Saturday, March 10, 2012

Our Toxic Inner Life

Most of us agree that toxic chemicals in the environment can affect a carrying mother and her baby. When they spray pesticides onto fruit and vegetables it can deform the growing fetus. But if I told you that the really harmful chemicals that deform the growing fetus are also those that are “sprayed” from inside. If the mother is anxious and her cortisol levels are high, those stress hormone levels will infuse the fetus and affect his growth and brain development. The baby has to adopt to new and abnormal levels of stress that he should not have to adapt to. His system has to rev up to handle the input; it has to overreact in order to meet the threat. It has to react inordinately, and that overreacting my dog him through life. He may become the hysteric who is tense and responds excessively to a normally neutral stimulus. He is operating near the top all of the time. He, too, is under stress, an imprint that is embedded into his system.

The input of cortisol and other hormones affects the evolving brain, and in the first months of gestation there is an effect on the primitive brainstem that governs all of our primordial reactions: digestion, elimination, urination, breathing, heart rate and blood pressure. Also, it affects the alimentary canal, so when years later under an anxiety attack there are “butterflies in the stomach” we know where and when their origin. It is one of many ways that we know the cause and origin of panic and anxiety attacks.

When there is what I call a first line imprint there is perforce, a first line reaction; that means one of the key functions of the primitive brainstem must be involved. So there is a churning of the stomach, a pressure in the chest, a generalized terror, a need to pee, inability to eat, a racing heart and an elevated blood pressure. And yep, the doctor who examines you says it does look like an anxiety attack. But who can guess where it comes from? The disconnection between our lives at minus eight and our lives at forty is very large and it would take a giant leap of faith and science to make that connection. But we do. But patients make that connection all of the time; they come in anxious and descend to very early imprints, only after months of therapy, and it is they who make the connection, not us. What a relief, we don’t have to figure out anything.

At the start of the third month of gestation we are beginning to have an intact nervous system. And traumatic events are still registered very low down. It is only months later that there is an inchoate feeling system where feelings are imprinted, primitive as they are. We now have the beginnings of the limbic area with the amygdala. Thus low level terror can move to join the limbic system where fear is organized. Later on in life when fear is stimulated it can trigger off related deep-lying terror, and we have a panic attack. This happens when there is a violent household where fear is commonplace. The infant is terrified all of the time and the gating system that should hold back terror becomes faulty. Too many assaults on it.

Let me make sure we understand this: a first line trauma engenders a first line reaction. When we see it, a racing heart, for example, we have an idea of what trauma caused it and when. It helps orient us to where we have to go in therapy. Yes, current events can trigger it but through the process of resonance it sets off a first line reaction. We need to begin well anchored in the current situation and feeling and then later descend when the patient is ready for it, which may be some time. We never want to defy our personal evolution and plunge into first line imprints and reactions before the patient is ready. From that we can get abreaction, and worse, psychosis and delusions.
But when someone is very sensitive to low oxygen levels in a room, we can bet that it stems from early on when oxygen was life saving. You have only to witness severe locomotive breathing when a patient is down there reliving oxygen deprivation to understand my point. It is a good bet that it is brainstem originated.

Now suppose the carrying mother drinks and smokes. Can you imagine the chemical pollution affecting the fetus? The child has no chance. It may not show right away, but I have been in this métier for 60 years and I can attest it will cut your life short. You can easily understand this if you live in a wine field where they spray every day with chemicals. But it is the same when you get sprayed from inside every day.

You know why children need to be born to two loving parents? Because the carrying mother needs love, protection and caring while pregnant, and it takes a partner to do that. And when there is an absent father the mother and baby suffer. The mother needs to know that her partner will stay around and be there for her.

And when the father is hostile and impatient they also suffer. She needs a kind, patient environment to rear and carry a healthy baby. I have written in my Life Before Birth, soon or now in bookstores, that arguing parents(when mother is pregnant) lead to babies that have serious allergies, and for males, a greater chance of homosexuality. This is not booga booga talking; there are research results. But it should be obvious that the mother is under stress and her stress hormone level is constantly high. The pregnant mother is spewing out stress into the baby and forty years later the adult now has some heart problems.

