Wednesday, September 21, 2011

On the Inability To Say "Good"

Let me tell you a story, sadly, not a bedtime story but more like a nightmare. I tell you because many of you want to hear more about me. But I do not write about me as an exercise in narcissism; rather it is always to elucidate, to help others understand themselves.

Many years ago when my father was alive he came over to see the grandchildren. It was 1969. As he walked in he saw a bunch of papers on the dining table, and said, “what’s this?” I said it is a book I just finished called The Primal Scream. He leafed through it for less than 30 seconds and said, “We know all this,” dropped it and went on to something else. He didn’t have time to read even one page but he knew “all this.” It hurt, of course, but it was the leitmotif of our relationship.

He was a failure in everything he tried, took a correspondence course in law and failed that, and felt very stupid. He was, after all, a truck driver. He then would never allow himself to feel stupid again; hence “we know all that.” And he could be reassured that he was not stupid if he could put me down. Which he did at every turn until I was convinced I was stupid and never thought about college until I was sent to university by the Navy. The idea that his “stupid” son wrote a book was far too threatening to him. He could not let himself try to understand it, and maybe find out he couldn’t.

It is an art form never to say an approving word to your child in the twenty years you spend together. But his inner feelings would not let him do anything else. It was too painful to feel like a failure.

Now two forces were at work. One my left brain: “he couldn’t help himself. He had a driving, disapproving father himself. “ And the other--right brain: I hurt. And my primal was, “Say I’m good, just once, please!” There was where the hurt resided. He never thought about hurting me. He only thought about defending himself no matter what the cost to others. He wasn’t relating to me; only to himself. He couldn’t see the agony he was producing because he was trying to extricate himself out of pain. But his need set me on a lifetime goal of “say I’m good.” And I became good at what I did because I worked like mad at it. But it was always there in my behavior until I felt it in primal.

So you now see the difference between primal therapy and psychoanalysis: one is left brain; “after all”, says the doctor, “you have accomplished so much. You really are good.” And primal: “I feel bad. I hurt, say I’m good, please.” That stops the act-out and lets us rest. So the real feelings are down deep and right brain, while the excuse, the rationale is left brain and helps cover over the right brain. It can bury that brain amidst a flurry of rationales. And alas, it ensures that we spend a lifetime trying to get something in the present that never existed in the past. We chase a chimera, a phantom, some ineffable something that, believe it or not, we are never aware of. The act-out is as unconscious as the feeling itself. The chase is on and we simply cannot relax after that. We go to the beach, lie in the sand, and cannot stay like that for more than a few minutes than the phantom rears is head again. We run from the feeling just like my dad. He was a victim of his feelings which he never knew existed but that kept him from loving anyone. He was waiting for it first for himself.


  1. Your story about “To Say Good”

    As always your stories and reflections trigger a reaction. Often, I know what it is that stimulates me, but sometimes I am not certain.

    My father’s conditions to accept me were that I fulfilled his needs in the development of myself. In the position he held, considering his ambitions, he was certainly no failure as an instructor, department manager and functionary at an agricultural university. Having had better resources when he studied and with a little more ambition, I think he would have made an excellent head master. However, his constant depressions - loss of his mother and a couple of siblings as a 3-4-year-old due to a pandemic - broke down his innate Wallonian physical strength and his good looks and charm, and he died too early of a sudden heart attack when I was 40 and just had started PT.

    I hated, repressed and needed him for almost a lifetime. I survived because I had something he did not have; My mother’s oxytocin producing feelings for me, which gave me enough strength to survive and rise from a pale, skinny boy with severe birth injuries to be an above average neurotic success. I was driven by my own pain and challenges to surpass my father with the mixed, undifined, goal to both beat him and please him. Nethertheless, it was to late too receive the love he could not give when I needed it the most.

    In relation to our fathers, I see no real difference in the effects of our stories, even if our sceneries and surroundings were totally different. Thanks to you, our fathers were “rich” sources for a good understanding of the impact of pain, and the endless act outs it creates. A pain which is and has been terrible but when the bulk of it is felt and comprehended, it can make life easy and natural and increase the understanding of the human conditions.

    Jan Johnsson


    How can your instructive, congenial, pain provoking = health creating stories about yourself ever be narcissistic? It hurts when you are saying things like that! Stories about yourself are for sure the best help, there is to understand ourselves! At least, you have inoculated that attitude in me....

