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Oxytocin (Part 5/5)

July 7, 2011 Featured No Comments

It is my goal in therapy to help patients love and have the capacity to receive love; all else is secondary. Love makes us strong for our progeny. We need sex to enhance love, have progeny, and vice versa. It is the natural outgrowth of love. What we too often confuse is love and need. Those who never had their needs fulfilled early in life will keep on looking for fulfillment, believing it is love when too often it is only sexual. So long as someone is needy, he or she will confuse that need with love.

Once unloved, the feeling and the related physiologic levels remain. So now there is a vicious cycle; feeling unloved makes one act in ways to be further alienated and unloved: failed relationships, marriages, etc., which make one finally despair of ever being loved. The consequence may be depression and suicidal thoughts. Why? Because the imprint “unloved” can make one demanding, irritable, distant, angry, cold and unaffectionate. It has long been thought that the alerting, vigilant, aggressive system – the sympathetic nervous system – was the survival mechanism; the function of this system was to watch for danger, and initiate the flee or fight impulse. Research now shows that when the sympathetic nervous system is vigilant for too long it may eventually shut down altogether. There is, however, a backup system for hyper-vigilance; it is the inhibitory mechanisms that help determine survival. Over-stimulation is dangerous to the system.

Many may find it hard to believe that we can really inject love, albeit for a short period of time. Remember, animals share most of the same hormones with humans. We can take virgin females, inject them with oxytocin, and within thirty minutes they become maternal. So, yes, we can inject love if we define it carefully. We can help someone temporarily feel something they ordinarily couldn’t. At the very least, we can inject the qualities of love and give rise to greater attachment, touch and nurturance. The critical point here is that by changing hormone levels we can alter behavior toward the loving. And by inference, if we can do a therapy that changes the set points of those loving hormones we may well offer the capacity to feel and give love permanently. Implicit in this is an understanding that hormone fluctuations alter behavior. The reverse, however, is not necessarily true – psychotherapy does not affect the system by changing behavior.

Animal studies are extremely important in understanding ourselves as humans. The new genome project has found that humans do not have all that many more genes than rats. There are even similarities in genetic structure between us and the lowly worm. What applies to animals, therefore, has a good chance of applying to humans.

Biochemical researcher Susan Carter has suggested that oxytocin is affected “by the developmental history of an organism.” When there are high steroid levels in the womb due to the pregnant woman’s stress level, the whole development of the fetus can be altered, including lowering fetal oxytocin levels. Years later, a mother may have no milk for her newborn, yet no one can understand why. Oxytocin affects the quantity of mother’s milk. The mother may insist on going right back to work after giving birth, rationalizing that her career is very important. She may not understand that her own experience of an early lack of love created a decrease in production of her maternal, loving hormones, while at the same time upping her stress hormone level which keeps her very active.

All this importunes her to get back to work; she has no idea about what is behind that drive. The lack of the chemicals for loving drives her to leave her baby. Her priorities are not the result of her attitudes but rather her neurochemistry, which motivates her. She is less maternal, and cannot sense the needs of her baby, or how much she needs her. Her attitudes, interests and thoughts may be rationalizations for her physiologic hormonal status. She hasn’t had the biochemical equipment to be maternal since her own childhood. Her mother, not being maternal, has managed through her own lack of physical contact with her baby, to lower the maternal hormones in her daughter. Thus, the daughter will resent being a mother and her own children will feel it. Her lower oxytocin level may already be affecting the fetus in the womb. I would hypothesize that the infant may be born deficient in the love department. I have noted how womb trauma results in lowered serotonin levels; I speculate the same may be true for oxytocin. It is tempting to ascribe many of our alterations to genetics but we must not overlook the nine months we spend in the womb where the brain and body are forming.

There are psychopaths who look human, but who never establish any kind of loving relationship with anyone. They leave a trail of human debris in their wake. They relate only to what they can get. They only know how to manipulate. Their false charm sometimes allows them to get away with it. Yet they were victims of insufficient humanity and love in childhood from their own parents. Just below their seeming human charm lies an empty shell. You cannot be good to them because they cannot feel it. They just want more.

Love means a correct hormone balance and proper development of the brain. It means all the sexual hormones and equipment are in good working order. A mother’s love for a child regulates his brain development, learning and emotional evolution. It is reflected in the neurophysiology of the offspring. A loved child will have the best chance at a normal sex life later on, and that means the species will have the best chance of continuation.

We can measure love if we define it carefully. It is important to measure love because so many sexual problems derive from its lack. We need to know how deep someone’s emotional deprivation goes, how long it lasted and what affect it had on the neuro-physiology.

In Primal Therapy, the fact of getting a little love in the present, even when in a session we hold the hand of a patient who is in terrible pain, is enough motivation for patients to travel back to a time when they were unloved. They open up to that pain, which means they open up overall. To feel love, we must first feel how we were unloved. And to feel pain is to liberate our sexual health, and ourselves because sex is all about sensations and feelings, and repression gets in the way.

The goal of repression is to restrict access to those sensations – if we have suffered some trauma while in the womb, or during the birth process, repression will set in early. We then cannot sense pain and we also cannot fully sense anything else – we become removed from experience. That is repression’s purpose: to keep external stimulation from rocking the internal boat. Repression doesn’t just blunt the effect of not being touched in infancy or being ignored; it is global and affects every aspect of our being. Repression isn’t selective, and doesn’t confine itself to one trauma. It works in a global fashion, and affects us system-wide, including our sexual health.

Looking at other primates, we can begin to understand ourselves. Caged primates in a zoo are less sexual and less inclined to procreate than in their natural habitat. Their physiology and their hormones know better than to bring offspring into such an environment, so their endocrine system changes. It speaks in the language of survival. The system says, “We don’t want to raise our babies in cages.” The more their instincts are suppressed in the interests of “taming” them, the less sexual they become. By contrast, the more freedom they have the more sexual they are. Suppression of their freedom has twisted the species’ survival mechanism.

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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