Monday, November 30, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 13/20)

The Miracle of Memory

I was looking around at some people I know and at least one third of them had the malady of needing to move constantly: organizing trips, making reasons to go here and there, and in general, keeping on the move. Does all that constant going and coming lead to strokes and heart attacks? I do think so. Why? Because below all that movement is a giant, silent scream, born of ferocious suffering, suffocation and being stuck; first in the womb with a mother who smokes and takes drugs (unavoidable for the baby), and followed by a birth process where again he is stuck and cannot get out easily. Hence now the need to keep moving. If I tell the average person this, they think I am delusional. But I assure you, I am not.

I have seen thousands of patients relive all kinds of traumas: one key one that is widespread is being trapped in the womb, suffocating and unable to get out. Trapped, suffocating, unable to move; those are the key feelings involved. They could not scream then and they cannot scream now, but once they as adults are in the feeling they can first grunt and try to move and feel then, later, at birth... scream. It is not the screaming that is liberating. It is the reliving of the true feeling – being stuck – and then the scream to express the agony of all that. Now we can actually observe the pain. Reliving changes the imprint, reduces it and begins the resolution process – demethylation. Screaming alone is not what we are after; it is the total agony of the reliving, and then the reaction – screaming. Reactions alone cannot do it. And that is what is wrong with all those early scream clubs in universities that began with the publication of the Primal Scream. Yes, screaming relieves the pressure involved in the reaction but does nothing to the imprint. Let us never believe that relieving is reliving. One is amelioration; the other, cure.

In reliving birth, we vividly see the tremendous pressure in the build-up after the traumatic event early on; not only the birth trauma but also many other traumas where the mother is taking drugs or smoking and drinking and the fetus/baby cannot escape. He can turn his head away as if to escape but, alas, he is trapped. And that feeling impressed into a vulnerable body remains there as an engraved memory and will drive her behavior thereafter: “I have to move. I have to get out of here.” That is the leitmotif of his or her life. And it never, ever leaves! The person is literally trapped in the memory, a trap that has chemicals stronger than steel to bind them forever. It is a chemical conspiracy to make sure we never, ever feel liberated. Even though the inner feeling is feeling bound, they cannot feel it. They are too busy trying to get unbound, acting out trying to get liberated.

I find it astounding that the real feeling is not felt immediately when it occurs; alas, it is too painful for the moment when an infant’s whole being is so vulnerable. The price we pay is never knowing our feelings or where they come from. Can you imagine someone saying to himself, “Wow, I am bound by a feeling in the womb!” In that womb, there are obviously no words or concepts or scenes. Only a physical feeling – no air, strangling, feeling crushed and suffocating. So how can there be a memory? There is no memory as we think of remembering, but the body remembers exactly. It remembers feeling trapped and suffocating because in the Primal that is what comes up and what we see. And in everyday life we lug those feelings around as a weight, as if carrying a ten-pound steel bar around constantly. We are carrying around those devilish chemicals that trap us.

And what changes those chemicals? If screaming won’t do it, what will? How about dampening drugs, such as SSRI’s, the serotonin enhancers? They shush the scream but never, never change the memory, the imprint. The memory is not designed to be changed. It remains in order to be experienced and liberated. That is the miracle of memory. We have the mechanism for our own liberation inside of us, if we only knew it. And how about using drugs to slow us down so we don’t move so much? That just helps the build-up of pressure. It exacerbates the problem and aggravates the need to move. And if we cannot act-out enough then the original Primal imprint will burrow in and seriously damage key body and brain cells. The genes may be transformed into oncogenes, and serious disease gets its start.

So when we see the constant motion we understand, but we never see the agony. Why no agony? Because it is busy being acted-out to relieve the agony before it is fully felt. So we cannot possibly see it, and the person in motion cannot feel it. That is the idea: that it disappear before it is evident. Now we know why psychotherapy is at such a loss. And now we know what could be behind high blood pressure and migraines. I had one patient who was sexually never satisfied. When she could not have sex her blood pressure rose to dangerous heights. Drugs could not help her. What could? Discharging the pressure permanently by feeling the need – a Primal. That helped and... cured. Relieving the pressure is not what cured; it was reliving the feelings that created the pressure. There is no comprehension in relieving; lots of comprehension in reliving. And this is the crucial point: There are no insights following relieving, yet many insights following reliving. It is one among many ways we suss out true feelings.

Why cure? Because it dealt with the origin of it all – the original methylation and imprint. Primals change the chemical composition – less methylation, decreased serotonin – and diminish the memory so that we can really change our behavior and our proclivity toward disease. How on earth can we understand anorexia without knowing about the link between research on early trauma and later eating disorders? The research states that it is largely due to key epigenetic changes that take place very early in our lives that alter fetal programming and the evolution of the fetus/baby. So now we see why starvation or reduced calories in the womb can lead to later over-eating. He is eating for now and eating out of memory. It is no different from the desperate need for warmth and love after a birth trauma where the child was abandoned right away by a sick birth mother. He entered a cold world with no succor; no kisses or hugs. That desperate need begins here and is stamped in. Early deprivation means overcoming it by doubling the efforts to be loved. Depending on other factors, once repression and gating sets in, there is the shutting out of any love due to a defense system that won’t allow it in because it reawakens old pain.

Let us not forget the critical sensory window where those events are engraved for a lifetime. That is where we therapists must go, to that window where trauma was impressed into the brain and the whole system. We must look into it seriously. If we do not, then we cannot understand anxiety states in our patients or ADD, which detours focus and concentration. It is not here-and-now; it is there-and-then that must be our focus because there-and-then determines here-and-now, to a great extent. If we exclude there-and-then we would never know that my patient’s need for sex took root in a first-line imprint, an early trauma, which was so strong on the physical level but had no words, nor screams. Beware the ides of here-and-now. The brainstem, almost fully developed at the time, absorbed all that trauma and is therefore heavily methylated. We never will see that until we bring patients down to that level; yet that could take months and then we need to know what to look for. That is why it took me decades to figure it out. It is not evident.

So if people are in deep pain, why aren’t they all walking down the street screaming? Because it’s not accepted social behavior and could lead to arrest or commitment to a mental hospital. But what they can do is scream out the agony via a migraine or heart constriction (angina). And we rush in to treat the heart condition or migraine or high blood pressure. That is where it is obvious but that is not where the problem lies. It lies hidden in the memory embedded in the lungs and surroundings, in the arching back and the constant movement. We see what we see – the obvious – and miss what we cannot see. It would be ideal to be searching for what we cannot see: a lens that magnifies Primal Pain. Alas, not likely.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

My War Years

This is a dialogue about my war years:

