Sunday, April 13, 2014

Where and How Does Deep Repression (and therefore depression) Get Its Start?

There is a new research that sheds light on this problem;  (See ) only it is not this problem of repression that they target. Their target is how pain in infancy alters response to stress later in life. They studied early life stress (prematurity) among infants who had undergone prenatal treatment, without anesthesia or painkillers. They were all patients in neonatal intensive care who had a number of invasive and painful intrusions. They found that when this happened, and when the pain was not dampened by medication the whole pain regulation system was changed and brain circuits were altered.

They found that when pain was not suppressed there was a lifelong change in stress and anxiety reactions so that later reactions to pain were lessened. In short, the pain reaction was repressed and not reacted to fully. So here we have evidence of repression of pain very early in life, and that this reaction set up a prototype for further reactivity.

The first thing that stands out is that doctors still treat newborns as unfeeling blobs that has allowed for physicians for the last many decades to operate on fetuses and newborns as blocks of flesh with no pain response. This was systematic during the beginning of the last century.

The infants who were studied spent an average of 25 days in intensive care with often undergoing 10 to 18 painful procedures. It is not surprising that the system becomes activated to suppress the pain response when he is assaulted over and over again before having a life on earth. This becomes a prototype and that means blocking input as an habitual response to any kind of assault later on. This immediate reaction can affect the development of severe and deep depression later in life; the blockage accumulates and occurs over and over again as the prototypic response. The point is that it begins so early which we have always suspected. What is new in their research is that when pain is blocked early on there is less of a prototype; the imprint is less forceful and the brain circuits are not so readily altered. The imprint is not so readily stamped-in to control later automatic behavior. In other words ameliorating a child’s pain with a hug, kiss, soothing words or painkillers might abort the depth of the imprint.

That is something new and important. After a surgical procedure the child needs physical support and caresses; just as we all do when undergoing a trauma.

Now we see why having a parent there immediately after birth is critical. Otherwise, it can imprint a basic loneliness and fear of being alone for life. When the parent falls ill on the arrival of the baby there is great trauma for him. If he then undergoes a time in an incubator we can imagine the damage being done…..all alone with no one to reassure and hug and kiss, no physical contact and support figure there. This on top of no parent to hold right after birth. The imprint is set and fixed. The researchers noted that in the children studied about 65 percent of them had procedures done without any analgesia.

The neuroscience department at Georgia State University studied rat pups who had a single trauma on the day of birth. There were site- specific changes in their brains. These changes determined how they responded to stress later on. Without medication to suppress pain, they call it unresolved pain, children under-reacted to pain later on. May I add? They were deadened because they already had so much assault that they could hardly react any longer. I think this is the missing link in the research; they show what happened but not why or what it really meant. There was no broadened implications, no wider context, of the research. Still it is damn good.


  1. My academically intelligent friend stood and watched while her male university friends put a live hamster in a microwave oven and watched it die. They thought it was a hilarious party trick -- she smirked while she was telling me the story. I asked her if anyone questioned their behaviour..... "nope."

    If someone did challenge these high achievers, I have no doubt they would have INSTANTLY formed some kind of moral justification for killing the hamster. Even the brightest, most socially acceptable people are dangerous when they lack feelings. When there are no feelings, any convenient, profitable behaviour can and WILL be intellectually justified -- just like the physicians who torture babies for all sorts of convenient reasons -- and when they present their detailed explanations with a slightly patronizing tone of voice, as most doctors do, they have no trouble convincing all the 'babies' who are already desperate for convenience.

  2. Fascinating piece Art. I wonder whether simply being placed in a plastic cot away from one's Mother after birth also resonates here. So many babies were treated like this for most of last century. I know I was. Thus the vitally important first flush of Oxytocin that happens when the newborn is placed on the Mothers chest does not happen so the bond between Mother and Baby is never that strong.

  3. Art,
    last year here in germany there was a debate whether the procedure of circumcision ;
    I nearly flipped..out when i got notice that the BABIES !! several ...days after birth had/ve
    to endure this atavistic unbiological and cruel surgical? nonsense w i t h o u t pain rielievers!

    Imagin; the most vulnerable "kind" of human beeings have to endure this "religious" doctrine`s
    followers opinion...

    Not to mention what `s being done worldwide to the young girls because of traditional idiocy!!
    I would be interesting whether the "circumcisioned" only play the the "the tough" ones later in
    life to hold the PAIN down.
    Yours emanuel

    1. Emanuel: It is indeed cruel punishment; welcome to the

    2. I recently read that it is common practice for the priest who does religious circumcision to then sucks the blood from the little Boy's penis. God only know's what that does to the child's and adult's mind!

    3. today is Worldwide Day of Genital Integritiy :) American intactivists shurely have demonstrated in Washington, German intactivists in Cologne. There are even academic people (psychoanalyst, lawer) arguing against circumcision - and they seem to be somewhat near to the position of the body and the feelings of little children. Although i am sure, that the same academics will betray this position (near to child/feeling/body) when confronted with some other problem, (my personal life experience), i AM impressed by their courage belonging to this subject. The psychoanalyst Matthias Franz said about pro-circumcision colleagues, that they live in a "religiious phantasy-world". So they are not all totally the same, the non-primal psychotherapists.

    4. Hi Anonymous,

      -"So they are not all totally the same, the non-primal psychotherapists"-.

      No, they are not. Many do a better job than this blog often implies. . . All of us could do a better job of delivering 'The Message of Primal' in a non violent way. . . How does one evangelise Primal without offending the other's defenses? It's very hard precisely because your message 'knaws' at the root of your subject's repression. . . How could it not rankle them? My cognitive view of my own issues rankles me daily.

      If on the other hand one has enabled one's children to 'feel' then you're ok, and maybe they're ok. . . ?

      Paul G.

  4. Just wish Primal Therapy were in the NY area. It just goes is sad. Sure we are deadened, it is unfortunate; not all the time though. Some days....just dealing with life, family, people....deadeneds one. Then there are the people who misunderstand the person who has gone through a trauma. Mistaken for aloofness, mistaken for shyness, mistaken for phoniness....(that person who went through trauma, just plain tired, and actually feel they can gain energy if they are left alone, given the acknowledgement of being a "normal person"; and perhaps, they can have something...if they cannot get to Primal Therapy right away in thier lives, or if they can't afford it. They should never give up, although, it seems futile at times, especially if other people know that this person has gone through birth trauma (almost died).

  5. A long time ago I read a true story about a young girl who fell from an aeroplane after it's hull ruptured at fairly high altitude (I can't remember why the plane did that). She remained belted in her seat as she fell for several minutes. She was awake the whole time - of course she thought she was going to die -- she didn't know that the shape of the seat was keeping her in an aerodynamically stable free-fall, much like a dart always points in one direction when you throw it -- the hinged part of the seat always pointed downwards. She fell at a tremendous speed but eventually crashed through the canopy of a tropical rain forest, the branches broke - slowing her fall as the seat protected her.

    Physically she was completely unharmed but I wonder what happened mentally. Suppose she was already unfeeling before the plane accident occurred. If she was already insensitive to trauma, would her insensitivity have helped to reduce the amount of terror that was recorded unconsciously? If numbness blocks the input, it might help to prevent the unconscious effects of all future traumas. It depends on where and how the blockage occurs. If I use a local anesthetic, there should be no unconscious recording, but if I use a general anesthetic I might acquire a clear recording in the unconscious, or worse still, I might acquire a garbled, unresolvable recording; one that was poorly recorded due to the drug's interference.

    1. Hi Richard,

      Yep, and I wonder if I will ever be able to retrieve my drugged birth. . .

      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.