Prenatal and Birth Traumas
In War and Social Violence
"A just war for the true interests of the state advances its
within a few years by tens of years, stimulates all healthy elements,
and represses insidious poison."
-- Adolf Lasson
When Adolf Hitler moved to Vienna in 1907 at the age of eighteen,
he reported in Mein Kampf, he haunted the prostitutes' district,
fuming at the "Jews and foreigners" who directed the "revolting vice traffic"
which "defiled our inexperienced young blond girls" and injected "poison"
into the bloodstream of Germany.
Months before this blood poison delusion was formed, Hitler had the
only romantic infatuation of his youth, with a young girl, Stefanie.
Hitler imagined that Stefanie was in love with him (although in reality
she had never met him) and thought he could communicate with her via mental
telepathy. He was so afraid of approaching her that he made plans
to kidnap her and then murder her and commit suicide in order to join with
her in death.
Hitler's childhood had been so abusive -- his father regularly beat
him "with a hippopotamus whip," and once he endured 230 blows of his father's
cane without a murmur -- that he was full of rage toward the world.
When he grew up, his sexual feelings were so mixed up with his revenge
fantasies that he believed his sperm was poisonous and might enter the
woman's bloodstream during sexual intercourse and poison her.
Hitler's rage against "Jewish blood-poisoners" was, therefore, a
projection of his own fears that he might become a blood-poisoner.
Faced with the temptation of the more permissive sexuality of Vienna, he
wanted to have sex with women, but was afraid his sperm would poison their
blood. Hitler then accused Jews of being "world blood-poisoners"
who "introduced foreign blood into our people's body."
As is usually the case with delusional systems, Hitler's projection
of his fears of his own poisonous sexuality into Jews and foreigners helped
him avoid a psychotic breakdown and allowed him to function during his
later life. He admitted this quite specifically in Mein Kampf,
saying that when he "recognized the Jew as the cold-hearted, shameless,
and calculating director of this revolting traffic in the scum of the big
city, a cold shudder ran down my back . . . the scales dropped from my
eyes. A long soul struggle had reached its conclusion." From
that moment on, Hitler became a professional anti-Semite, ordering Nazi
doctors to find out how Jewish blood differed from Aryan blood, having
his own blood regularly sucked by leeches to try to get rid of its "poison,"
giving speeches full of metaphors of blood poisoning and of Jews sucking
people's blood out and, eventually, ordering the extermination of all "world
blood-poisoners" in the worst genocide and the most destructive war ever
experienced by mankind.
The success of Hitler's ability to use anti-Semitism to save his
sanity was dependent, of course, upon there being millions of followers
who shared his fantasies about poisonous enemies infecting the body of
Europe. Much of Europe at that time shared Hitler's experience of
a severely abusive childhood, and many shared his fantasy that the
ills of the modern world were caused by the poisonous nature of Jews.
When he used metaphors of blood in his speeches, saying the world was a
constant warfare of one people against another, where "one creature drinks
the blood of another," and that Jews were spiders that "sucked the people's
blood out," he was cheered on by millions who shared his fantasies.
GROUP FANTASIES OF POISON BLOOD
In studying the shared fantasies of nations connected with how it feels
to be part of a group at a particular historical moment -- what I have
termed historical group fantasies -- I have regularly found images of "poison
blood" prior to outbreaks of war and violent revolution. In war,
the enemy is imagined to be sucking out the blood of the nation; in revolution,
the state is the blood-sucker, as in the fantasy before the French Revolution
that the state was an "immense and infernal machine which seizes each citizen
by the throat and pumps out his blood." Images of poison blood are
periodic in history. They are usually found in conjunction with images
of guilt for recent prosperity and progress that are felt to "pollute the
national blood-stream with sinful excess," making men "soft" and "feminine,"
a frightful condition that can only be cleansed by a blood-shedding purification.
This fantasy of periodic shedding of poisoned blood through war is based
on the same presumed cleansing effects as the bloodletting therapies physicians
prescribed through the nineteenth century to cure many diseases, which
also were believed to be caused by "gluttony, luxury and lustful excesses."
As one military leader put it, war "is one of the great agencies by which
human progress is effected. [It] purges a nation of its humors .
. . and chastens it, as sickness or adversity . . . chastens an individual;"
it cures it of its "worship of comfort, wealth, and general softness. .
. ." When John Adams asked Thomas Jefferson "how to prevent . . .
luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and
folly?" Jefferson's answer was: "The tree of liberty must be
refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots." As Sherlock
Holmes expressed it in a story set in August 1914, rapid material progress
had produced a feeling that "God's curse hung heavy over a degenerate world,
for there was an awesome hush and a feeling of vague expectancy in the
sultry and stagnant air . . . [but] a cleaner, better, stronger land will
lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared. . . . A bloody purging
would be good for the country."
Wars have often been thought of as purifying the nation's polluted
blood by virtue of a sacrificial rite identical to the rites of human sacrifice
so common in early historical periods. The blood of those sacrificed
is believed to renew the nation. War, said those preparing for the
bloody Finnish Civil War, purges guilt-producing material prosperity through
the blood of soldiers sacrificed on the battlefield: "The idea of
sacrifice permeated the war. . . . Youth . . . have heard the nation's
soul crying for its renewal, their heart's blood [because] nations drink
renewal from the blood of the fallen soldiers." Usually the blood
of the soldiers is thought of as being needed to feed a maternal figure,
either mother earth or, like the Aztecs, a bloodthirsty mother-goddess.
War renewed national strength by feeding blood to the goddess the state
was "reborn" by the soldier's blood, and war cleansed the polluted national
bloodstream as if there was a "rebirth from the womb of history," a "bloody
baptism" that removed all poisonous self-indulgence. "A nation hath
been born again,/ Regenerate by a second birth!" wrote W. W. Howe after
the bloody American Civil War. Another American, speaking of World
War I, said "It was like the pouring of new blood into old veins."
The question immediately arises: How do such poisoned blood
fears originate? And what is their connection with birth?
The answers to these questions will become more convincing only after we
have examined a prior question: Why is war so often depicted as
GROUP FANTASIES OF DANGEROUS WOMEN
For the past two decades, I have been collecting historical material
from sources such as magazine covers and political cartoons on images of
war. One of the most unexpected finding of was that war was so often
shown as a dangerous, bloodthirsty woman. Despite the fact
that women neither play much part in deciding on wars nor in fighting them,
war has so often been depicted as a dangerous woman that a visitor
to our planet might wrongly conclude that women were our most bellicose
sex. From Athena to Freyja, from Marianne to Brittannia, terrifying
women have been depicted as war goddesses, devouring, raping and
ripping apart her children. The image has become so familiar we no
longer think to question why women are so often shown as presiding over
war rather than as its victims, as they are in reality.
Even in antiquity, when the god of war was usually male, his mother
was imagined to have hovered above the battlefield, demanding more blood
to feed her voracious appetite. And although it was almost always
men who fought the battles, women in early societies were expected
to come along to watch from the sidelines, rather like cheerleaders at
a sports match, shrieking their own battle cries, heckling and insulting
those warriors who held back and demanding a plentiful show of blood on
THE MARIE ANTOINETTE SYNDROME AND SOCIAL VIOLENCE
The French Revolution fully demonstrates the role of the dangerous woman
fantasy in social violence, being preceded by a deluge of pamphlets and
newspapers picturing Marie Antoinette -- actually a rather sweet-natured
young woman -- as a sexually voracious, incestuous, lesbian, murderous
"bloodsucker of the French." The French Revolution, Terror and revolutionary
wars were accompanied by increasingly violent Marie Antoinette fantasies,
centering on grotesque images of her imagined sexual perversities, while
the king was pictured as merely an impotent tool in her hands. Finally,
the Tribunal, whipped up by the press, declared her a "ravening beast"
and chopped off her head, after she had been accused of being a "tigress
thirsty for the blood of the French," a "ferocious panther who devoured
the French, the female monster whose pores sweated the purest blood of
the sans-culottes," a "vampire who sucks the blood of the French," and
a "monster who needed to slake her thirst on the blood of the French."
I have found that group fantasies of monstrous bloodthirsty women
have preceded every war I have analyzed. Even the most popular movies
prior to wars reflect this dangerous woman fantasy. The biggest movie
preceding W.W.II was The Wizard of Oz, which is about a wicked witch
and how to kill her; the second biggest was The Women, a movie that
boasted it featured 135 dangerous women. All About Eve before
Korea and Cleopatra before Vietnam had similar dangerous women as
leads, and the Persian Gulf War was preceded by a whole string of dangerous
women movies, from Fatal Attraction to Thelma and Louise,
including a popular TV series entitled Dangerous Women.
When war breaks out, these terrifying women images disappear
from the nation's fantasy life. The dangerous woman image now is
into the enemy, so that the war is experienced unconsciously as a battle
with a mother figure. For example, when the United States attacked
Libya, the New York Post reported the rumor that American intelligence
had discovered that Moammar Khadafy was actually a "transvestite dressed
in women's clothes and high heels," even touching up a photo to show
how he "might look . . . dressed in drag." Even more often, the enemy is
shown as a dangerous mommy, as in the Persian Gulf War when Saddam
Hussein was depicted as a dangerous pregnant mother with a nuclear bomb
in her womb or as the mother of a death-baby.