Art: There was a guy called Larry Allred and the dangerous part of war was what I didn't realize until the last week, was he and I were on a troop ship with 500 troops going to war and going to Europe and  German submarines were everywhere shooting down and torpedoing our boats, but he and I never talked about it, we never even were afraid. And he was a tough guy, a very tough guy. So I got off the ship, I went to a commando center, in the south of France, and he became the Admiral's driver, in London. So I went to visit him and while I was there, I, it was just before and after the blitz, there were bombs everywhere and rubble everywhere. Anyway, he and I and his girlfriend slept together; we didn't make anything of it, it was just like, this was war and we were all just pals, you know.  It was a very different atmosphere. So I lost touch with him for a long time and one day, twenty years later I called, and I said, how are you doing Larry Alread? And I said, Larry, how are you doing? He said, Fine, da da da, and I said listen, I've got to go back to work now, but I'll leave you my number and you can call me. He said, I can't. I said, Why can't you? He's a tough guy now don't forget. He says, I'm blind. And instead of saying to him, why are you blind, was it the war, what happened? I just hung up I was so shocked.  And then I read his obit, two days ago, and that he had Alzheimer's, he died of Alzheimer's, but it didn't say he was blind and I don't even know if he came out of it or what. But he was my war pal, and we were, in all the battles that I was in, the worst was being chased by German submarines because they were after us night and day and we had warning signals, they had destroyers around us at all times, circling us, going this way while we were going that way, and you know, it was harrowing because they had blown up a million troop ships, you know, they were circling cause we were the guys that were going to fight them, so, and eventually I got ready to fight them with the Rhine crossing, we crossed the Rhine and  went into Germany to fight em, anyway, that's another story. So I lost Larry, and I never followed up, and a lifetime passed, and I never knew what happened to him or why, I mean, except that he died of Alzheimer's and then I don't know what happened in the war, we lived in, he lived in, he had an office at a very luxurious hotel in London because he was the Admiral's driver. But then we had a little place just outside of London, I forgot the name of it, but I used to live there, I forgot the name of it, and he had a gorgeous girlfriend, and they had sex, while I was sleeping, but nothing was ever made of anything, there was no morality, no moral stuff, it was just life is what it was.

David: You were trying to get through the war.

Art: Yeah, that was just my life with Larry, and here he's dead, most of my guys on my ship are dead and I'm still here, but life is short, man, and that's the sum total.

Art: Now Dwight Eisenhower, he used to say, he wasn't very bright, but about these things he was very bright, and he said you can never recapture the atmosphere of war, never recapture the atmosphere of war.  And it's so true because everything during the war was so different, so different, and everything had an urgency about it, you know, and I mean, I was in many many battles, and I never even knew I was going to die, I mean, until a guy who came aboard my ship to driver food and chocolate. , I was in the Aleutians where it was like 50 below, and we were chased by Japanese submarines, again would you believe, this time Japanese not German, and they would wait, we had iron gates on the battleship, we had iron gates in front of us so that Japanese submarines could not get at us. And then we had to wait for our dash time, so we could get out of there and try and come back to Japanese torpedoes and we had destroyers to help us pave the way and get us out of there, and then we chased the Japanese fleet all the way back to Japan. But before we did that we had two battles, one in Kiska and one in Attu, and I remember the one in Attu, the fog was so thick you could maybe see three or four inches before your nose but that was it. But we'd hear a bang and they were setting off canons, and then we'd hear a splash, but we never knew where it was coming from or where it was going. So the terror of waiting for each of their big bombs, you know, and not knowing where they were going, was very very disconcerting, to say the least. And then we got up there and they forgot to send us foul weather here, would you believe, so we're 50 below zero, I'm wearing towels to keep myself warm. And then what happened after that? We had two sea battles, oh we chased  the Japanese fleet and that night we came back and went straight down to the Pacific for a bunch of other battles we had. The worst one was Tarawa. That was a very famous one, we were the first ship in, and they wiped out a whole platoon of US soldiers because they were hiding behind certain barriers that we couldn't see, and then they opened up on the soldiers and hundreds of em died, and they were floating in the water, and stuff, you know, it was just terrible. But I wasn't old enough, I wasn't human enough, to understand where it all ends.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 12/20)

On the Breakdown of Our Adaptive Capacity

Some time ago I wrote about how it is the unrelenting input of pain that taxes our ability to adjust and adapt, causing a breakdown of this capacity. The result is a scrambling of our brain cells and a collapse of our ability to cope. It can lead to early psychosis or mental insufficiency. What does this mean?

For the answer, we must look not only to our clinical experience but also to the latest in brain science. In a recent study, entitled “Epigenetic changes in the developing brain: Effects on behavior,” researchers from Rockefeller University in New York and the University of Cambridge in England looked at how methylation works to stamp in painful memory and imprint it (Keverne, Pfaff & Tabansky, 2015). When you block methylation you prevent the nerve cells from adapting to changes in their environment. It becomes maladaptive. New learning cannot take place without successful epigenetic programming. And this makes me wonder about the insidious effects of this process when so many orphan children cannot learn well, suffer from dyslexia and are slow to form sentences. When there is day-in day-out neglect, indifference and lack of love, deep damage occurs and the ability to adapt falters.

The researchers noted that there are adverse effects on the feeling/hippocampus areas. In short, chronic unrelenting pain overtaxes the native ability to adjust, and we see the results. On the feeling level the person claims, it is all too much. He gives up easily and cannot try hard to succeed. The schizophrenic does not explain it verbally but he lives it. He needs help to navigate his daily life. He cannot adapt to new circumstances. This is the extreme breakdown of adaptation. This is because the adaptation mechanisms help us evolve and deal with different circumstances. They are crucial for our evolution. We can take minor setbacks, such as being left alone for a day or two, but being isolated for long periods damages our ability to adapt.
If we look for confirmation of all this in hard science, it is there. Researchers from The Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston discuss cancer in terms of methylation. Their surprising findings are described in an article entitled “Disorder in gene-control system is a defining characteristic of cancer,” posted on the website of the Dana-Farber teaching and research center affiliated with Harvard Medical School(18). Their conclusion: “The behavior of a cancer cell is dictated not only by genetics – by the particular set of mutated genes within it – but also by epigenetics, the system for controlling the expression of genes,” states Catherine Wu, M.D., a lead author of the study.

Scientists know that cancerous tumors are made up of a variety of genetic mutations within many different subgroups of cells. In this study, Wu explained, researchers wanted to find out if cancer’s inherent genetic diversity was matched by a corresponding epigenetic diversity. At first, the scientists expected to find a systematic match between the genetic and epigenetic changes; in other words, they thought the genetic diversity in the tumor would be mirrored in the range of methylation patterns. Instead, researchers were surprised to find methylation patterns with a great deal of random disarray. “
In fact, disorderly methylation pervades the entire tumor," stated Alexander Meissner of the Broad Institute who joined the research team.

The findings, published online in the journal Cancer Cell, revealed that this disarray in methylation is one of the defining characteristics of cancer (Landau et al., 2014). And counter-intuitively, rather than presenting a problem for the disease, researchers theorize that the random disruption of methylation might help tumors survive and even thrive by increasing their ability to adapt to changing circumstances. "Cancer survives through some wildly inventive ways,” Wu concludes. “Methylation disorder is one of the ways it creates the conditions that enable it to adapt."

What I am positing is that Primal imprints are heavily responsible for this epigenetic tumult and disarray, since the entire adaptation process has broken down. Under normal conditions, as I have noted, methylation is part of the natural order of things; it is a key adaptive mechanism. And what I believe is that, in some ways, it gets scrambled and can no longer do its job. It has lost its cohesion. Further, I think the origins of so many catastrophic diseases arise from this disorganization, which is why it is so difficult to treat. The Boston researchers found, for example, that certain leukemia patients had shorter remissions if their tumor tissue showed signs of highly disorganized methylation, which actually benefits the tumors by rendering them less vulnerable to anti- cancer drugs. In other words, the random derangement of the methylation process can make the disease harder to treat.

One final note on this important research. The researcher from the Broad Institute, which is associated with both Harvard University and MIT, helped develop the technique to measure this deregulation, using a process known as bisulfite sequencing to track the presence or absence of methyl groups at specific rungs on the DNA ladder. He and his colleagues also devised a simple measure they call, PDR (Percent Discordant Reads), to quantify deranged methylation. I consider this a major step in epigenetic research, which suggests that soon we may be able to quantify the degree of physical and emotional damage to a human being, and ultimately, the degree of resolution we achieve in a feeling therapy. We are rapidly getting the tools to achieve our aims.

