Wednesday, July 16, 2014

More on Stress in the Womb

Maybe it is hard to imagine a fetus suffering stress, but when a mother deprives herself of nutrients and the baby suffers, that is called stress. He cannot voice it but his stress hormones shout it out all of the time. Because it may be the first stress, it comes to be what the baby expects and automatically changes his system to adapt to his new environment. It is a completely naïve and vulnerable system. It may be called first-time learning, and it lasts. It continues on because this is the world he first meets and he cannot know it can be any different; just as if the mother is chronically depressed, where her system is continuously “down”. The baby adapts and maybe years later gets hooked on stimulants, uppers, to galvanize his system which was depressed long ago. If the early environment at home is suppressive and highly disciplined while lacking love and touch, we have the makings of a depressive. The point is we must not neglect those early beginnings in our understanding of mental illness. Let’s suppose he cannot concentrate in school at age eight. This is part of a post traumatic stress response which we cannot see or even imagine. He has been damaged in the first weeks of his life.

Just the simple fact of a carrying mother having an eating disorder can disrupt the baby’s eating habit later on. I have written extensively on epigenetic change. For the baby is traumatized even though he cannot show it; it becomes imprinted for life. It is called prenatal programming. A personal experience to demonstrate the point. At age five I was smacked repeatedly for crying by my father. I remember everything about that event. I learned and never cried again until adult life. So you see how early life impresses experience into the brain and physical system. If that had happened at age 12, I doubt there would have been such an imprint. At age five he was my only “friend.” I knew no one else and nothing else. He was my whole world. When he smacked me I thought I was wrong and bad. It hung onto my system for decades. I had no one to complain to and discuss with. At that age he was my entire world; my mother being psychotic. Since I have primalled about this, it lasted a very long time. And who knows if it didn’t play into my later ADD. My system still felt those smacks all my childhood, and prevented me from crying. I lived in a barren, sterile world with no love, but that was the only world I knew. The earlier the trauma and deeper the imprint with great force. So it comes out later as never “needing” love, never needing touch. It reawakens the pain if love comes along; thus it is avoided.

If the carrying mother continues on with crazy diets you can see the damage that it incurs. So here we have a field concentrating on there- and-now while the greatest damage has happened back then. How do we now? As patients approach these very traumas all of the vital signs mount inordinately.

Proper nutrition is one way the mother inculcates love. But if she is on drugs, so is the baby. The blood- vascular system are in many respects, one. Worse, the baby can be born addicted. He ”needs” the drugs later on. And if his system has been biochemically depressed, it may militate towards sex problems where libido has been suppressed, as well. After all, so many individuals complain that taking pain killer suppresses their libido. Imagine taking in pain killers at age six months pre-birth. The dose of the tranquilizer for the baby is many times that for the mother. The system begins to adapt to this neuro-chemical state. And it may be less aggressive, less able get and keep an erection. It is all part of the imprint where passivity was life-saving. When shutting down was the only way to block the input of heavy painkillers.

If I had to measure how strong the imprint is, I would state that gestation is the most devastating, birth and infancy next, childhood later and then adult life. So when we confine our psychotherapy to late years we neglect the key life experiences that formed us, those years when vulnerability to catastrophic afflictions set in. This is a short-hand observation of what impact life has on us at different epochs of our lives. It is the reactions we see in our therapy by patients reliving certain events during different stages of ontogeny that indicate the strength of the pain they suffer. And it is nearly always the gestational/birth traumas that have a massive impact on us. So reliving the lack of touch right after birth is critical, while reliving lack of touch at age thirteen is less critical.

So we cannot say that here-and-now therapy is progress in psychotherapy; we can say that proper therapy must always address our beginnings.


  1. Interesting article Art.

    I think we ought to place a legal duty on mothers not to harm their foetuses through drink and drugs and to take in sufficient nutrition, as a way of breaking the cycle of misery. Of course, that needs to be matched by really good support for pregnant women.

