Sociopaths, pain and the Primal Scream

The_Primal_Scream_sizedThe 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,

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.

Deep healing

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.


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20 Comments on "Sociopaths, pain and the Primal Scream"

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Dear Donna,
I totally agree with you that you need to get the anger, hurt and disappointment out. What I found very helpful was to scream. Sometimes my daugther and I would leave home in the mornings, after my spath’s explosion over something stupid, and once we were in the car and around the corner from home, we would look at each other, count to 3, and then just scream as loud as we could. Then we were able to laugh about Spath’s behaviour, and not have our day ruined by him.

I wanted to share with everyone that I have hired a cranial sacral therapist who also does EMDR. She has worked for years with trauma survivors. After a free 1/2 hour consultation, I asked her if we could get started right away. She did 30 minutes with me and it was really really helpful. I would recommend this form of work for anyone who is stuck and/or who has experienced trauma and can’t get past it. For me, it’s the abandonment/betrayal issue I keep playing out. The good thing is that this form of therapy is not ongoing forever. She thinks it will take about 5 sessions total for me to get past this, and I believe her. Cranial sacral work is a form of energy work that can be hands-on and very gentle. It is body focused and involves helping you to ground yourself and feel safe while you’re experiencing the repressed emotions of a trauma.

In her experience, gentle movements and postures can be more effective than screaming to release anger or even rage. She feels that screaming often overloads the nervous system and creates a certain energy field. I would not have believed her until I experienced the work myself. I still think sometimes you need to just scream and rage. But even though I was experiencing some very deep rage to where my body was shaking, I was able to release it just by being able to feel it for an extended period. Pretty interesting stuff. Typically, when rage comes up I dissociate. That is my early defense mechanism. She guided me to feel it for very short periods of time, then to feel my feet on the ground and my body making contact with the massage table to calm down my nervous system and create a “safe” place to go when I feel overwhelmed. She was very intuitive in recognizing when I started dissociating.

I would like to learn how to do this work myself someday. As a massage therapist, it’s a good adjunct. She herself started as a massage therapist too, and that is her license to lay hands on people.

Two thumbs up for this work. Have not experienced the EMDR from her yet but will report back. I will say I feel much different and better since the 30 minutes.

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