In my opinion, the dangerous time for unceasing pain that threatens the adaptation process is in the womb during gestation. Here, the chronic smoking, drinking or pill-taking of the mother, or her continuous depression or anxiety states, become inescapable from the fetus and he suffers. It is ultimately imprinted and endures throughout life. It is as if he lived in a straight jacket for nine, agonizing months and could find no way to stop the input. He goes to a doctor and the doctor asks, “Any stress lately?” Yes, there is stress, but decades before anyone, including the patient, can even remember it. So he shakes his head and says, “Everything has been OK for some time now.” Those imprints are shouting in the only way they can, through the physical system – migraines, asthma, anxiety, depression, and on and on. He just cannot get comfortable in his skin, because just below that skin is a mountain of hurt and agitation that won’t let him relax. Why agitation? Because the pain is sending a message to awareness that there is serious trouble down below. Alas, there is no one to listen. And even if they could, they could not translate that message because – and this is all-important– it is not in English. It is in a wholly different brain language where words do not exist. We have to travel with the patient to the inner depths and see for ourselves. And there it is, the agony is right before our eyes: The suffocation, the shortness of breath, the misery on the face. All finally observable signs that answer the question, “What is wrong with me?"

Epigenetic science can help explain all this. Methylation is the agent for repression, which in turn prevents the person from putting away the pain and moving on. Certain switches turn on and off to accommodate the painful intrusion; when it gets to a certain level there is a breakdown of its efforts and “normal” adaptation is no longer possible. The result: abnormality in physical development and psychological adjustment. The person can no longer be neurotically normal. There is now serious pathology which endures. The imprint literally lasts a lifetime with the person all the while trying to get normal, in and out of mental hospitals, seeing this doctor or that psychiatrist, and all to no avail. They will not respond to current treatment efforts because that is not where the damage lies. It is locked up with the epigenetic switches that were overwhelmed early on and no longer function properly. They almost don’t know what to turn on or off. They are as helpless as the patient because they are far out of reach of understanding. Alas, he is condemned.

But there is a way out. If he can travel back in time with us toward the buried vestiges of the imprinted pain and connect with the Primal feeling we can commute the sentence. Because then the epigenetic switches can be reversed and a salubrious state can be achieved. What does this mean? That soon, we will be able to go back down the feeling chain from current to past imprints, observe how deep the pain is by its methyl traces and know where to go for the least dangerous pains first. That feeling those painful buried feelings in sequential order from current to remote past so as to finally resettle the methylation process; that is, to normalize the biochemistry and allow the genetic switches to normalize so that they can do their job of adaptation.

18 "Disorder in Gene-control System Is a Defining Characteristic of Cancer, Study Finds." Dana-Farber Cancer Institute | Boston, MA. December 8, 2014. gene-control-system-is-a-defining-characteristic-of-cancer-study-finds.aspx.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 11/20)

And how is this possible? Luckily, each new harmful experience that remains un-integrated at lower levels is later re-represented in a higher level of the nervous system, where it is coded as the outsider or enemy. Lower level imprints send references higher up in the nervous system. These higher-level memories are wired together with their origins down below. They form a neural circuit, a pathway. And when circuits are wired together they tend to fire together; hence resonance. When a trauma exists later on, it may resonate with earlier imprints and set off the whole memory intact. It is here that there may be inordinate responses to the most banal of events. We are winding down again to the originating sources, the base of the feeling. That is how we relive purely physiologic brainstem responses without ever acknowledging them. It is how we get to preverbal events automatically. When the Primal imprint sends its message higher up, feelings are added to the impulse, and then later ideas and comprehension are included. Together these form a complete feeling. All are necessary, eventually, in reliving. That is how something in the present, a rejection, can set off such catastrophic feelings. It is an organic process and needs to happen in a precise order, with the original feelings preserved. It may be that specific brain frequencies tie these events together. Figuratively, what is going on is much like the stone thrown into the pond: a ripple effect in the way the neurons connect to each other in mirrored progression. When there are certain kinds of triggers, the brain conjures up its related history, intact, kindling like-minded feelings and their physiology together.

Recent research, both with Primal patients and in neuroscience labs, is showing that being unconscious of pain is a survival mechanism, a protection against overwhelming input. But the imprinted memory stays and continues to do its damage over a lifetime. In short, it is not inert. It has a force that threatens our ability to adapt, as I explain in detail shortly. The deeper we go down in the brain the more powerful the force of memory. Hence the more unconscious it has to be... for protection. When the trauma is too great or too prolonged, the ability to adapt becomes more feeble and less flexible. This is especially true of long-term neglect and abuse. Here the memories seem to dig in and solidify, impervious to change. And as conscious/awareness lessens, the harm begins, both mental and physical. We are then partially unconscious and are unaware of the damage. Fear-memories are joined by multiple pathways and then are engraved.

What the new research shows is what I’ve been saying all along: that one needs to go back to the mood when the memory was imprinted. But doing so artificially can make matters worse. Far better to arrive there slowly on an evolutionary time-scale. In their studies with mice, the Northwestern researchers made an important observation which applies to our human patients: It is difficult for therapists to access these memories because the patients themselves cannot remember the traumatic experiences that are the root cause of their symptoms. Which is exactly why we need to go slowly down the chain of pain, and let the patient decide how fast he can go. The team noted that the brain functions in different states like a radio, switching from AM to FM. “It’s as if the brain is normally tuned to FM stations to access memories, but needs to be tuned to AM stations to access subconscious memories,” stated the lead investigator, Dr. Jelena Radulovic, Dunbar Professor in Bipolar Disease at Northwestern’s Feinberg School of Medicine.(17) In short, certain kinds of severe memories need to be tuned properly to receive painful messages. I would put it differently, but we agree that traumatic memories are stored in the brain, where they remain and cause damage.

What the research team and I agree on is that we need to turn on the exact frequency of the feeling. In other words, we need to go back in time to the imprinted pain, and no byways allowed. We cannot skirt around the feeling. The safeguard here is that we allow the patient to go back there in a precise manner so that any detours, the byways of feeling, are avoided. And in our own research we found that there were specific frequencies that align with feelings. They were never fast, which meant being over the Primal Zone. We watched as we slowed the frequency (with lights) when feelings began to intrude. They insist, as do I, that the brain needs to go back to the proper frequency and target a specific feeling. My observation now for almost fifty years is that the natural evolutionary way is the proper path to follow. Nature is the sine qua non.

(17) Paul, M. (2015, August 18). News. Retrieved from

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 10/20)

How Traumas Get Embedded

A recent report from Northwestern University notes that some traumatic memories, such as chronic child abuse, are so painful that they get buried deep in the brain and become difficult to access (Jovasevic et al., 2015). Those memories were created in a certain mood/feeling or state of arousal and “can best be retrieved when the brain is back in that state.” This new brain research provides support for my concept of resonance, which posits that specific feelings on all three levels are inter-connected via related frequencies. In Primal Therapy, as the patient goes back in time in his sessions, he will connect with feelings stored deeper in the brain which resonate with the same mood, as one level of the memory is linked to lower levels. The mood or feeling belongs to a hierarchy of imprints/feelings, where each level gives way to deeper more remote levels, all related in tone and emotional meaning. The links are not only due to similar feelings but reflect historical processes; each link carries us further back in our ontology until we surpass memory as we think of it. We go back in archaic times as well, where there are no words or even feelings, just instincts. For that reason, when a patient uses words while appearing to relive such archaic events, we know it is abreaction, a false memory. When a patient is back in an accent brain, there are no words in the reliving because no words exist at that level. Let me be clear: the reliving is literal, as the patient is submerged in history and lives for a time on that lower level only.

