Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Suicide is Painless Repression, Despair and the Relief of Reliving Near-Death Feelings

It is difficult, perhaps, to believe that birth problems can give rise to suicidal tendencies years later. This is because we are not used to thinking about physiologic memory. Nor are we used to thinking that the most powerful memories we have are those without words, memories of events which predated our ability to understand what was happening to us. It's not always the case that the suicide method mimics the birth trauma, of course, but it is often what we discover in talking to and observing our patients. If we want to get an idea about our birth, look at our imagined choice of suicide. Conversely, if we want to know the origins of depression, we might examine the birth epoch. Eventually, we will discover the secrets of our beginnings in life.

Suicidal or Self-Destructive

There are some acts of suicide that are a cry for help, taking a certain amount of sleeping pills, for example. And there are others that say, I really don’t want to live anymore; that is a jump off a bridge. That is final, no call for help. It all seems so helpless and hopeless; they want to die for relief. No more pain; that’s enough. Their pain is importuning and relentless. Because so is the imprint. No immediate escape, as there might not have been during the original trauma. The pain is so devastating and militating to higher levels that the person cannot contemplate other options. Those feelings are terrible, and they say to us, “Life is terrible.” No it’s not, a therapist may say in an attempt to steer the patient’s mind away from desperate thoughts. But if we try to argue the person out of those thoughts we are using the wrong brain. Our words can never reach the wordless pain they are in. Yet counseling can be a help, although not a cure. It offers help against feeling helpless and hope against hopelessness. It means someone cares and wants you to live. Crucial.

There are some cases where it was impossible to try; further trying might have been life-endangering. Here lies the “loser.” Everything is too much and he gives up automatically. The whole parasympathetic nervous system dominates and directs, and leads him to a passive lifestyle. Why doesn’t get up and get going? He cannot. He is blocked by a memory of action is dangerous. This is not a fantasy; it is real history he is fighting and he lost originally and he will lose again. His depression deepens as he seems stuck in life and can find no way out. He needs to be led, encouraged; to have life breathed into him.
In many suicide cases, it turns out victims had suffered some sort of oxygen deficit early on, caused perhaps by a heavy dose of anesthesia to the mother or by being strangled on the cord at birth. And after an agonizing attempt to get born, death approaches and there is a sense of impending doom and then relief. That memory of possible relief is sealed in so that later in the face of utter hopelessness – triggered by an impending divorce, for instance – death becomes the answer. So an attempt at suicide follows. It is a memory of possible relief, stamped in, engraved that endures for a lifetime. It is the end of the chain of pain, as it were, the logical denouement when current hopelessness can set off the primordial hopelessness where death lurks.

How is it that hopelessness today sets off the same feeling during birth? It is again the chain of pain, the links between levels of consciousness. One way we see that link is through resonance; the current feeling sets off the same deeper feelings until the whole system is engulfed in utter hopeless feelings. And worse, there is no scene attached to it as it is pure feeling, naked and unadorned, the exact same feeling rising again to smother the person and make her suicidal. It is the most profound hopelessness. The current feeling, in short, has triggered off its progenitor with sensations of approaching death becoming paramount.

That early hopelessness is later expanded and ramified as the whole system and brain mature. As each new brain system comes on line, it adds its emotional weight to the feeling. But it is the same feeling with increased maturity and neuronal development. It is the system’s effort to suppress the feeling that produces depression. So depression is not a feeling; it is what happens as that feeling is blocked from higher level access. And when we unravel depression that is what we find: utter, unarticulated hopelessness. We get confirmation by drops in body temperature and blood pressure, a sign of giving up. That foretells a suicidal attempt. However, it can be felt and relived with all of its pain, which provides the ultimate relief as the depression begins to leave, at last. This is not done in a day because it is very deep, the end point of the birth agony, a cord around the neck, for example. This means that we must not trump evolution and feel it soon in therapy. And if we do not take care to go slowly we will touch the embed too early and abreaction results. Why? Because the patient is not ready for that much pain. We can only feel it as the body and brain allow, current hopeless feelings first, then the childhood compounding and finally, the first line, brainstem component where the deepest feelings always lie. I use the word “compounding,” because these are not different feelings; they are the same feelings laid down and layered at different stages of development, and connected through resonance. The child just seems unhappy and sullen and no one knows why. And certainly the child has no idea at all, nor do his teachers. He is in the grasp of that early devastating feeling that no one can say its name. It is literally “ineffable.” The feeling cannot respond to encouraging words because discouraging feelings take priority.

  Suddenly, one day in therapy while the patient is feeling deeply about childhood events where he was blocked for whatever he wanted to do, he shifts into choking and suffocation; the precursor is on its way. It says, “I am strangling on the cord.” Only it does not say it for the moment. The patient is in the grips of first-line, brainstem imprints which only later can he give it a name and context. For the moment the patient only senses the physical sensations. As the body experience enters resonance again and moves higher in the nervous system, where words and thoughts become available, then he knows it is the cord that is stopping me from breathing. That cord has imprinted the trauma, and with the sensation of suffocation together with hopelessness and helplessness.
  How does he know? The inevitable concomitant of this is during the Primal he again sinks into deep hopelessness, and with it a lowering of core body temperature. It can go down several degrees, and, happily, after the feeling it can normalize and rise to higher levels again. But the body nearly always follows suit in these situations; not just the mind at work. And they never say, “I feel depressed.” It is evident in all of their demeanor. Even how they breathe; it gets more and more shallow as conservation of oxygen takes over during the session as the patients goes deeper, approaching the primal imprint.


