Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 4/20)

Neurosis is Inherited

People exude who they are from every pore of their being. I mean that literally. An uptight, tense mother radiates her repression. An angry father radiates his rage. They don't have to “do” anything; just be. But it is worse than that. When their underlying feelings show themselves, we instinctively sense we should avoid them or be very careful around them. They distort our words, detour our natural movements and disapprove of almost everything we do, not by words but by those looks. And worse, when they show no emotion, we know that feelings are what we keep to ourselves. The point is that even before we have words a child is undergoing a lifetime of experience. And the earlier that experience, the more impactful. It should be obvious; those early experiences that directly affect breathing, digestion and elimination are going to do a lot of damage and will last a lifetime.

Our genes form the matrix of later life; that much we agree on. But our epigenes, transformed by severe experiences, build a new “genetic” base that changes or distorts the evolution of our genetic code. Those new altered traits then become “inherited.” As I’ve noted, we too often confuse this with our genetic heritage, which is largely impervious to later events. The person becomes a meld of genes and epigenes, of genetics shaped by experience. Instead of saying, “she looks and acts just like her mother,” we need to say, “her mother was ‘infected’ with neurosis, which got imprinted into the system of the offspring, and now she is just as hyperactive and ADD as her distracted and hyperactive mother.” In other words, the infant who is being carried has caught what could be a fatal disease: neurosis, the same one lying inside the mother. The baby will reflect the internal life of the mother and that is what will be imprinted inside him and last a lifetime. Why? Because this is what had been learned in order to adapt and adjust. No words, no reprimands, no social neglect, just who she is, does it all.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, looked at what they call emotional synchrony, the non-verbal communication between mother and child (Waters, West & Mendes, 2014). In a phenomenon they dub “stress contagion,” the baby is learning how to manage the incoming stress of the mother. They did studies of several different mothers who gave a talk with a different audience – one approving, one neutral and one not approving. Guess what? The 14-month old babies reflected what happened. There were differences in heart rate and a greater stress response in those children of mothers who had disapproval. The children “learned” through some kind of osmosis. They were inculcated by the mother’s emotional state. As lead researcher Sara Waters stated in an article on the website of the Association for Psychological Science, which published the research: “Your infant may not be able to tell you that you seem stressed or ask you what is wrong, but our work shows that, as soon as she is in your arms, she is picking up on the bodily responses accompanying your emotional state and immediately begins to feel in her own body your own negative emotion.” (6) Now imagine that the baby and mother are one, where the baby lives inside the mother. The influences are far more impactful.

So what gets transmitted? Odor, facial expression, lack of feeling, body movements and on and on. All of the parent is transmitted to the child. Even food preferences can be imprinted in the womb and passed on through generations. If you love sweets and cannot resist, it could be due to womb-life. In other words, the mother’s compulsion becomes your destiny. This can explain a good percentage of obesity in children. Bad eating habits begin in the womb, as do so many other compulsions. For the most part, people only see the visible manifestation of these hidden forces. So they ask, for example, “Why does this person eat so much?” We know that it is not current culture that is the sole cause; it could also be because the mother was indulgent and ate compulsively. While in the womb the baby is learning about his world and what to expect from it; hence lots of food is to be expected from a mother who indulges. More evidence is piling up to show how this early start can predict the early onset of disease and a shortened lifespan.(7) The fetus is not only aware of certain tastes and smells in the mother while she is carrying, but those memories can last a lifetime, and can affect so much of our interests later on. Mothers ingesting carrot juice during pregnancy, for example, had children who preferred it.

