Wednesday, August 12, 2015

On the Difference Between Abreaction and Feeling (Part 6/9)

 Awareness V. Consciousness

 The leitmotif of every intellectual therapy is that awareness helps us make progress. I’ll grant that awareness helps; but being conscious cures. Unless we are able to achieve consciousness in psychotherapy, the most we can do is tread water, having the illusion of progress without its essence. When it comes to measuring progress in psychotherapy, it matters whether one measures the whole system or only aspects of brain function. Awareness fits the latter. It has a specific seat in the brain.

 Psychotherapy has been in the business of awareness for too long. Since the days of Freud, we have apotheosized insights. We are so used to appealing to the almighty frontal cortex, the structure that has made us the advanced human beings that we are, that we forgot our precious ancestors, their instincts and feelings. Thus, when the patient is uncomfortable during a conventional, talk-therapy session, therapists typically take the position that, “More insight is what we need; the patient is not aware enough.” Yet, what lies on low levels of brain function is impervious to the realm of any ideas, where insights lie. That is why we can be anxious and aware, but not anxious and conscious. Consciousness is the end of anxiety.

 Consciousness means connection to what is driving us – our disconnected feelings. Awareness means dealing with only the last evolutionary neuronal development: the pre-frontal cortex. It is the difference between separation on the top cerebral level versus the confluence of all three levels, which is consciousness. Once we are conscious, we have words to explain our feelings, but words do not eradicate them; they explain and elucidate. We are deeply wounded long before words make their appearance in our brains. Words are neither the problem nor the solution. They are the last evolutionary step in processing the feeling or sensation. They are the companions of feelings.
 We need a therapy of consciousness, not awareness. If we believe that we have an id stewing inside of us, there is no proper treatment because the cause is an apparition – a phantom that doesn’t exist. Or worse, it is a genetic force that is immutable and therefore cannot be treated. In any case, we are the losers. There is no powerlessness like being unconscious; running around in a quandary about what to do about this or that, about sexual problems, high blood pressure, depression, and temper outbursts. It all seems like such a mystery. The aware person, or he who seeks awareness, has to be told everything. He listens, obeys – and suffers. Awareness doesn’t make us sensitive, empathic, or loving. It makes us aware of why we can’t be. It’s like being aware of a virus. It’s good to know what the problem is, but nothing changes. The best awareness can do is create ideas that negate need and pain.

 Awareness is not healing; consciousness is. True conscious-awareness means feelings, and therefore humanity. The conscious person does not have to be told about his secret motivations. He feels them and they are no longer secret. Consciousness means thinking what we feel and feeling what we think; the end of a split, hypocritical existence. Awareness cannot do that because awareness has to change each and every time there is a new situation. That is why conventional cognitive/insight therapy is so complex. It has to follow each turn in the road. It has to battle the need for drugs and then battle the inability to hold down a job and then try to understand why relationships are falling apart. This also explains why conventional therapy takes so long; each avenue must be traversed independently. Consciousness is global; it applies to all situations, encompasses all those problems at once. The true power of consciousness is to lead a conscious life with all that that means: not being subject to uncontrolled behavior, being able to concentrate and learn, able to sit still and relax, being able to make choices that are healthy ones, to choose partners that are the healthy ones, and above all, to be able to love.

 A therapy of awareness versus one of consciousness has an important difference in terms of global impact. In science we are after the universal so that we can apply our knowledge to other patients. A therapy of needs can apply to many individuals, since we all have similar needs. A therapy of ideas usually can only apply to a specific patient. When we try to convince the patient of different ideas (e.g., “People actually do like you”), we generate no universal laws. It is all idiosyncratic. But if we address the feelings underneath, we can generate propositions that apply generally: for instance, pain when unleashed can produce paranoid ideas or compulsions. Or, the frontal cortex can change simple needs and feelings into complex unrealities, changing them into their opposites.

 One cannot be aware without an intact prefrontal cortex. By contrast, there is no seat of consciousness. As banal as it may seem, consciousness reflects our whole system – the whole brain as it interacts with the body.