  1. I was wondering with the impulse of wanting to die if there is some endorphin action expectation. Teens have engaged in 'choking games' and there's the autoerotic asphyxiation for a high. Maybe that is what happened when we were babies being asphyxiated in the womb or in the birth canal enduring hypoxia. A sort of high and blunting of the pain as we enter death. So death equals relief, in essence, a fix to not feel the shutting down of our bodies at birth.

  2. We all would benefit if we could burst the bubble of what resistance primal therapy meets! Now we all make our own therapy after the best abilitya and it is good so far? But what time it will take for us to achieve success without the professional knowledge... that is the question? I say it again... we would all benefit if primal therapy was established! At least was accepted for introduction in our countries!

    The danger for us is our thinking... how the resistance against our feelings look like... that we think about our symtoms more then we knowing how to do without perceiving that that is what we do. We are in the world of thoughts without those who could help us. We have lived with what saved our lives... our thoughts... but not now anymore... now it is a threat to our own system... our own life!

    To catch up the deep crying is the gateway to our lives... but we have arranged it so that it has become almost impossible... it for what adults we must be "aware" (aware for what ever that means) and strong... as our society's systems require... not least in our psychiatric hospitals.

    The balance between the adult we are and the children we were... and not allowed to be in the process of our therapy... that is the human equation to the psychological questions... but we have to feel that it is so it is... it is when the bubble is able to crack!


  3. A documentary on ABC TV was exploring ways to change the stereo type of men and make it ok for men to cry. They ended up making a campaign add to address this need . It caught my eye .The add said.... "Before we can talk we cry. It's how we survive. So why do we tell boys to stop crying!? To harden up? To grow a pair? Well fuck that! If you feel down speak up because silence can kill! It takes guts to show pain! It takes a man to feel! It takes balls to cry!".

    I think the campaign add is a great idea, it's a great start to get a message out to re-educate society to make it healthy and ok for men to cry, and to show empathy and care for each other when they do. I'm just so happy to see this happening.

    Here is the link to the add on you tube. It's only takes 1 minute .

  4. Here's the link to the add campaign called 'Man Up' which says it's healthy for men to feel and to cry if they need.



  5. Arthur Janov deserves the Nobel Prize.
    He has discovered the secret of life, by discovering the Birth Experience.
    The trauma that each end everyone of us go through before entering this world.
    What it does to us.
    Therein lies the secret.Now it is up to us to do the job,so that one day we can say: I´m alive! Now I have also discovered that secret.
    It is our heritage,which I hope we can make use of one day.

    Aida Castañeda

  6. That's beautiful Aida,
    I totally agree !

  7. It's curious how subtle this business is. Over two years with a well-trained and well-intentioned therapist her encouragement never really felt encouraging. Yet here Art sympathetically describes the condition of being a "loser", in terms that make me believe it's not my fault, and over the past couple of weeks I find myself dropping some defences that seemed exasperatingly tenacious and feeling more. That is a very important little key right there, helping me continue. Thank you.

    1. Hello Randall Vanderende!

      To know what to do is not a task we are capable of but if we are lucky to find what then we are!

      At first when leaking feelings make themselves known... and our brains are rushing in all directions... then we know that something is about to happen. When we know that something is happening... but not what... then we live dangerously... but when we begin to know what to do with it... then what is dangerous ends. Is it that simpel? Yes... but to "walk the line" we may need some help... and do ask for it. Call our amazing brain Art and ask for advice ... follow them and you will never regret it!

      Pick a flower and throw it... and it will wither soon! Pick a flower and put it in a vase and nurture it... and it will take much longer before it withers if ever during a lifetime!

      Your Frank

  8. Hi kath, would just like to say that plenty of women too rarely cry either, which is certainly the norm in my family, and society wrongly makes showing any true feelings as a sign of being a defective person. If just this one change could happen in our education the impact would be huge. I have needed to cry for so long but not felt I can in this society.

  9. " There are some cases where it was impossible to try; further trying might have been life-endangering."

    Thank you again for your writing, Art. I find myself here in your words, my own life as of late has been marked by mania, failure and subsequent depressive episodes. I feel this way, like any more plans could kill me, any more attempts at building a life that I want would be too entangled with my painful past to be successful for any length of time. The drugs haven't helped, and they were my saviors. Deep sigh. I could try to pull myself up by my bootstraps, that attitude I hate so fervently. Man up. I'm blessed by a lack of urgency in my life now, but that could be a curse as well. No motivation, no drive. Today it's not that there is no point, but no passion?

    I try not to complain, but I feel that most of my life was a setup and that I was doomed from the get-go and this angers me to no end on some days. All of my natural desires and likes are bound to the craziest traumas and so if I follow the usual advice, which is something like "just be yourself," I can expect nightmares. I don't wish to say that I like my nightmares, but this is true, what I like is bound to what happened to me as a child, infant, etc.

    I will wait, politely, smoldering. I cannot afford the Primal Therapy, so I will WAIT some more. Always waiting why is this.

    Best wishes,


    1. I think you deserve best wishes for your difficulties. I know them and feel for you. I see so many people who feel like you do. You should know that we take no salary and no profits. I do not belleve health should be a private profit affair. Alas, we live in such a society so we are stuck. Not my idea but I must work with it. Best, Art


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.