Researchers at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, found that even the memory of a specific smell can be inherited (Dias & Ressler, 2013). The scientists trained male mice to associate the smell of cherry blossom with an electric shock, making them fearful of it. They then impregnated females with the sperm of these mice and found that the pups were also fearful of the cherry blossom aroma. Even the grand-pups inherited the fear of that specific smell. How did this olfactory trait get passed down through generations? Researchers attribute it to epigenetics, noting that DNA from the grandfather mice and their pups revealed epigenetic marks on the gene encoding the receptor for that specific smell, known as M71. In other words, this inheritance came through experience, not just genes. Like their traumatized grandfathers, the grand-pups were more sensitive to the aroma of cherry blossom because their receptors were also acutely attuned to it, more than control mice. The research “provides some of the best evidence yet that memories or developed traits can be inherited,” according to a report on the experiment published in New Scientist.”(8)

"Knowing how the experiences of parents influence their descendants helps us to understand psychiatric disorders that may have a trans-generational basis, and possibly to design therapeutic strategies," says senior author Kerry Ressler, MD, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory School of Medicine.(9) In 2013, Ressler, who is also an investigator at Emory’s Yerkes National Primate Research Center, delivered a Stockholm Psychiatry Lecture on the biology of fear at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Entitled "Neural circuits mediating fear, risk and resilience: from Pavlov to PTSD," the hour lecture can be viewed online.(10)

So are we born fearful? Could be. We can be jumpy, nervous and erratic, all due to epigenetics. It seems so early as to be genetic, but it is more likely to be epigenetic, the condition of the mother (and father) while carrying. So you say to yourself, “Did I inherit my mother’s craziness?” The answer could be, yes... but not in the usual sense of inheritance. Rather, who she was while carrying – hyperactive or depressed and down – left you with a neurotic inheritance that still shaped your life. This should teach us something about memory; for memories while being carried can last decades and drive and/or channel behavior. We do not simply “grow out of it.”

(6) For Infants, Stress May be Caught, Not Taught. (2014, February 3). Association for Psychological Science. Retrieved from not-taught.html

(7) See the work of Keith Godfrey, Professor of Epidemiology and Human Development, and others at the University of Southampton in England.

(8) Geddes, L. (2013). Fear of a smell can be passed down several generations. New Scientist, 220(2946), 10. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62827-4

(9) Mice can inherit learned sensitivity to a smell. (2013, December 2). Retrieved from




  1. Feelings we keeps for ourselves are nothing but remnants of feelings we know or suspect are not suitable... for what we are afraid... and we certainly do not feel!
    I "know" of some of my experience of my memories I carry with me. I remember the places I have been to... I might remember who was with me and what I did... but I feel absolutely not the circumstances of what it all was about ... how every step I took was affected... how it was included of feelings I avoided.
    Being consciously aware is a sentence that tells how everything was or was not. It explains that something more than just thoughts exist only we can imagine what it is.

    I am thinking of what need I had of my mother... but something I absolutely can not feel... my need is to threatening! This is the phenomenon it is all about... to be threatened in my need of my mother... threatened not to venture something I have to get... but still tries by thinking about it... and thus we are cemented cognitive beings... persuasive ourselves about other than what our needs really is all about.
    How are we to understand something when we understand to not perceive what we need to understand... it to release a phenomenon... phenomenon that we do not feel... and therefore can not understand?


  2. The more I read your articles, the more I feel guilty about what I let to my children(2) who are adults now. I can read through them their sufferings, which came from the time of my gestation and the afterbirth. I had 2 cesarians, because I am diabetic. I could not manage about that. But how about the father, because you only talk about the mother. If I had known before, probably I would never have been pregnant.
    My english is not very good, I'm French Canadian and talk English very rarely.

  3. Hi Art. Just a quick side note if you don't mind....
    Childish Trump versus Repressed Carson. Who's gonna look more attractive to the American voters?

  4. Hello Art,

    Why can we not hear an outcry from former primal patients... for a change?

    So this could be what all previous Primal patients suffering from... a blocking effect of what genes cause about hormones and neurotransmitters... but still experience themself be "feeling" so much better that they are not looking further into the process of what the primal therapy can achieve?

    Your Frank

  5. Stockholm 2015-10-30
    Hello Art!
    When someone is experiencing himself hates you more than what your questions are intended then it is probably an impossible task for anyone to be helpful for what further process involves the primal therapeutic process? I suppose it also applies to therapists at the Center... but perhaps are the question not addressed at the Center. I understand that they have an ability that has taken generations to work out but hatred need their target and at times an incredible empathy which is probably only the patient who can decide what is what.
    Hatred for what a child can show it is exposed finds no limits to stop... if we are the one who can allow it for healing purposes!
    No I'm not a therapist... we just trying to be another helpful.
    Your Frank

  6. Maybe it depends on whether the voter's parent was egotistical, histrionic authority figure; or a dismissive, cold-hearted calculator.