In the Northwestern experiment, scientists infused the hippocampus of mice with gaboxadol, a drug that stimulates extra-synaptic GABA receptors. Researchers describe as getting the subjects “a little inebriated.” Then the mice were put in a box and given a brief, mild electric shock. When the mice were returned to the same box the next day, they showed no signs of fear and moved about freely, leading researchers to conclude they didn’t remember the shock from the day before. However, when the mice were given the same drug before going back to the box, they froze, as if fearfully anticipating another shock.

Researchers concluded that the drug changed the way the memory was originally encoded, so the mice remembered the stressful experience of the shock only when they were returned to the same brain state created by the drug. In other words, they believe that the brain, when drugged, “used completely different molecular pathways and neuronal circuits to store the memory.” And then the authors make this Primal statement: “The best way to access these memories is to return the brain to the same state.” Seems like a quote from my work, but it is no more than arriving at the same reality by different methods. The question is, how do we get the patient back in that state?

I repeat, the means of getting to those old memories needs to follow evolution; that is devolution or evolution-in-reverse. We need to begin at the last or latest link of memory and then use resonance to travel back in time to where key imprints lie. We don’t decide this; it is done by the patient who is often upset by something in the present, and once locked-in will slide effortlessly back in history following the feeling links. His devolution is not random; it is guided ineluctably by resonance.

So is Primal Therapy nothing more than a time machine, a means to revisit our history, to turn back the clock to previously neutral, non-neurotic states? It may sound far-fetched, but more and more evidence suggests it’s true. Scientists are now learning how to wind back the developmental clock on the microscopic level — taking a current skin cell, for example, and treating it so that it returns to a previously neutral, uncommitted state, an embryonic state. Once that is done, the cell can be reprogrammed to become another kind of cell. During this critical window certain needs must be fulfilled and, if they are not, cells may become imprinted in adverse ways.

Here’s another way to put it: once a mark is made on the cell we are psychologically and physiologically affected for life, until, and only until, the inciting event is revisited and relived. And it can be relived unconsciously, through the process of resonance. That is, a trauma that took place in-utero can be re-experienced without a specific awareness of it, by virtue of being part of the chain of pain, once we are locked into the memory circuit. In Primal Therapy, when we explore these ramified events and begin to relive them, we are connecting three levels of consciousness – the present, our past childhood and our infancy/gestation – by descending through three levels of brain development.

Friday, November 13, 2015

On the Beliefs that Kill

Yes, beliefs do kill. They create a zeitgeist for murder.  If there were no zeitgeist for murder in the Middle East it may well be that the murder rate would be far less.  How else to explain how 150 militants decide together to penetrate a children’s school and slaughter over 100 innocent children?  What was in their minds but pure unadulterated murder.   What were they thinking?  They weren’t.   What were they feeling?  Killing, mayhem, massacre.  Why?  Because those children were offspring of military people.  And, as the killers said, “They grow up to be adults who kill us.” This is exactly what the Nazis said when they killed children.  They kill now for possible crimes twenty years hence.

First the zeitgeist that it is OK to kill women who do not wear veils, cartoonists who do not defer to Allah, those who do not dress according to their standards, and on and on.  The point is to kill; to release all that hate.  And where does that hate come from?  Now the facile answer; lack of love.  No loved child could possibly travel miles to slaughter young children.  Why?  Because when you are loved you feel with and for others.  When you are shut down and your feelings are revenge, it permeates all thinking as deeper brain levels overtake higher levels and replace any semblance of humanity.    What is the revenge about?  Ostensibly for blasphemy against Allah.  In reality for a total lack of love and an atmosphere of death for the infidels.  That is why civilized societies all over the world are eschewing the death penalty.   They do not want to lose their humanity.

As we see from Al Queda and ISIS we can always find reasons to kill.  But to think about what we are doing and to reject murder because it is murder is the step toward humanness.

I am not an expert on the Middle East, nor their politics or religions but I have treated killers, not mass killers, but those filled with rage and I know where it comes from and how it gets its start.  For mass killing we need the words of social psychologists who specialize in such matters. But I have experience with individual development into murder and can write on that.

But in my practice I have seen patients rip up pillows and smash the walls until there are deep holes in them.  I have seen pure fury.  How could that be?   I let it happen under controlled circumstances.  And for almost 50 years of our therapy I have never seen an untoward incident.  On the contrary, expressing rage releases that urge and softens our patients.  But to let it happen means going against the whole background of psychiatry and psychology:  we were warned in our studies about letting feelings get out of control.  And so we suppressed them rather than do what is logical; which is to let feelings out.

I see the progression of feelings daily in my work with patients.  First they come in mad at this and mad at that. Then get into deep feelings after weeks or months of therapy and are furious with their parents for their indifference and lack of feelings; and then the hard part—begging them for love.  It doesn’t matter that they cannot give it; it is their need for it that counts,  their need that removes the pain and becomes liberating, and above all, removes the fury. This is not a theory I concocted.   It is the progression of feelings in so many patients.  Lacking this primal context there can be pure rage;  a sensation that lives down in the brainstem that has no words and no feelings. As it comes up, and given the right context, those deep feelings can channel his rage against those who blaspheme Allah.  He now has a target far from the real source;  his lack of love.  And worse, that target is accepted by those around him.   They now have congealed feelings and a target.  They will kill, not for Allah, but for lack of love under the sobriquet of Allah.   Meanwhile, the killers in Paris shouted as they killed, “To avenge the Prophet Muhammad.”  Unless they had some word from Muhammad, who told them to do that?

But in the case of a mass zeitgeist there is a contagion effect, as the feeling gains acceptance and solidifies.   It becomes shameful not to kill those who are not respectful of a specific higher being.  All that rage lives on the deepest and most level of the brain. It becomes socially institutionalized psychosis.   There is a delusionary target; certainly no sane person can imagine that children are a menace and a danger.  And then the rage arises to prompt the killing.  I write “psychosis” advisedly, as it is a phantom enemy joined with murderous impulses with no higher level control.

Where is the sane zeitgeist?  The same place it was during the Holocaust when Marlene Dietrich’s sister could live across from a death camp.  That zeitgeist rationalizes and makes acceptable the killing of another human being.  Jews, infidels, it is all the same as long as they can release their pent-up rage.  Or if someone can offer a rationale for killing, as we do when we recommend the death penalty.   The first step in the zeitgeist is to dehumanize the ”enemy.”  It is easier to kill a subhuman than a feeling human; that is why we can hunt and kill animals, not understanding that their feeling base is as large as ours.   We don’t believe that they can feel.

This is all on the personal, individual level; how people can go crazy together and do horrendous things.  Are they thinking? No, they are feeling from deep down in the brain where the shark brain lies in wait. It doesn’t differentiate among targets so long as they look like food.  What are the sharks and the shark brain thinking?  They are not. They act on untrammeled instinct.

