The pain societies instill into children

The human subjects of this 2017 Swiss study had previously been intentionally traumatized by Swiss society:

“Swiss former indentured child laborers (Verdingkinder) were removed as children from their families by the authorities due to different reasons (poverty, being born out of wedlock) and were placed to live and work on farms. This was a practice applied until the 1950s and many of the Verdingkinder were subjected to childhood trauma and neglect during the indentured labor.

DNA methylation modifications indicated experiment-wide significant associations with the following complex posttraumatic symptom domains: dissociation, tension reduction behavior and dysfunctional sexual behavior.”


Imagine being taken away from your family during early childhood for no other reason than your parents weren’t married.

Imagine just a few of the painful feelings such a child had to deal with then and ever since. I’m unloved. Alone. No one can help me.

Imagine some of the ways a child had to adapt during their formative years because of this undeserved punishment. How fulfilling it would be to believe that they were loved, even by someone they couldn’t see, touch, or hear. How fulfilling it would be to get attention from someone, anyone. How a child became conditioned to do things by themself without asking for help.

The study described a minute set of measurements of the subjects’ traumatic experiences and their consequential symptoms. The researchers tried to group this tiny sample of the subjects’ symptoms into a new invented category.

https://bmcresnotes.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13104-017-3082-y “A pilot investigation on DNA methylation modifications associated with complex posttraumatic symptoms in elderly traumatized in childhood”


Another example was provided in Is IQ an adequate measure of the quality of a young man’s life?:

“During this time period [between 1955 and 1990], because private adoptions were prohibited by Swedish law, children were taken into institutional care by the municipalities shortly after birth and adopted at a median age of 6 mo, with very few children adopted after 12 mo of age.”

Swedish society deemed local institutional care the initial destination for disenfranchised infants, regardless of whether suitable families were willing and able to adopt the infants. What happened to infants who weren’t adopted by age 1?

Did Swedish society really need any further research to know that an adoptive family’s care would be better for a child than living in an institution?


A third example of the pain instilled into children by societies was related to me last year by two sisters. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, 1966-1976, among other things, parents were required to be out of their households from dawn to late night, leaving the children to fend for themselves.

One of the daily chores for the sisters at ages 6 and 7, after attending school, was to buy food for dinner and the next day’s breakfast and lunch with ration coupons, and prepare the family’s evening meal. They never knew their four grandparents, who had died in ways the sisters either didn’t know or weren’t willing to express to me.

It wasn’t difficult to infer that traumatic childhood events still impacted the women’s lives 50 years later. My empathetic understanding of their histories, though, didn’t improve their current situations. I’ll highlight one of their many affected areas – accepting other people’s assistance.

One of the younger sister’s adaptations at ages 6 to 16 was – and still is – that she feels compelled to do everything herself. Her initial reaction is to reject help, no matter the circumstances. Her thoughts, feelings, and behavior impacted by childhood trauma have also included the opposite reaction of forcing family members – at their prolonged inconvenience and discomfort – to help others.

The older sister, on the other hand, accepts other people’s assistance, maybe too readily. She also lives alone, and sometimes has trouble providing for herself without excessive prompting from her sister. Her societal experiences apparently either taught her or reinforced helplessness.


It’s a challenge for each of us to recognize when our thoughts, feelings, and behavior are evidence of our own continuing responses to childhood pain that’s still with us, influencing our biology.

Let’s not develop hopes and beliefs that the societies we live in will resolve any adverse effects of childhood trauma its members caused. Other people may guide us, but each of us has to individually get our life back.

Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America: every society has its horror stories, and there are people still living who can document last century’s events and circumstances. What evidence can be presented to show that traumatic effects on children from societal policies have ceased?

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Searching for personal truths – a review of Blade Runner 2049

I saw Blade Runner 2049 yesterday with my 22-year old son. We chose seats with no one in front of us, and got the full impact of sight and sound.

The primary story was one person’s search for his truths: of his origins; of his memories; of his feelings. Who was the infant in the woman’s arms? Are my earliest memories real? Are my feelings true?

The lead character might as well have been lifeless. His activities were dictated by his designated role in society, by what was expected of him. It was no surprise that he preferred ethereal company over people.

He constantly repressed the memories and feelings that were most important to him, that could have given his life meaning. Despite being repressed, his memories and feelings impelled him to discover and confront his truths.

