Monday, December 17, 2012

On Reliving Again

There seems to be a dispute about whether we can relive events in the womb while we were being carried.  So let me clarify.  When a patient with leaky gates starts to relive something in infancy, there is sometimes a breakthrough of birth events; the trauma, say, of diminished oxygen where the mother was given heavy anesthetics. So in the midst of an infancy primal, there is suddenly a suffocation, sometimes the person turns red and seems to be suffocating.  When this ends the patient begins rapid breathing,  I call it locomotive breathing, raspy and hoarse, rapid as though the patient is making up  for the event by gasping for air.  Heavy breathing can go on for minutes, and then relaxation as the event becomes integrated.   The vital signs fall below starting values as a sign that this integration is happening.  Here we establish with little doubt that earlier pain can break through higher level trauma, as though the beginning feeling has dredged up deeper pain.  This happens when that earlier first-line pain is massive and will not stay in its cave.   The gates are already damaged from all the early trauma and they become “leaky.”

   Through the process of resonance the early pain is dredged up because it is in some way related to the current feeling; either anxiety or panic.  It can also take the form of hopelessness  or helplessness when the current situation leaves the person feeling helpless.  When the clerk at the DMV keeps blocking your attempt to explain something and she says, “sorry, there is nothing I can do.” Sometimes rage sets in at the DMV. In a Primal,  it may be that helplessness sets in and this evokes the very early helplessness felt when trying to get born, being suffocated with drugs.   Of course it is not articulated as helplessness; it is a sensation and very uncomfortable.  It may not even be a feeling; only a non-differentiated sensation that has no words nor feelings, as yet.  But we can act on that later on even when we don’t know what it is.

   In short, leaky gates allows that early sensation to rise, triggered off by something in the present that produces the same sensation/feeling.   So if we understand that while we relive something in the present an old feeling from childhood can break through, it is also possible that while we relive early infancy and childhood it is possible that womb-life trauma can break through.  It can be denied only if we deny the possibility of womb-life trauma.  This is no longer a hypothesis since hundreds of studies over the last few years have pointed to womb-life trauma and its later effects on our health and personality.   The earlier that trauma the more widespread and deleterious the effects.

  But the way we relive womb-life can only be within the possibilities of what the first line can do; that is, relive the physiologic effects with no feelings possible, as yet.   So when we have inordinate anxiety while we relive something much later in our childhood, that signifies first line breaking through.   The first line, in brief, can only provide simply biologic reactions of heart, blood pressure, body temperature, as well as changes in hormone output.  We cannot pinpoint these reactions because they are incorporated in the primal of childhood that someone is reliving.   But it makes the Primal much more forceful, more than we can expect when the patient relives something when she was eight years old.   Terrible suffering and panic may be there that does not seem to related to the event itself.  We see this a lot in pre-psychotics where there is nearly always a first-line breakthrough during a primal.  And for this they often need painkillers or tranquilizers to push back the first line for a time. Otherwise we get disintegration, which is not what we want.  So is the patient after this Primal aware of the first line and that she was reliving life in the womb?  Not often, except that she knows that feeling of panic; and we know where it comes from.  So in this sense she is aware of first line but not the circumstances, any more than during womb-life she is aware that she is in the womb when mother takes a couple of cocktails.      But she can experience the sensation of dizziness and vertigo.  And that may last years, or she can hold her breath when later on there is trauma and fear; a holdover from womb-life and suffocation where she is again conserving oxygen when stressed.   It is again the primal/primordial reaction to suffocation.

A propos of this, there is an article in Scientific American Mind. I must repeat this to be believable—SCIENTIFC AMERICAN MIND, with the headline, “A daily glass of wine is OK during pregnancy.”   (Nov/Dec 2012).  Can you imagine? I can, when it comes from those who have no idea what womb-life does to us.  The story goes on to say that moderate drinking  shows no effects on childhood learning. And of course they studied hundreds of subjects and found they were just as smart as other children.  So it must be true?  Oh no it’s not.  That is because in the cognitive arena they are exclusively focused on learning and not on emotional effects.  So they find what they are looking for.  Maybe they are looking at the wrong thing.  These results also appeared in the journal of obstetrics.   And they reassure:  expectant moms can now relax.  Ayayay.

