Thursday, October 6, 2011

On Dying and Death

Why not deal with death in this blog? I have but I will add a bit. I have seen patients who have an inordinate fear of death; not the normal kind but the kind that says, “I am going to die right now!”. That’s what happens in anxiety attacks; that feeling of gloom and doom. Why? Because it was true but not true now. You were going to die before the defenses stepped in and blocked the feeling. It was imprinted and is now a permanent memory. That is what an anxiety attack is: I will die now! If you have leaky gates that feeling is close up to the top awareness all of the time, which accounts for frequent anxiety attacks and that sensation of immediate death. It was immediate and is now in our imprinted feeling mass, I call it our apperceptive mass.

What can we do about it? Feel it and put it back in the past in context so it’s no longer immediate and constantly scary. We need to feel why we were about to die; most likely lack of oxygen at birth, a drinking or drug-taking carrying mother or a mother terrorized all along her pregnancy, either from internal reasons or fear of her husband and his violence. No matter the source it is now installed permanently in the offspring, and the minute her defenses are weak, death approaches; that is, history surges forth, real memory, not some ephemeral wisp of the past. If there were no immediate threat of death originally, there will be none now. But life in the womb and at birth are often the most perilous of our lives, and it is then and there that pure terror resides. Terror is a memory that lives inside of anxiety and propels it. We call it anxiety but it still that terror of dying. We feel it like it is now because in the memory it is now, not later. It is the memory that is coming up intact.

If you want some advice from someone who had it, don’t think about because it is inevitable and think about life if you can. If your history forces you to focus on the past terror then you have to get rid of it, reliving that past fully. It is the best I can offer.


  1. Dr Art,

    Why me have this sensations of dying right now, only when I sleep and especially in time when I am waking up? Did you have patients with this symptom, like me? This question is not just for me, but for all people who eventually have this state?


  2. it's exactly the feeling we can have sometimes in a nightmare "I'm going to die right now" and we wake up in sweats, the heart beating fast. I get that feeling too often during a flight when the airplane makes unexpected moves...

  3. I read that repeated water boarding can cause deep trauma/splits since it brings one to the point of panic and death many times, leaving nice scars, so to speak.

    But as to the purpose and meaning of life, or whether it ever had a purpose, I probably can not say anything here.

    But human nature does seem to want to live forever and not die, ever. It is interesting to ponder and many philosophers have dared to do such things. Just saying ;-)

  4. I have met so many people who I would describe as living in a "dark world" with an underlying morbidity flavour to them. Maybe a lot of that is the "death imprint" from the times you speak of, Art. My point is that the Reaper for these people--and maybe all of us to a given degree--seems to be always there.

  5. Yann: And the feeling in a dream/nightmare is always right, which is why we always go for it during therapy and never the content, which is irrelevant. art

  6. Nenad: I am not sure how to answer because I cannot understand your language. Most of those who came near death in the womb or at birth have this sensation. AJ

  7. Dr. Janov,

    The reality of death is all around us. Its a part of life.

    Because we live, we cannot avoid mortality, death. The ones close to death at birth relive the same feelings, struggle and panic the same way over and over again. I’m one of them.

    However, it is amazing how self-preservation makes us go on in spite of the threat of death.
    As at birth, the same pattern of panic appears in the present, the grasping for air and my removing everything from around my neck (necklace, turtleneck etc), the breathing flat, shutting the system down to a minimum, just to survive.
    I experienced this feeling in 2009. My cerebellum was squeezed by the skull, which affected my breathing and heart rate. This triggered memories of my birth, struggling for air, waiting for my heart to stop skipping beats. Nevertheless, as at birth, I did everything to survive. It is amazing how much we like to live.

    Reaching deep down to the original feeling of death, reliving the treacherous moment again cannot be done alone... I tried, I can’t go deep enough without help.

  8. Steve Jobs
    2005 Stanford Commencement Speech:

    My third story is about death

    When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: "If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you'll most certainly be right." It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

    Remembering that I'll be dead soon is the most important tool I've ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure - these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

    About a year ago I was diagnosed with cancer. I had a scan at 7:30 in the morning, and it clearly showed a tumor on my pancreas. I didn't even know what a pancreas was. The doctors told me this was almost certainly a type of cancer that is incurable, and that I should expect to live no longer than three to six months. My doctor advised me to go home and get my affairs in order, which is doctor's code for prepare to die. It means to try to tell your kids everything you thought you'd have the next 10 years to tell them in just a few months. It means to make sure everything is buttoned up so that it will be as easy as possible for your family. It means to say your goodbyes. I lived with that diagnosis all day.

    Later that evening I had a biopsy, where they stuck an endoscope down my throat, through my stomach and into my intestines, put a needle into my pancreas and got a few cells from the tumor. I was sedated, but my wife, who was there, told me that when they viewed the cells under a microscope the doctors started crying because it turned out to be a very rare form of pancreatic cancer that is curable with surgery. I had the surgery and I'm fine now. This was the closest I've been to facing death, and I hope it's the closest I get for a few more decades.

    Having lived through it, I can now say this to you with a bit more certainty than when death was a useful but purely intellectual concept: No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life's change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

    Right now the new is you, but someday not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it is quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.

    Steve Jobs

  9. Art, perhaps you'd care to reflect here on your own passing; will France carry on without you? will the Center and the Institute somehow merge? post AJ, what happens to PT?

  10. Grumpy: I think I will pass on that one. David Lassoff will certainly carry it on. He has mastered this therapy. The center and the Institute will not merge since what we do is very different. art

  11. Hi,

    -" I have met so many people who I would describe as living in a "dark world" with an underlying morbidity flavour to them "-.

    I am a recovering one of these. Many of us end up on construction sites taking big risks smiling in the face of hazard with humour inherited from the Dark Ages. Some become soldiers and die gruesome deaths. I love an Axe to Grind.

    Most of it is unrepeatable and highly contextual. In Europe we've made an art form of it, look at Hogarth from the 18th C. and Gerald Scarfe from the 20th C. Not to mention Breugal from the 15th C.

    Death is plastered all over life and the dead will always outnumber the living!

    Long Live Death! (It'll be the life of me).

    Paul G.

  12. Dr. Janov,

    The three most important sentences Steve Jobs said:

    "Don't be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition."

    I recently wrote to a friend:
    Most childhood abused don’t know they live the life of others because they don’t know who they are – they can’t hear their inner voice.

    PT can help clearing the clutter in front of their life-window, if they decide, care enough for themselves, to get out of this co-dependent life.


  13. An email comment: "As the offspring of a diet pill taking mother who carried the fear of her abusive father I can totally relate! Beyond that, I am finally coming to grips with this realization and that my life long terrors have a logical explanation. best regards"


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.