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Oxytocin (Part 1/5)

June 9, 2011 Featured No Comments

Feeling is the central organizing principle of human behavior. You can measure feeling in the brain, in the body’s biochemistry, in mother’s milk, in saliva and in spinal taps. We can measure it in brain chemicals such as serotonin, oxytocin, vasopressin, and dopamine. Feelings are all encompassing, and love is the key feeling in human intercourse. It can be found everywhere in the system because feeling is everywhere. Except—except where it is blocked and hidden away. Then we have an index of pain and repression. So something like oxytocin can be a marker for love. Speaking broadly, it can indicate where and when fear and pain took the place of love very early on. Love is defined broadly as having one’s need fulfilled in a timely manner; that means even in the womb, during gestation, there are needs that require fulfillment. When they are not, there can be effects on all sorts of biologic processes, including oxytocin. When I state that a baby needs a calm environment, it includes gestational life. A depressed/anxious mother is not providing a calm environment; the fetus is all neurochemically sensitive to her levels of stress and responses.

Love is important because it ensures survival of the species; it is a kind of assurance that the offspring will be healthy and sexual, again to carry on a species that will be strong against adversity. Love also translates into mental and physical health, and provides the best chance for survival of offspring. It is not an ephemeral, mystical notion that floats above us in some never-never land. It can be measured; the processes of love can be quantified. Love makes us feel good. It also is an effective pain-killer, not for a short time, but for a life-time. Thus, when there is ample love even in the womb, it is reflected in an imprint of oxytocin levels that follow us throughout life. When those levels are high, we have a lifetime of adequate pain-killers in our system. When they are low, we can be anxious and in pain for most of our lives, and never know why. We may overreact to events because our resting levels are so high that almost anything can set it off. And we no longer have the wherewithal to block the pain.

Oxytocin means “quick birth.” A synthetic oxytocin known as Pitocin, is given to mothers who need stimulation for contractions. I surmise that some mothers who need oxytocin to expedite the birth process may have had a history of pain that lowered their levels so as to make giving birth difficult. Statistics indicate those mothers who give birth by cesarean have lower levels of oxytocin. Additionally, when oxytocin is given to mothers to facilitate the birth process, it also enhances the love they feel for their child; they nurse better and are more relaxed with the baby. Conversely, a chronically anxious mother may leave her offspring with low oxytocin levels, which will contribute to the child having trouble later in life with bonding and forming attachments, as well as harboring a latent tendency to addiction. Thus, lack of early love translates into inadequate chemicals with which to bond, creating a vicious cycle of misery – unhappy relationships, poor sexual function, and failed marriages with suffering, abandoned children who bear the brunt of something that had its root causes in the infancy of the mother.

Loving feelings are transmitted to the fetus through the biochemistry and oxytocin levels of the pregnant woman, and then later through physical contact, which again raises oxytocin levels. If we were not loved early on, looked at, touched, listened to, nuzzled and adored, those biological changes, subtle though they may be, follow us throughout our lives. Yet a mother who takes good care of herself, is not depressed or anxious, does not take drugs, and eats properly, will produce a loving child.

If the traumas of birth, pre-birth and early childhood are inundating the system, there will be an eventual overload and breakdown of the neuro-inhibiting, suppressing systems – serotonin, as well as oxytocin. There are many chemicals that live in the gaps between nerve cells, neurons; some push back and some facilitate the message of pain. They are either information blockers or enhancers. Supplies of neuro-inhibitors will be used up over time in the fight to keep pain down. These supplies are not inexhaustible. It is the very earliest pains that have the highest valence and require the greatest amount of inhibition. These biochemicals will be used in the battle against emotional deprivation. The system will eventually be less sexual as the hormones of love become transmuted into the job of holding down pain.

Oxytocin is critical in making a strong emotional rapport with others. Oxytocin is a key hormone of love. When the level of oxytocin is low, there is less emotional attachment, less interest in social engagement, less caring and bonding, and less touch … in short, less love. “Less love” has a physical base. Less love early in our lives can be found in an imprint, which affects many systems. These effects are measurable. In some respects, love is a measurable entity. The imprint affects sexuality, particularly how key brain structures such as the amygdala and hippocampus translate pain into sexual behavior. Oxytocin is secreted by the pituitary gland, just below the hypothalamus. And it reflects how much love we have had and how much love we will have to give. And in fact, when we make love (men and women) levels radically increase. Sex and love meet here or at least should meet here.

To be continued next week …

Dr. Arthur Janov is an American Psychologist, Psychotherapist and the creator of Primal Therapy. Dr. Janov’s Primal Center website is http://www.primaltherapy.com

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