Friday, November 4, 2011

On Murder Again

I am going to explain what happens when someone “snaps” and kills. Specifically, regarding Scott Dekraai who killed eight people recently in Seal Beach California. He says now, some three weeks later, that “I know what I did.” So how is that possible to know what you are doing and still do it? The catch is he didnt’ know what he was doing when he did it, only later.

Is that possible to know one minute and not know the other minute? Absolutely.

Let’s talk about the crackup. But before I do that let me offer a little reminder; There are three levels of brain function. The top level is the thinking, comprehending one; externally oriented. Lower down is the feeling brain that adds emotion to the mix, and still deeper there is the instinctive reptile brain that processes the same instincts as the reptile. It adds urgency and power to emotions and to beliefs. All three have separate functions and yet are interrelated. And they communicated with each other by chemical means and also by electrical frequencies. And when something happens in the present it resonates with similar feelings from the past and they join forces. When defenses are weak, something in the present can trigger off allied sensations and feelings and then we get a powerhouse response. All three levels are involved in a conjoined reaction. Normally, there is a good defense apparatus so that the resonance does not reach too far deep down, thus limited the force of the reaction.

Here is how resonance works in the domain of anger. Something in the present makes me very angry; my wife is divorcing me and trying to keep the kids. My money is running out and she still wants more. She refuses to see or talk to me. She turns the family against me. I have been let go at my job due to injuries and I have no prospects for a new job. All looks bleak and I have no alternative. All these are assaults on my defenses. And they weaken so much that it all crumbles and there is no barrier holding back deeper pain. The problem is on the feeling level there are powerful emotions, but as they resonate with still deeper levels, anger turns to rage and fury. Human mild emotion becomes murderous feelings as the deepest animal/survival levels move to the higher cortical areas, levels. In my lingo, the third line gives way to the first line reptilian brain where violent feelings reside. And for that moment the third line inhibitory brain is ousted by the first line instinctive brain and there can be murder. The deepest brain level becomes the highest one temporarily. There is nothing left of the top level of the brain whose main function it is to inhibit. But that overwhelming force may only last minutes. Once the rage is expressed the pain level diminishes and some of the third line thinking, reflective brain returns to function. And Scott can now say, “I know what I did.” And he knows now but at the moment of crisis he did not know what he was doing: his rage machine took over and he became the reptile spewing out fury indiscriminately. After all, it is the top level that discriminates. It was usurped for that moment, the critical moment when he murdered eight people. It is not unlike orgasm. There is a heightened agitation followed by release and calm. In sex we begin to lose sensations such as hearing as the whole organism is involved in a non-verbal highly emotional response. For that moment there ceases to be high level intellectual capabilities.

I have seen this rage over and over again when very disturbed patients begin to relive a memory on the emotional, feeling level and suddenly are impacted by the lower levels. They begin to pound the mattress and the padded walls with an enormous fury that can go on for thirty minutes to one hour. In therapy they can direct the rage, connect with it and not be overwhelmed by it. Not so, on the street. I have filmed this rage, and those interested will see it when we release the film. The patient seems to be out of control because he is in the grip of powerful deep forces. But it is a therapeutic situation and is not acted out. It becomes acted-out when someone has no idea that he is in the grip of powerful feelings emanating from deep in his unconscious. He is helpless before them and has no idea about how to control them. His unconscious has taken over. And he kills.

And we can say of these people who are sometimes out of control that they may be pre-psychotic. All that really means is that their defenses against the deepest level of the brain are very weak due to the constant onslaught of pain early on in their life. And what do so-called anti-psychotic pills do? They dampen the lowest brain levels from responding. They help hold back the first line. They do this by souping up the top level so that it is more active and effective; and at the same time there are inhibitory medications in it that block the lower level pain; thus, we get a more active cortex and a less active brainstem and limbic/feeling brain. And in this medication there are chemicals that we should produce ourselves, such as serotonin. But we don’t because very early trauma has exhausted supplies, and we cannot make enough to blanket the pain. So when our inner pharmacy cannot do the job we need help from the external one. We can call it anti-psychotic medicine but all it is doing is making up for what we can no longer manufacture ourselves. Poor Scott had so many current assaults coupled with a lifetime of them that he could no longer inhibit nor defend. His defense system was not up to the job. Now when it is far too late he probably has a somewhat weak defense system that can inhibit. That won’t do his victims any good.

The lesson we can take from this is that when deprivation and severe trauma exists while we are being carried, the first-line defenses are already in a weakened state. As a kid he may have had uncontrolled temper tantrums which evolved into murder. Was he responsible? Yes and no. But we can go a long way to avoid murderous rage by making sure there is as little trauma as possible when we live in the womb and of course, a good birth followed by a loving childhood. No drinking and drug-taking by the mother. No fights with her husband. No crazy diets while carrying. It is easy for me to say. I am only the messenger. It is up to all of you to listen to the message.