It was a defining moment when his earliest memory was recognized as real. He could feel at last. He could cry at last. He could scream through the cracks in the repression that had produced an unreal, unfeeling existence.

The miracle of life was celebrated, especially at the end. Like the first Blade Runner, society’s members who were deemed unworthy of life were the ones who cherished this fleeting moment most dearly.

See it up close and personal, in a theater with a good screen and sound system.

Review of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves

Here’s an Amazon book review I wrote five years ago when I regularly read 2-3 books a week while on the train to and from work. The book served as an example of how behavioral researchers couldn’t reach their stated goals by using standard scientific methods.

Review of The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely

Everybody would benefit from reading this collection of experiments with human behavior.

I think it would be fair to compare the book’s accomplishments with its declared goals. The author states the book’s primary goal early on when he writes, “..We need to first figure out what forces really cause people to cheat and then apply this improved understanding to curb dishonesty. That’s exactly what this book is about.” He continues to state, “Once we more clearly understand the forces that really drive us, we discover that we are not helpless in the face of our human follies (dishonesty included), that we can restructure our environment, and that by doing so we can achieve better behaviors and outcomes.”

I appreciate the author’s research that describes and delineates what his experiments chose to observe. For example, in one series of experiments, people lied in order to get tokens that a few seconds later were exchanged into money. These subjects cheated to an extent that was almost twice the amount of people who lied in order to directly get money.

Another series of experiments showed that when people were tired or stressed, they were more likely to cheat. The amount that mentally exhausted subjects cheated was almost three times the amount of non-stressed subjects.

There was also a series of experiments that tested the “what the hell” effect. The researchers found that the amount of cheating was not linear. A point was frequently reached where the subjects apparently decided to abandon a little bit of cheating, and started to cheat at every opportunity.

The author proposes that a “fake it until you make it” approach doesn’t ultimately lead to honest behavior. He suggests that it would probably start a chain of events that proceed through the “what the hell” context, where a little bit of cheating becomes a lot, and ends up with suffering when the truth is eventually revealed.

But what these experiments examined, in my view, was not the origins of dishonest behavior, but rather the middle and ending parts of dishonest behaviors. As such, I don’t see how the book’s primary goal can be achieved.

Without exploring the precedents to dishonest behavior, we are also left with a patchwork approach to achieving the secondary goal of changing outcomes by influencing the salient aspects of behavior.

Understanding that I’m not an expert or a researcher, let me offer an approach that could be more conducive to achieving the primary and secondary goals of the book. In my opinion, the necessary but unexplored research area would be along the lines of, “What do I feel just before I act dishonestly?”

I feel that the subjects’ probable answers to this unasked question would indicate that the person’s unfulfilled needs were in play. These needs are for the most part unconscious, and are the sources of automatic behavior that seeks to fulfill these needs. The outward manifestations of this automatic behavior will lead the subjects to symbolic fulfillment of their old needs.

The subjects in the experiments may not be able to make the connection between their behaviors of say, cheating on a pledge to quit smoking, and their driving forces. This is probably because the subjects aren’t consciously aware of the feelings they had just before they acted.

The researchers may be able to bridge this gap with information obtained from measurements done by fMRIs and other instruments. They can integrate these measurements with the subjects’ reports of their feelings.

In my view, it is important that the researchers uncover the subjects’ underlying feelings to meet the goals of the book. This is necessary because their feelings are closer to the causes of behavior.

The subjects’ behaviors are symptoms of their problems, not the problems themselves. The researchers would be better served to study the entire situation as best they can.

All of us anticipate while we read a book that there will be prescriptions and answers to the circumstances and troubles presented. But because The (Honest) Truth About Dishonesty doesn’t identify “what forces really cause people to cheat,” the primary goal, to “clearly understand the forces that really drive us” isn’t attained.

Realization of the secondary goal is undecided. The author presented several examples of how environments affect people’s dishonesty, such as conflicts of interests. He showed how people’s rationalizations allow them to permit a level of dishonesty that doesn’t harm their ideas about their own morality.

But how can effective and enduring solutions arise “so we can achieve better behaviors and outcomes” when the roots of the behaviors aren’t examined?

Epigenetic effects of early life stress exposure

This 2017 Netherlands review subject was the lasting epigenetic effects of early-life stress:

“Exposure to stress during critical periods in development can have severe long-term consequences..One of the key stress response systems mediating these long-term effects of stress is the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis..early life stress (ELS) exposure has been reported to have numerous consequences on HPA-axis function in adulthood.

