Monday, October 3, 2011

An Examination of Psychoanalysis (Part 4/13)

A Theoretical Compromise: Trauma Plus Instinct

So far , we have Freud's etiological theory of neurosis has moved through two stages. In the first, childhood sexual trauma was emphasized (the seduction theory), and in the second, instinctual drives were emphasized (the libido theory). Sulloway points out that in this second stage, "neurosis was interpreted as the repressed 'negative' of a stage of perversion."[1] Freud did not leave it at that, however.
The publication of Beyond the Pleasure Principle in 1920 established the third and final stage of Freud's theory where he renewed his emphasis on childhood trauma as a cause of neurosis. Basically, Freud blend ed his first two stages of thought into a recognition that both factors -- childhood trauma and repressed instincts -- functioned as instruments of neurosis:

Henceforth traumas, operating independently of repressed perversions, were given increasing recognition as major sources of neurotic symptoms...(Freud) subsequently extended the role of childhood traumas to include a regular series of developmental disturbances, or "threats," to libido: birth, loss of the mother as nurturing object, loss of penis, loss of the mother's love, and loss of superego's love.[2]
Sulloway points out that this period of Freud's work also reflected his renewed effort to bring together the two fields of science which he believed would finally result in a unified theory of human behavior:
Of all of Freud's works, Beyond the Pleasure Principle offers perhaps the closest conceptual ties to the unpublished Project for a Scientific Psychology, drafted a quarter of a century earlier. One is struck by the bold and frankly speculative vein of both works as well as by their common guiding principle --attempt to unite psychology with biology in resolving his most fundamental questions about human behavior. Biology, as he reaffirmed in the later work, was indeed "a land of unlimited possibilities."[3]
There are, however, important conceptual differences between Freud's Project and his Beyond the Pleasure Principle -- – differences , which might partly account for the non-biological direction ultimately taken by psychoanalysis as a theory and a therapy. Concepts in the Project were based upon "proximate-causal reductionism" whereby the mechanisms of psychophysics and neurophysiology were used to explain human behavior. In Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud shifted his vantage point to one of "ultimate-causal reductionism" where historical and evolutionary factors moved into the forefront. Sulloway evaluates:
In many ways Beyond the Pleasure Principle is the culmination of Freud's remarkable biogenetic romance about human psychosexuality, a romance first cultivated some twenty-five years earlier in the wake of his problematic Project for a Scientific Psychology. It is historicism, not mechanisms or psychophysics, that pervades the innovative logic of Beyond the Pleasure Principle. It is also historicism, not mechanism, that enabled Freud to extend his biogenetic romance from the very origins of life itself, through the evolutionary odyssey of primal man, and finally to the conflict-ridden problems of present-day psychological man.[4] 
A Primal Evaluation

Sulloway points out that it is historicism rather than psychophysiological mechanisms which characterizes Freud's later formulations. In these formulations we see Freud opt for hypothesis over reality, for "biogenetic romances" and "evolutionary odysseys" over present, personal human experience. Freud became more of a philosopher than an empirical researcher, preferring ontological ruminations over the once-treasured biological mechanisms. Even with his eventual redemption of trauma to a position of importance in the etiology of neurosis, the person under consideration still remained over-shadowed by rather monumental laws of phylogeny. Individual experience took a back seat to the playing out of mysteries inherent in the species.
Of course, phylogeny is part of the dynamic backdrop to individual experience. Nevertheless, each person truly has a life of his own, with an evolution specific to it. If the dictates of phylogeny are what we must battle, then we know we enter a losing cause -- with compromise the only solution. Psychoanalysis teaches us the inevitability of this compromise and helps us to support it. It teaches us to fear the real self as threatening, for with all of its innately perverse impulses our only recourse is to work on control and sublimation. But, paradoxically, it is actually control (repression) of the real self which has lead to perversity, and it is admission (experience) of the real self which makes sublimation irrelevant.
No doubt there are some powerfully influential forces from the occult world of phylogeny which are unknown to us. That is no reason, however, to make those found the center of attention, subordinating the known realities of individual experience to them. We can relate much more easily to our real experiences, real memories, and real feelings than to universal mysteries of which we are but a minute part. It is certainly difficult to understand how we are going to recover from those real experiences by trying to view them in the light of hypothetical universal principles
With the libido theory, Freud disavow s the reported personal experiences upon which his seduction theory was based in order to espouse the exact opposite. Not only were his patients not traumatized by the parental sexual abuse they had reported, worse: Freud now contended that they actually had longed for it as children. This longing took the form of an unconscious wish which was itself a derivative of some primary biological impulse for sexual union with the parent.
It is just conceivable that a child might wish for sexual union with a parent -- or at least appear to -- but it is not an inborn instinctive impulse, as Freud would have us believe. Certainly a child does not need sexual union. If it occurs at all, it is because the child somehow senses that sex is the only way she may have the contact and love she truly needs. Of course, the child would prefer the natural form of attention, but a desperate child will take what is offered. In spite of appearances, however, it is not the sex the child wants, but the contact. The child's need might appear sexual because that is often the only way parents (and other adults) can look at sensual need. Sexualization of childhood need comes not from the child but from the parent. After all, sexualization can only come from the one with sexuality.
It ’s clear that Freud viewed the issue of childhood sexuality from a backward position. Too often, parents want sexual contact with their children, even though beneath that desire lies parents' own neglected primal needs.
The neurotic gets many of his primal needs "satisfied" through sex because sex offers the gratification of all the senses. Therefore it has great symbolic possibilities for ameliorating the past neglect of those senses. In addition, neurotic parents invariably want from their children all the things they were denied in their own childhoods -- affection, stimulation, support, attention, etc. When these two factors combine, the parent is likely to act out his primal needs through sexual contact with his child. This may lead the child to conclude unconsciously: "If I want Daddy to love me, I have to give Daddy what he wants." This idea then gets shortened to: "I want what Daddy wants," which ultimately becomes, "I want Daddy" -- which is then completely misconstrued as a sexual desire. The natural desire for contact came from the child; the sex came from the parent.
How did this erroneous view of childhood sexuality take hold? If children are sexual, then indeed they would have to inhibit their instincts because of the harmful possibilities of incest. But children are not sexual; they are sensual. It is when sensuality is mistaken for sexuality that it is subjected to the taboos appropriate to sexuality and incest. In other words, the necessity to inhibit sexuality between family members is co-opted to help repress sensuality as well.