  1. Yep, but until we can cure these people (in a world of thousands or competent primal therapists) we must be good "red necks" and permanently isolate demonstrated-dangerous people from society until we can know, beyond all reasonable doubt, that they will not re-offend. That's 8 stolen lives.

    PT might be part of the long-term solution, but we still have to manage the mess today as it stands (of course!).

  2. Easy to say, but not at all realistic. None of us are perfect. If something in the present makes us very angry, I believe that we need to look at what it is that we are telling ourselves at that moment. There is 'a story' being told by our inner judge/inner critic and it would seem that the person in the example above Believed that story... That his self-worth=worthless and he also had a slew of helplessness, loneliness that he was protecting himself from feeling by going into victim mode and lashing out. I think it is of primary concern for individuals to develop the ability to take loving action for themselves and not fall into abandonment of self by believing such stories and ignoring core feelings. I don't know that the entire solution lies in the past...I do think it is highly beneficial to heal from previous trauma. Yet, as we walk life moment by moment, opportunity for trauma, threat, and trigger are a constant reality. We must learn to take responsibility for our feelings on a moment by moment basis. It's all learning, lots of mistakes. No one solution.

  3. Hi,
    -"Is that possible to know one minute and not know the other minute? Absolutely"-.

    From my own experience (of both myself and others) one doesn't have to have the potential to be a murderer to 'act out' in an uncontrollable way and not to 'know' at the time.

    Actually (& furthermore) you can believe that small crimes (and I don't mean petty judicial things) don't matter and certainly 'know one minute and not the next' about them too. If it weren't so tragic and horrific one could say that it is ironic that in this case of multiple murder, though the murderer didn't 'know' what he was doing at the time, at least his 'blunder' was far too big to deny later. Does he feel remorse for what he did?

    I say ironic because with an immature belief system (plastic & elastic) we can continue with a string of minor 'act outs' totally oblivious to their destructive power, the effect it has on others and on our environment. Small crimes don't matter do they?

    Actually our 'small crimes' don't really exist for us as long as we can point the finger at greater criminals & murderers and feel completely vindicated.

    Paul G.

  4. Constant criticism and control, constant yakety-yak from the mother with deadly morphine-drugged delivery and father´s childhood beatings, makes one very very bipolar (with personality disorder) and very very agressive, and murderous also :(

  5. Art,

    Incredibly well presented and could not be easier... easy if we should have the opportunity to learn. Amazing that there is such an easy explanation... easy even to an intellectual explanation... explanation that will lead to a completely different understanding of the psychological phenomena... just if we can remove those cement hedges from the corridors of psykological "power"… corridors for where psychological phenomenon should have its source... primaltherapy a phenomena to still be unknown.


  6. Comments on “Murder Again”

    Reading your Reflections I deeply felt the understanding of how it is possible to know one minute and not know the other minute, when I remembered how I once reacted during my three weeks with Patty, who was my therapist in PT during 1978. The only incident worth mentioning, during these weeks, occurred when Patty tried to get below my defenses and get me to react emotionally. I suddenly lost controll, became like mad and threw my heavy shoe at her with full force, fortunately missing with a few inches. We were both equally surprised when I snapped out of control. She was obviously angry and told me to never do it again...

    The feeling of uncontrollable anger that Patty provoked, I could identify many years later. It was identical to the feeling and sensation which developed when I was stuck in the birth process which was a dreadful experience between life and death, which I had to live many times during many years to drain of its powerful impact.

    PT is good and fantastic for those who can obtain it, but I agree when you invite us to listen to your message that the only safe way to avoid a murderous rage is to avoid traumas when we live in the womb and then follow up with a loving childhood. And we need to continue to spread the message. Over and over again!

    Jan Johnsson

  7. Hi Art ,Your description of the murdere`s inner state of and the inner "pharmacy`s" response (or
    belated..) was in a sense exactly contrary to mine: Last Wednessday I had a car crash ( I drove
    towards a (little...otherwise I could not write
    these lines..) h o r s e !
    Immediately I felt some strange"onepointedness"
    so I succeded In managing this inclus.the last crying of this suffering animal and my hopeless and despair because of my broken car (I am not "Crösus" 2 Days later I got (verbally) attack towards a friend because of his idiotic (spare me the details) remark .so later I lost (verbally my countenance Yours emanuel

  8. I thought this article was good at pointing out the problem behind murder and rage. I understand and somewhat agree with Austin, too. But this sounds a lot like the common religious debate about pre-destination vs. free moral choice. Or nature vs nuture. Can an athlete be trained or is the ability natural?