Hallucinating dangerous feminine characteristics in one's enemies
goes all the way back to antiquity, when the earliest battles were imagined
to have been fought against female monsters, often the mother of the hero,
whatever her name --Tiamat, Ishtar, Inanna, Isis, or Kali. Typical
is the Aztec mother-goddess Huitzilopochtli, who had "mouths all over her
body" that cried out to be fed the blood of soldiers. Early Indo-European
warriors had to pass through initiatory rituals in order to attain full
status in which they dressed up and attacked a monstrous dummy female poisonous
serpent, complete with three heads. Although early warriors fought
against men, not women, they often anally raped and castrated their enemies,
turning them into symbolic women; from ancient Norse to ancient Egyptian
societies, heaps of enemy penises on the battlefield are commonly portrayed.
In addition, according to the world's leading historian of war, "the opportunity
to engage in wholesale rape was not just among the rewards of successful
war but, from the soldier's point of view, one of the cardinal objectives
for which he fought." More women have been raped and killed in some
wars than enemy soldiers. The hero is therefore simultaneously both
a self-killer, punishing projected parts of himself, and a mother-killer,
inflicting revenge for early traumas.
At the same time, by restaging early traumas in wars the magical
goal is achieved of merging with the mother in a defensive maneuver
to deny her as a dangerous object. Giving one's life for one's Motherland
means finally joining with her. The soldier who dies in war, says
one patriot, "dies peacefully. He who has a Motherland dies in comfort
. . . in her, like a baby falling asleep in its warm and soft cradle. .
. . "
Yet even though we understand that both the Motherland and the enemy
in wars are ultimately the early mother, the question remains: what
could possibly be the infantile origin of fantasies of the enemy as a poisonous
blood-sucking monster? Why did Americans before the Revolutionary
War feel "poisoned by Mother England" and fight a war rather than pay a
minor tax? Why did Hitler fear "blood-sucking Jews and foreigners,"
and why did Aztec soldiers go to war to feed blood to a monstrous mother-goddess?
Closer to today, why did Americans for so long fear their "national life-blood"
was being "poisoned" by Communists? Why do so many today feel the
government and welfare recipients are "sucking their blood?" Images
of blood-sucking, engulfing enemies are ubiquitous throughout history.
Surely our blood was never really poisoned or sucked out of us by
a maternal monster in our past. Or was it?
WAR AND THE FETAL DRAMA
As I described in my Foundations of Psychohistory, when
I first began collecting the emotional imagery surrounding the outbreak
of war I was puzzled by recurring claims by aggressors that they were forced
to go to war against their wishes because "a net had suddenly been thrown
over their head" or a "ring of iron was closing about us more tightly every
moment" or they had been "seized by the throat and strangled." I
piled up hundreds of these images of nations being choked and strangled,
"unable to draw a breath," "smothered, walled-in," "unable to relieve the
inexorable pressure" of a world "pregnant with events," followed by feelings
of being "picked up bodily" in "an inexorable slide" towards war, starting
with a "rupture of diplomatic relations" and a "descent into the abyss,"
being "unable to see the light at the end of the tunnel" as the nation
takes its "final plunge over the brink," and even that wars were "aborted"
if ended too soon. Given the concreteness of all this birth imagery,
I concluded that war was a rebirth fantasy of enormous power shared
by nations undergoing deep regression to fetal traumas.
War has long been described in images of pregnancy: "War develops
in the womb of State politics; its principles are hidden there as the particular
characteristics of the individual are hidden in the embryo" (Clausewitz);
"Germany is never so happy as when she is pregnant with a war" (proverb).
Wars are felt to be life-and-death struggles for "breathing space" and
"living room," Lebensraum, as though nations were reliving the growing
lack of space and oxygen common to all fetuses just prior to and during
birth (plus, for most infants right up to Hitler's generation, the reliving
of the pain of tight swaddling). As Adzema puts it, "feelings of
expansion are followed by a fear of entrapment." Nations become paranoid
prior to wars, and feel they have to resort to violence in order to get
out of what appears to be a choking womb and birth canal. Bethmann-Hollweg,
for example, told the Reichstag in announcing war in 1914 that Germany
was surrounded by enemies, and "he who is menaced as we are and is fighting
for his highest possession can only consider how he is to hack his way
through." As Hitler repeated over and over again, only a violent
"rebirth" could "purge the world of the Jewish poison" and avoid it being
"asphyxiated and destroyed."
Now, the notion that war might be a battle against a dangerous mother
is difficult enough to believe. That it in addition includes fantasies
that you are hacking your way out of the engulfment of your own birth is
infinitely harder to accept. But what followed then in my psychohistorical
research into imagery prior to wars was a discovery that seemed to be a
final step into the unbelievable, revealing a depth of regression prior
to wars greater than anything yet contemplated in the psychological literature.
Yet it was a discovery that for the first time seemed to explain the true
origin of the poison blood imagery.
What I found was that the cartoons, past and present, of the enemy
in war were dominated by an image that was even more widespread than that
of the dangerous mommy: it was that of a sea-beast, often
with many heads or arms, a dragon or a hydra or a serpent or an octopus
that threatened to poison the lifeblood of the nation. Most early
cultures believed in this beast as a dragon that was associated with watery
caves or lakes; modern wars show the beast as a blood-sucking, many-headed
enemy. This serpentine, poisonous monster I have termed the Poisonous
Placenta, since it resembled what the actual placenta must have sometimes
felt like to the growing fetus, particularly when the placenta fails in
its tasks of cleansing the fetal blood of wastes and of replenishing its
oxygen supply. When the blood coming to the fetus from the placenta
is bright red and full of nutrients and oxygen, the fetus feels it is being
fed by a Nurturant Placenta, but when the mother smokes, takes drugs
or is hurt or frightened or otherwise stressed, the placenta does not remove
the wastes from the fetal blood, which therefore becomes polluted and depleted
of oxygen. Under these stressful conditions, the helpless fetus experiences
an asphyxiating Poisonous Placenta, the prototype for all later hate relationships,
including the murderous mother, the castrating father or the dangerous
enemy. It is even likely that the fetus, like Oedipus, feels it is
actually battling with the dangerous beast (Sphinx means "strangler"
in Greek) in order to restore connections with the Nurturant Placenta.
This battle, one that I have termed the fetal drama, is repeated
in death-and-rebirth restagings of traumatic battles in all wars and other
The cosmic battle with the Poisonous Placenta (the capitals are in
honor of it being the prototype for God and Nation), where we repeat the
fetal drama of a paradise lost, of being sucked into the whirlpool and
crushing pressures of birth, and where we fight the placental dragon, is
well depicted in a comic-book character, Conan the Barbarian, although
I could just as easily have used pictures and texts from ancient myths
of battles with sea-beasts such as Tiamat, Rahab, Behemoth, Humbaba, Apophis,
Hydra, Gorgon, or Typhon. In this version, a baby is first shown
abandoned, beginning his watery birth passage between head-crushing bones,
going down the whirlpool of birth after the amniotic waters break, and
then being choked by the Poisonous Placenta, a black sea-monster
that tries to asphyxiate it. The hero, an imaginary powerful version
of the fetus, battles with the Poisonous Placenta and frees the fetus,
who reaches the safety of land. The final panel shows that the goal,
however, is not birth, the arrival on land, but the reuniting with
the placenta. That it is the Nurturant and not the Poisonous Placenta
that holds the baby in its embrace is depicted by its being shown as a
In most cultures, the placenta is considered very much alive after
delivery; it is felt to be so dangerous to the community that unless it
is buried somewhere deep the whole tribe will fall sick. The fantasy
of the Poisonous Placenta is even present in most small groups. As
one group analyst describes his conclusions from a lifetime of studying
unconscious group images:
One of the most active, or rather paralyzing,
unconscious group representations is that of Hydra: the group is
felt to be a single body with a dozen arms at the ends of which are heads
and mouths, each functioning independently of the others . . . incessantly
searching for prey to be squeezed and suffocated, and ready to devour one
another if they are not satisfied.
