By | July 21, 2014 20 Comments

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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Thank you for this article today – just what I needed to read. Especially this part you wrote – which is the piece I have been missing:

“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.”

I’ve been struggling lately since it will take longer to work out my plan for leaving than I had hoped. Gray Rock has been helping, but this longer road to freedom is tiring. And yet, maybe it will give me the opportunity to shelter in place a bit and do more work on myself. Living with a narcissistic husband has reminded me of so many experiences with my narcissistic mother and so much is being clarified. Maybe this is an opportunity for “deep cleaning” that I might not have had otherwise – the silver lining. The reminders are painful, but I can use them to go deeper to heal.

One gift I am giving myself these days is to take a day off work most weeks to stay home alone. No crazy husband, no work demands – just peace and quiet. I had saved up 60 days maximum leave and so I have plenty to use during this particular phase. Just a day here and there is so restorative. And now I have “permission” to feel deeply and find my way to inner healing. Thank you !



I am with you on this, Donna. I don’t think it’s crazy to release ‘pent up’ energy and feelings as a way of clearing a path for ourselves. So much of the time we expend our attention by ‘keeping it together’, being strong, coping, and having to think critically about what comes next. All of these behaviors have their place and time. But, rarely, do we just lose it. I mean really lose it.

I let myself lose it at multiple times. One time witnessed by my therapist, who was so quiet and supportive, just letting me cry with snot pouring down my face, saying in a quiet voice ‘why don’t they love me?’. Who they were didn’t really matter, this came from a very wounded and ‘small’ place inside me. I felt about 3-5 years old. Could barely squeak the words out. Other times were just sobbing into my pillow until I was red face, with tingling arms from hyperventilating.

Sounds crazy. Right? But I do feel like something is happening in these moments, some chemical shift, some shift in energy, process, even thinking.

Thanks for bringing this up. For those folks who might just find themselves doing some of this it can be really validating to know it is not abnormal or weird, but rather a part of their unique healing.



Donna, as I’ve written so many times here, I am complete agreement about traumas being held in the body. I have lost count of all the times I have screamed, hit, kicked, sobbed, or raged at the empty chair. One time I was out camping and started throwing oranges at a tree until I released pent up anger toward my mother. Another time, I was pet sitting in a big empty house with no immediate neighbors and threw pillows across the room until the grief came up and was discharged. I have released traumas sitting in meditation on long retreats (often with yelling and sobbing). Sometimes I could just release it as energy going out through the top of my head.

I wanted to also share another unique way a massage client of mine released toxic energy. She spent a vacation with her family. They were all in one house together. There was one toxic uncle whom she didn’t want to be around but had no choice. When she returned, she called me to cancel her massage because she was feeling nauseous. She told me the story of her uncle, and I thought maybe she was have a reaction from the toxicity. Sure enough, she called me a few days later. She actually threw up, and that released his toxic energy from her system.

I’m still learning that it’s okay to emote, to be angry, to cry and to express myself. It’s an ongoing process for me. As a massage therapist and long time observer of the mind/body connection, I can definitively say, “The issues are in the tissues.”

Thank you so much for this wonderfully aware contribution. As the years pass, I am more able to look at ideas to heal. Thank you for this site and the book; I plan to really check into it. We as a group sort of remind me of amoebas as we help each other purge layers.


Donna, thank you for this article, it’s inspiring to give us all permission to feel a little “insane,” and reframe that feeling of primal vulnerability as a healthy, and necessary catharsis for healing. And it’s inspiring that Janow is still writing and committed to helping others at the age of 90! That’s something to aspire to.


I also found it very helpful to “have it out” with the person whom I visualized seated in a chair. I considered face-to-face confrontation, but realized that they are disordered, and their reactions to it would not matter, no matter how they responded. Yelling at them (while alone in the house) got it out of my system and I was able to move on.

A technique was taught to me once when I worked as a counselor that is similar: do this exercise… write the person who offended or abused you a letter. Then burn it. It works. I’m reading a book right now called The Bait of Satan, and it really struck me because I still have a need to tell my story often… and this book says that holding on to the offense keeps you trapped. We have to hand them over to God to deal with, and let them go. It’s not our job to judge them, so why hang on to the feelings, anger, hatred? That just keeps us poisoned.


Elizabeth brooks

I too find myself telling others of my experience with the sociopath. And I try to stop myself now. It does keep you from growing sometimes. I do think it is very healthy to vent and seek help when the betrayal or abuse first happens and you are trying to leave or have left. Support helps you to be strong. But at some point (from my own experience) I had to stop making the sociopath and how much damage they did to me a topic of every conversation.

The way I see it is I SURVIVED!! I am still here to tell my story. And I have knowledge and wisdom after this that could have left me broken, but it made me stronger. And if I can help someone else who is currently going thru what I went thru, I want to help them. I want to be there for them and support them.

The sociopath who tried to destroy me in every way possible (socially, emotionally and physically) is NO longer a topic of conversation when I got out with my friends anymore…


I think there are times for sharing our stories, and times for silence and a more internal processing of the experience. For me there were times I didn’t visit LoveFraud for weeks, because it triggered too much pain. There were times when I spent the whole day on LoveFraud, or talking to a trusted friend. There were times I just HAD to talk about ‘it’. Silence was difficult at first, because my thoughts and feelings were so intense. I felt overwhelmed by them. It was really hard, yet vital, to have that solitude and silence and just ‘be’ with the pain, the ‘spinning’.

It was an interesting cycle, that kept coming around, and then would spin away. This went on for about 3 years, and then I settled in to a new place, where I experienced a greater sense of peace and security. Where the past, more or less, ‘stayed put’. It still cycles around a bit, and I can feel a sense of hollowness- but it isn’t the level of feeling that derails my life. I think it is important to listen, as well as we can, to what we really need as we move through our healing. Sometimes processing is vital, and suppressing it leaves us numb and stifled.

I still share my story, not to process so much, but as a way of helping someone…when it seems appropriate.

It does feel very liberating when you find that 99.9% of the time you are talking about other things.



Thank you for this interesting article and the link. I went to the Arthur Janov web site, and did some more reading. It is fascinating. I actually read the Primal scream decades ago and used the techniques and his new work is even more interesting.

Recently I discovered a book along similar lines called Waking the Tiger by Peter A. Levine. He focuses on how animals are able to release trauma (physically shake it off) and recover where human beings often are not able to and are even discouraged from natural survival techniques required for recovery from even simple trauma. He says unreleased trauma stays in your body, not just your brain. Fascinating stuff.


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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