Thursday, November 10, 2011

On the Need to Believe

Yep. There is a need to believe but not in the way you might imagine. There is a neurotic need to believe that comes out of pain, more specifically hopelessness. And in that kind of belief there is nearly always an element of hope—the deity will watch over you, protect you, love you and not let any harm come to you. You can name the hope of our choice but what we are exploring is the process of dialectics; how one thing mutates into something else, usually its antagonist. Dialectics is basically the interpenetration of opposites: here, hopelessness becomes hope. Hopelessness drives hope, and the more fervent the belief the deeper and more powerful the hopelessness; and of course, vice versa.

We are discussing the motivation behind beliefs. The brain doesn’t give a hoot what’s in the belief, just so long as there is one; otherwise we would have no defense against the unutterable pain of hopelessness. Yes, beliefs can be defenses, especially those that grow out of pain. So some can believe in God, others in Brother Bubba, still others in the Hinduism; and they all may derive from the same feeling. The choice of belief depends on life circumstance. You can see how useless it is to spend hours in therapy analyzing the belief when it is not the content but the very existence of it that is important. I have seen time and time again a patient coming close to a very terrible pain and switching into some kind of belief; “You don’t understand. I know they don’t like me and want to harm me.” They switch into beliefs when the feeling tends to overwhelm the cognitive system. And the choice of belief emanates out of the feeling: something or someone(a feeling) wants to hurt me. We rarely allow an overwhelming feeling to come close to conscious/awareness. It usually means that a feeling/sensation is rising out of sequence and must be dealt with immediately.

It isn’t always just a feeling; it can come from the deep brainstem where so many excessive sensations lie: the sensation of being crushed, pushed, suffocated, drowned, etc. All of these sensations and associated traumas can be imprinted very early in our lives, even while we are being carried in the womb or during birth. The hopelessness can derive from so many sources: a carrying mother drinking and smoking where the baby cannot escape the input and is suffocating. Or a birth process where the mother is given anesthetics which are far too much for a five pound baby, and again there is suffocation with no escape—hopelessness and helplessness.

Ordinarily, the biologic system tries to deal with the onslaught with a biologic shift of weight or force to counterbalance the deep feeling. The system tries to balance it so that it does not get out of hand. But still, if the sensation/feeling is very strong and the imprint is already sealed in, then the various high levels of brain function will try to deal with it, as well. The highest level will pitch in and offer up a belief as a way of counterbalancing the imprint. That is worth repeating: the newfound belief is a measure of counterbalance, of equilibrium. So first there are purely biologic efforts, pitching in with gate-enhancers such as serotonin, and later on, as the brain evolves, bolstering it with beliefs; all part of the same process of defense, all linked together. So for example, let’s suppose that the baby’s blood pressure goes up, which is the most she can do at the time. But later that blood pressure, heart rate and many other physiologic effects become part of the defense system. They have to be addressed as an ensemble, not simply separately as discreet entities. And now the defense system is sealed in. The beliefs are not just something to be changed apart from the system but are part of the personality. What someone believes is a part of her and is not just some whimsy or caprice. In our therapy we never just deal with strange and bizarre beliefs; we always try to get beneath them and find the driving force.


  1. Art: Belief, is a verb, something we do. The act of believing means we don't know. That's ok if the belief is something unimportant; I believe my spouse is already home, but it's the believing in philosophies politics or religions that are the most pervasive and damaging, cos we are insisting in a belief (without acknowledging that it really means "NOT KNOWING") and acting on this belief (going to Church, Temple, Mosque or just meditating the mind into a blank). Act-outs (defenses) for no real reason other than believing (NOT KINOWING). I contend this is one of the silliest words, and seemingly occurs in almost, if not all, languages. In truth, the only thing we can be certain to know is: how we feel ... if we can feel.

    Most of the other explanations of believing seems, to me, to miss the real point.