Obviously, full understanding of the placental source of "poison blood"
imagery and of the fetal origins of war and social violence is going to
have to wait until we investigate more fully the psychology of dangerous
wombs, Poisonous Placentas and asphyxiating births -- which is to say,
until we understand more about both the psychology and neurobiology of
THE ORIGINS OF FETAL PSYCHOLOGY
After Freud initially proposed that mental life began after birth, he
later admitted that he had come to believe he was wrong, saying that "the
act of birth is the first experience of anxiety." Although most other
psychoanalysts believed mental life began only with infancy, there were
a number of exceptions, beginning with Otto Rank's The Trauma of Birth
in 1923, which began the investigation of birth anxiety derivatives
in adult life and culture. After Rank, Donald Winnicott wrote in
the early 1940s a paper on "Birth Memories, Birth Trauma, and Anxiety,"
which, however, was little noticed, since, as he said, "It is rare to find
doctors who believe that the experience of birth is important to the baby,
that it could have any significance in the emotional development of the
individual, and that memory traces of the experience could persist and
give rise to trouble even in the adult." While still a pediatrician,
Winnicott saw that newborn babies varied enormously and that prolonged
labor could be traumatic to the fetus, resulting in extreme anxiety --
so much so that he thought "some babies are born paranoid, by which I mean
in a state of expecting persecution. . . . " He was even able to conclude
that "at full term, there is already a human being in the womb, one that
is capable of having experiences and of accumulating body memories and
even of organizing defensive measures to deal with traumata . . . " He
sometimes would allow his child patients to work through birth anxiety
directly, having one child sit in his lap and "get inside my coat and turn
upside down and slide down to the ground between my legs; this he repeated
over and over again . . . . After this experience I was prepared to believe
that memory traces of birth can persist." He also encouraged some
adult patients to relive the breathing changes, constrictions of the body,
head pressures, convulsive movements and fears of annihilation experienced
during their births, with dramatic therapeutic results.
After Winnicott, psychotherapists such as Fodor, Mott, Raskovsky,
Janov, Grof, Verny, Fedor-Freybergh, Janus and others published extensive
work showing how their patients relived birth trauma in therapy and removed
major blocks in their emotional lives. These traumatic birth feelings
-- of being trapped, of crushing head pressures and cardiac distress, of
being sucked into a whirlpool or swallowed by terrifying monsters, of explosive
volcanoes and death-rebirth struggles -- appear regularly in the 60 percent
of our dreams that have been found to contain overt pre- and perinatal
images, although most therapists continue to overlook their connections
with actual birth memories.
Perhaps one of the most important results of clinical research by
therapists sensitive to perinatal trauma -- as described particularly in
the work of Linda Share -- is how regularly early trauma produces an overwhelming
fear of all progress in life. It is as though the fetus concludes,
"Going forward in life led to disaster; I must remain 'unborn' all my life
to avoid a repetition of this horrible start."
Fetuses that experience injuries in the womb, premature births, birth
complications, and many other medical conditions as newborns regularly
live the rest of their lives in fear of all growth and individuation.
For instance, one baby who was born with a congenital atresia of the esophagus,
so that she choked on feedings, was seen to have multiple fears of dying
all during a 30-year followup study into her life. Another, who often
dreamed of lying in a refrigerator, asked his parents about the image,
and they told him that as a newborn the window of his room had mistakenly
been left open on an extremely cold winter night, and they "had thawed
him out of his urine, feces and vomitus." Interpretation of this
continuing fear led to a turning point in the treatment and in the patient's
life. Another baby was born with an intestinal obstruction that prevented
digestion, so she vomited up all her milk. Although the condition
was repaired at one month, for the rest of her life she was concerned with
disaster fantasies every time growth was imminent. As Share described
her, "Each new opportunity for advancement stood for a metaphorical 'birth.'
To be born in any kind of way meant to have to reexperience the disaster
of her infancy: starvation, pain, surgery, and near-death.
These, then, were the disasters she fantasized, the panic attacks each
time she headed for something new and creative." As with all early
trauma, any progress threatened repetition of disaster.
RECENT RESEARCH INTO FETAL MEMORY
Much has changed in our knowledge of the fetus during the decades since
the early pioneering excursions into perinatal psychology. Neurobiologists
have made startling advances in the understanding of how the brain develops
in the womb, experimental psychologists have discovered a great deal about
fetal learning, pediatricians have linked all kinds of later problems to
fetal distress, and one psychoanalyst has even begun to compare thousands
of hours of ultrasound observations of individual fetuses with their emotional
problems during infancy in therapy with her. There are now thousands
of books and articles on the subject, as well as two international associations
of pre- and perinatal psychology, each with its own journal. I will
here only be able to summarize some of the main trends of this extensive
Biologists used to think that because the fetus had incomplete myelination
of neurons it couldn't have memories. This notion has been disproved,
since impulses can be carried quite efficiently in the thinly myelinated
nerves of fetuses, only at a somewhat slower velocity, which is offset
by the shorter distances traveled. Indeed, far from being an
unfeeling being, the fetus has been found to be exquisitely sensitive to
its surroundings, and our earliest feelings have been found to be coded
into our early emotional memory system centering in the amygdala,
the central fear system, quite distinct from the declarative memory
system centering in the hippocampus, the center of consciousness, that
becomes fully functional only in later childhood. These early emotional
memories are usually unavailable to conscious, declarative memory recall,
so early fears and even defenses against them are often only recaptured
through body memories and by analyzing the consequences of the traumas.
The fetal nervous system is so well developed that by the end of
the first trimester it responds to the stroking of its palm by a light
hair by grasping, of its lips by sucking, and of its eyelids by squinting.
It will jump if touched by the amniocentesis needle and turn away from
the light when a doctor introduces a brightly lit fetoscope. By the
second trimester, the fetus is not only seeing and hearing, it is actively
tasting, feeling, exploring and learning from its environment, now floating
peacefully, now kicking vigorously, turning somersaults, urinating, grabbing
its umbilicus when frightened, stroking and even licking its placenta,
conducting little boxing matches with its companion if it is a twin and
responding to being touched or spoken to through the mother's abdomen.
Each fetus develops its own pattern of activity, so that ultrasound technicians
quickly learn to recognize each fetus as a distinct personality.
Even sensual life begins in the womb; if a boy, the fetus has regular erections
of his penis, coinciding with REM sleep phases, and baby girls have been
seen masturbating during REM sleep.
THE EMOTIONAL EFFECTS OF FETAL STRESS
In addition to what we know about the disastrous effects on the fetus
of prenatal exposure to drugs and alcohol, we now have considerable
evidence on how maternal stress and other emotions are transmitted to the
fetus. When a pregnant mother is offered a cigarette after having
been deprived of smoking for 24 hours there is a significant acceleration
in fetal heartbeat even before the cigarette is lit, and maternal smoking
during pregnancy has been found to triple the rate of Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorders later in the child. The fetus has been found
to be sensitive to a wide range of maternal emotions in addition to any
drugs or other physical traumas she endures. When the mother feels
anxiety, her increased heartbeat, frightened speech, and alterations in
neurotransmitter levels are instantly communicated to the fetus, and her
tachycardia is followed within seconds by the fetus's tachycardia; when
she feels fear, within 50 seconds the fetus can be made hypoxic (low oxygen).
Pregnant monkeys stressed by simulated threatening attack had such impaired
blood circulation to their uteruses that their fetuses were severely asphyxiated.
Alterations in adrenaline, plasma epinephrine and norepinephrine levels,
high levels of hydroxycortico-steriods, hyperventilation and many other
products of maternal anxiety are also known to directly affect the human
fetus. Numerous other studies document sensory, hormonal and biochemical
mechanisms by which the fetus is in communication with the mother's feelings
and with the outside world. Even baby monkeys have been found to
be hyperactive, with higher levels of the stress hormone, cortisol, after
birth from a mother who was experimentally stressed during her pregnancy.
While positive maternal emotions have been experimentally shown to
increase later growth, alertness, calmness and intelligence -- the fetus
even benefits from the mother singing to it in the womb -- and prenatal
infant stimulation, particularly being bathed in pleasant music, improves
fetal development compared to control groups, maternal distress and
chemical toxins have been shown to produce low birth weights, increased
infant mortality, respiratory infections, asthma and reduced cognitive
development. Ultrasound studies record fetal distress clearly, as
it thrashes about and kicks in pain during hypoxia and other conditions.
One mother whose husband had just threatened her verbally with violence
came into the doctor's office with the fetus thrashing and kicking so violently
as to be painful to her, with an elevated heart rate that continued for
hours. The same wild thrashing has been seen in fetuses of mothers
whose spouses have died suddenly. Maternal fright can actually cause
the death of the fetus, and death of the husband and other severe emotional
distress within the family during the mother's pregnancy have been associated
with fetal damage in large samples in several countries. Marital
discord between spouses has been correlated "with almost 100 per cent certainty
. . . with child morbidity in the form of ill health, neurological dysfunction,
developmental lags and behavior disturbance."
Margaret Fries has conducted a 40-year longitudinal study predicting
emotional patterns that remain quite constant throughout the lives of those
studied, correlating the patterns to the mother's attitude toward the fetus
during pregnancy. Maternal emotional stress, hostility toward the
fetus and fetal distress have also been statistically correlated in various
studies with more premature births, lower birth weights, more neonate neurotransmitter
imbalances, more clinging infant patterns, more childhood psychopathology,
more physical illness, higher rates of schizophrenia, lower IQ in early
childhood, greater school failure, higher delinquency and greater propensity
as an adult to use drugs, commit violent crimes and commit suicide.
This increase in social violence due to pre- and perinatal conditions has
recently been confirmed by a major Danish study showing that boys of mothers
who do not want to have them (25 percent of pregnant mothers admit they
do not want their babies) and who also experience birth complications
are four times more likely when they get to be teenagers to commit
violent crimes than control groups. American studies also show similar
higher violent crime rates correlated with maternal rejection during pregnancy.
THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF EARLY TRAUMA
There are sound neurobiological reasons for this correlation between
fetal trauma and social violence. Early brain development is determined
both by genes and by cellular selection and self-organizational processes
that are crucially dependent upon the uterine environment. Since
fetal and early infantile traumas and abandonments occur while the brain
is still being formed, while cell adhesion molecules are still determining
the brain's initial mapping processes and while synaptic connections are
still undergoing major developmental changes, memories of early traumas
cannot be handled as traumas are later in life and instead are coded in
separate neuronal networks that retain their emotional power well into
Fetal abuse can be direct, either from drugs or from the pregnant
mother being abused by her mate. According to the Journal of the
American Medical Association, "one in three pregnant women in America
is slapped, kicked or punched by their mates." In addition, maternal
stress produces such biochemical imbalances as an overactivation of the
pituitary-adrenal cortical and sympathetic-adrenal medullary systems with
consequent increases of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), cortisol,
pituitary growth hormone and catecholamine levels. Maternal
emotional stress has even been correlated with damage to the hippocampus,
the center, along with the thalamus, of conscious memory and self feelings.
Furthermore, the emotions of the mother can be directly transmitted through
the neurotransmitters and other hormones in her blood to the fetal
blood and then to DNA-binding receptors in the fetal cells that turn genes
on and off, thus programming her stress directly into the developing fetal
brain. This bath of maternal hormonal imbalances can produce
severe fetal traumatic emotional dysfunctions. Baby rats, for instance,
whose mothers had been frightened by loud noises during pregnancy, were
found to have copious supplies of stress hormones, plus fewer receptors
for benzodiazepines and fewer GABA receptors, both needed for calming action
during stress. The results of the mother not wanting her baby
can prove lethal: one study of eight thousand pregnant women found
that unwanted babies were 2.4 times more likely to die in the first month
Infants traumatized in utero and during birth are those Winnicott
referred to as "born paranoid," and can remain hypersensitive to stress,
over-fearful, withdrawn and angry all of their lives. Fetal traumas
and abandonments result in overstimulation of neurotransmitters, producing
hypersensitivity and other imbalances in such important neurotransmitters
as the catecholamines. The most important of these imbalances is
low serotonin levels, which have been demonstrated to lead to persistent
hyperarousal and compulsive reenactment in violent social behavior, including
both homicide and suicide. Because of this, reenactment in later
life can be an even more potent source of violent behavior in the case
of fetal trauma than it has been found to be in the case of childhood
or war trauma.
The same neurobiological factors have been found to be responsible
for the increase in violence against self. Suicide patterns are so
strongly linked to birth that epidemiologists have found higher suicide
rates in areas of the country that a few decades earlier had had higher
birth injuries. What probably happens is that birth traumas reset
life-long serotonin and noradrenaline levels to lower levels, since there
is a strong statistical link between low serotonin and noradrenaline and
violent suicides. Other studies have shown that even the types
of suicides were correlated with the kinds of perinatal traumas, asphyxia
during birth leading to more suicides through strangulation, hanging and
drowning, mechanical trauma during birth correlated with mechanical suicide
elements, drugs given during birth being correlated to suicide by drugs,
and so on. The rise in adolescent drug addiction and suicide recently,
mainly connected with drug use, is believed to be at least partially due
to the more frequent use of drugs prescribed by obstetricians during birth
in recent decades. The same principle may hold for the rise
of violent crimes during the 1970s and 80s, which has been connected with
the rise of the extremely painful rite of circumcision in newborn boys
during the 1950s and 60s; it could equally have contributed to the
rise of teenage suicides, since perinatal trauma can also be turned against
the self. Violence done to babies always returns on the social level.
Far from being the safe, cozy haven to which we all supposedly want
to return, the womb is in fact often a dangerous and often painful abode,
where "more lives are lost during the nine gestational months than in the
ensuing 50 years of postnatal life." Few fetuses, for instance, escape
experiencing painful drops in oxygen levels when the mother is emotionally
upset, smokes, drinks alcohol or takes other drugs. As the placenta
stops growing during the final months of pregnancy, it regresses in efficiency,
becoming tough and fibrous, as its cells and blood vessels degenerate and
it becomes full of blood clots and calcifications, making the fetus even
more susceptible to hypoxia as it grows larger and making the late-term
fetus "extremely hypoxic by adult standards." Furthermore, the weight
of the fetus pressing down into the pelvis can compress blood vessels supplying
the placenta, producing additional placental failure. Practice contractions
near birth give the fetus periodic "squeezes," decreasing oxygen level
even further, while birth itself is so hypoxic that "hypoxia of a
certain degree and duration is a normal phenomenon in every delivery,"
not just in more severe cases. The effects on the fetus of this extreme
hypoxia are dramatic: normal fetal breathing stops, fetal heart rate
accelerates, then decelerates, and the fetus thrashes about frantically
in a life-and-death struggle to liberate itself from its terrifying asphyxiation.
In addition, fetal abuse is often the result of the pregnant mother's wish
to hurt or punish her unborn child. One study showed 8 percent of
112 pregnant American women openly acknowledged this wish, often hitting
their abdomen or otherwise purposely abusing their fetus. The real
figure is likely to be higher than this, particularly in the past.
THE REALITY OF FETAL MEMORY
That the fetal memory system is sufficiently mature not only to learn
in the womb but also to remember prenatal and birth experiences
is confirmed by a growing body of experimental, observational and clinical
data. Neonates can remember lullabies learned prenatally and
can pick out at birth their mothers' voices from among other female voices
and respond differently (by the increased rate of sucking on a pacifier)
to familiar melodies they had heard in utero. Sallenbach
played simple melodies to the fetus in utero, based on four notes,
and found that the fetus was able not only to move to the beat but continued
to mark the beat when the notes were discontinued. As evidence of
even more complex memories, DeCasper had 16 pregnant women read either
Cat in the Hat or a second poem with a different meter to their fetuses
twice a day for the last six weeks of their pregnancy. When the babies
were born, he hooked up their pacifiers to a mechanism that allowed them
to chose one of two tape recordings by sucking slowly or quickly, choosing
either the tape in which their mothers read the familiar poem or the tape
where she read the unfamiliar poem. The babies soon were listening
to the tape of the familiar poem, indicating their mastery of the task
of remembering complex speech patterns learned in utero. Chamberlain
sums up his extensive work on birth memories, which he found very reliable
when comparing them with both the memories of the mother and hospital records,
"They demonstrate the same clear awareness of violence, danger, and breech
of trust which any of us adults might show in a similar situation. . .
. Even three-year-olds sometimes have explicit and accurate birth recall."
Distress during birth is particularly able to be later remembered during
dreams, when dissociated early neural emotional memory systems are more
easily accessed. For instance, one child who had been a "blue baby"
and near death while tangled in his umbilicus during birth and had had
a forceps delivery had the following revealing nightmare during most of
I would be kneeling down, all bent over.
I am frantically trying to untie knots in some kind of rope. I am
just starting to get free of the rope when I get punched in the face.
With the number of recent experiments demonstrating fetal competence,
classical conditioning and more advanced learning ability, it is
not surprising that some parents have recently begun to make the fetus
a "member of the family," playing with them, massaging them and calming
them down when they thought they had communicated distress by excessive
movement and kicking, and trading light pokes in return for fetal kicks,
in what they call "The Kicking Game." One father taught his baby
to kick in a circle; a mother played a nightly game where she tapped her
abdomen three times and the fetus bumped back three times. Another
father who called out "Hoo hoo!" next to his pregnant wife's belly nightly
found his child pushing with a foot into his cheek on whichever side he
called; father and baby played this game for 15 weeks; he found his next
baby was able to learn the same game. These parents tried to avoid
maternal stress, loud arguments and loud noises -- especially rock music
-- because they became aware it produced fetal distress.
Recent insights into fetal learning have led to some impressive research
on fetal enrichment that demonstrates that prenatal stimulation produces
advances in motoric abilities and intelligence that last for years.
Experimental groups of pregnant women and their fetuses who participated
in prenatal stimulation enrichment were investigated in parallel with carefully
selected control groups not involved in any prenatal program. The
postnatal evaluation of both groups on standard developmental tests shows
highly significant enhancement from fetal sensory stimulation in motoric
performance, visual skills, emotional expression and early speech.
Even more impressive, when these prenatally-induced enrichment effects
are consolidated by immediate post-natal enrichment experiences, they produce
improvements over the control group in Stanford Binet IQ tests at age
three ranging from 38 percent for language and 47 percent for memory
to 51 percent for social intelligence and 82 percent for reasoning, a fetal
Head Start program of astonishing efficiency.