  7. Dear Art,
    I think that we need to distinguish between these two different concepts:
    (a) Trauma during pregnancy results in epigenetic modifications in some genes in some of the baby’s brain cells, with lasting consequences. Reliving may help reverse some of these modifications
    (b) Pups from female mice impregnated with the sperm of traumatized male mice inherit the epigenetic modifications of their fathers and the consequences of their trauma.
    The latter, if true, is direct epigenetic inheritance, and it suggests that epigenetic modifications were made not only in the brain cells of the traumatized fathers, but also “globally,” including some genes in their “germ-line” cells (eggs and sperm).
    In that case, part of our mental illness may be due to our ancestors’ traumas (before our conception). Do you think that this may be true? And if so, do you think that such epigenetic modifications can be reversed? (excluding nonsense therapies such as past lives regression)

    1. Hi Philip. You are discussing the work of Kerry Ressler who is working with my colleague Justin Feinstein. No doubt about inheritance of father's sperm and other hereditary elements. But it seems to me that the traumas during womblife and birth are primordial. You may be carrying it all too far but I will write on this after I discuss with Justin. art. good comment

    2. Yes, I think that, when referring to methylation, it is important to associate it with specific genes in the DNA of specific cells. Otherwise, it is a very general phenomenon in development and in many diseases. For example, to a large extent, it is what makes a liver cell different from a brain cell, because it affects the expression of specific genes. It is also inheritable, in the sense that a dividing cell passes it to the two daughter cells.

      It appears that traumas during womb life result in the methylation of some genes in some brain cells of the fetus. Because these brains are still developing, the particular dividing methylated cells pass this to their progeny, resulting subsequently in a large population of cells in the brain of the adult in which the imprint is present (these particular genes are methylated). In that sense, the earlier the trauma, the worse it is, because the affected cells will still divide many times.

      But the above concept is different from parents passing epigenetic changes to their children. For this to happen, the imprint must also be present in the sperm/egg of their parents, and this is still a mystery (news feature in Nature about Ressler’s work: So indeed, this is carrying it all too far in the context of therapy, but such mechanisms may have some interesting relationship with what Jung saw as “collective unconscious,” etc.
      Best wishes.

    3. Hi Philip & Art,

      I think this is very important and although the 'mechanism' for transmission through the sperm (or the egg) has not YET been identified it seems obvious to me that some how through one single sperm / egg you will inherit a 'ghost /shadow/imprint ' of some of (if not all) of your parents experiences.

      Why would you not? I mean if you can imprint something at a very young age that 'adapts' you / changes you in relation to your own later environment / relationships then why would evolution NOT pass this on to your offspring?

      Regarding the idea of 'collective unconscious', I think you could throw in karma, past lives & recurrence to boot. All of these are mere 'ideas' approaching the actual truth of our condition.

      Once you begin to realise the originating source (imprinted trauma / shocks / impacts) you cease to understand these concepts as the generic ideas they are and begin to realise they are inaccurate machinations of your distorted consciousness. . . Or rather of some one else's distorted consciousness. . . Our mind is like a hall of mirrors. . . So many past reflections. . .

      Paul G.

    4. Phillip, I agree and have been trying to hire a post doc to help me out. art

    5. Paul, very deep thinking. Also we readily accept that talents can skip generations like a grandson or great nephew inheriting a knack for engineering; a granddaughter an artist like a grandmother. We even accept that we might inherit a similar personality or nervous system too, just as we do with looks.
      I wonder if that is why people are so interested in family trees; to validate who they are, trying to find out what makes them different or why they are such a way.
      And I think instinctively we know that what happens to the baby in his on generation has an impact too. A friend of mine whose grandson was having lots of problems acknowledged to me that his parents were coming off of drugs when he was conceived. Instinctively we know, don't we.

  8. Sheri,

    yes we do, and in a way our blog here with Art is a form of 'ancestor worship'. . . Or should I say, it is the beginning of 'ancestor resolution'.

    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.