    1. I agree. And it should be coupled with an onus on both parents to plan for the pregnancy, not to drink alcohol, smoke, take drugs etc. in the time leading up to the pregnancy, given, for example, the added vulnerability placed on the foetus by sperm of fathers who drink alcohol. Julie

    2. How can one legislate to make people do these things? People take drugs and drink because they are driven by early pain. My understanding is that there is a lot of support in various organisations in the UK for instance where parents are encouraged to not drink or smoke. You can tell someone that it is wrong to murder but people still do it. I do think that often the Mothers feelings and needs are paramount and so the Baby often takes second place. Then again that is often the case in Society when the infant has to fit in with the Parents and then schools rules.

      We have the most appalling and cruel government in charge in the UK at the moment. One of the first things they did was close down many sure start schemes, Mother and Baby clubs etc. While not addressing pre-natel care at least it was going in the right direction of educating. I think it is about winning hearts and minds in this situation. Ofcourse lwas can be brought in but these are often done later on. The law that insisted on everyone wearing a seat belt was only bright in once 40% of the population was already doing in the uk. It was bound to succeed.

    3. Planespotter: Good letter. We learn to submit to mother’ wishes so so early and here is a good example of parent’s needs come first even they know that it can harm the baby. Mother needs to smoke no matter what, or take pills, which are most often deadly. art

    4. Hi,

      -" Mother needs to smoke no matter what, or take pills, which are most often deadly"-. art

      Alone, she can't bear the consequences of her neurosis on her fetus. Without 'palliatives' both she and her 'neo-nate' will suffer. Some kind of substantial, sincere, positive support is required as a substitute for chemical intervention; but is there ever enough?

      Thus both Dad and Mum smoke to ease their suffering. In the absence of 'attention' and appropriate support what incentive do they have?
      By surrounding the process of new life with genuine support, nicotine inhalation can become less attractive. . . Pregnancy offers a window of opportunity but that window needs support from the surrounding community. Through this aperture. . . people can help. . . without it, temporary relief from need must seek palliatives. . .

      Paul G.

  2. The drugs, the nutrition, the alcohol....all that, as Art said, can create "havoc" stress" in the womb. I know what I can only imagine what happened, and do really know, that in the womb when I was with my mother, the stress was due to just everyday life. By that time, I was the 3rd one, and my siblings were a what my mother had to deal with in being a teacher's wife, moving into a home that my Dad had just built from his own hands, and just the whole family, living in the meantime, with my Dad's mother; all this, put a great deal of stress on my mother. Some people handle stress differently, as we all know. My mother did take good care of herself throughout the years no drugs or alcohol to really speak of, and the nutrition, she was never overweight or never ate a lot of junk. It's too bad, but when one is young, sometimes things seem overwhelming, and the pressures seem alot from people outside the immediate family. Of course, nutrition, alcohol, and drugs do definitely contribute to stress in the womb. A combination of just a little of all 4 (the nutritional aspect, drugs, alcohol, and just the impact of trying to get somewhere in life, the impact of trying to raise a family so that they just might come out "normal",) could definitely create such stress to women; even just being a newly wedded female during the 50's could have created the first stressful impact. Everyone deals with stress differently and it affects them differently. There were different kinds of stresses in the 50's ; but I do believe life was better back then. Sometimes, I feel that I have known my mother even before I was born, and what she had to go through. Now she is much more relaxed; which is good. She deserves that.

  3. Dr. Janov,

    “So we cannot say that here-and-now therapy is progress in psychotherapy; we can say that proper therapy must always address our beginnings.”


    Unfortunately we are not there yet. There is a big campaign in NM and IL about under-performing children in schools and for years nobody asked why these children have no fun learning.
    Only in the last few years have officials recognized ADD/ADHD. But the sad part is that the ones who are not diagnosed with ADD/ADHD are blamed for being lacy. The therapist is “encouraging” them to show more effort.
    A week ago a report showed how much stress many children at home have to deal with. Nobody asks with how much stress (high cortisol) these children come into the world.
    Pregnant Savannah Guthrie, from NBC news, stated that she will not give birth without pain medication.
    I hope she is not surprised when she has a listless para-sympath (low cortisol) child.