So,  as to make my point real, I wrote this at the same time as a group of terrorists in France attacked the offices of a magazine that makes fun of all the great religions and ideologies and killed 12 writers/cartoonists.  Their shouts were “Praise Allah.”   Their pal who also was radicalized in prison with them, went on another killing spree nearby and killed another four people.
How come he traveled to a Jewish delicatessen to kill?  Because in certain zeitgeists the Jews were already considered sub-human.  We need to be very careful about joining in on the maladaptive zeitgeist which overall makes it easier to discriminate and ultimately to kill.  That is the danger of even the most miniscule insult to any race or belief.  It adds to the background noise of hate.  And the hate accumulates til violence shows its ugly head.  The person; Jew, homosexual,
Arab,  are the targets to discharge the hate.  And where should that hate go if anywhere?  Toward their early life, parents who never loved and a family life filled chaos and violence.  That is what built the hate and need to release; rather, to find a target where they can release.  They killed those who answered back against idolatry; who refused to praise and serve a higher authority.  They killed those who would not share their beliefs.  Was it just beliefs?  No.  Beliefs without the urging of feelings never take on that violent aspect.

After the terrorists were killed by the police, 3 million Frenchmen took to the streets to protest.  The terrorists seemed to know they were on a death march and did not care. They did their job; releasing rage and rationalizing under the authority of Allah.  And above all,  they felt they belonged.  They shared the hate with others.  Let us not minimalize this since those followers of a leader in Waco, Texas  when faced with fleeing and escaping, went back into the building which was on fire.  They chose death instead of feeling there was nowhere for them.   If there is no close family, the need to belong is primordial.

I have seen it in treating Mexican gang members. They come here not knowing the language, the fathers are struggling to make a living, neglecting the kids and they join a gang to be able to talk to others, to feel that they belong and are wanted.  The price of entry is sometimes killing someone else; often someone from the block down the street.  These kids are family to each other; they need a family and someone who cares about them.  And they fabricate enemies; across the tracks, a different neighborhood.  It doesn’t matter as they need a target, someone they can blame and pin their woes on.  And they do find them.  It is a common enemy that provides cohesion for the group.    That enemy makes the gang or group closer and more bonded.  When there is no enemy they provide them;  manufacture an enemy who is the danger, even those who live 2 blocks away.   What do they have in common?   The enemy.   Take away the enemy and there is less cohesion.  In these situations you are not safe if you are different.

I have seen several articles on the French massacre and some claim they are not psychotic.   I am not sure what is psychotic if you go to kill a hundred children who have done nothing at all to harm anyone.   These are psychologists writing.  The claim of the terrorists is that they perceive they are victims of injustice.  Maybe true, but one does not slaughter someone who has nothing to do with that injustice.   OK, so they think that there has to be delusions for psychosis to exist.  Isn’t what those killers believed? Pure delusions?  That their God was insulted and that he is the last word for truth? That one has to kill if others disagree with their delusions?  That it is all done in the name of a God or deity.  And that the deity approves of this slaughter and actually insists on it:  the Fatwa.  So “God” does not ask them to love and honor others;  it wants them to be murdered.  Ayayay!  They do not celebrate life; they celebrate death and often ask to be killed.  They give up their life happily to be known as a “martyr.”  For that word they are willing to die.   Imagine, the most precious gift anyone of us have is life.  To throw that away for a word is indeed psychotic.

So who gets killed? Those who deviate from the zeitgeist.  And who makes the zeitgeist?  All of us. But first those who profit from it.   Capitalists who can make money if we acquiesce. Or those in power who are willing to kill us to remain in power.
In Cambodia they killed those who wore glasses because they thought it was that only the Vietnamese who wear glasses so they can read and have thoughts.  They were the danger.  In fascist societies, the college people are the danger because they might think.  Intellectuals often become the target, even those who read French; hence freedom fries, rather than French fries.

The powers who reign do not want us to think; they want us to believe, to be engaged in endless studies of the official scripts so as to be further inculcated and more easily led.  It looks like thinking but it actually replaces thought. The spread of ideation has cast a large intellectual net over us so that the powers simply twist and turn the ideation and we follow.  We continue to follow until it envelopes us and we do its bidding without any further reflection.   Their control is now internal; we just follow its dictates.   That is the ticket; impregnate ideas until they become part of us, and then we follow them without question.  It is a true principle in advertising: “ Buy this truck and you will be strong.”  It is not said, it is implied.    We fill in the blanks with our deprived needs.

         Let me explain. When we hurt early on — and that means in utero, in infancy and most importantly in early childhood— we have a defense system that hurries to contain the pain. For every major trauma there seems to be an equal and opposite defensive force to contain the pain. I call this defense system the gating system. Those familiar with my writing understand that defenses are abetted by biochemical means through which neurotransmitters are secreted by the brain into the gap between cells so that the message of pain cannot travel to high centers, enabling us to remain unconscious. We humans usually manage to hold down our most painful feelings by a neurologic system that was built for it, to keep our mental system functioning. It is in the first weeks of life in the womb that life-threatening events occur. The mother is depressed or anxious, takes drugs or drinks alcohol and is not careful with her diet. As her life goes on, there may be a compounding of pain for the developing infant due to her own parental neglect and indifference. Her gates do not function well and she goes on taking drugs to quell her pain. The chemicals that accompany these states spill into the placenta and affect the fetus.
      Sometimes life deals such harsh blows that the gates crack or weaken; the result is that there aren’t enough repressive chemicals such as serotonin in the synapse to keep repression going, and we have a carrying mother in turmoil. Deep in that turmoil lies rage which is sucked up into various targets, rarely parents.  But it can be Socialists, Unitarians, Vegetarians and so on.  Or the unions which we rally against.  Or Wall Street, as another target; choose your poison but the real poison is the deep-lying pain that drives so much of us.  That does not negate the reality of the target but it helps to explain the violent reaction; as those who wear glasses.

Of course, not every unloved child grows up to be a killer. Some lose love, go into despair and then find God. They have been saved, saved by the idea of God, unless we really think He comes down from out of wherever He is and literally lends a hand. But the reaching out for God represents the hope of being loved, albeit this time only in fantasy. Others may start to feel the pain and reach for the bottle. Still others may reach for the neck of the departing lover and strangle her. But what they all have in common, what makes the act-out obligatory, is the reawakening of early deprivation by a current situation. Amorous rejection is the trigger; parental rejection gives it power.

Think about this.  The terrorist feels he is loved once he does his terrible deed; life in reverse.   He does it all in the name of God and since many of us have different Gods the permutations are enormous.

When we follow evolution as I see in my patients there are deep feelings, sometimes overwhelming that force their way up in the idea/belief area of the brain (neo-cortex),  and the belief becomes as obdurate as the feeling itself.  We need to address not only the beliefs but the underlying force behind them.  And indeed, when we get patients to relive very deep feelings the beliefs seem to evaporate, especially the belief in the devil.   With ISIS or Al Queda the force pushing ideas is inordinate; we must not underestimate it.  Those ideas do not make one kill; it is the rage that drive them

One thing I fail to understand is that after the killing, the remaining journalist put out another massive issue, stating in effect, on the cover, all is forgiven.    I don’t get it.  Are the religious precepts so strong as to override rational feeling?  What bothers me is the majesty of it all; “when I forgive I am above all that.  I have the power to forgive those lesser beings.”  “I am the great forgiver.”

Have you noticed?  Terrorists always do their deeds for love.   Mohammad loves me…….and wants me to blow myself up for the cause. Still the need for love dominates.  The recipe is if I kill I will be loved. Still the same need, only taking a lethal turn.