    I am going to borrow from an old Kung Fu episode. We are all born into various circumstances. Some are born with more or less advantage than others. Some are better predisposed to good fortune than others. Others more doomed to misfortune than many.

    For a few lucky ones, they can make sense of the world all on their own. Some will need a little help. Some might make it with a lot of help. Many will never make it, despite all the help in the world. Some are pretty much destined to go wrong and be murderers or whatever. Too many strikes against them right off the start. Others stand some change of being helped, if they want to make the effort.

    We get out of life what we put into it and if we just look for excuses to beg off, then we can only blame ourselves. PT does offer the chance to salvage many, if they will take hold of it. But between the lack of publicity due to deliberate world wide suppression of PT (says I) and the difficulty of being able to pursue it, even if one wants to, few will ever get the chance. So we must make sense of the world as best as we can so as to avoid the greatest dangers and there are plenty of them out there that could cut short our lives long before we have a chance to try PT or anything else. So we have to get smart fast to avoid the pot holes of life.

    Capt. Cognitive, giving his 2 cents, which will surely upset a few here, as it usually does. That’s my job! A gadfly in the ointment, a splinter in the foot. The grand unified theory of Psychology is on the way and closer than you think!

  9. I'm a little surprised that no one has mentioned the Hillary Adams video. When she was 16, on one occasion (of many) she hid a video camera right before her abusive father came into the room and whipped her with a belt, shouting insults at her, and telling her that she was no good, she wasn't a real member of the family, etc.

    Her father, William Adams, is a Texas politician -- a family court judge! -- and one of the "Family Values" politicians. He claims that Hillary, who has ataxic cerebral palsy, is blackmailing him so she can keep her car. Ms. Adams released the video this past week because, even at 22, the abuse appears to be ongoing, and her father is trying to get full custody of her 10-year-old sister.

    It has generated a great deal of ... discussion ... on-line. Two thirds want to kill Daddy Adams and one-third think that Hillary is a conniving gold-digger and deserved it, and that they were beaten even worse but it made them the wonderful people they are today, etc. I have seldom seen as much actual rage online as I have with this.

    Either way, Judge Adams was cleared of all charges. He also released a statement. He comes across as being extremely petty, unloving, and self-pitying in interviews.

    If you do watch the video, be aware that it WILL bring up a lot of feelings very quickly, Primal and otherwise.

    NPR article (includes YouTube link):

    Video of the "discipline":

  10. "Murderous rage." I've felt it. It makes me sick.

    I have panic disorder. The thing about panic attacks is that you feel like you're losing control. And what's the worst that can happen if you lose control? Killing someone. It's especially disturbing because I've always hated and feared violence in all its forms.

    It's a terrible fear/sensation. Consequently, I've become a benzodiazepine addict & abuser. I also take an anti-psychotic (Seroquel).

    My mother has informed me that I had a difficult birth (although it was the shortest one of the three, I'm the youngest of three brothers). I had trouble GETTING OUT. I was quite big, and I was in a difficult position. My mother was told that I wasn't getting enough oxygen (which makes sense, having read Art's books). Eventually I "turned the right way around" and came out. It was only a 5½ hour process, but evidently traumatic.

    Whenever I'm in a place where I CAN'T GET OUT, such as a bus or a tram stuck in traffick, I get panic. It makes sense. The feelings of violent rage that also sometimes come up with the panic... well, it's probably the birth trauma that gives them the "oomph". Later traumas as an infant, which I won't get into now, probably compounded the whole thing, leaving my gating system fragile. And then...

    Cannabis, oh cannabis.If I had known that experimenting with you would leave me so vulnerable to these attacks, I'd have stayed far away from you. It seemed like such a harmless drug.

    Best regards,


  11. Dr. Janov,
    There must be more to this. Shouldn’t we separate the different types of murder?

    A chemical rush? Otherwise how we explain mass murder? – hard to prove, since we cannot take blood or use an fMRI while a murder is in action.

    Then there is:
    Murder in affect (defense),
    Murder out of desperation (no light at the end of the tunnel),

    Murder out of fear from a abuser (children planning to murder their abusive parents).

    Which brain levels are involved in these four kinds of murder and what kind of hormones spike when a murder is in progress?


  12. Sieglinde: Yes of course separate murders but in this case I was discussing Scott Kedrai from Seal Beach. art janov

  13. about a year ago i had a dream in which i was stomping on my father's head. i kept stomping until i felt his skull implode under my foot. it was satisfying. i felt no remorse at all. in real life, i am never aggressive. am i capable of murder?? yes, but only when my neocortex is offline. could i stomp on my primal therapist's head? no, because he/she will not allow me to project. i suppose Patty (Jan's therapist) lacked experience and certainly didn't have the knowledge that primal therapists have today.
    an injured primal therapist....that would be a tragedy!


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.