    1. Sieglinde. I work with a lot of young girls. I can tell you down here in New Zealand a f***ed up birth is now the norm. The girls drug themselves right up, which shuts down their bodies, leading to a long ghastly labour and very often finishing in massive head trauma to the baby or a c-section. I would guess around 80% of the births I hear of are a mess.

      We are creating an entire generation of drug-addict parasympath's who will probably struggle with depression (and everything else) for the rest of their lives. And the mothers don't care due to absolute ignorance of the impact they're having on their child. It's hard to teach them because their knowledge and mentality is so far behind that they can't even respond properly (intellectually) to critical insights. They just think natural birthing is a "hippie thing" and that's as far as it goes. They have zero perspective, and only listen to their equally ignorant insider girl-groups. No boys allowed (unless they're an institutional authority figure).

      Andrew Atkin

    2. Andrew.
      My perspectives on the subject.
      1. Too many drugs during pregnancy, induced labor and C-sections, excessive violence and abuse lead to gene-methylation.
      2. Ergo: being able to feel what is natural and sustainable, is nearly dead. Catharsis is guiding life.

      Darwin discovered that environment changes behavior and appearance of births which is due the methylation according to today’s knowledge.

      The human species, however, will be an altered species: more aggressive, depressive, neurotic, psychotic and psychopathic. The already vulnerable, immune deprived, high adrenal driven human species cannot survive for long with this acceleration of gene-methylation.

      Evolution can only take place due to gene-methylation.
      The reason mentioned in 1 (above) is why we are in the process of creating a new evolution among humans and consequently the eradication of our species.

  4. While the events of gestation are truly the most momentous by far, they are also the hardest to get at or resolve. The here and now therapy is easy to get at and can produce fast useful results. Yes, the primal pain will remain, but improvement can still be made and be substantial, without years and many thousands of $$$. Most will go thru life doing neither. That is truly sad.

    1. Hi apollo, glad you are still checking in from time to time. My friend at work told me she would have killed herself if she had not begun therapy with her cognitive therapist. She has been seeing him for many years. She believes every session helps. She has indeed spent many thousands of dollars, and has accepted the therapy as a sort of maintenance routine that may continue for a lifetime. She is not bothered by that thought because she is just so glad that she has found a way to cope. So... I can see your point. But I suggested to her that she try having "therapeutic conversations" with her closest friend instead of spending all that money on a shrink. She insisted that her shrink saved her life, and that is why she believed in him rather than her friends.

      The whole situation seems wrong doesn't it? It makes me think of a pimp and a drug-addicted prostitute. The pimp gives her the drug to keep her hooked, and never lets her discover a better way.

      My friend has a man who listens and offers advice, but none of it leads to healing.

  5. An email comment:
    Hi Art:
    This might be useful for a blog. I had two hours of non-stop feelings, baby and choking, back and forth. I am convinced that babies are totally in touch with their birth pain, l am experiencing this all the time. I think what did me in was the war, a cruel forceps birth,, and a mother who did not like girl babies? she weaned me and gave me away at four months old to my gran.whose touch made me feel raped? she hugged and kissed me for her own need, l was helpless to stop it?
    Well our Birthdays are coming up in August? I think your going to be 90
    years old, my god Art, that is amazing !!! l will be 72. l wish l would have taken note at that seminar many years ago, when l wished you a happy birthday? you where surprised? l think it was a 'secret'. It was a guess, l always took you for a LEO ???
    PS: Natural News did an excellent article on Caesarian births. I told them all about you and Dr.Leboyer, and your books, years ahead of their time. It saddens me they didn't learn from them, Caesarian births are routine..


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.