  2. Comments on The Need To Believe

    You are of course right about how pain and hopelessness turn into belief and hope, and that has been my luck. During decades, I was obsessed by a belief that one day I would find a remedy to my epilepsy and my neurotic behaviors, which were propelled by the pain and terror behind my seizures and hallucinations. The hope and belief didn’t change anything. However, they took me through to the next step, which happened, when I optimistically took a tremendous risk with a radical physiotherapy which opened the gates into birth primals, which Primal Therapy made me understand and finally resolve after many years of suffering.

    So I have to thank evolution for giving us tools like repression and shift of force to counterbalance the unbearable pain. Otherwise I had not been able to come that far that I could understand and conquer my pain / epilepsy / neurosis. The pain filled survival was nothing but a rough kind of escape, and I often survived because I was good at being crazy. Having lived much pain and terror and having experienced how most of my neurotic behavior has evaporated when the pain filled filters no longer affect my body and mind has given me an opportunity to perceive a whole new world. With a somewhat clumsy metaphor, it is, as if I have removed a pair of very dark sunglasses that are cut for a highly shortsighted person, when I needed nothing.

    Jan Johnsson

  3. Art, do you know of any flavourless edible drug that can temporarily induce a deepish emotional experience without significant risk of psychosis or brain damage? Just enough to get a politician interested in feelings. There may be a way to do it, without breaking the law.

  4. Hi,

    -"In our therapy we never just deal with strange and bizarre beliefs; we always try to get beneath them and find the driving force"-.

    But if your therapist is still enmeshed in his/her own 'belief system' and practices, (such as Buddhism, TM, etc etc) then he/she is not really going to get us in to deeper feelings is he/ she?

    No, I'll answer that. If the belief system started its' "Odyssey" in childhood whilst the 2nd line is still forming its' imprints then the individual will later become pre-disposed to the 'beliefs' of a 'loving' or 'caring' mentor.

    This way the 'booga booga' therapists maintain their monopoly because they are merely peddling a new version of the old 'commandments'.

    So acceptable to the sufferer, for a while.

    Paul G.

  5. “God is a concept by which we measure our pain”. All what I do… measure my pain… pain I try to protect my self’s against… not feeling it because it hearth to much?
    I am in my pain… a little boy who tries to explain… the little boy I always been… making sense… sense of "hope" to a meaningful recognition... sense as measure my pain.


  6. Jack: Wait til my book, Beyond Belief comes out. Not sure when. art

  7. Personally, I find Dr Janov's writings about belief systems to be the most fascinating. And I think his discovery that, apparently, the type and especially the tenacity of a belief system is a reflection of an emotional neurosis, is a revolutionary one. Think of all the ideologues , intellectuals, and academics who would freak out if exposed to such a notion! We have such a proliferation of verbiage, and books, and belief systems etc... this whole morass to which I was addicted and drowning in. It took me 30 years to get out of it and now only barely treading the surface and seeing a bit of Light.I am now re-reading his 'Ideas as Opiates' chapter in 'Prisoners of Pain' again with great interest.


  8. Just a hunch, but I think some people--especially people in a heck of a lot of pain--don't develop solid beliefs as a defense. Instead they develop dependency-relationships with people who are the dominant individuals in their lives, where they let those dominant people basically define 'truth' for them.

    I have had some experience with these (frustrating!) types. They seem to be open minded, and can see reason, but as soon as they move into another social zone with "strong" and "admirable" personalities that just "know what is what", they can't help swallowing themselves up into the dominant personality's ideas.

    In other words they are in a state where, ultimately, it's up to other "bigger" people to define reality for them - irrespective of the substance of their reasoning that they personally can understand.

    --It's like those strong politicians and cult leaders. Too many people follow their confidence in itself, unable to see that their confidence is (or may be) just an expression of insanity - or being too stupid to know when they don't know what they're talking about.