THE FINDINGS OF ULTRASOUND RESEARCH
Perhaps the most impressive observational work on the personality of
the fetus is being done by the Italian psychoanalyst Alessandra Piontelli,
by combining thousands of hours of ultrasound observations with clinical
psychoanalytic work with young children. Her research into pre- and
perinatal memories began after she encountered an eighteen-month-old child
who was reported by sensitive parents as being incessantly restless and
unable to sleep:
I noted that he seemed to move about restlessly
almost as if obsessed by a search for something in every possible corner
of the limited space of my consulting room, looking for something which
he never seemed able to find. His parents commented on this, saying
that he acted like that all the time, day and night. Occasionally
Jacob also tried to shake several of the objects inside my room, as if
trying to bring them back to life. His parents then told me that
any milestone in his development (such as sitting up, crawling, walking,
or uttering his first words) all seemed to be accompanied by intense anxiety
and pain as if he were afraid, as they put it, 'to leave something behind
him.' When I said very simply to him that he seemed to be looking for something
that he had lost and could not find anywhere, Jacob stopped and looked
at me very intently. I then commented on his trying to shake all
the objects to life as if he were afraid that their stillness meant death.
His parents almost burst into tears and told me that Jacob was, in fact,
a twin, but that his co-twin, Tino, as they had already decided to call
him, had died two weeks before birth. Jacob, therefore, had spent
almost two weeks in utero with his dead and consequently unresponsive co-twin.
Verbalization of his fears that each step forward in his development
might be accompanied by the death of a loved one for whom he felt himself
to be responsible "brought about an incredible change in his behavior,"
says Piontelli. Similarly, Leah La Goy, an American psychotherapist,
has documented seventeen children who were her patients who had lost a
twin in utero and who "consistently create enactments of fearing
for their own life [which] can and often does weaken the parent-child bonding
process" because they believe their mother might try to get rid of them
Piontelli, like many other child therapists, began to be struck by
the frequency and concreteness of children's "fantasies" about their life
before birth. Unlike most therapists, who, however, ignore their
accurate observations because their training taught them the mind only
begins after birth, she carefully recorded them and tried to confirm their
reality, first by consultation with the family and eventually by her own
extensive ultrasound observations of fetal life. The correlations
and continuities between fetal experiences and childhood personality "were
often so dramatic," she says, "that I was amazed that I had not been more
aware of them at the time." One set of twins often stroked each others'
heads in the womb through the dividing membrane; at the age of one, they
could often be seen playing their favorite game of using a curtain as a
kind of membrane through which they stroked each other's heads. Another
set of twins -- whose mother considered abortion because of her fear they
might be jealous of each other -- punched each other all the time in the
womb and continued to do so after birth.
One fetus, who often buried his face in the placenta as if it were
a pillow, as a child insisted that his mother get him a pencil case shaped
like a pillow that he used similarly. Still other children played
out various obstetrical distress problems in later life in dramatic detail,
such as one child who had nearly died because her umbilical cord had been
tightly knotted around her neck and who spent most of her early childhood
wrapping ropes, strings and curtain cords around her head and neck, playing
with them and licking them in a frenzy. The enormous importance of
being able to use fetal insights such as these in the therapy of both children
and adults for profound relief and personality change has been carefully
documented by Piontelli and other therapists.
THE POISONOUS PLACENTA
Piontelli's pioneering use of ultrasound to observe actual fetal behavior
has, in fact, for the first time confirmed my own conclusions made from
historical material about the relationship between the fetus and its placenta.
Even birth therapists have objected to my theory that "the fetus begins
its mental life in active relationship with its own placenta." Thomas Verny,
author of the pioneering book The Secret Life of the Unborn Child,
said that although he agreed that "mental life begins in the womb with
a fetal drama," he disagreed that the placenta has any role in this drama,
saying, "Personally, in fifteen years of doing intensive, regressive type
of psychotherapy I have never yet heard one of my patients refer in any
way at all to his or her placenta." David Chamberlain, author of
Remember Birth, agrees, saying, "I have heard complaints about all
these things in hypnosis but never against a 'poisonous placenta.' The
reaction is always against the mother herself."
Until birth is complete, the fetus, of course, has never met
a "mother," only a womb and a placenta and an umbilicus. Piontelli's
ultrasound observations reveal the complex relationship between the fetus
and its placental/umbilical "first object." Fetuses stroke and explore
the placenta all the time, and grab the umbilicus for comfort when distressed.
Their behavior toward the placenta and umbilicus correlates with later
behavior patterns in their infancy, so that, for instance, when Piontelli
watches one fetus use the placenta as a pillow in the womb, observing it
"sucking the cord [and] resting on the placenta as if it were a big pillow
. . . burying himself in the placenta . . . as if it were a pillow," she
then notices it has difficulty sucking the mother's breast after birth,
preferring to use it as a pillow instead: "He is not sucking . .
. he is leaning against it . . . it's not a pillow you know!"
Another fetus Piontelli watched in utero by ultrasound constantly
licked her placenta and umbilicus while holding her hands between her legs
on her vagina. The mother, who was both very overweight and whose
"rather vamp-looking, low-necked, black velvety dress, together with her
smeared and bright make-up, made her look quite 'whorish,' though in an
outdated and clumsy way, like a character out of a Fellini film,"
kept saying her baby girl would turn out to be "whorish" and had many conflicts
about having her. The fetus responded to the maternal rejection by
licking her placenta and masturbating:
She is licking the placenta now . . . look
at what she is doing with her other hand . . . it is still there right
in between her legs . . . licking the placenta again . . . my God . . .
she is really wild this time . . . look . . . it just goes on and on. .
. . Look how she licks it! . . . . we can almost hear the noise .
. . look . . . she is pulling it down towards her mouth . . . my God! .
. . her tongue is really strong . . . look she is doing it again . . .
and again . . . and again.
That this "seducing" of the placenta by this fetus plus her auto-eroticism
might have been defensive maneuvers designed to ward off fear is
indicated by her later actions in therapy with Piontelli as a child.
In therapy, said Piontelli, she seemed to have only two modes of being:
(1) fear of everything as being persecutory and poisoning, so that she
spent her early therapy sessions terrified and screaming, and (2) in "orgies,"
like a "whore," eating and licking everything and masturbating. Apparently
her mother's rejecting attitude and poor uterine conditions had affected
the fetal amygdalan early emotional memory system. In monkeys, destroying
their amygdalae causes them to mouth everything they come into contact
with and try to have sex with everything they meet, exactly the same mouthing
and masturbating orgies this child engaged in both as a fetus and infant.
So intent on licking and seducing everything was this baby that she couldn't
even suck her mother's breast:
The breast . . . seems to be a despicable
object . . . she absolutely refuses milk. . . . Her mother says, "What
are you doing? . . . you are not sucking it, you are playing . . . she
is not sucking it . . . she is licking it!" . . . she starts licking her
mother's chest vigorously with the same wild motions I had previously noticed
when she licked the placenta. . . . She licked any surface or fabric which
came into contact with her face. I saw her licking her mother's chest,
her shoulders, her chin, her arms and the clothes covering them.
As an alternative to her screaming and paranoid fear, the baby had developed
a pattern of seducing both placental objects and herself, filling her abyss
of anxiety with wild, orgiastic licking and masturbating:
She sits on the table with her legs wide open
looking rather obscene. She inserts a finger inside her cup and licks
it. Then she puts her hands between her legs while moving her tongue
over her lips. She looks very excited and her face is all red now.
I say that she's filling herself with prohibited excitement now.
She puts her finger in her mouth and then almost inside her vagina, saying,
"This or this, they are both nice. . . . "
Piontelli's little children with fetal problems did not, of course,
say their persecutors were "Poisonous Placentas," any more than did the
adult patients of Verny or Chamberlain. Yet there is little question
that it was the placenta that they felt had persecuted them while in the
womb and that they still felt persecuted by after birth; in both cases
their defensive oral and genital "orgies" were the same.
Psychotherapists regularly encounter placental images in their practice,
yet, because they cannot conceive of fetal mental life in the womb, they
ascribe these images to other sources. The most famous placental
images are known to psychoanalysts as "the Isakower phenomenon," which
often occurs when falling asleep. It consists of a sense that one
is floating, with a "shadowy and undifferentiated, usually round [object]
which gets nearer and larger." The floating and the round object
are not, as therapists have assumed, memories of the mother's breasts;
breasts come in twos and are rarely found floating. Isakower himself
described the image accurately as a "disc," lying on top of him, an object
another person said was shaped like a "balloon:" Other patients described
it as follows:
I'm as small as a point -- as if something
heavy and large was lying on top of me -- it doesn't crush me. . . . I
can draw in the lump as if it was dough -- then I feel as if the whole
thing was in my mouth . . . it's like a balloon . . . it's not unpleasant.
. . .
Besides the regression involved in falling asleep or hallucinations
on the analytic couch, overt placental images are also found by clinicians
in deeply regressed patients, who often hallucinate blood-sucking monsters
persecuting them. Most of these monster-phobias are extremely frightening,
the patients fearing blood-sucking spiders or vampires or octopuses or
Medusas or sphinxes. It simply makes no sense to call these blood-sucking
beasts and spiders "phallic mothers," as Freud and Abraham did, particularly
when they are accompanied by umbilical droplines. The vampire
as a blood-drinking woman is another widespread fantasy; even when the
vampire is Dracula, he is feminized by wearing a black satin cloak.
Only the memory of the Nurturant Placenta can fully explain why we drink
Christ's blood, and only the memory of a Poisonous Placenta can explain
why the Erinys suck blood and why devils are blood-red. Often both
images are present at the same time in psychotics, as in the following
description by Wilhelm Reich of his schizophrenic patient's hallucination
of drinking from a bloody, round table:
a small cloud . . . became larger and larger.