  2. AJ wrote: "It is an art form never to say an approving word to your child in the twenty years you spend together."

    Indeed, it was an "Art-forming" crucible of neglect for you.

    I struggle with writing. Not in the usual "writing is hard" way. Rather, in the fear of being published.

    I HAVE been published in minor ways (op-eds, anthologies, etc.), but not as a livelihood. Not regularly. Yet I always "say" I'm a writer. If I didn't write, I'd feel incomplete.

    So I take endless notes filling endless journals, getting stuck at publishing.

    And it's not just writing. I've always feared becoming a "professional" anything. Why? Because whenever I succeeded at or liked anything, my jeaous, bipolar mother sabotaged me. She chased friends away, mocked girls who liked me, eavesdropped on phone calls, "controlled" the radio, threatened not to send me to college, etc.

    And Dad (still alive)? He was passive. He never told me he loved me unless I told him first. Letters I wrote to HIM personally when younger (many about conflicts with his wife) he shared with my mother. I needed his protection and he offered none. When he remarried after my mother's death, he'd append the new wife's name to whatever he sent. There was no getting at just him.

    Or from him.

    When I write about controversial topics (mostly what I do) I feel I have to make absolutely air-tight cases. Anyone who disagrees HAS to be convinced. It feels existential. As if writing was the only way I knew to "earn" love.

    Not being told I was "good enough" as a child, my self-esteem engine lacks steam. One "I think you're wrong" deflates me. One rejection stops me in my tracks.

    Ah, the "primal pain" of being unloved.

    Of course, defenders of my father say he loves me, just doesn't show it. Well, what good is THAT? If you don't hold and talk to your kids, ARE you a good father?

    IS there love without acts of love?

    What does it feel like to be loved simply for breathing?

    Some people run enthusiastically through piled manure, shouting "There's GOT to be a horse in here somewhere!" I see the horse but think, "I know it's going to shit on me sooner or later."

    I'm glad you keep writing, Art. It's good stuff. And inspires me to do the same.

  3. Art, i think we all appreciate your sharing your personal stories; i know i do; really looking forward, as well, to the rest of your series on Freud and psychoanalysis.


  4. Depression aggression and neurotics.

    Dr. Janov,
    “On the Inability To Say "Good"” is a true trigger. How many of us have repeatingly experienced similar scenes:
    Insulting, blaming, ridiculing and downgrading others (many more pattern), is all how adults repeat what they experienced in childhood.

    However, there are others the neurotics, who repeat the pattern intentionally to hurt others, so they don’t have to feel their own pain.
    My cousin told her young (11 and 12) girls how her father sold her as a 12 year old, for little money to older man.
    Her explanation was: “They need to know everything early on”. She wonted that her 2 girls to suffer as she did. She used her children as a garbage and gave a dammed how she damage them; and she was successful. These two young woman became submissive, controlled by their mothers “need to blame”.

    My mother blamed us kids for her miserable marriage: “I had to marry your father, because you all came unwonted”. We suppose to grow up knowing that we were unwonted and guilty for her misery. She unloaded her powerlessness, her unwillingness to change her miserable life, on us kids.

    Victims who seek therapy believe the therapist must listen to the same dumping over and over again.
    As one victim told me: “this is their job, this is what they get paid for”.
    The therapist, incapable to lead the client to the real source, dumps in return the client.
    Then this neurotic victims looks for another soul-garbage-can (friends) and expect them to listening to the same act out over and over again – after all “what friends are for”, one told me.

    Then there are the super neurotics. No matter what, nothing is right: “the sky is not blue enough, the food is not gut enough, horrible the way people dress, why does the neighbor has a dog” why my daughter is not taking care of me, and on and on. These super neurotics have no respect, no boundaries, because they never were respected themselves.

    This is in my opinion why so many will not come to the primal center – I know they could find the money if they really wont to.

    Like your abrasive, selfish father, many have/had a chance, to do the first step toward healing these old wounds - but they don’t, they believe it is not their responsibility. I assume your father never said, son help me, I need to change.

    In reality, they don’t really won’t to get rid of their pain, they enjoy their horrid dominance and how their audience begins to feel miserable. However, they don’t see how they alienate them selves, get more psychotic and have, on top of all the nerve to blame the one who distance themselves from such a relationship.
    As long as someone finds a person to dump on, they never will feel responsible for their action and don’t care if they damage others in the long run.
    These selfish neurotics will never enter the Primal Center.