    A mother who has a drink every day of her pregnancy is doing immeasurable damage to the offspring.  And it is not temporary.  If she also smokes there is the groundwork for later psychosis.   How do we know?  During Primal relivings we see inordinate reactions to the childhood reliving she is undergoing.   Thus, it indicates massive deep pain underneath the surface.   When there is now pain of neglect, of being ignored, neglected and punished during childhood all of the time we have the soil for later serious mental illness; and we know that the illness is not just mental but totally physiologic.  No, mothers who drink cannot relax; they are harming the baby and later adult.  If they smoke and drink during the first days and weeks of womb-life where the nervous system is just getting organized the damage begins.    Can we relive?  Only the sensations and even that it is very difficult but in theory it can be done.  Let us not confuse awareness and consciousness.   We can be aware of malaise but not be conscious of the early circumstances; but we can relive the malaise.

   So what does a recent study, also in Scientific American Mind,  mean when they say that PTSD (stress disorder)  happens with more severity when there is a traumatic childhood in the past of the individual?  Here again we see that there is an acknowledgement of the critical window even when they are not aware of it.  That is, it is not only the war experience that damages but the harmful childhood behind it.  That is, trauma during the critical period,  early on in our infancy and before, occurs during the epoch of the critical window when lack of love can leave a disastrous imprint that lingers.  A mother who drinks and smokes during pregnancy is indifferent to her child, with the same indifference she may treat him later on.  That is how the fetus experiences lack of love and trauma before he has words for it.

    The critical window has a short shelf-life,  and when there is trauma during that time the damage is engraved and stays.   The most critical shelf-life is during the time we are being carried. That imprint harms the most and lingers much longer, perhaps for a lifetime.  It is also the most recondite and difficult to retrieve and relive but it can be done.  We have to trust the theory and our clinical experience, which by now has lasted 45 years


  1. 1. Quote: "The earlier that trauma the more widespread and deleterious the effects."

    Here's a good way of looking at it. Imagine taking a small sapling, and sticking a spike in it. As the tree grows from that sapling that spike will skew the developmental structure of the tree, and probably drastically. By comparison, if you spike it when it's half-way mature, then the impact of the spike will be far less visible or concerning.

    Same with the growing human. Spike them early in their development and the far-reaching impact can only be so much more profound.

    2. You effectively made an important point about how we measure human development. It's a great assumption that straight-A's mean your child is perfectly intelligent. And not just just emotionally intelligent - intellectually as well...

    It's a bit like the IQ test situation. How do we know that an IQ test actually measures intelligence? How do we test the tests? The truth is the only thing we know those IQ tests test is the individual's ability to perform on them. There is no real science behind the tests.

    And indeed, there are huge assumptions loaded into the belief that if a child can perform well at school then their intellect must be fully intact. (especially if the schooling asks intelligent kids to use their heads in dumb ways!). Again, like you kind of said Art, we must be so careful with those easy assumptions before we tell pregnant woman to shoot-up with booze (and other).

  2. Off topic:

    The included is an interesting article on PTSD.

    The researchers were surprised to find that PTSD developed in mainly soldiers who already had nasty childhoods. Of course that wouldn't surprise a primal therapist - it's called compounding, and those already with huge pain will 'overload' and develop critical symptoms (like PTSD) much sooner than those with less pain.

    Interesting also that symptoms developed much more when soldiers left the army and came back home. Many soldiers need the support structure that the army provides, as it's critical to their defense systems. I think it's important to take note of this too.

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I reckon the main reason I ran away to join the circus after leaving boarding school (prematurely) was because I had found the whole experience so traumatising I was looking for 'healing' from that as well as from my abusive infancy.

      If some-one had introduced me to Primal Therapy in 1977 (or just a good counsellor) I may well have avoided further compounding by getting into drugs and the "New Age". . .

      C'est la vie!

      Paul G.

  3. Hello Art and Everybody,

    Is it possible that only my visceral mind( first line )is "psychotic" or crazy?

    I hold my breath ( first line-because of anesthesia and cord around neck during birth ), I move my arms and legs and shake head-I have little control over that-to move or to die( I was stuck at my birth in canal, and couldn't move, but now my body wants to move and live ). That is Tourette syndrome which I suffer. I can't stand the pressure( birth also )...

    It seems to me that I still live in the time of my birth. Acting out birth proccess. I have very leaky gates.

    I am wondering all this to be able to self-diagnose myself. Since I read some Art's books since 2002, and blogs since 2008, it is all to me clearer.