It enveloped everything. . . . Somebody said it was poisonous. . . .
A large, black plastic container, which resembled a
garbage bag. . . .
They were drinking gallons of blood in front
of me. The devil is red because of that and he gets redder and redder
and then the blood goes to the sun and makes it on fire. Jesus was
dripping blood on the cross by drops and this was being swallowed then
he was seated on the side of the devil and drinking too -- the table was
round oblong of flowing thick blood (no feet on it). Mother Mary
was at the corner watching. She was white as a sheet -- All her blood
had been drained off and consumed. She saw her son drinking that
Rosenfeld finds that images of being drained of blood are frequent
in regressed patients, involving concrete "primitive psychotic body images"
based on the notion that "the body contains nothing but liquids or blood
and is enveloped by one or more arterial or venous walls . . . the experience
of draining of blood and being emptied corresponds to the breakdown of
this psychological image of a wall or membrane containing liquid or blood."
A better image of the placenta cannot be imagined, though Rosenfeld didn't
notice its uterine source. These patients often imagine that the
analyst or others are literally sucking blood out of them. Mahler
described a typical young patient of hers:
He was preoccupied with the fear of losing
body substance, of being drained by his father and grandfather, with whom
his body, he believed, formed a kind of communicating system of tubes.
At night the father-grandfather part of the system drained him of the 'body
juices of youth.' Survival depended on who was most successful in draining
more life fluid from the others. . . . He invented an elaborate heart machine
which he could switch on and connect with his body's circulatory system
so that he would never die.
THE FETAL DRAMA IN HISTORY
However disguised, the Poisonous Placenta and the Suffering Fetus are
the most important images of the fetal drama, and the restaging of their
violent encounter is a central religious and political task of society.
I suggest that this battle with the persecuting placental beast constitutes
the earliest source of war and social violence, traumas that must be restaged
periodically because of the neurobiological imperatives of early brain
development. The center of society is wherever the fetal drama is
restaged -- as at Delphi, it is often called the "navel of the world,"
and is associated with placental World Tree worship. The evolution
of society occurs as this fetal drama moves from the tribe to the kingdom
to the nation and is enacted with larger and larger numbers of people emotionally
entrained by its sacrificial rituals.
Group fantasies of poisonous blood become most widespread during
periods of progress and prosperity. They are particularly ubiquitous
during apocalyptic millenarian periods. Traditional historians have
blamed these apocalyptic fantasies, such as the periodic "Great Awakenings"
in America or the millenarian movements in England, upon "collective
stress." The problem is that these movements always occur during
periods of progress, peace, and prosperity, so these authors have had difficulty
in locating the source of the social stress. When British millenarianists
became entranced to a 64-year-old woman who said she was about to give
birth to a second Christ, or when Americans expected the end of the
world in a final combat with the Great Beast of the Apocalypse and destroyed
their goods in expectation of their coming rebirth they did so during
periods of prosperity, not social stress. What is feared and what
leads to the deepest regression is growth and new challenges, a growth
that threatens a repetition of early traumas.
Ancient societies used to believe that because of growing pollution
the universe periodically threatened to dissolve in primordial waters,
and unless a war was fought between a hero -- an avenging fetus -- and
an asphyxiating sea-monster, the world would disappear. The purpose
of war and all other sacrificial blood-letting, says Frazer, was "to reinforce
by a river of human blood the tide of life which might grow stagnant and
stale in the veins of the deities." We believe the same right up
into modern times; most nations have repeated the cleansing war ritual
four times a century for as far back as historical records have survived.
THE NEUROBIOLOGY OF EARLY TRAUMA
The neurobiological effects of trauma and neglect -- both prenatal and
during childhood -- and the compulsion to restage early traumatic violence
and inflict it upon others and upon one's self are becoming fairly well
understood through recent advances in neuroscience. Inescapable dangers
and intolerable stresses subject the brain to massive secretions and subsequent
depletions of a variety of neurotransmitters, including norepinephrine,
dopamine and serotonin, which lead to hypervigilance, explosive anger and
excessive sensitivity to similar events in the future, which are experienced
as though they were as dangerous as the earlier incident. In addition,
the hormones that flood the brain to mobilize it in the face of threats,
especially cortisol, have been found to be toxic to cells in the hippocampus,
the part of the brain that, along with the thalamus, is the center of the
neural system for consciousness, actually killing neurons and reducing
the size of the hippocampus, making retrieval and therefore modification
of early traumas nearly impossible. It is this process that constitutes
"repression," which is really dissociation, an inability to retrieve memories
rather than a forgetting. Thus, without the ability to remember and
modify early traumas through new experiences, the brain continues to interpret
ordinary stressors as recurrences of traumatic events long after the original
trauma has ceased.
Paranoid results are particularly true of the earliest traumas of
fetal and infantile life. This is so because the hippocampus is quite
immature until the third or fourth year of life, and therefore the early
trauma is encoded in the emotional memory system centering in the amygdala
and extending particularly to the prefrontal cortex, the center of emotions
-memories which have been described as being nearly "impervious to extinction."
Early traumas, coded in this thalamo-amygdalan-cortical early emotional
memory system, record fearful memories that remain powerful for life, long
after the cognitive memories of the traumatic event itself are forgotten.
Infants, for instance, who experience premature births or eating disorders
at birth often fear all new arousals, as though they represented the same
threat to life as birth once did. This is why Piontelli's fetus,
who licked her placenta and masturbated in utero, continued compulsively
to lick her mother's breast and masturbate after birth, warding off her
earliest uterine dangers. It is also relevant to our hypothesis that
early emotional traumas are intimately linked with social behavior to note
that the amygdala -- where these early trauma are recorded -- is recognized
as playing a central role in the social behavior of animals. For
instance, removal of the amygdalae produces social isolates in most nonhuman
primates, while having devastating consequences on their ability to mother,
often resulting in death for their infants.
In addition, the continuing low serotonin levels and high
noradrenaline levels produced by trauma decrease normal aggressive inhibitions
(serotonin being the main soothing neurotransmitter and noradrenaline being
the main stress hormone) to such an extent that low serotonin and high
noradrenaline have been reliably shown to be central to social violence
of both humans and other primates. Monkeys who have early traumas
have low serotonin and high noradrenaline levels, and are "nasty, hostile,
crazy," often killing their peers for no reason, while traumatized
children with low serotonin have more disruptive behavior and compulsively
restage their traumas in their play with peers, both in order to maintain
some control over its timing -- anything to avoid re-experiencing their
helplessness -- and also because they can thereby identify with the aggressor.
Others repeat their original traumas by self-injury, as did the patient
who tried to commit suicide by putting his head beneath his car and causing
it to crush his skull, saying God had told him "to kill myself to be reborn,"
thus concretely restaging his earlier experience of having his head stuck
in the birth passage.
The amount of maternal stress necessary for traumatizing the fetus
and child is astonishingly little:
Monkeys born to mothers who listened to ten
minutes of random noise each day during mid- and late pregnancy had higher
noradrenaline levels than normal mokeys. The hyped-up monkeys were
impulsive, overresponsive, and had fewer social skills as infants.
When the prenatally stressed monkeys got to be the equivalent of preteens,
their noradrenaline was still high and their behavior still abnormally
hostile and aggressive. . . .
Later traumas, abandonments and betrayals of childhood are then recorded
in the same amygdalan early emotional memory system laid down by fetal
traumas. Evidence for this fetal matrix for later trauma is everywhere
to be found, only we have so far been unaware of its meaning and overlooked
it. For instance, when a gunman came into Cleveland Elementary School
in 1989 and fired wave after wave of bullets at children in the playground,
killing many of them, the trauma was "seared into the children's memory
. . . Whenever we hear an ambulance on its way to the rest home down the
street, everything halts . . . The kids all listen to see if it will stop
here or go on," said one teacher. But the childhood trauma
also stirred up the fetal level of fear, that of the Poisonous Placenta:
"For several weeks many children were terrified of the mirrors in the restrooms;
a rumor swept the school that 'Bloody Virgin Mary,' some kind of fantasized
monster, lurked there." All danger appears to tap into our earliest
fetal fears, even though most of our developmental history stems from events
of childhood proper.
Childhood itself, of course, particularly its earliest years, provides
most of the content for the restagings in history. There is evidence
that good childrearing can reverse the long-term effects of fetal stress.
In a study of 698 infants born in Hawaii in 1955 with pre- or perinatal
complications, it was found that those who experienced both fetal trauma
and childhood rejection were twice as likely to have received some form
of mental health help before age ten due to learning or behavioral problems,
including repeated delinquencies, while those who had a close bond with
at least one caretaker responded by showing a decrease in the effects of
the early trauma. So even though fetal trauma has long-lasting effects,
and even though few historical events are without traces of fetal imagery,
the main source of historical change is still the evolution of childhood.
CULTURE AND HISTORY AS HOMEOSTATIC MECHANISMS
The social restaging of early trauma and neglect, predicated upon damaged
neuronal and hormonal systems, is thus a homeostatic mechanism of the brain,
achieved by nations through wars, economic domination, and social violence.