  9. I am with Jack on this one. When I say to friends that I do not believe in anything, they generally disagree with me. I must surely believe that the sun will shine each day and barring accidents I must believe that I will surely wake up each morning. But of course they either do not understand what I mean or perhaps they are defending themselves against what they perceive as an attack on their beliefs. What I mean is I do not have a belief system. So I do not believe in any God, be it the Christian God or the ancient Gods of the Greeks or any God for that matter. As Jack suggests, I may believe my wife is home, but that is not a belief system, like praying, worship, reading scripture and attending Church each week and believing the big man in the sky is watching over us. Perhaps when I say I believe the sun will rise and my wife is at home I just mean that I really hope that that is the case. John Lennon said it succinctly ‘”God is a concept, by which we can measure, our pain”, and went on to sing that he did not believe in Magic, the I-Ching, the Bible, Tarot, Jesus, Buddha, Mantra or the Bhagavad Gita etc. I am with him on that one. Belief is pernicious to say the least and probably the hardest nut to crack from a Primal viewpoint but maybe Art can confirm if my suspicions are correct on that point.

    Regards to you all,


  10. Construct sentences is my need… need as in itself explain the amount of my pain… in itself as long as I don’t know what it does ... construct sentences for its purpose to ease pain.

    Construct sentences that lead to my pain… I can do when I am about to know what construct sentences mean ... when I can stay away from construction of sentences in sense to feel the necessity of what it contains… lie down and feel the pain when it came about and the need of why.

    The desire of "sex" measure my pain where the "desire" took place to ease my pain ... pain as "sex" relieves. Sex in quotes to explain ... it is not about sex ... it’s about unbearable pain… pain which found its way through the physiological act need of real sex is.


  11. magical thinking is a way by which humans have tried to believe they have some control over their environment e.g. praying for rain, divine retributione etc. Similar with the current finacial crisis - most people have a tendency to believe everything will turn out 'okay' in the end and politicians use this to buy more time and manage perceptions.
    I have been reading a bit of R D Laing recently, someone who Art met, so I read, very briefly in London in 1972 for the screening of the documentary Asylum (worth a look on youtube by the way). Laing's thing was that people get screwed over with the word 'love' because people believe that when someone says they 'love you' that they do. In fact it is their need to be loved that sustains the belief that they are, when in fact they are not. It is this discrepancy that causes many problems according to Laing. It is a case that you must not believe what your brain wants you to believe.

  12. incidentally Art, Laing was obviously aware of your work and actually is on youtube talking about many of the same themes you address e.g. the effect of pre-natal and birth trauma on the development of personality. His own therapy was very much an eclectic mix I believe, so that for some people he would offer existential therapy or his version of primal therapy or at other times just offer his presence and make himself available. It would be fascinating to you know what you thing of Laing's existential-phenomenological approach to mental illness.

  13. Will: Ronnie and I hung out together in London. He was not a serious operator. He never read my book but read a chapter or two in a bookshop on the north end and decided he would go me one better and invent the conception trauma and other such nonsense. His aim was always to be as far out as possible, gave serious drugs to patients and never was a student of science. He was charming and therefore got away with a lot. I saw what he did with psychotics and it was not pretty, had them reliving birth without really knowing about reliving. He simply was not aware of what he was doing with patients; the more dramatic the better he seemed to think. art

  14. Steve: Hey you left out Zimmerman. I don't believe in Zimmerman. I just believe in me....yoko and

  15. Fascinating glimpse into the 1970's Art. Thanks. I was reading the book by Laing's son, Adrian in which you are mentioned. Obviously you knew or met laing. Just from reading about him and watching it does seem that he was someone who in trying to escape from working class roots did lean towards seeking attention and showing off a little. But, like yourself, he was a brilliant man in many ways.

  16. Hi,
    -"When I say to friends that I do not believe in anything, they generally disagree with me"-.

    I've been scratching my head to comprehend how repression and belief are connected. I have sort of concluded that belief is the boundary surrounding repressed content. IE: behind this boundary is the unknown of what we have subconsciously repressed and on this side of that boundary we have a 'rigid fixation' (belief) that both defends and deflects but also simultaneously expresses the colour of our repressions; (how could the wrapper not reveal something of the content)?