    Greetings for everybody, especially for Art,


    1. Nenad: Greetings back to you too. You made a pretty good diagnosis. art

  4. Hello, Dr. Janov.

    It’s been always interesting to me to read your blog. And many times I wanted to ask you a question: I understand the idea about memories which do not include words, images or feeling but body sensations. But, if the memory is nonverbal, how do you know that they come from the birth or the gestation period? How can a patient know that he got stuck in the canal at his birth? How can you say that what a patient is reliving is some traumatic experience of his mother getting drunk during the pregnancy? It may come from somewhere else.

    As I understand, in the “re-living of first line” your patients experience ONLY physiological change, like suffocation for example. I’m having a hard time trying to design a scientific experiment which would prove that was they are going through is a birth or something what happened earlier.


    1. Natalya: First of all, where are you? If you read my piece on reliving carefully it answers your questions; it is the power and valence of the neuro-physiologic response that tells us. The body speaks volumes, then the patient tells us the rest. What it felt like, and with birth reliving it is unmistakable. I went through it, my teeth clamp down and I cannot open my mouth till it is over. Other patients gasp for breath and turn red and seem to be suffocating. I have seen this hundreds of times. If you are serious about designing a study let me know and I will help. Art

  5. I am a bit confused about the word suffocation.
    For me it has to do with breathing but for as I know (and get confirmed from internet)the whole period in the womb there is no breathing.
    There is a vessel directly going to the placenta to get the oxygen and that bypasses the lungs.
    Do you agree on this?

    Regards Paul

    1. Paul: In fact I have a film showing a man reliving birth and then getting born and the deep breathing begins. art

    2. Paul again: yes, but as I pointed out the locomotive breathing happens just after birth. art

    3. I have another experience.I wonder what mechanism is happening during locomotive nreathing.It must be some kind of loop.

  6. A blood vessel....

  7. Arthur Janov:
    Thank you for your response. I do appreciate the time you spent on it and I did read very carefully what you wrote. But, probably, because you’ve been working on it for very long time, there are things which have become obvious for you, but they are not that obvious for me. (And I don’t things there are “obvious things” for science). So the answer may be there, but you know it already and you know what to look at, I can’t see due to the difference of our experience. Maybe I should rephrase my question.

    For example, you wrote: “So in this sense she is aware of first line but not the circumstances, any more than during womb-life she is aware that she is in the womb when mother takes a couple of cocktails. But she can experience the sensation of dizziness and vertigo. “

    1) How can you, or a patient herself, tell the difference between a child who suffers from his mother getting drunk and a child who suffers from his mother spending too much time in just painted room and having got intoxicated with paint vapors? Isn’t it also just the sensation of dizziness?

    2) Why do we need to interpret this nonverbal experience? As you say (if I got it right) the healing takes place when reliving happens in the original context and the original context of any first line event is nonverbal. Can we just relive the non-verbal sensation and get better? Do you interpret them for future generations so that they don’t have the same problems? Or is it necessary for a patient to be healed?

    I’m not asking it out of idle curiosity so I will really appreciate if you can help me to understand. (Though I’m not a part of any research group and won’t be able to conduct an actual study in the near future).

    1. Natalya: Could be, but the patient has a vague memory and usually has a good idea what happened. It is not I who tell the difference; it is the patient. And they can smell the odors and be aware of them. It is not a guessing game. Yes you can relive but the added bonus is the insight. How do you know you suffocated at birth? You sense it and you sometimes turn red and cannot catch your breath. It is the subjective experience of the patient. Don't worry it, when you have a primal you will know right away and you won't spend time trying to figure it out. Otherwise it is an intellectual exercise. art

    2. Hi,

      Except of course there are some of us with really 'strong' neo-cortical brains where there's a strong 'reasonable' presence (like a God) and that at first gets in the way of a full Primal connection. I have found that what Art calls 'abreaction' is governed by the way that offers structure to the way the old trauma is 'integrated', but (and it's a big BUT) The problem is, it seems to me that when the emotion is powerful enough to connect this 'strong reasonable' nature keeps trying to interpret the experience.

      This I presume is 'pushed' by the way our education has channelled our 3rd line development. This would explain why people keep on getting onto this blog and concluding that the 3rd line always offers the best 'reason' to avoid Primal Therapy and to dismiss Primal Theory.

      The problem again with my analysis is that I have been so reasonable about the way I have described the problem.

      The problem with reason is that it cannot feel. So we go around and around and around in a not so 'merry go round' of reason to avoid feeling.

      But on the other hand, that is part of the way repression works and by gradually addressing this we get to therapy instead of another good theory.

      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.