Janov' s Imprint
WHAT IS ARTHUR JANOV’S “IMPRINT”? HOW IS THE IMPRINT MODIFIED? We’ve known since the final part of the 19th century that fear conditioning may contribute significantly to anxiety disorders. Fear conditioning involves the joining of threatening stimuli with defensive responses into a primitive, sensorimotor memory. “The ability to rapidly form memories of stimuli associated with danger, to hold on to them for long periods of time (perhaps eternally), and use them automatically when similar situations occur in the future is one of the brain’s most powerful and efficient learning and memory functions. But this incredible luxury is costly. We sometimes, perhaps all too often, develop fears and anxieties about things that we would as well not have.” (1) And… “…the memory of a repressed trauma is far more complex than simple verbal recall; it contains the original state of the entire system during the trauma and can be literally relived.” And “In the primal, whatever the individual cell networks did originally to survive they will do again”. (2) Janov’s Imprint is a fear conditioned memory. His phrase: ‘the original state of the entire system’ should be understood to mean that our response to trauma is very complex, involving every cell in the body. An imprint is a “physical body state consisting of some combination of any and all of the following: muscle tensions, proprioceptive sensations, an organized sequence of muscle movements, and the homeostatic settings of internal organs as regulated by the autonomic nervous system” (3). An imprint contains a unique and comprehensive record of our reactions during that trauma. It can exist forever, unchanged. And fear conditioning can begin in the womb, just as soon as the fetus’ nervous system is mature enough to register pain. Once the memory is formed, any future re-enactments of this imprint generate anxiety reactions, which should include chronic anger and passive-aggressive behavior, excessive shyness, and depression (indirectly). These fear-related re-enactments are trapped in the primitive brain substructures… by a protective process called dissociation. Dissociated information is information that the neo-cortex cannot receive, unless that information is presented to it in a way that defeats the dissociative process. An effective primal process presents a way. While we are engaged in effective primal therapy, we are “feeling the feeling” of some aspect of the imprint. That is, we are in direct contact with, and are conscious of, a specific pain that was experienced during our trauma. [When a client reports to you that he can’t breathe, and he’s sitting in a room full of air, you know what I mean by this.] Feeling the feeling of the imprint automatically connects the SENSORIMOTOR ARTIFACTS of that imprint to the neo-cortex. Dissociated information is, thus, retrieved. Why does effective primal therapy result in emotional healing? It provides the neo-cortex access to the (previously lost) information that is trapped in the imprint. This gives the higher brain process an opportunity to organize the elements of the trauma. This is what the neo-cortex does naturally…it associates discrete pieces of information collected through the lower brain processes. Now, the medial-prefrontal cortex has this information as well. “the medial prefrontal cortex …has been hypothesized to play a role in the extinction of conditioned fear responses.” “By exerting inhibitory influences over the limbic system, including the amygdala, the medial prefrontal cortex thereby regulates the generalization of fear and overall increase in the fearful behavior mediated by the amygdala.”(4) In other words, primalling provides the MPC with the information it needs to exert control over future re-enactments of the artifacts, when there is nothing happening in real time to justify the re-enactment. This has the effect of incrementally* self-correcting neurotic act outs in the present moment. Information organization and impulse control are what the neo-cortex does…IF it has access to the relevant information. While I’m not stating that primal therapy is THE way to accomplish connection, I am not aware of any other therapy which allows access to the full complement of sensorimotor artifacts that make up the imprint. Full access can be a messy thing, something that most therapists will avoid as unnecessary or even dangerous. Yet, such access, done safely…in a way that leads to integration, results in the connection of the sensorimotor content of the imprint to the MPC. The more of the content of the imprint is primalled, the more reduction there is in the energy of the neurotic act out. Finally: “The resolution of a neurotic act out is not dependent upon a consciously directed, rational thought process. In fact, primalling requires getting the ego out of the way of the process. Rather, resolution is the automatic consequence of having re-experienced and integrated a previously isolated and un-integrated portion of the fear memory. This is the central philosophical difference between primal therapy and conventional psychotherapy.”( 5) (1) LeDoux, J. (1996). The Emotional Brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. Simon & Schuster, New York. P.266. http://www.cns.nyu.edu/corefaculty/LeDoux.php (2) Janov, A. (1996). Why You Get Sick. How You Get Well. Dove Books, California. P.216. (3) D. P. Henderson, Panacea: A New Non-medical Approach To Mental Health And Emotional Control; Fawnskin, Ca.: Scientific Specialists. 1995. (4). Pat Ogden, Kekuni Minton, and Clare Pain, Trauma And The Body. (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2006) PP 148-149. (5) Pullaro, J. (2005). Fear Memory Integration: A Natural Health Alternative to Conventional Psychotherapy. iUniverse, Nebraska. P.48. * I am using this term in its mathematical sense: '...in a way that creates a small positive change in a variable quality or function.'