Sunday, December 16, 2012

On Different Kinds of Memory

Too often we think of memory as something we can remember….verbally, that is.  But there are several  kinds of memory and each level of consciousness remembers in its own way.  The emotional system remembers when something moves us to tears; something we may not be “aware” of.  Thus we remember on non-verbal  levels  in non-verbal  ways.  And there is another form of memory that is most primitive, and is purely instinctual and below even the emotional level.  Seizures can be that form of memory; so that in group therapy, as one of my epileptics was about to have a seizure, I told him that it was from birth and let himself go there.  He did, and transformed an inchoate seizure into a  reliving of a traumatic/oxygen deprived birth.  I  knew where it was coming from, otherwise I would never dare suggest what I did.    And those kinds of suggestions are rare, indeed.

  There are forms of what I call first line memory; avoiding enclosed places as a  "doppelganger" of an oxygen deprived gestational life.  Enclosed spaces, for those who have that imprint, are avoided in order not to trigger off a panic attack.  It is not the enclosed space that is the danger; it is the memory of what it provokes.  A Primal can make it conscious but even when unconscious, it is still a memory.  And in Primal Therapy we make all  of those levels, over time, into consciously/aware experiences; not verbal experiences—conscious ones.  We would never try to transmute a non-verbal memory into something verbal  and/or intellectual.  We don’t encourage a patient to remember something verbally that was never verbal, in the first place.  That is  when we get abreaction and no help  in therapy.  That involves deceiving the patient and trying to change his memory system;  intellectual therapists too often try to do that…..make every experience verbal and forcing the memory into the verbal  mode.

  Our first job in therapy is to recognize what form of memory we are dealing with.  Birth traumas are never relived verbally or even with tears; there are never any words involved.  Trying to get a patient to scream when there was never any scream or need to scream involved in the memory is yet another road to abreaction—the discharge of the energy of a feeling onto the wrong  level of consciousness—onto a different memory system and a different level of consciousness.

  That is often what a seizure is; yes of course there may be brain lesions, but the tipping point could be latent anxiety.  And we bring down the level to below overt symptoms, so that there may be latent anxiety but not overt seizures.  All this so we can be clear what kind of memory system we are dealing with.  What we get too often in insight/cognitive therapy is verbal expression to the exclusion of the other levels and so we get only partial wellness because we have dealt partially with memory.  To be clear, there may be several factors  involved in a seizure; anxiety may be one.  When we reduce that factor we may help the patient to be below symptomatic levels.  It is not an ultimate cure  but it helps.  Ultimate cure is when we deal  with  the  neurology, physiology and key primal memory.  We cannot neglect  any aspect of ourselves and expect  cure.  We can use pills to block anxiety but that is not going to be cure.  Let us be sure about what kind of memory system we are dealing with; knowing that there are different kinds and “never the twain shall meet.”  If we confound memory systems the patient will not get well.  This is not just a theoretical point, but a profoundly neurophysiologic one.


  1. Art, you have “pinned down” one of the butterflies in my stomach.

    I certainly value that You still are going strong and inspired to create Reflections. They continue to work in favor of my understanding of my birth trauma and its subsequent seizures.

    Over the last 30 years, I have, over and again, tried to pin down what memories are causing different fits in me though I have been persistent in my almost “scientific” search. I have, however, consequently failed to catch a memory in the moment of a fit even after my seizures, over the years, have shrunk to a fraction of their old magnitude. A brief fit does not worry me, which the impotence to catch and explain the memory behind the feeling does. However, every time I have had fits in my epileptic life, I have had, what can be described as an electric anxiety shock, which I never have been able to catch.

    Having a stubborn personality, I have every time thought: “next time” I’ll catch it. How could I? It is a wordless feeling of immense anxiety, which leaks out through my defense when I’m caught off guard in an unexpected emotional situation or memory. (This may sometimes occur in combination with a rapid cooling / temperature change). They have never appeared when I have been doing my often challenging job as an international executive.

    I remember how I, after a week of qualified work, having driven 1100 km - non stop - from Karlshamn, Sweden, came to visit a primal retreat with Art in Bergen, Norway, in the summer of 1984. I had disarmed my defense by fatigue, and when I met with Art and his therapists I became overwhelmed by the kindness. Art saw that something was going on with me and came up to me and said “it’s a feeling, lie down”! Then my primitive, instinctive memory relived a traumatic, oxygen deprived birth, which was one of the crucial steps in the demystification of my epilepsy. In this and all the subsequent occasions, it was about wordless experience of anxiety caused by asphyxia and assault recorded during a birthing process between life and death.