 When there is awareness without connection during a session, that is what we call abreaction. Again, the vital signs rise and fall in sporadic fashion, rarely below baseline. We cannot make progress on the third-line cognitive level alone. We can become aware of why we act the way we do but nothing changes biologically; it is like being aware of a virus and expecting the awareness alone to kill it. Our biology has been left out of the therapeutic equation. What is missing is that we cannot produce feeling, empathic human beings from the top of the brain. Somehow feelings got the sobriquet of bad, out of control, negative, anti-thinking, unreflective and impulsive. All of which is true for suppressed feelings, which inject themselves without warning into our daily life and make us act irrationally. Not true if they are just part of a feeling person who lives his feelings and does not abreact.


  1. Hi Art, you said it before:

    -"awareness + feelings = consciousness".

    If primal ever became a religion or philosophy this aphorism could be it's leitmotiv. If anyone wanted to start somewhere to explain Primal, they could start with this aphorism because all & everything of Primal Theory stems from it.

    Paul G.

  2. Hi Art,
    this post perfectly encompasses a little farce that I played out in my life culminating in me making a fool of myself on Facebook yesterday. Nevertheless, I 'did' the wrong thing for the right reason and your post eloquently contextualises it. Only Primal people will see the funny side to this.

    An old associate (an aficionado of yoga & Latin music), posted a video by Jason Silva titled "We Don't Cry Because Something Is Sad, We Cry Because Something Is More Beautiful Than We Expected It To Be".
    Through this video he repeats this mantra so many times that when I watched it I couldn't take any more and exploded. You see, I have my daughter with me at the moment and have been having to hold down quite a lot of emotional pressure; that on top of all the rest of the family stuff going on. So, just as you illustrate in your last paragraph, I posted a damning retort in a very 'out of control' way, accusing Jason Silva (JS) of being a 'cheerleader'. . . Oh dear, that went down like a lead balloon.
    But actually what JS has done with this (terrifying) mantra, is exactly what you say in you previous paragraph: "Frontal Cortex Changing Simple Needs Into Their Opposite"-. That's what got my goat. Obviously you and readers will have to watch this "Little Gem" of a v-idea to get the full "message". . .

    I mean this JS mantra DOES actually apply to ALL humans because one of several things we all have in common is a (pre) - frontal cortex that converts 'raw feeling' into ideas. . . That is the problem is it not? BUT, unless you are on the brink of another breakdown (as am I) or in GOOD therapy and/ or have proper ACCESS then you could easily buy into this piece of intellectual sophistry; well, many thousands obviously do. . .

    -"There's No Powerlessness Like Being Unconscious (Temper Outbursts)"-. I had a Facebook temper outburst which resulted in the same old, same old reaction: "every one's got problems, stop being so confrontational"- etc etc. And they're right, I should have just let the sophistry "go over my head", but because I was SO repressed at the time I shot myself in the foot didn't I? ? ?

    Aaaand all I proved is: - "the sobriquet of bad, out of control, negative, anti - thinking and unreflective and impulsive behaviour of my particular (suppressed feelings) neurosis".

    So, although it is mostly a matter of awareness only, I have learned a little lesson; which is that the world is filled with ANTI-FEELING propaganda like this JS v-idea and it really isn't worth getting angry about it; all that does is prove to the UN feeling that you're a passionate and out of control nutter.

    Ho hum. . .

    Paul G.

    1. Hi Paul. Making a fool of myself; losing my temper seems necessary to do on the road to mental health for me. Those present day experiences harken back to teen years and before when trying to assert myself getting in a huff about some small injustice or a point I was trying to get across being met by laughter and therefore, to me, unacceptance. I did not like being made fun of. Though they probably meant no harm I felt vulnerable because I was able to be teased. Guess we never outgrow that social fear because it is so deep-seated even 50 yrs. later. And I suppose that feeling of vulnerability and nakedness comes from a deeper need to be protected very early in life for me.

    2. Paul, I watched some of Jason Silva's videos. He is known as a philosopher and contributed to many magazines and is well-thought of with his optimism. His thing seems to be ideas, and he is obsessed with technology. He is also known as the "Timothy Leary" of the viral generation. Wonder if he has damaged his gates and unleashed more than he can handle. One of his videos talks about drugs (psychedelic) as tools for spirituality. I was turned off by his incessant talking about ideas. There is no wonder he has a big following, serving as a distraction from what really is bothering someone.