Here is what scientists have found when there is a high cortisol level in the carrying mother: the baby’s nervous system is slow to develop and he will have learning and studying problems; the muscles are not developing properly and there can be a lack of coordination later on, and constant fear. (“Prenatal Programming of Human Neurological Function.” C.A. Sandman, et al, International J. of Peptides. Vol 2011. For those interested in the science of it all, read this).

The time when a mother should be most calm is during pregnancy. A revolution or war in the surroundings can be catastrophic for the baby. But a war between the parents is a catastrophe.


  1. And if the Mother had a dreadful childhood no matter how hard the husband loved and cared for her while she was pregnant her early experiences would be effecting the unborn child?

    Is'nt it about both Parents understanding their own trauma before having a child, otherwise the husbands love is like a sticking plaster over a Machette wound.

    My whole family is full of husbands who run about protecting and soothing their wives who are hysterics who scream and shout and cry their way to their needs being met. My Sister does this and her husband does everything he can to calm her down. She tells me she can't wait for the kids to go back to school because she hates them because they place demands on her she finds difficult to fulfill (ie please love me Mummy). She spends her whole time angry and confused. She is trying to get needs met that no-one can meet now and she does not even know what they are.

    Blind Panic in so many ways.

  2. Just the other day I had this wild idea that the human love of roller coaster rides might be connected to our experiences of being in the womb? If they wanted to, scientists could simulate the experience of a fetus floating in a womb to see what it looks like and possible deduce what it feels like based on readings of pressure, velocity etc. Afterall, a typical womb isn't just a stationary fluid-filled container, it is a container that is moving in completely unpredictable ways depending on what the mother is doing ... it must feel like a roller-coaster in some sense ... I wonder if that's what it feels like to a fetus? It must be scary and exhilarating ... and I'm just talking about the theoretical "safe womb" ie of a non-stressed non-neurotic mother going about her regular day ...


  3. A Primal Symphony In The Major Key

    After quite some time having been worrying about the future of the Primal Therapy and its universal establishment (- just as I spent time and energy on understanding, demystifying and curing my epilepsy or to select a different metaphor; just as I was neurotically acting out my childhood grief over my mother's helplessness solving other people’s - often women’s - problems -) I've slid into a period when I read more than usual. This is partly because I can better imagine / understand and know the meaning of what repressed needs, such as lack of love and care, at an early critical stage of life can lead to.

    It has been an as well exciting and dramatic as romantic and tragic reading that in temporal terms spanned 150 years. Besides that I regularly skimmed the everyday harsh realities in the world press, I have for the past two months read "The Old Man and The Sea" by Hemingway, "Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad, "Skipping Steps" by Frank (Via Janov's Reflections), "To read Proust " by O. Lagercrantz and "Life Before Birth" by A. Janov.

    To stop at perhaps the most difficult to melt, Marcel Proust, he was of French-Jewish ancestry and lived a short (51 years) life marked by illness. With unusual talent in an economically and culturally rich environment and with unique intellectual training during a dynamic period (1871-1922), he managed to convert his neuroses to the sublime art. His mothers refused “kiss and love" engraved de facto forever the asthmatic Proust. He turned this painful loss into sophisticated music, art, poetry, (homo) sexuality and religion in his writing in which he guides his readers through a pursuit of unattainable happiness. ("The refused kiss aroused an unreasonable demand in the boy's chest. He did not know why he was crying, but he could not do without the nutrients that the mother's kiss meant for his soul. Behind it, there was a reality that his mother could not give him.")

    A prerequisite for my understanding and my enjoyment of the said literary work and not the least of its mediators and writers have been my own experience of Primal Therapy and my reading and the growing understanding of Art Janov’s books over 40 years. To understand the driving force of a pain-relieving neurosis, as a surrogate/painkiller for the initial lack of satisfaction of needs in terms of love and care. How our pain creates and manages our ways of living that we will never be masters of. On the contrary, these patterns of life are our masters and adds a (protective) filter over our world view. In any case, until we have sensed the underlying pain.

    It is a deeply satisfying experience to have been part of that experience, to understand what was hidden behind my fear and pain. Without this experience, I had never been able fully to understand what I've read. Evolution has provided us with a means of expression, which, among other things have the advantage that they make our suffering bearable, well, almost enjoyable, during long moments. A Primal Symphony in the Major key.

    Jan Johnsson


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.