When hundreds all believe the same thing there is danger.  It becomes unassailable.   The contagion factor gives it more power.  What is the answer?  Love.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 9/20)

Reversing Methylation through Reliving

Can we reverse or undo methylation? Can the imprint of trauma be removed at a cellular level? The good news seems to be that, unlike pure genetics, methylation can be reversed, at least through chemical means (Cheishvili, Boureau & Szyf, 2015). Thus, epigenetic-caused disease may be normalized at last. What we are planning to do soon is study the imprint and how to reverse it through Primal Therapy; that is the ultimate reduction of stress. We want to see if we can reverse history through reliving traumas. For if we can do that, we may well help patients to avoid serious disease later on. We will measure the methylation process by which traumas are stamped into the brain. We will reverse history. Think of that: stopping an imprint from going on to cause damage. Yes, it can be undone biochemically. Investigations into using methionine to reverse the effects of methylation are bearing fruit, and other drugs, including some tranquilizers, are helping to accomplish it. But I believe, the harmful effects of epigenetics can be reversed, more surely, effectively and thoroughly through therapy. Reliving early experience in a Primal may partially undo methylation and help to normalize the whole system.

The question is,“How do we do that?” How do we get to those early driving needs that preceded our first steps in a new world? They may seem so “far-out” as to be unbelievable, but many thousands of patients have gone through my therapy, reporting what they went through even when I was unprepared to believe them. At last, new research is confirming what they told me.

The research informs us that damaged rats that had been raised by unloving mothers did not show any signs of damage after being infused with trichostatin, as though the trauma never occurred. This drug removes methyl from the system. It did, in brief, undo history. This is what I think may be happening with our patients. In the reliving there must be a change in methylation so as to reverse history, which is the hypothesis we plan to test. I think we can reverse methylation; at least we can remove some of its embedded trauma. That, in my opinion, is what reliving key traumas does, and that is why we can prevent future diseases or at least modify their harm. We can unlock the trauma from its hiding place and liberate its energy so it does no more harm. Remember, in the imprint there is the memory and also the pain. We are able to remove the pain while leaving the memory intact. Our job is not to produce robots without memory. But we don’t want the memory to be awash in suffering.

As we saw earlier, Michael Meaney and his research team found that deprived animals, when later raised by a more loving mother, experience a partial recovery as higher-level brain processes override some of the effects of early imprints (Meaney et al., 1985). The neo-cortex can provide compensations for the pain, masking the imprint, but cannot eradicate it. Meaney’s rats, deprived and damaged early on by a disappearing mother, were later put into an enriched environment where they seemed happier and played well together. But their stress hormone level was still high; they still suffered, as do humans under similar conditions. Masking the pain is not the same as resolving it, and we may die prematurely from that masking. You might call it a devil’s bargain: if we mask the pain we may die early, but if we don’t we suffer. However there is a third possibility: relive and integrate the pain, and thus be done with it. There seems to be a window of opportunity before methylation sets in when the imprint can be partially reversed (16). But it is a narrow, short-lived window. After that the imprint remains for a very long time.

Our human imprint, I propose, is found in every fiber and cell of our being and retains a precise memory of its past. It cannot be pinpointed to any particular location in the system since it is everywhere, from our hormonal balance to our neurology. The imprint says, “this is what happened to me and this is who I am;” and because the imprint is everywhere, when we relive it there may be changes throughout the system. That is why we need to relive experiences: to reset the set points and, in so doing, exercise a profoundly new approach to medicine and psychiatry. We need to “remember” with our entire physiology and being, not just the neo-cortex. Above all, we need doctors to stop asking, “Have you been in any unusual stress recently?” They need to ask the right questions if they want the right answers. Since we cannot ask the fetus about his stress we need to do the next best thing and sniff out biologic damage, descend down the chain of pain, following resonance to reach the fetal level and see what we find. Most often we find anoxia in almost lethal states. Resonance ineluctably leads to the beginning of life. Each new key memory finds its partner on lower levels; all we need to do is access the first top level in slow, methodical steps until we arrive at the first station.

Let us take off our blinders and look at the whole brain. And above all, the whole person. Yes, one chemical therapy can affect memory and the imprint, but it is doubtful that all of the accouterments of that memory will be reversed, as well.

(16) In our forthcoming research on demethylation, with Dr. Justin Feinstein of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research, we hope to find more answers. Our hypothesis is that if we take a certain sample (lymphoblasts) from the bone marrow and see how it grows into white blood cells, we can measure demethylation. It is a preliminary theory, but there may be a way, in the near future, to see what effects our therapy or other chemicals may have on methylation.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 8/20)

Womb-life and the Mystery of Twins

On my desk is a scientific paper concerning how early life affects adulthood. Chris Murgatroyd and Dietmar Spengler (2010), molecular biologists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany, have shown rather conclusively that life events can induce long-lasting changes in our brain, physiology, and behavior. Early life stress can cause over-secretion of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn weakens our ability to remember things clearly and cope with stress. (For the more scientifically minded, the article includes a detailed explanation of the long-duration effects of methylation.) In their study of mice, the researchers and their colleagues found that periodic infant-mother separation just after birth was a major cause of anxiety. And it is my view, as I’ve noted, that when it comes to humans, the earlier the separation occurs, the more likely the anxiety will result in a shortened life span. The published results from the study end with a rather bleak assessment: “Adverse events in early life can leave persistent marks on specific genes that may prime susceptibility to neuroendocrine and behavioral dysfunction.” Yet further evidence that early events have a profound effect on later life.

One of those behavioral dysfunctions may be ADD, so commonly diagnosed in children nowadays. There is a good deal of evidence that a mother’s hyperactivity, frequently the result of drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine taken during pregnancy, can leave an imprint that affects the offspring for a lifetime. Just that early exposure is enough to set up a child to be revved up and jumpy for life. Of course this may stem from more than just drugs, as we saw with the study of Holocaust survivors. I say that a better approach for understanding and treating Attention Deficit Disorder is to trace its origins, back to womb-life, as well as an individual’s ancestral history.

These critical experiences are left out of the usual psychotherapy, but they are key motivations for how we behave, how we learn and how and if we make love. It also plays a part in whether the offspring can have children or will be sterile. It can also help determine if we become obese, to say nothing of mental illness. In this period when the body and brain are rapidly developing, it is not a surprise that adversity affects so much of us – body and brain.

In addition to altering metabolic function and reshaping our personality, traumatic experiences in the first years of life may weaken the disease-fighting ability of the immune system. A report from researchers at the University of Wisconsin demonstrated how children who had had an abusive early life or had spent time in an orphanage showed a compromised ability to defend against disease (Shirtcliff, Coe & Pollak, 2009). Even after the children were removed from the adverse environment, damage was still apparent. The scientists point out that though the immune cells are ready at birth, how they develop and become a dependable cohesive system depends on experience. As part of the study, the investigators used the body’s ability to control latent herpes viruses as a measure of immune competence. People with an intact immune system can usually keep these viruses under control. Those who are neglected and unloved cannot. Thus, such afflictions as the herpes virus, which often lie latent, are more likely to be activated in those who have poor immune control. In this case, traumatized patients had higher levels of herpes antibodies, indicating their immune systems were compromised against the herpes virus. Those later living in a stable environment still showed higher levels of herpes antibodies.

