of early sexual experience, but what the consequences of those experiences had been. If the consequences were painful or punitive, a "pathological fixation of the libido" would probably occur, putting the child squarely on the road to adult neurosis.
Freud saw fixation in the psychological sense as the persistence of an unconscious wish , which had been dominant at an earlier stage of development. A simple example of this would be the adult who is plagued by compulsive overeating: in psychoanalytic terms he would be described as fixated at the oral stage of development. Freud initially emphasized the impact of sexual experience producing fixation. By 1905, however, his thinking had shifted to a new direction, now establishing heredity (rather than the actual sexual experience) as the critical factor which determined the outcome of the fixation:

He (Freud) recognized libidinal fixations as having three possible consequences -- neurosis, normality, or perversion -- with the particular outcome being attributed largely to heredity -- that is, to whether there is an organic disposition toward repressing the fixation.[5]
Theoretically, a person with the right genes could undergo a sexual trauma in infancy or childhood and come through it "normally." The main (if not only) variable in the issue of infantile sexuality thus became heredity. Sexual experiences were bound to occur; fixations were bound to occur; but neurosis would result only if there were an unfortunate "organic disposition toward repressing the fixation."


In Freud's concept of regression, he again moved his thinking away from actual experience in favor of hypothesized forces. According to Freud the regression that occurs in the "severely neurotic" is governed by the "hereditary constitutional factor." This factor was itself a convergence of three different layers of experience -- familial, ancestral, and species-related -- which were either innate or inherited.[6]
Although the relevance of personal life experience was again minimized in this formulation, Freud somewhat reinstates its value with his third concept.

Pertinacity of Early Impressions

In the third formulation of this time period, Freud proclaimed "the pertinacity of early impressions" as another critical factor in his childhood etiology of neurosis. Recognizing the principle as a "provisional psychological concept," he offered a biological analogy from embryological experiments to justify his position: sticking a needle into an embryonic cell mass results in much more serious damage when it is done during the early stages of growth. The psychological corollary was that the earlier a trauma occurred, the more serious and enduring its impact.
Freud believed that early experiences were important to the degree that they affected libidinal development, and that relatively minor experiences could result in adult neurosis. Sulloway explains that Freud's "belief in the primacy of early experience...allowed Freud to attribute the neuroses of adults to relatively small disturbances in childhood libidinal development."[7] Thus instinct (libidinal development) remained the centerpoint for even this principle; it served to further minimize the role of trauma and experience in the creation of adult neurosis by reducing it to "relatively small disturbances".

[1]Sulloway, op. cit., p. 374.
[2]Sulloway, op. cit., p. 204.
[3]Sulloway, op. cit., p. 206.
[4]In Sulloway, op. cit., p. 206. (Original source: Origins, p. 212.)
[5]Sulloway, op. cit., p. 212.
[6]See Sulloway, pp. 289-309, for a detailed discussion of this factor.
[7]Sulloway, p. 389.


  1. This is kind of interesting to me but I would be much more interested if you could take current developments and issues and provide your commentary on them. For example, my therapy at the Primal Institute following several years after what you used to call "mock primal" therapy left me on a financial and emotional slippery slope which ended in depression and isolation and a complete stalling of the primal process for well over a decade. Here is something that I found today that is interesting to me and related to my difficulties back then: John Elder Robison: On Being Different. It would be really valuable, I think, to take an intrinsically interesting presentation such as this and do a commentary on it from your viewpoint - if and when you have time and energy. Thanks for your blog and everything.

  2. Grahame: I would like to know more about your therapy and what went wrong and what it did to you. art janov

  3. Art

    It feels a bit confusing what Freud was doing but without the primal therapy's insights there was nothing else to expect. The understanding of primal therapy would be much easier ... much easier than we my can imagine if the formation in our universities focused on just the primal therapeutic process.
    So... to join in with universities… should be much easier to disseminate sciences of PT as they are the “professionals” of what shall be. Maybe that is the primal therapeutic solution. It’s then focused on just primal therapy and will not fail if it is within the walls of ”science” and should then be the knowledge of real science.
    Why primal therapy today fails is due to two factors… it has no place in universities and is therefore not an opportunity for the students. Confidence in the university's choice of psychological techniques is crucial to affect the student's vision ... to seek education are unfortunately in many cases the guidelines who still keeps the earth flat as a pancake and the center of the universe.


  4. art, why did everyone listen to freud, yet nobody listens to you?

    freud frowned for the camera, as if to say "i'm still thinking about important stuff." your photo is the opposite: "ok, let's take the photo, when you're done we'll have some cake and then i'll get back to my research"

    hitler screamed and yelled and pounded his fist; "AAAAAAAAGGHH!!!! THIS IS IMPORTANT!!!!" people listened to him.
    rob muldoon, new zealand's grumpiest prime minister, waltzed into power without any intelligent ideas (and destroyed the economy)

    do we need to get angry, art?

  5. I'll try to write something. It could fill a book not because there were many mistakes, only a few, but because it will take a lot to describe the context and meaning for me of those mistakes and the disastrous impact on my life. I have some notes and if I write a little each week I might have something that would get to the essence of what went wrong. I'm doing much better now but still feel robbed. The real robbers struck in the early weeks and years of life of course.

  6. Richard: I hope it's chocolate cake. art. Gravitas has been confused with reflective and smart when really it is just a sign of depression.

  7. Dr. Janov,

    Richard writes: “Art, why did everyone listen to Freud, yet nobody listens to you?”

    My simple answer is – Freud (consciously or unconsciously) is shifting the blame to the defenseless child, which keeps the true perpetrator safe (adults safe), away from their responsibility and their own manifested pain.

    Another point is, as long as we lean on the knowledge from yesterday, analyze history without INSIGHT, like Lloyd de Mause, the present with the chain around the neck to the past, keeps us hostage.

    One of the examples is “The Universality of Incest” by Lloyd de Mause http://www.psychohistory.com/htm/06a1_incest.html

    Discussing some content recently of “The Janov Solution” with a psychologist, revealed some helplessness on his part. His subdued voice mentioned in a half-sentence: “if these are facts, we are on the wrong track”. If he would really make an effort to get on the right track, reading or studying with you, I don’t know.



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.