ELS is able to “imprint” or “program” an organism’s neuroendocrine, neural and behavioral responses to stress..research focuses along two complementary lines.

Firstly, ELS during critical stages in brain maturation may disrupt specific developmental processes (by altered neurotransmitter exposure, gene transcription, or neuronal differentiation), leading to aberrant neural circuit function throughout life..

Secondly, ELS may induce modifications of the epigenome which lastingly affect brain function..These epigenetic modifications are inducible, stable, and yet reversible, constituting an important emerging mechanism by which transient environmental stimuli can induce persistent changes in gene expression and ultimately behavior.”

In early life, the lower brain and limbic system brain structures are more developed and dominant, whereas the cerebrum and other brain structures are less developed (use the above rodent graphic as a rough guide). Stress and pain generally have a greater impact on the fetus than the infant, and on the infant than the adult.


The reviewers cited 50+ studies from years 2000-2015 in the “Early Life Stress Effects in a “Matching” Stressful Adult Environment” section to argue for the match/mismatch theory:

“Encountering ELS prepares an organism for similar (“matching”) adversities during adulthood, while a mismatching environment results in an increased susceptibility to psychopathology, indicating that ELS can exert either beneficial or disadvantageous effects depending on the environmental context.

Initial evidence for HPA-axis hypo-reactivity is observed for early social deprivation, potentially reflecting the abnormal HPA-axis function as observed in post-traumatic stress disorder.

Interestingly, experiencing additional (chronic) stress in adulthood seems to normalize these alterations in HPA-axis function, supporting the match/mismatch theory.”

Evidence for this theory was contrasted with the allostatic load theory presented in, for example, How one person’s paradigms regarding stress and epigenetics impedes relevant research.


The review mainly cited evidence from rodent studies that mismatched reactions in adulthood may be consequences of early-life events. These events:

“..imprint or program an organism’s neuroendocrine, neural and behavioral responses..leading to aberrant neural circuit function throughout life..which lastingly affect brain function..”

Taking this research to a personal level:

  • Have you had feelings that you were unsafe, although your environment was objectively safe?
  • Have you felt uneasy when people are nice to you?
  • Have you felt anxious when someone pays attention to you, even after you’ve acted to gain their attention?

I assert that mismatched human feelings are one form of mismatched reactions. As such, they may be interpreted as consequences of early-life experiences, and indicators of personal truths.

If researchers can let go of their biases and Advance science by including emotion in research, they may find that human subjects’ feelings produce better evidence for what actually happened during the subjects’ early lives than do standard scientific methods of:

Incorporating this evidence may bring researchers closer to backwardly predicting the major insults to an individual that knocked their development processes out of normally robust pathways and/or induced “persistent changes in gene expression and ultimately behavior.”

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fncel.2017.00087/full “Modulation of the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis by Early Life Stress Exposure”


I discovered this review as a result of it being cited in http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1084952117302884 “Long-term effects of early environment on the brain: Lesson from rodent models” (not freely available)

Prisoners of our childhoods

Same old shit – another failed relationship.

Coincident with the start of our relationship, I was struck by a phrase by Dr. Janov, posted in Beyond Belief: What we do instead of getting well:

“It doesn’t matter about the facts we know..if we cannot maintain a relationship with someone else.”

I kept that thought in the forefront.

Both of us are prisoners of our childhoods. I’ve tried to see and feel the walls and bars for what they are.

J hadn’t tried to process the reality of her childhood and life. For example, on her birthday, June 19, I asked her how she celebrated her birthdays when she was growing up. She provided a few details, then mentioned that her parents had skipped some of her birthdays. Although I had no immediate reaction, she quickly said that she had a happy childhood.

I was at fault, too, of course. I again asked a woman to marry me who hadn’t ever told me she loved me, except in jest.

I asked J to marry me around the six-month point of our relationship. I felt wonderful, in love with her that August morning after she slept with me at my house. I made an impromptu plan: in the middle of a four-mile walk, I asked her to marry me while kneeling before her as she sat on a bench outside a jewelry store. But she wouldn’t go in to choose a ring. She said she’d think about it.

A month later, after several dates, sleepovers at her house, and a four-day trip to Montreal, I again brought up marriage while we rested on her large couch in her nice sun room. The thing I felt would be wonderful brought about the end.

