The following is a personal view of some of Arthur Janov’s ideas. It does not proport to be a survey or an accurate description of his thinking but rather how his ideas were used by me, both personally and professionally. It is my own tribute to the man and his teachings.
When we meet or hear of an arrogant person strutting around, exploiting others, putting people down, singing his own praises, controlling others; or a very suspicious person seeing lies and conspiracies in each and every corner, constantly feeling maligned or exploited by powerful forces beyond his control such as foreigners, the hostile media or Jews; most of us are likely to become moralistic and say something like: “He thinks only of himself”, or “He’s completely paranoid” and “He needs to constantly control others”. It takes a Janov to say: “He has suffered a trauma”, that what we see and experience on the outside is the debris – or some other outcome – of a psychological disaster.
And Arthur Janov didn’t settle for that but went on to describe many of the details of the trauma, the conditions under which it comes about, its lifelong aftermath and, characteristically optimistic, its possible resolution. For this he had to dig deep, sometimes very deep, aided by a special procedure he devised (or as he would have it, stumbled upon). And interestingly, that procedure, the Primal, wasn’t only means by which neurotic resolution can come about but also, just as important, the digging shovel itself, a research tool with which to penetrate as far back as he could reach into the earliest times and origins of the psychic universe, his own giant telescope peering as it were into the endless mental space of which only the arrogant or paranoid tip, now distorted by Pain, is evident in plain sight.
Having defined his theory – like psychoanalysis defined itself – in terms of traumas and their persistence, it is striking to realize (at least for me) that underlying Janov’s focus on correcting the individual human predicament is his implied proposition that man is forever split. And thus, forever lost. Or even, to take that proposition a step further, that to be human is to be split, that this tear in our existence is part of what defines us as human beings. No one, after all, had such a perfect upbringing, such a smooth inner life, that trauma – and hence the tear, the split – is precluded from his or her life. And being split, man – as Janov’s theory articulates and practice aims for – harboursa persistent wish to reunite with his split-off part and heal the tear, to return to and regain the state of being whole, to find his way back to, and through the gates of Pain reenter, the wholesome garden of Eden from which he was once upon a time so traumatically expelled.
For this is something Janov is explicitly – and one might add Americanly – adamant about: the originating point of the split must be sought and reached. The Primal experience may take us to early childhood, but if we find that wholeness is achieved only briefly, that this is not the end of the road, we will use the Primal telescope to look further back into toddlerhood, and then early babyhood and finally even into the pre-natal life of the individual or, by extension and yet further back, the prehistory of humanity. The search for wholeness, in other words, is endless, limitless, bottomless.
For man, according to this implicit view, is divorced not only from his own personal true nature but from Nature itself. It is not surprising, therefore, that every now and then the discussion on this blog veers toward an attempt at finding the root of not only personal pain but of human neurosis in general. Customarily, such discussions land at man’s prehistory, way back when man was supposedly, hopefully, closer to and part of Nature. At that point in time, it is argued, man was whole and even though current men and women – unbearably adult, irretrievably split, tragically lost – cannot but glimpse into or imagine these ancient, pre-split, pre-damage times, they can nevertheless by such historical affiliations sense some connection to, some type of union with, this wholeness.
It is my view that this search for wholeness, rather than its actual attainment, is at the heart of the Janovian oeuvre. It is this endless pursuit of personal truth and meaning, guided by the principles of feeling and emotional life, that allows us to grow and develop. It is not a state (wholeness) we’re after but rather a process. In other words, our primary need in adult life and aim in therapy is not only to exorcise and get rid of Pain in order to complete ourselves, but even more so to develop or regain something – let’s call that something the Feeling Child – so we can encounter our personal truth, process Pain and tolerate and even make use of our incompleteness. Guided, aided and accompanied by the Feeling Child out travels and travails through life, although incomplete, will be richer, more meaningful and more real.
Wholeness, on the other hand, connotes an end, a final stage and state. And, for the sake of exercise, once this presumed but elusive wholeness is secured, where do we go from here? In which direction can we further develop? What will drive us to seek new answers for ourselves? It is almost as if an answer is the question’s worst enemy: as long as a question is unanswered it is alive, every option is potentially available and each course may be taken; but once a final answer is given all roads not taken and options not exercised wither away as does the question itself.
So, to go back to Janov, we can think of the Feeling Child itself as more than merely a state evoking static adjectives such as ‘good’ and ‘whole’ which portray that state as a condition to be in, a ‘place’ to reinhabit: It is also a function of the mind of which expressing feelings is only a part. For example, I think that by emphasizing the emotive part of the Feeling Child we tend to neglect its crucial perceptive function, its astuteness. From this perspective, we must reach and recover a lost capacity to feel because in addition to helping us to express our feelings such a capacity is essential for sensing truth and thus for creating meaning. And because the Feeling Child is first and foremost a sense organ with which we perceive emotional reality, it engenders in us a capacity to deal with and process meaningfully the constant influx of emotional stimuli from without and from within.
In summary, the Felling Child seen as a process rather than a state has three interrelated but distinct functions. These functions, in reverse order of appearance, are: To emote (feelings), to process (emotional stimuli into feelings), to perceive (emotional stimuli). And as can be seen from this description of the Feeling Child as a process, and of course also learned from actual personal and clinical experience, the ability to feel, to express a well delineated feeling, is a developmentand cannot be taken for granted. In each stage something can, and quite often does, go wrong.