Each of us constructs a separate neural system for these early traumas
and their defenses -- a dissociated, organized personality system that
stores, defends against and elaborates these early fetal, infantile, and
childhood traumas as we grow up. Once this basic concept is realized,
all the rationalizations of history become transparent; for instance, when
Germans say they must start WWII to get "revenge for the Day of Shame,"
one can ignore the ostensible reference (The Treaty of Versailles) and
recognize instead the real source of "German shame" -- the routine humiliations,
beatings, sexual abuse, and betrayals of German children by their caretakers.
The initial fetal matrix of the organization of these traumas
is obvious. Children's playgrounds are full of fetal objects, from
swings that repeat amniotic rocking to birth tunnels and slides -- all
enjoyed by children who must remember their fetal life, since they
generally have not as yet been told about where babies grow. Infants
cling to pillows and Teddy Bears and watch television programs like "The
Care Bears," which features baby bears with rainbow umbilicuses coming
out of their tummies and has an evil "Dr. Coldheart" who tries to
push black, poisonous wastes into their umbilicuses. Growing children
organize fetal games, hitting, kicking, and throwing around placental membranes
(one, the football, even egg-shaped, that we rebirth through our legs)
and reenacting birth when passing them through upright legs or vaginal
hoops. We likewise relive our birth when we celebrate Christmas as
a rebirth ritual, complete with a placental tree and a Santa Claus -- a
chubby blood-red fetus going down his birth chimney attached to his placental
bag -- not to mention such thrills as bungee-jumping our rebirth at the
end of a long umbilicus or throwing ourselves into mosh pits to be reborn
at rock concerts. Similarly, all religions contain at their center
the Suffering Fetus and its Poisonous Placenta, whether it is the dismembered,
suffering Osiris or the bleeding Christ on his placental cross or the dead
Elvis, at whose grave a mass veneration takes place beneath a giant placental
heart and a soundtrack of him singing the song "Hurt." The central
religious aim of reuniting with the placenta can even be seen in the origin
of the word religion -- "re-ligare," that is, "to unite again."
History as a homeostatic mechanism which is needed to regulate the
emotional dysfunctions of the brain is a central concept of my psychogenic
theory. I consider it impossible to understand historical events
without an understanding of modern neurobiology. For instance, the
fact that damaged amygdala function is found in paranoid schizophrenics
leads one to question if the paranoid mood of nations before and during
wars may be related to real, measurable diminished amygdalan functioning
which, combined with reduced serotonin levels and other neurotransmitter
imbalances, appear to cause our periodic searches for enemies. The
leader's function is, in this view, similar to that of a psychiatrist administering
prescriptions for wars and depressions as psychological "uppers" and "downers,"
designed to restore homeostatic equilibrium in the brains of a nation ravaged
by surging neurotransmitters and other hormones.
THE LEADER AS PHANTOM PLACENTA
Because the fetus's umbilicus is like a pulsing fifth limb and because
the placenta is the fetus's first love object, I believe we so deeply experience
the loss of our umbilicus/placenta that we walk around feeling we have
still a "phantom placenta" -- the same phenomenon as the "phantom limb"
experienced by amputees -- and are constantly looking for a leader or a
flag or a god to serve as its substitute. Just as gods are imagined
as beings "from whom all blessings flow," leaders are seen as beings "from
whom all power flows." In ancient Egypt, people saved the actual placenta
of the Pharaoh and put it on a pole which they carried into battle; it
was the first flag in history. In America, we still ritually worship
our placental flag -- with its red arteries and blue veins at the end of
a umbilical flagpole -- in public gatherings. In Baganda, they put
the king's placenta on a throne, pray to it and receive messages from it
through their priests. We do the same when we look to the sky for
UFOs -- high-tech placental disks -- that we hope might have messages for
us. Lawson has even experimentally correlated UFO abduction scenarios
with the actual birth experiences of the abducted, those who had normal
vaginal births imagining tunnel experiences during abduction while those
who had cesarean births experienced being yanked up by the UFO without
the tunnel images.
The yearning for a phantom placenta -- a "poison container" for our
dangerous emotions -- to be our leader, and the search for a Poisonous
Placenta to be our enemy with whom we can fight, are the central tasks
of all social organizations, prior to any utility they may have.
Leaders are not mothers or fathers, and they are not always idealized.
They are poison containers for our feelings. Poison containers
are objects into which we can dump our disowned feelings, just as we once
pumped our polluted blood into the placenta, hoping for it to be cleansed.
We ascribe to poison containers all kinds of magical placental significances,
including the power to cleanse our emotions, which are felt to be like
polluted blood in accordance with their fetal origin. When the leader
appears unable to handle these emotions, when he appears to be weakening
and abandoning us, when our progress in life seems to involve too much
independence and we re-experience our early abandonment by our placenta
and our parents, we begin to look for enemies to inflict our traumas upon.
WAR AS A SACRIFICIAL RITUAL
War, then, is a sacrificial ritual designed to defend against fears
of individuation and maternal engulfment by restaging our early traumas
upon scapegoats. This theory is the exact opposite of the "social
stress" theories of all other social scientists, since it is usually successes
-- freedom and new challenges -- that are experienced as triggers for wars,
not economic distress or political stresses. The war ritual is the
final chapter of the rehearsing of early traumas that we all experience
as we grow up, from the 18,000 murders the average child sees on TV to
the bullying of scapegoats children practice on school playgrounds and
the sports we play in which we rehearse the mental mechanisms necessary
to dominate other groups and turn them into "enemies" -- the truth reflected
in the saying that "British wars are won on the Rugby fields." It is not
easy to get soldiers to inflict our traumas upon others in wars -- only
perhaps two percent enjoy killing enemies -- so we must train them from
childhood how to switch into the group trance state necessary to inflict
That war is sacrificial, not utilitarian, and aims at reducing progress
and prosperity is shown by the finding that major wars almost always occur
after a sustained economic upswing. Not only are there many more
wars after periods of prosperity, but they are much longer and bigger,
"six to twenty times bigger as indicated by battle fatalities." Wars
sacrifice youth -- symbols of our potency and hopefulness -- because it
is our striving, youthful, independent selves that we blame for getting
us into trouble in the first place. Wars are always preemptive attacks
on enemies we create -- enemies we must find "out there" to relieve the
paranoia of having enemies "inside our heads" who resent our good fortunes.
Most wars start "for the sake of peace" because we really believe we can
have inner peace if we stop our progress and individuation, if we
sacrifice our striving self. Only if we can stop growing can
we protect ourselves from our most horrible fear -- the repetition of our
War, then, is a cleansing ritual sacrifice that is staged as a four-act
1. We begin to reexperience our early traumas when we feel
too much freedom, prosperity and individuation -- wars are usually
fought after a period of peace, prosperity, and social progress produced
by a minority who have had better childrearing, producing challenges that
are experienced as threatening by the majority whose childrearing is so
traumatic that too much growth and independence produces an abandonment
panic, fears of a persecutory mother-figure, a defensive merging with the
engulfing mother and then fears by men of having been turned into women.
2. We deify a leader who is a poison container into whom
we can pump our frightening feelings, our "bad blood" -- you can see
this blood-transfer concretely when Nazis put up their arms like an umbilicus
and throw their bad feelings -- their "bad blood" -- into Hitler for cleansing,
while he catches their feelings with an open palm, standing under a swastika
(the ancient symbol of the placenta) imprinted upon a blood-red flag, the
hypermasculine leader becoming society's protector by finding an enemy
to persecute rather than individuals reliving their early tragedies alone
3. We restage our early helplessness, humiliation, and paranoia
with another nation who needs to act out their violence -- minor incidents
are experienced as so humiliating that even a holocaust can be worth their
revenge -- as President Kennedy said as he considered whether to risk an
apocalyptic nuclear war in the Cuban Missile Crisis, "If Krushchev
wants to rub my nose in the dirt, it's all over." When progress and
new challenges evoke paranoid fears of jealous enemies and wishes/fears
of engulfing mommies, nations collude in a trance-like state to fight to
defend against their delusional loss of potency.
4. We go to war by restaging our terrors in the social sphere,
inflicting our traumas upon our most vital selves, our youth -- wars
are not, as often said, "outlets for human aggression" -- in fact, nations
usually feel calm as they go to war, just as wife-beating husbands become
calm and self-righteous as they beat up their spouses for their childhood
humiliations; nations, too, experience a joyous manic strength as
they fight to destroy the poisonous enemy, revenge their traumas, regain
their lost virility and be reborn into a New World Order.
These four stages on the road to war can be monitored through a fantasy
analysis of a nation's emotional life as projected in their media images.
Whether they can also be confirmed by changes in neurobiological markers
-- for instance, whether nations prior to wars experience measurable surges
in adrenaline and noradrenaline stress hormones that are initially experienced
during birth -- is yet to be investigated.