I tried to understand why she couldn’t accept me for the person who I intentionally showed her I am. She abstracted everything that she said. I tried to get her to identify why, after all the times we cared for each other, after all our shared experiences, she didn’t want me around anymore.

Didn’t happen. She didn’t tell me things that made sense as answers to my questions.

One thing she said without abstraction was that I was weak for showing my feelings. She told me I was clingy.

Another thing she communicated at the end shocked me. She somehow thought that I was going to dump her. I said that the thought never even crossed my mind.

I didn’t recognize it as projection at the time. Prompted by her underlying feelings, she attributed to me the actions and thoughts that only she herself had.


One thing I’ve felt after the end was that the need underlying my only stated relationship goal – to live with a woman I love who also loves me – is again ruining my life. My latest efforts towards that goal were rife with unconscious symbolic act outs of an unsatisfied need from my early life.

That unrelenting need is for a woman’s love, but it’s deviated in that somehow she’s always one who doesn’t accept me as I am, and doesn’t love me. My cell is what Dr. Janov calls the imprint that I – as an infant, boy, teenager, young man, middle-aged man, old man – retreat to after my futile attempts to change the past.

I’ve tried to put myself in J’s place. How horrible must it have been for her to be steadily intimate with a man and not feel that his touches, kisses, words, affection, expressed love? That he couldn’t really love me, and I therefore couldn’t love him? That he was actually after something else: sex, property, etc., because it was impossible that he loved me?

“Standing next to me in this lonely crowd
Is a man who swears he’s not to blame
All day long I hear him shout so loud
Crying out that he was framed
I see my light come shining
From the west unto the east
Any day now, any day now
I shall be released”

Beyond Belief: The impact of merciless beatings on beliefs

Continuing with Dr. Arthur Janov’s May 2016 book Beyond Belief:

“p. 17 When someone insults us, we immediately create reasons and rationales for it. We cover the pain. Now imagine a whole early childhood of insults and assaults and how that leaves a legacy that must be dealt with.

..The mind of ideas and philosophies doesn’t know it is being used; doesn’t know it serves as a barricade against the danger of feeling..It is why no one can convince the person out of her ideas. They serve a key purpose and should not be tampered with..We are tampering with a survival function.”

“p. 19 It seems like a miracle that something as intangible and invisible as an idea has the power to transform our biologic system. It makes us see what doesn’t exist and sometimes not see what does. What greater power exists than that? To be fooled is not only to convince someone to believe the false, but also to convince others to not believe the truth.

The unloved child who cannot bear the terrible feelings of hopelessness shuts down his own feeling centers and grows insensitive, not only to his pain, but to that of others..So he commits the same error on his child that was visited upon him, and he does so because of the way he was unloved early on. He cannot see his own hopelessness or that of his child.”

“p. 56 ..all defensive beliefs must have a kernel of hope inside of them..it is the embedded hopelessness that gives rise to its opposite – hope – and its accompanying biochemistry of inhibition or gating. To be even more precise, it is the advent of pain surrounding hopelessness that produces the belief entwined with hope..

All defensive belief serves the same function – repression, absorbing the energy of pain.”

“p. 57 An unloved child is a potential future believer.”

“p. 58 ..no one has the answer to life’s questions but you. How you should lead your life depends on you, not outside counsel.

..we do not direct patients, nor dispense wisdom upon them. We have only to put them in touch with themselves; the rest is up to them.

Everything the patient has to learn already resides inside. The patient can make herself conscious. No one else can.”


“p. 29 The personal experience stories throughout the book are written by my patients and, with the exception of a few grammatical corrections, they are presented here exactly as they were given to me.”

All of the Primal Therapy patients’ stories thus far started with horrendous childhoods that resulted in correspondingly strong beliefs.

I came across a public figure example today in 10 Defining Moments In The Childhood Of Martin Luther King Jr. The author included two items germane to an understanding of how beliefs may develop from adverse childhood experiences:

  • 8. King Sr. “..would beat Martin and his brother, Alfred, senseless for any infraction, usually with a belt.”
  • 6. “By the time King was 13, he’d tried to kill himself twice.”

Every reference I found tied King Jr.’s suicide attempts to his grandmother’s death, and not to King Sr.’s beatings or other preteen experiences.

Granted that it’s only the patient who can put together what happened in their lives so that it’s therapeutic. Beyond Belief and Dr. Janov’s other publications outline the framework.

On Primal Therapy with Drs. Art and France Janov

Experiential feeling therapy addressing the pain of the lack of love.