Infantile sexuality becomes a dangerous concept when it is applied clinically and heralded as a cause for adult neurosis and adult Pain. It is dangerous because it implies that the victim --the child -- is his own assailant. The neurotic adult is left with nothing more than his own childish incestuous desires to explain his agony and his debility. Worse, the concept is itself seductive. It is an adult concept that falsely exonerates the adults who hold it. It perverts the neurotic child's reality by ignoring the deprivation inherent in the very creation of neurosis.
If it is the child's sexual desires that ultimately sicken him, and if it is the cultural taboo on incest that is responsible for such hysterical fear, then no parent need wonder at his or her role. The culprit again becomes an amorphous, impersonal, and immutable force: the taboos of society. The implication is that this conflict is inevitable. All children will desire to have sex with their parents; the desire will always be strongly forbidden; so all children must learn to deal with their desire in the face of the taboo in the best way possible. Those who manage this task will be well; those who don't will be neurotic.

Here Freud is far removed from the grim realities of the neurotic child's life. The child does not fear some abstract taboo, he fears being violated by his parents in concrete ways. He fears being abused, neglected, manipulated, ignored, humiliated, controlled, pressured, raped. He feels fear each time his needs are rebuffed, overlooked, or devalued. He fears not being taken seriously; he fears not having any power to decide how he spends his day, what he eats, how he talks, what he feels.

[1]Ibid., p. 409.
[2]Sulloway, pp. 409-410.
[3]Sulloway, p. 415.
[4]Ibid., p. 415.


  1. Hi Art,
    With the “Primal Evaluation” of Freuds “Beyound the Pleasur Principle”, you are giving us another Columbus´s egg. It straightens out a lot of uncertainty in my memories from the days when I banged my head against the literature of Freud. The way you explain the difference between sensuality and sexuality in children is so natural and easy to understand that it feels and stands out as beautiful for a clever fool like me..
    The fact that sensuality is mistaken for sexuality has created / continues to create much confusion, in which of course, the worst consequences are the possible interpretation that the child is causing her/his own assault.
    Jan Johnsson

  2. To add to Jan's comment it seems that it's a usual rhetoric in the mouth of child abusers: they make the child believe that's he/she was responsible for what happened. Then the child grow up with guiltiness or turns it into a philosophic motto that "what ever happens to you in your life you are responsible for that" or that "incest is not bad" (I know a young woman who keeps on repeating things like that)...

  3. Hi Jan & Art & all,

    I utterly agree.

    There is the over-riding ethic in most societies that we must eventually become answerable for our own actions. We need to break away from dependency and move toward independence. It's all part of growing up; that's the glib intro.

    It's so easy for this to be misplaced onto children through the incomplete development of the parents (subconsciously) acted out & projected onto the kids.

    The kids 'pick up' the trace of this subliminally themselves and take on the colour of the parents' neurosis. Then maybe we try to rebel and then we find out no amount of rebellion will erase the imprint (which is driving it all) anyway.

    It seems to me that the fundamental idea that we have evolved this triune system from 1st to 2nd to 3rd is the basis for a new "Cognition" as a palliative or factor "for self remembering" IN PARENTS for the sake of THEIR CHILDREN.

    That we parents find a way to allow the kids to be themselves despite our own unresolved neurosis. I mean it's a tall order; to be neurotic and a parent and not to project our neurosis onto our kids.

    Primal Theory seems to offer a way for parents to cease to believe in the fixations we parents feel we aught to adhere to. Many false and traumatic situations arise out of the wrong understanding, out of the absence of the right information. The Right Knowledge.

    This situation where we feel guilty for being victims of crime (and ignorance) is not limited to the world of childhood but also happens in the therapeutic alliance in psychotherapy.

    Without this simple fact (1st then 2nd then 3rd) all therapy I ever had left me feeling guilty that I hadn't got better. Or me trying to be some-one unreal, some ideal in my imagination, some image of a better person.

    In reality for me all attempts to relate without this simple triune/evolution knowledge has resulted in me repeating the same patterns my parents instilled into me. Feeling shit for being me and wanting the things I needed.

    I see other people around me in a similar condition. What I now see in them that I could not see in myself prior to all these changes in my life is the denial we have to defend and the projections we have to make onto other individuals, groups or ideals (with the full passion of our unexamined fixations) in order to 'live' unconsciously with our condition.

    Obliviously. I thought I was in Heaven but actually I was living in Hell.

    I'm still living in Hell but at least I know it and I can see a way out. I'm not completely dazzled by my own denial. Or anybody elses'.

    Paul G.


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"

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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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“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.