The Primal Scream — I remember this book being all the rage when it was published in 1970, even though at the time I had just started high school. Everyone was talking about the book, by Arthur Janov, and the therapy he developed, called primal therapy.
For me, that was the end of it. I never read the book. I never heard anything more about Arthur Janov. I haven’t thought about Primal Scream or primal therapy in more than 40 years, until a few weeks ago, when a Lovefraud reader brought it up.
The reader sent me a link to an article on Arthur Janov’s blog. (Yes, he’s still alive —he’ll soon be 90 years old.) The article was is entitled Why we need safety, and it was published on June 30, 2014. I invite you to read it.
The link below will take you to Janov’s blog, but not directly to the article. You can scroll down, or click the link in the Blog Archive on the right.
Amoebas and tears
In the article, Janov explains how amoeba placed in water contaminated with ink will absorb the dirty water. Then, when the amoeba are placed in clean water, they discharge the black ink. They are in a place where they can purify themselves, so they do.
What is the correlation to people? Janov says people need a welcoming environment to get rid of all the pain inside. But he believes conventional therapy may not always provide it. He writes:
That is exactly what is missing in psychotherapy. First, a notion of all the tears inside that must be experienced, and secondly, the need to provide an environment where those tears can be let out in full force.
He goes on to write,
Psychotherapy that evades and avoids emotions makes the patient sicker … Tears must emanate from felt pain, not as an intellectual exercise, not as directed by a well-meaning counselor but tears that arrive automatically when the actual early memory is evoked.
Janov’s basic premise is that early traumas — felt as a fetus in the womb or as a small child — get trapped in the body. Releasing the early traumas allows a person to heal.
So Janov developed “primal therapy.” Here is how he explains it on his website, PrimalTherapy.com:
What is Primal Therapy?
Painful things happen to nearly all of us early in life that get imprinted in all our systems which carry the memory forward making our lives miserable. It is the cause of depression, phobias, panic and anxiety attacks and a whole host of symptoms that add to the misery. We have found a way into those early emotional archives and have learned to have access to those memories, to dredge them up from the unconscious, allowing us to re-experience them in the present, integrate them and no longer be driven by the unconscious.
Pain to vulnerability
Plenty of people don’t like Arthur Janov’s primal therapy. In fact, according to Wikipedia, primal therapy is listed in one book called Crazy Therapies and another book called Insane Therapy.
But I do think there is validity to Janov’s key point: Emotional pain from prior experiences can get stuck within us, causing us psychological and emotional problems, and even physical illness.
In addition to this, I also believe emotional pain from prior experiences makes us susceptible to sociopaths.
This can happen in a multitude of ways. Perhaps our parents were abusive, neglectful, or simply too busy to provide us with the attention and love that we needed. Perhaps we were abused or humiliated by siblings or other family members. Perhaps we were betrayed by romantic partners that we encountered before the sociopath.
All of these situations create vulnerabilities. Sociopaths sense vulnerabilities like sharks sense blood in the water. They identify our vulnerabilities and use them to hook us. You all know what happens after that.
The pain we experience because of sociopaths — betrayal, disappointment, grief — is profound. It sears us to the center of our souls.
Then it stays there — creating emotional havoc — until we get the pain out of our system.
Here’s where I agree with some of Janov’s ideas. I believe that in order to really purge the pain that’s deep within us, we need to let it rip — crying, wailing, stomping our feet. (My personal favorite for releasing pent-up anger was envisioning my ex-husband’s face on a pillow and beating it until I collapsed.)
Now, this is not pretty, and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to do it in front of your friends or family, because they will want you to stop. In fact, many therapists may not be comfortable in this situation.
So do it alone. When you don’t have to worry about holding yourself together for someone else’s benefit, you can cry really hard, and that’s when you experience release.
As you do this, you may suddenly feel a direct emotional connection between the pain caused by the sociopath and memories of pain from your past. This is good. This means you’re accessing the root of the problem, those earlier betrayals and disappointments that were still stuck within you.
So is this Janov’s primal scream? I don’t know. But I believe that by releasing all the pain, even the early pain, you’ll open yourself up for a really deep and profound healing. I know I did.