    I feel the most dangerous belief system is that of repression being an absolute end in itself; which is what most people presume (without really thinking about it at all). For example most people actually believe the past and skeletons and sleeping dogs and silt at the bottom of the pond should be left in the past, the closet, asleep and not stirred up at any cost respectively. . .

    So repression becomes a self fulfilling prophesy in the belief that suppression is its' correct representative. Furthermore, this stance guarantees the infamous 'projection' and 'acting out' (or 'in'). Now, organised society (religion) has made oppression out of it, has it not?

    Once one believes that expressing pain and re-living trauma is bad / a sign of weakness / too scary, etc, etc ones' experience of 'resonance' (both internally and from other suffering individuals) becomes distorted at this boundary by the perception that one has been 'infringed' by the 'negativity' of others (or even of oneself). How much you buy into this is a measure of your own neurosis.

    Thus the 'expressors' become the scapegoats for the 'repressors' who believe holding it all in is good and letting it all out is bad.

    So, when something goes wrong (and I'm subconsciously full of pain) if any-one else is remotely involved in the transaction, well then, it probably is their fault, particularly if they're the ones getting excited.

    You can see that large organised religion is a rather desperate attempt to put the responsibility for projection a long way out of the groups' own boundary, so that at least the members can share a 'Common Belief' and therefore experience some intimacy with each other, albeit temporarily, despite the seething mass of pain boiling away under the collective sub-conscious.

    Alice Miller had a lot to say about this and you can see how 'militancy' and 'cosmetics' become the social yin & yang of collective repression.

    Paul G.

  17. Hi Jack,

    though I side very much with your un-equivical point of view (that we are feeling beings) I can't agree that belief is a verb and therefore something we 'do'.

    To me, 'belief' seems to be something that happens to us. It is part of repression, a rigid and inflexible distortion of the reality of our pain. A colour, a tone, a sensation and also a pattern that repeats it's own 'intrusive' rhythm.

    -"Oh no, there I go again"! Out pops my belief / prejudice.

    I'm sure we don't 'do' belief. . . I'm sure it happens to us. We are powerless in the face of the repressive mechanism.

    If Art is to be believed though, and you, and Jan and various others, well then, there is hope because we can undo these 'fixations'.

    Paul G.

  18. Hi,

    postscript on belief:

    Have you noticed how infuriated we can become in the face of other peoples' beliefs?

    It is like the clash of shields. I have been wondering how the hypocrisy of projection can maintain its' grip in me and others.

    Driving a car is such a good example because no matter how well 'adapted' we are, no matter how courteous we cultivate our driving style to be, lurking there in the depths is some sort of weird monster who can only see the faults of others.

    How is it that just as we are committing some misdemeanour ourselves, we can explode at the other driver (with self righteous indignation) for the very same crime?

    Actually, it's not just in the 'moment' of a driving situation either is it? I mean, we can cultivate and up-hold totally hypocritical beliefs over a long time period.

    If there is a boundary between the split off emotional content (repression) and that boundary is marked by rigid beliefs (on the aware side) then these inflexible 'set points' form hurdles too high to see over (or through), let alone jump. So, I think that beliefs particularly about other criminals 'stem' from our own distorted imprints and there is utterly nothing we can do in the face of this resonating reflection of our own inadequacy.

    We can have strong minds (believing it to be wrong to explode) and quell the impulse to point the finger accusingly; we can temporarily be in a 'whole' and integrated state (perhaps in the hours after a re-living experience, before the pressure builds up again, or after some positive experience that leaves us feeling temporarily 'high'). . . but sure enough, those set points, those 'imprints' marking the boundary of conscious awareness stand resolutely (like the Berlin Wall) in the same place they always were, namely, IN THE WAY, OBSTRUCTIVELY.

    It would seem that tears are the only solution powerful enough to dissolve such hard concrete.

    Oh Lord, please let it rain tears on the walls of repression!

    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"

“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.