    3. I get angry because guys like Jason are probably the first to mock people who cry because their needs aren't met. He acts like we only sob when our needs are "over met." Like when we hit the lottery.

      Does he really think babies cry only when they're super-happy?

      Men, especially, get this message all the time: "Be a man! Act like a robot! Don't show fear, pain, anger, etc. Do your job as a money-mule, suffer in silence, then die without inconveniencing anyone."

      What kind of a life is that?

      I remember thinking Tibetan monks were so evolved and enlightened because... well... they didn't seem troubled like I was. Then I read they used to take orphaned/poor kids and use them as labor/sex slaves.

      Similarly, I thought the Bushido Code was cool because it advocated men basically showing no needs, fears, etc. Then I read that it was written in a peaceful era and no samurai could possibly live/act according to its tenets.

      It's like the shock I felt when I learned the French Resistance never asked their members to die before giving up secrets. The leaders knew EVERYONE cracks under torture. The rebels just asked its crew to hold out as long as possilble, giving others a chance to get away.

      That is, be human. Don't try to be a god.

      Hard to hear if you were raised thinking you HAD to be a clone of Jesus to get something as simple and essential as love.

      It's hard to accept that people who mock others for showing "inappropriate" feelings are really just blocked themselves. It pains them to see others expressing what they were prevented from doing...and maybe no longer even feel.

    4. Well thanks Sheri,

      Thank goodness I'm not going completely mad. . . Gary has said a few things about acid and I too have (hopefully) put off a young lad (part time carpentry apprentice) for whom acid was making a tad 'insouciant'. . . I think that's one of several things every one who ISN'T into it dislikes about those who are. . .

      Timothy Leary shot himself in the foot so many times by being so "Far Out". . . It makes some people into weird clowns. . .

      Back in my 'acid days' we used to call how JS speaks: "Acid Talk". . .

      That's what really got up my nose because it had started to get me like that as well 35 years ago, (you'd never have guessed though would you)?

      Self deprecating humour aside, having a 'Touch of the Blarney Stone' is one thing, but acid talk. . . save me please, please, save me from the 'acid talk'.

      Paul G.

    5. Sheri & Trevor,

      Thanks for your great responses, so true. .

      Paul G.

    6. Hi Trevor,

      -"Hard to hear if you were raised thinking you HAD to be a clone of Jesus to get something as simple and essential as love"-.

      Yeah, and then you get crucified for it as well. . . F*****g great!

      Paul G.

  3. Art!

    What more can you say! Can words be beautiful for what they lead to... it's your art !
    I am overwhelmed of what content you share.

    your Frank

  4. this awareness can provoke false empathy and understanding towards people that can do me harm. and i won't see it coming. like i know what is going on and i am cool. full of empathy coolness. full of understanding... i do them harm too.

    where is the neurological center for trust? is it multilevel? is it in the connection? if so, patient has to be at least basically wired to have success in therapy. to have some eventual ability to trust. is that the problem with psychopaths?

    so i maybe want to trust my therapist because i .... hm, should. and that is a recipy for me being false and not going nowhere. except if the therapist sees that i don't trust him/her. there is hope. ))

  5. I have so many times in my life surprisingly met my catastrophic emotional memories without the slightest idea what was going on ... but which I now understand helped me to survive... ONLY THAT... memories that would have made me crazy if only I knew!

    How would I ever be present in my school work with that emotional complication? It was completely impossible! What a torment I was exposed to... I was forced to understand something that I could not possibly do... I ended up in a disastrous state I could not possibly get out of! I could not be anything but a somewhat socially adapted creature... as the little boy Frank was locked in to! WHAT A HELL!


  6. Do you know how panic is experienced? That's what my life been all about... panic by reason of lovelessness... a need of a physical warm contact with my mom and dad... which I NEVER got!

    Your Frank

  7. Dear Arthur

    You've opened my eyes. Now I see that almost all in my life is abreaction.

    1. Piotr,

      Me too, it's a bitter pill to swallow.

      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.