There is little question now that stress and chronic anxiety of the mother affects the baby’s HPA axis, as we have seen. Thus, stress sets the stage for later anxiety in the offspring, partly accomplished by methylation. It heightens cortisol levels, and chronically high stress hormones affect so many functions later in life, not the least of which is thinking and memory (Radtke et al., 2011). Much further down the road it may affect the development of both Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. What is important here is that in-utero trauma sets the program for adult behavior, especially afflictions such as heroin addiction. The person is trying to calm something inside but has no idea it exists or what it is. Years later there may be panic attacks that seem to come out of nowhere. But they come out of somewhere; it is our job to find out where. If we ignore early womb-life experience we will never discover origins, and we will keep looking into the current environment for answers. What is clear now is that some get addicted to heavy drugs to keep panic attacks from happening. That is, it may be the same imprint involved in both the panic attack and the addiction, only the drug user has found a way to block it. Addiction may be forever a mystery because it comes from archaic imprints that share common cause with sharks. How can anyone find that ancient cause? There is a way. Allow the patient, after a time in our therapy, to descend to deep-lying imprints organized millions of years earlier. Patients are not led there nor are they forced there; the process of resonance will accomplish it (which I explain more fully below in connection with new research about how traumas get embedded in the system). To repeat: as we evolve there are more and more neurons that take part. They evolve out of earlier neuronal processes and are related to them. Thus there is an interconnectedness so that they form a neuronal circuit. Each different level of brain function has a link to yet other higher levels. It is what I call the chain of pain. When we start with a patient about his current life, eventually, over months he will descend automatically to lower connected levels. Until after at least a year of therapy he may touch on brainstem imprints. Here lies the deepest and most remote memories, also the most devastating in terms of the force of the imprinted pain. It is later the most disruptive of imprints. It is ineluctably the neuronal chain that will lead the patient there. When we look at mental illness and severe physiologic afflictions we need to focus on these early memories. Here may lie the origins of our mysterious maladies.

The study of twins provides fertile ground for demonstrating the far- reaching impact of womb-life on who we turn out to be and what we suffer from years later. In one study, researchers investigated the perplexing case of identical twin girls born with vastly different physical conditions. One girl was normal while the other had severe birth defects, born with two vaginas, two colons and a spinal cord that split in two towards the bottom of her back. “So how could twins who shared the same genes be so different?” asked the author of a report on the epigenetic research, “The Third Factor: Beyond Nature and Nurture,” in New Scientist(13).

We have long known of epigenetic marks – chemical labels added to DNA that alters the activity of genes without altering the sequence. In particular, if a stretch of DNA has lots of added methyl groups, the activity of nearby genes is suppressed. So the team took a closer look at the Axin gene in blood cells from the twins. Sure enough, the girl with the split spine had unusually high levels of methylation. So while other causes cannot yet be ruled out, the researchers think the most likely explanation is that in one twin something pushed methylation levels high enough to shut the gene down. Mystery solved? Far from it. What pushed methylation levels above a critical threshold in one twin but not in the other? ''That's the million-dollar question,'' says team member Nick Martin, of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia.

In another study at New York’s Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, a private, not-for-profit research center specializing in molecular biology and genetics, researchers also found great differences in the methylation patterns even between identical twins (Gordon et al., 2012). Investigators looked at umbilicord tissue, cord blood and the placentas of newborn twins and found differences that play an important role in individual development. And here is their important conclusion: “This must be due to events that happened (in the womb) to one twin and not the other,” said senior author Dr. Jeffrey Craig of Australia’s Murdoch Childrens Research Institute, in a press announcement from the research laboratory.(14) So although twins share a womb, what happens to each of them can be quite different. The study, published online in Genome Research, has “for the first time shown that the environment experienced in the womb defines the newborn epigenetic profile.”(15) And, no surprise, the authors believe that womb-life events may have a more profound effect than previously thought. They claim that this discovery is a powerful tool for managing future health and modifying risk.

The lead author believes we can modify risk through dietary intervention and other environmental approaches. He does not say what is crucial: how about we intervene during womb-life and make it salubrious and salutary? How about we make womb-life a great place to be? We can do it through education and we can also do it by reliving those adverse womb events and reversing their deleterious effects.

(13) Pilcher, H. (2013). The third factor: Beyond nature and nurture. New Scientist, 219(2932), 44-47. doi:10.1016/s0262-4079(13)62149-1

(14) Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. "Differences between human twins at birth highlight importance of intrauterine environment." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 July 2012.

(15) Differences between human twins at birth highlight importance of intrauterine environment. (2012, July 16). Retrieved from

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 7/20)

A key point in all of this is that physiologic reactions are the basis upon which feelings are constructed. Thus, what distorts physiologic responses will distort psychological reactions, as well. If the system is highly activated due to early trauma, chances are we will find, later on, a hyperactive individual who will search out projects to keep himself active and busy. If dopamine and other alerting chemicals are in short supply, we may have someone, instead, who is passive and phlegmatic, who concocts reasons for not doing anything, for not following through. It is not a one-to-one relationship, but physiology does direct our psychology, only after psychology has its say.

Neuroscientists in Italy did a complete literature search of many databases for panic disorders (Perna, Guerriero, Brambilla & Caldirola, 2014). Yes, the brainstem was involved. The brainstem, which registers very early trauma and sets the tone for how we respond to it later in life. So mother’s drug- taking and later birth anesthesia sets up a panic reaction to lack of oxygen. Later in life, closed doors or windows become a threat and can set up a panic attack. Their summary was as follows: “Panic patients tend to have abnormal brainstem activation to emotional stimuli when compared with healthy controls.” Let’s be wary of concentrating on the brainstem without acknowledging the milieu it lives in. The brainstem is the mechanism for the process of translating terror, but where does the terror come from? We will never find that out by a detailed examination of the brain cells. We will find out through knowing the terror that the mother has undergone while pregnant. I saw a patient recently whose mother underwent a severe auto crash with baby in the car. This child had a lifelong anxiety state. Her brainstem was constantly reacting to the imprint.

Here are my questions for researchers: where does that state come from? What causes that brainstem reaction? Or does the brainstem just go off and do its own special thing? What is the exact relationship between certain experiences and brainstem activation? Those are the answers that will lead to proper therapies, but they cannot be answered by research alone. Above all, why is the brainstem so involved? Maybe the damage is registered there because it dominates during the first weeks or days of life in the womb. And the brainstem becomes methylated early on. And as I say, it is the earliest imprints that are the most damaging. There is where therapy needs to begin. It is clear that if we want cure, we need to descend to the lower depths, the zone of the interior to read the notes from the underground. Those notes have a most painful message, one which can only be read a bit at a time. If you do not believe in imprints then all is lost and you will never arrive at the generating sources of an affliction or symptom.

When can a fetus begin to feel pain? A better question might be this: when can the fetus signify pain? Research from K. J. S. Anand, a professor of pediatrics and neurobiology at the University of Tennessee, suggests this happens once the neural circuits are in place (Anand & Hickey, 1987). When Anand placed a needle into a fetus (in a process known as amniocentesis), the fetus grimaced in pain and its stress hormone levels rose dramatically. Not only did the baby suffer but, from our point of view, that suffering can be coded and registered in the memory system, thereafter awaiting connection. This is what we in feeling therapy are about — connection— restoring the missing links in the circuitry. Some serious diseases have been considered only in the domain of inheritance, muscular dystrophy being one of many. The cures for these afflictions have been slow in coming, in my view, because our emphasis has been on inherited factors rather than in-utero experience. If we don’t regard gestation as critical, our diagnoses and treatments are bound to be flawed.
Beyond gestation and birth, early childhood is important, as well, when attempting to identify the origins of later life problems, as evidence of imprinting can be seen in the experiences of very young children. There is a study by a Canadian group from the Douglas Mental Health University in Montreal that found when child abuse exists there is a change in the gene NR3C1 (glucocorticoid receptor gene) that affects how the child will deal with the abuse (McGowan et al., 2009). Measures of the gene’s function were much lower in abuse victims who eventually took their own lives. It appears that childhood abuse had changed the gene’s structure, making the gene less active. And these modifications endured throughout the children’s lives. Epigenetics had affected the function of the stress apparatus, what is called the hypothalamic- pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), a complex part of the neuroendocrine system that controls reactions to stress and regulates many body processes, including digestion, the immune system, mood and emotions, sexuality and energy storage and expenditure.