    To understand how crucial the repressed anxiety was for my epilepsy, a key factor has been my intuitive allergic reactions to cognitive insights trying to verbalize my anxiety / my symptoms. Art’s intuitive knowledge to guide me to my deepest feelings have been brilliant. In parallel, Art had the ability verbally to analyze the process, communicate his knowledge and make sure that I understood how I by reliving feelings developed an integrated unified circuit between the different levels in my body / brain.

    It is easy to pin down a butterfly compared to pin down anxiety.

    Jan Johnsson

  2. Fantastic writing Art!

    What we least want to know is what we need the most… what we least wanted to know is what we need the most!

    If this is the case... we do not know what the limbic system carries with it and that's what we need to focus on in order to understand the psychological issue and further the primal therapeutic process ... which also would solve all the world's symptomatic reactions.

    We must focus on what the limbic system contains... focus on what’s there… there in the name of science and further intensify it with a clinical trials.

    At first… we can leave the brain stems content as it confuses neo cortex... we by now know that we need to focus on the limbic system as it what comes first in the primal therapy process... concentrate on our emotional memories from our childhood. What we are at... is shown in our symptomatic reactions… symptomatic reactions as we so clearly experience in our lives… as we by depression and anxiety carry with us in our life… but also "surprising" in order of how the primal therapeutic process makes its way into our history.

    Generally speaking… we know that the limbic system carries the sensing part of the brain and neo cortex the thinking… to that, we have an question... a question of how we interpret electrochemical signals as some signals do not reach their goals and others reaching connections to conscious awareness.

    Why do we get anxiety... must be of the utmost interest to all who suffer and are working in the field... that's what we fail to put our thumb on. There are a thousand and one ways to ask a question and we must search among the thousands! There are a thousand and one ways to explain something and we have to search through the thousands!

    The child in us cries out his despair... despair in symptoms of anxiety and depression and that's not far from being at conscious awareness only we should have room to allow the process within us... what is there to prove otherwise?

    To me... it looks as if we need a ”religious” speaker who are so convinced of what he says that he is one with "God"... one with what it is primal therapy scientifically proves.


  3. This was a good article to use often, to help people understand the essence of Primal theory and therapy. There are different levels and orders of memories. The very non-verbal as well as the ultra-verbal thinking type. Each needs to be dealt with on its own terms. 1st is not 2nd or 3rd, its 1st with all its instinct and no verbal at all.

    But in addition to fixing the feeling (non-verbal) memories, recovering them and integrating them, we do also need to pay attention to our thoughts and thinking, which also need fixed. Even after the pain is gone, errors in thought will still exist. Strategies still need improved. Things just don’t automatically all work out. It may be far easier with pain no longer interfering so much, but no hidden traumatic pain will never guarantee solid sound results in thought.

    Utopian dreams are OK for dreamers, but the more practical will realize that human nature is far more pervasive than simply getting rid of primal pain. Pain can be re-inflicted if the world we live in is still ill and wants to stay that way.

    Mosquito Coast was a movie from the 80s that sort of highlighted the fallacy of a Utopia.

    1. Apollo

      One can always look up at the stars while lying in the gutter. Life is as you say always going to be stressful and shit happens. However if kids are respected from before they are born and loved for who they are and not moulded into what adults think they should be, then those kids are far more likely to be able to handle what life throws at them. If I get stressed now, it is almost as though my Brain partially shuts down. My thinking becomes cloudy and muddled. I find life pretty difficult sometimes. It makes me really angry to think that the arrogance of both my Parents taking an innocent child and forcing him into being what they thought was right, caused me not to be as successful in life as I could have been and by successful I mean simple human things like being a Parent myself. I suspect that if I had become a Dad years ago I would have done pretty well the same moulding on any kids of mine having been rather blind to reality until a few years ago. It really hurts to have to mourn so many losses and also hurts because so few people I know seem to have any understanding. To get in touch with that pain means others pick up on it and so one can find oneself isolated so others can avoid their own. I sat opposite a young Mother and her baby on the train yesterday. This young woman was so gentle with her baby. The baby was making a lot of noise but it was joyful noise. Gurgling, shreaking etc and the Mother did not shush her to stop annoying anyone and frankly no-one was annoyed. There were smiling faces. The Mother's gentleness reminded me of the gentleness one see's expressed by our Primate cousins with thier babies. Loads of patience and tolerance of mistakes and pulled ears etc. It was a joy to see and at the same time it hit something very deep inside me and I spent the whole of the rest of the day very sad for little me I think or so I realise now while I write this.

      One can dream and one can strive while also having to compromise.

    2. Hi planespotter,

      -"It was a joy to see and at the same time it hit something very deep inside me and I spent the whole of the rest of the day very sad for little me I think or so I realise now while I write this"-.