    Younger or older Children become often the garbage-can for their parents misery. Right or left brain reaction,(as you said we live with both) my outburst comes from real experience and yes, I blame the adults. It is only the adult who can stop the pattern of abuse, not the children!
    And, I’m so very glad that I have met many who never repeated their revolting childhood imprint.


  5. Trevor: I'll keep on if you will. art

  6. Jan and now you see the difference between insight therapy and primal. Insights chace down each act-out and t ry to explain it. Primal gets into the deep motivation that drives it. Insights is an endless task and that is why patients stay in their therapy for years; always the hope for an improvement that never comes. You words are so kind. love art

  7. An email comment:
    "Thanks for the great revelation.
    How wonderful.
    Too bad you couldn't put your story to music, in a "song", somehow.
    Maybe you should try.
    But possibly, many "songs" are feelings, acted out, with music.
    Thanks again.

  8. And my answer:
    Well Mike I did put it to music. It is a beautiful song written by david foster and me. And I will try to put it on this blog if I can figure out how to do it. It is from the musical France and I wrote called The Primal Scream. It is called Say My Name and the fellow who sung it was a very disturbed individual who cried so hard while recording it that I had to be in the studio holding him while he sang. he later killed himself. A really good human being. art

  9. An email comment:
    "it is really sad, that all the books doesn't publish in German. It could have a great impact here.
    Is a translation planned !? Or are the Germans forgotten ?

    Greatings from Kiel, Germany"

  10. And my answer: Hang on. We are working on it now. art

  11. Sieglind,

    Thanks for the reminder, your words bring me to my senses and help me own my feelings.

    Paul G.

  12. ART: "Trevor: I'll keep on if you will."

    Yuda man!

    I missed you in the 70s. I fell for faux PT big time. It taught me I was doomed because I couldn't get "angry" like the others. Mostly I wanted to cry.

    So you're my adopted father now. I keep on slugging away because of you.

    PLEASE keep on keepin' on. You're not "responsible" for me. Yet, truth be told, you DO inspire me. You are what my father should have been (you're about the same WWII age) COULD have been.

    My father was on the SS Hornet from which Doolittle launched his raid on Tokyo.

    He was also on that same ship when it was sunk...dispassionately saying how he was under-ship when it was sinking, ready to die. Until his buddies (scrambling for their own lives) figured out they "might" escape vial the tubes that held their communication lines/wires to the "outside." He was one of the last picked up.

    He later was a fire-control dude on the battleship USS Iowa. I'm sure he has tales to tell but, like too many of his era, keeps silent so as to not seem a "wuss." The ensuing "corporate man" era wanted compliant, unemotional, out-of-touch drones. He complied.

    Plus he had a manic-depressive wife that might hurt his career.

    If he only knew how his "emotional" tales would heal me!


    So many WWII fathers "lost" their sons by keeping silent. If his subsequnt behavior was "manhood" I want nothing of it.

    The bitter irony: I was an anti-war protester during the Vietnam Era when he was developing inertial guidance systems for Navy missiles...and torpedos. Sonar was his game. Talk about not "listening" to what really matters!

    The gap his silence created is perhaps insurmountable. And continues to break my heart.

    I try to be an expressive human being despite his silence. The difficulty is that I feel I am betraying him and all the other Silent Generation. And even today, emotionally open men are shamed as "whiners."

    Art, you show there is another way.

    I'm a trapeze artist whose many dreams had my family clutching my feet. I felt their lives my responsibility. I struggle now with trying to save myself without harming them.

    I leap, but feel terrible. How can I leave them behind? There is no safety net.

    Who/what will catch ME?

    Who will save them?

    Do I have a right to live my own life? I "think" I do...but worry. It holds me back. Catholicism taught me to suffer to save others first. But what about ME? I didn't have relatives telling me I mattered. I was, first and last and foremost, to make others "safe."

    Keep blogging, senor.

    It comforts me.

  13. Sieglinde; "I blame the adults. It is only the adult who can stop the pattern of abuse, not the children!"

    Yes! That's why I loved...and miss profoundly...Alice Miller. She always took the side of the dependent, helpless child.

    "And, I’m so very glad that I have met many who never repeated their revolting childhood imprint."

    Again, yes.

    I prefer to live among "broken toy" people rather than the willfully (or otherwise) blind.

    God help me to never do unto others what was done unto me!


  14. Paul G

    “own my feelings.” You are great. Thank you.


  15. Trevor: My ship, a battleship, ran with the Hornet into a few battles. I will keep blogging. Your job is to keep reading. art


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.