Patrick McGowan, one of the study’s principal researchers, implies that the changes are more or less permanent; they alter the gene’s activity, leading to later illness and suicidal tendencies. When the NR3C1 gene is ineffective, it cannot produce the kind of alerting, galvanizing chemicals that help one fight through things. (Clearly, such trauma also diminishes an individual’s adaptive capacity, as I discuss below.) As a result, the body behaves as though it were constantly under stress. Moreover, what this research group believes is that mothers can affect the fate of their children even before they are born. Epigenetic changes passed on during gestation may contribute to depression and suicidal thoughts later on. So what looks like genetics, in reality, is a much more complex interaction between biological and environmental factors, an intricate “if-then” sequence which spans generations. What this may mean is that my notion of the imprint has to be wound way back. A more accurate framework holds that the experience of the parent leaves an imprint on the sperm and egg. One experiment by researchers at the University of New South Wales was done with male rats that were fed a high-fat diet (Ng et al., 2010). Their sperm seemed to change — that is, many of their babies had adult-onset disease, even though the mothers were normal. The children had a greater frequency for deviated insulin and glucose resistance, hence a propensity for diabetes, even though the fathers had no previous history of the disease. So what looks like pure heredity is actually a molecular memory of the experiential effects on that heredity. These research animals had defects with their on/off switches. This imprint endures and affects our physiology for perhaps a lifetime, sowing the seeds for later adverse effects on the kidney, liver, or heart. For humans, this may mean the tendency to be fat derives, in part, from what a father ate before conception. If that father over-ate as a child, his offspring have a much greater chance of being fat and developing diabetes.

Clearly, we need to change our focus in order to understand who we are. Our idea of what is heredity is rapidly changing. There are all kinds of intriguing possibilities. In one recent experiment, some animals that were raised in an enriched environment and appeared smarter had offspring who seemed to inherit that intelligence (finding their way through mazes more easily) even though they were not raised in an enriched milieu. Let’s be clear: when the parent had a chance to develop intellectually his offspring had a better shot at being smart. Somewhere, there are indelible and permanent marks on the sperm and egg.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Epigenetics and Primal Therapy: The Cure for Neurosis (Part 6/20)

Epigenetics and Brain Development

Although the study of epigenetics can get fairly complex, one of the keys to proper understanding lies in accounting how the brain develops during the fetal period. The thalamo-cortical (thinking/feeling) circuits are established very late in gestation. Only after they have developed and the amygdala-cortical circuits are in place is it possible for us to have a mental appreciation of the pain we are in. Before then, we can experience pain without acknowledging it. Thus, pain is laid down unconsciously, without words to explain or clarify it. There was a study reported in the British journal Nature, (Garcia, Vouimba, Beaudry & Thompson, 1999) in which the investigators noted that when babies are under threat the amygdala sends a signal to the prefrontal cortex, triggering the expression of fear in behavior. The cortex becomes the “decider,” as it were, planning for action. As part of the study, the researchers trained mice to associate a tone with an accompanying shock delivered whenever the tone was issued. Each time the mice heard the tone, there was commensurate brain activity in the prefrontal area, signaling a threat. But when the amygdala was surgically removed there was no longer any prefrontal activity; the former could no longer signal fear to the top level. The same is true when we drug that structure or tranquilize it: we thereby diminish the force that mounts in the prefrontal area. As we learned earlier, gating problems in the amygdala may be part of the reason so many of us have trouble either falling asleep, staying asleep, or even concentrating. Lower level imprints thrusting upwards and forward keep us from traveling to a lower level of brain function by jolting us into a hyper-vigilant state whenever we lie down to relax. There is simply too much activity in that deeper level to permit sleep.

The primordial Primal Imprint involves the brainstem. Phylo-genetically, this is an ancient brain system that we share with sharks. It makes us hyperaware and hyper-reactive. It is the source of basic biological impulses, fight or flight. And research points to this key structure as where anxiety emanates from, something I have seen and written about for many decades. Imprints here adversely affect the serotonin system, which should help dampen panic, but it cannot. So what do we do years later for panic? We offer serotonin pills in the form of SSRI’s, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. And what does that do? Make up for what was depleted during brainstem dominance.

What is most important from my perspective is that when the brain is marked by trauma, serotonin supplies are depleted; and when that happens, we have what I call “leaky gates’ for a lifetime. We are then less effective in our efforts to repress. Pain roils the brain. We are disturbed and cannot concentrate or learn. And later in life, we are more susceptible to mental illness. This was found by researchers in Quebec, Canada, who measured the serotonin synthesis capacity of 26 healthy adult males, recruited from a 27-year longitudinal study. The results were then correlated with reported birth trauma, especially a delivery where the fetus showed signs of physiological distress (Booij et al., 2012). The study concluded that “perinatal stressors may contribute to increased vulnerability for psychiatric disorders in which serotonin plays a major role.”

Recently, researchers have found that children with OCD, Obsessive- Compulsive Disorder, are much more likely to have suffered a birth trauma than controls (Geller et al., 2008). And the question is, why does this reaction get imprinted and last so long? Because it is essential for survival that we remember what is dangerous and how to react to it. We need to have the capacity to feel terror and get galvanized to react immediately. Part of this is that the secretion of noradrenaline affects the amygdala and elements of the brainstem, which are mobilized. We become hyper-alert and ready for action, and this alertness interacts with the memory system to direct our efforts.

If we had the ability to employ words at birth we would say, “Oh My, such terror”. But we wait years to have those words, and then we call it anxiety. Why? Because we lost the connection to the origin of it. Now it seems like a different disease with no known cause. It is the same old imprint with a new title. Yet it is a powerhouse, and when we begin our study into the development of cancer later in life we expect to see strong correlations. Remember, terror – now called anxiety – has a purpose: it is essential for memory to alert us to danger from inside and out. We try to do away with anxiety with pills when it is a life-saving mechanism and needs to be available.

Terror is mobilized so deep in the brain that an individual is often unaware of its onset. Thus, people who suffer panic attacks often say they seem to come out of nowhere, even though their bodies are trying to send early warning signals. In one experiment, scientists at Southern Methodist University in Dallas attached mobile monitors to panic sufferers and recorded round-the-clock readings of vital signs (Meuret et al., 2011). What they found was that subjects were completely unaware of physiological symptoms that could have signaled an impending panic episode, the biological precursors to manifest symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, trembling or hot flashes. Patients were oblivious to these “waves of physiological instability” for at least an hour after the symptoms had started. Suddenly, as if on a time-delay, the patient becomes aware that he is having a full-blown panic attack. It is as though the pain/terror is on the rise and we are not aware of it until it engulfs our consciousness. (The experiment is also explained in a YouTube video posted online and featuring the study’s lead researcher, Alicia Meuret, Associate Professor Of Psychology and Director of the Anxiety and Depression Research Center at SMU(12)). Because the terror is set down so early, in the beginning months of gestation, and imprinted so deep in the brain, we have no idea where it comes from. Terror surely begins its life in the brainstem and in archaic parts of the limbic system (amygdala). It is only when the gates falter and the terror bursts through that we become aware of it. Attention Deficit Disorder means that the gates have let through scattered pain and terror, distracting our focus and attention. This means that we pay too much to a multitude of inputs. It is not a deficit; our attentional processes are overwhelmed. And what is the message it is trying to unravel? It is not one message but a myriad of them, all shouting “I hurt.”

Meuret, A., Ph.D. (2011, July 26). SMU: Out-of-the-blue panic attacks aren't without warning. Retrieved from

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.