      My greatest regret is that I had not digested properly what I read in Art's The Primal Scream in 1984 because that would have forewarned me of the labyrinth of neo cortical deceit I went through in two decades of various conventional therapies.

      These 'conventional' therapists so completely brainwashed me of the actual truth I became a parent without comprehending my own traumas let alone feeling them. . .

      Consequently I turned out to be considerably less than the parent I thought I aught to be and when I also see such wonderful little scenes from 'nurturing life' I am moved to tears and remorse for the fuck up I made of my own childrens' lives. I pay every day for my own and other people's gross ignorance of the facts.

      I'm not looking for sympathy here but I sure do say that the emotional consequences of being a parent are often harder than the loneliness that accompanies childlessness.

      Apollo, you still havn't answered my questions, how does your brainstem learn anything after the critical window is shut? Come on now, don't freeze me out. . . I can tell when people do that. . .

      Paul G.

    3. I replied twice, but they were evidently not accepted. I do not have the rights and freedoms that you do. Email me:

    4. Hi Apollo,

      Look, thanks for the invitation to communicate with you privately.

      I'm declining because I feel we could easily start a 'partisan' movement that way.

      Art doesn't publish everything I write either, nor others too. We're not the only ones. I guess Art edits out 'muddled rumination'.
      Which I confess I can keep up indefinitely . . .

      Anyway, it's Art's blog, he's Mr Scrutinizer and I have come to value what he edits out. . . Have you noticed how most of Art's recent posts are 'precise'?

      You and me, we both write too long replies! Though it's obvious we all try not to.

      I can just imagine Art groaning at the next monologue in his inbox.

      Paul G.

  4. That was a good post, Planespotter.
    You speak of your parents trying to make you what they wanted. We have memories and we have wills. We hate when our will is trampled on. It feels like we are treated as if of no account. I do not suggest that idealism does not have a place within each of us. But to expect that we can crawl out of that deep black hol of universal human pain to heal everyone is a bit hard to believe. Not cause I would not like to, but because I am much the realist, no matter how painful that is.

    But you and I both have seen good mothers. I saw one only recently and think back to another in 1984 at a religious convention. The peaceful pacified look on the baby of 84 and the little girl of maybe 4, recently, were things to remember. They reverberate and stick in our heads. And yes, that empty pang you speak of as well.

    I am in full agreement that we should never stop trying to better ourselves. But with that, the understanding that we will probably never get all the way there and no one will. Improvement may not be perfection, but it is improvement and we need lots of that.

    1. Hi Apollo,

      -"We have memories and we have wills"-.

      I have convinced myself that the 'will' you speak of is actually what Art calls 'feeling'.

      -"We have memories and we have feeling"-.

      It is when our feelings get trampled on by others that we hate them for it.

      Also, if you are used to living in the ramparts of your mind and are good with words, then if anyone finds a way into your ramparts then you will feel uncomfortable; not because anyone has challenged your feelings, or trampled on them but because you may have been rudely awakened into a partial realisation that you live in your defences and defences are never impregnable. Not even yours Apollo.

      Apollo, stop trying to live a feeling life in the ramparts of your mind and stop trying to twist Primal Theory into a shield to embellish your own ramparts.

      Oh, and lastly, though I can see this is a lot to ask, don't freeze me out, it sets a bad example to the other bloggers, they'll all start doing it and then I will find myself in a recurrence and feel scapegoated and all 'left out'. . . That probably started by being taken away from my mum at birth and stuffed in an incubator.

      Please don't stuff me in the incubator again. Talk to me Apollo!

      Paul G.

  5. I had 2 memories or feelings related to my umbilical cordon, before and after birth.

    Once I had the memory of the sensation of having it in my hands, like holding a shoulder bag, like it was my only friend. It made the final connection with a previous feeling about having it being removed from around my neck and around my arms right after birth. Leaving me with nothing, and alone. That was the imprint making the connection between getting nothing and being alone. They left me nothing, they left me alone. It happened while being dropped on the belly of my mum but even with my mum I was alone. I also had a session feeling inside harassment and like struggling with myself where i said "at elates I'm not alone when i'm in this feeling". I had quite a few sessions going to the center holding my shoulder bag full of unnecessary stuff for a session. At some times in my life I felt like I had lost like a twin early in my life. In fact there was no twin, just my cordon.

    One day, after remembering being kind of tyrannic with some kids during my high school years (first period of power after a youth with two older brothers), I found myself acting as if I was manipulating something with my hand near my neck, with no restriction. I guess I was remembering manipulating my cordon, experiencing having power on someone (something) for the first time. Like it was my first interaction with someone and I was then having power. I was acting just the same in my high school years.


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.”
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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,
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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.