The imagery of war as a restaging of birth is ubiquitous. Consider
just the birth imagery surrounding the nuclear bomb. When Ernest
Lawrence telegramed to his fellow physicists that the bomb was ready to
test, his cable read, "Congratulations to the new parents. Can hardly
wait to see the new arrival." When the bomb was exploded at Los Alamos,
a journalist wrote, "One felt as though he had been privileged to witness
the Birth of the World . . . the first cry of the newborn world."
When President Truman met with world leaders at Postdam just before dropping
the bomb on Japan, General Grove cabled him reporting that its second test
was successful: "Doctor has just returned most enthusiastic and confident
that The Little Boy is as husky as his big brother . . . I could have heard
his screams from here. . . . " When the Hiroshima bomb, named "Little
Boy," was dropped from the belly of a plane named after the pilot's mother,
General Groves cabled Truman, "The baby was born." Even the survivors of
the Hiroshima explosion usually referred to the bomb as "the original child."
Similarly, when the first hydrogen bomb, termed "Teller's baby," was exploded,
Edward Teller's telegram read, "It's a boy." Obviously nukes are
felt to be powerful babies -- perfect avenging fetuses. With
them, our revenge for -- and restaging of -- our early traumas can now
be infinite: War finally can destroy every "bad mother" on Earth.
One can see why Truman, hearing that the world's first nuclear bomb had
just been dropped, exclaimed, "This is the greatest thing in history!"
PROSPERITY PANICS AND INTERNAL SOCIAL
Wars are sacrificial defenses that have proven to be effective in reducing
fears of ego disintegration due to prosperity panic. But even more
effective than sacrificing mothers and children in external wars is the
internal, institutionalized wars against mothers and children that nations
conduct periodically as social policy. Structural violence (excess
deaths because of poverty alone) amount to 15 million persons a year world
wide, compared to an average 100,000 deaths per year from wars. Economic
recessions hurt and kill more mothers and children as sacrificial
victims than most wars. As in foreign wars (external sacrifices),
political and economic wars against mothers and children (internal
sacrifices) are regularly conducted during periods of peace and prosperity.
These internal wars parallel the regressive images we have been discussing;
for instance, as William Joseph found in studying the 1929 and 1987 stock
market crashes, images of dangerous women proliferated in the media, indicating
that the time for internal sacrifice was near.
In America today, after a period of peace and prosperity -- and particularly
after the demise of The Evil Empire that can be blamed for the nation's
emotional disorders -- dangerous women images have again multiplied in
the media, and enemies are felt to be inside rather than abroad.
Reductions in food, welfare, education, and health care for women and children
have become the national goals. After being obsessed with watching
for an entire year the trial of someone accused of being a mother-murderer,
O. J. Simpson, it is no coincidence that Americans were then
united in wanting to cut welfare for mothers and their children, acting
out their own mother-murder scenario. Europe, too, began feeling
that the Welfare State -- imagined as a dangerous, engulfing Mommy -- was
an enemy that had to be destroyed. That women and children were the
real enemies of the "G.O.P. Revolution" was not denied. As
Newt Gingrich put it, "The Welfare State has created the moral decay of
the world. We have barbarity after barbarity . . . brutality after
brutality. And we shake our heads and say, 'Well, what's going wrong?'
What's going wrong is a welfare system which subsidized people for doing
nothing. . . . And then we end up with the final culmination of a drug-addicted
underclass with no sense of humanity. . . . " Simpson and Gingrich, both
our delegates, representing the Hero as mother-muderer, may be be distanced
from us and somehow uncanny, but nonetheless carried out the nation's unconscious
sacrificial group-fantasies all the same.
That a prosperous America has arranged to have so many people needing
welfare is a clue to why nations need poor people to punish for their prosperity.
Since it is prosperity and the fear of intolerable growth that triggers
the restaging of trauma, it makes psychohistorical sense that America today
-- the most prosperous and freest nation of any in history -- has more
women and children living in poverty than any other industrialized nation.
American child poverty rates are four times those of most European nations,
and are getting worse recently. It is national policy: "children
do not catch poverty but are made poor by state neglect." While France
manages to afford excellent child care centers for preschoolers, child
care in America is a disaster, with only 15 percent of the centers of "high
quality," while the bottom 15 percent are in "childcare centers of such
poor quality that their health or development is threatened." Nor
is it coincidental that the world's wealthiest country has the highest
child homicide rate and -- outside of Israel -- the most newborn
boys circumcised, both indices of society's hostility towards children.
Economic success gives people increased opportunities for individuation;
national prosperity and peace are therefore dangerous ("If I grow and enjoy
myself, something terrible will happen"). Periods of extended prosperity
without external "enemies" therefore produce prosperity panics that require
sacrificial victims, whether in Hebrew or Aztec ritual sacrifice yesterday
or in today's economic cycles. In good economic times, such as in
1996, legislators in America, with the support of the majority of citizens,
vigorously cut all kinds of aid to children. In New York City, 39
percent of the children are on welfare; in Chicago, 46 percent, in Detroit,
67 percent, and anti-welfare legislation was everywhere put into effect.
With the largest Gross Domestic Product of any nation at any time in history,
America has 75 percent of the world's child deaths by homicide, suicide
and firearms, overwhelmingly leading the way for violence-related deaths
of children. In 1996, at the peak of our current prosperity, Americans
of both parties, with the approval of the President, cut nutrition assistance
for 14 million children and Social Security for 750,000 disabled children,
along with cuts in school lunches, Head Start, child protection, education,
child health care and aid to homeless children -- what the president of
the Children's Defense Fund described as "an unbelievable budget massacre
of the weakest."
The media noticed the prosperity panic, but are puzzled as
to its cause, after four prosperous years. The Atlantic Monthly
cover that showed a depressed Uncle Sam with the headline "If the Economy
Is Up, Why Is America Down?" could more accurately have been worded, "Because
the Economy Is Up, America Is Feeling Down." Cutting funds for Head
Start was in fact necessary to punish the striving child in ourselves.
Sen. Patrick Moynihan, calling the legislation "an obscene act of
social regression that visits upon children the wrath of an electorate,"
predicted the cuts in Aid to Families with Dependent Children alone will
put millions of children on the street. "It is beyond imagining that
we will do this," Moynihan said. "In the middle of the Great Depression,
we provided a Federal guarantee of some provision for children, dependent
children. In the middle of the roaring 90's, we're taking it away."
We were so bent on punishing children for our own prosperity that we cut
even funds for school lunches, despite there being 12 million American
today who are so malnourished that it has damaged their brains. But
scapegoating children in prosperous times isn't paradoxical; it's a psychohistorical
That the group fantasies behind cutting benefits for women and children
are similar to the blood-sucking fantasies discussed above could be seen
in any of the flood of vampire movies that appeared at the same time, often
featuring bloodthirsty mother figures, or in the fantasies of those in
Congress and the media who claimed that welfare recipients were "bleeding
us dry" and "sucking the blood out of the citizenry [like] a giant leech"
-- punishment for which was for the government to "suck the blood" out
of welfare recipients. As Presidential candidate Sen. Phil
Gramm said, "If we continue to pay mothers who have illegitimate children,
the country will soon have more illegitimate than legitimate children,"
all feeding off of him, a scenario that is his projection of the
needy "baby Phil" demanding "MORE!" who was threatening to "eat up American
resources." Bad, sinful babies were seen as deserving to be punished as
scapegoats for the country's guilty prosperity. Historically, during
every period of prosperity and peace in American history (such as in the
1850s and the 1890s), there has been legislation by the newly wealthy to
stop welfare for what they called "the undeserving poor." Anti-welfare
legislation, now as then, had nothing to do with saving money; in fact,
the cuts would cost a hundred times more than their savings through increases
in drug addiction, theft and murder. Each time legislators condemn
"moral decay" and "a breakdown in family values" -- code words for fear
of freedom -- they only mean that in fantasy social collapse can be avoided
by "ending dependency" -- code words for punishing poor children, symbols
of their own dependency needs.
That punishing children, not saving money, is the aim of the legislation
becomes clear when the effects of each cutback is actually costed out.
For instance, the cuts in the Federal Supplemental Security Income program
not only reduce allowances for poor crippled children by 25 percent, they
also throw hundreds of thousands of disabled children off the program.
This means, as one commentator put it,
Their families are so marginal economically
that the additional cost of caring for a child with spina bifida or profound
mental retardation is literally unbearable. So the kids will get
dumped into state homes, thus costing the taxpayers significantly more
than the allowances that enable their families to care for them.
Not only cruel, but dumb as well.
But legislators are not dumb at all, only cruel, purposely cruel, for
the sake of all of us. Which is why we elect them to "balance the
budget," that is, to conduct a restaging of all the early cruelties
done to us, a warding off of the punishment we expect for our prosperity,
inflicting our early terrors upon society's scapegoats: helpless,
vulnerable children. Like war, the sacrifice of women and children
is promised to result in a magical "rebirth of national vitality" that
is well worth the difficult "labor pains" of passing the new welfare legislation.
ENDING FETAL AND CHILD ABUSE
Although these conclusions about the relative permanence of early trauma
and its inevitable restaging in war, social violence and economic injustice
admittedly appear to be discouraging, an awareness of the source of human
violence can actually be enormously hopeful. For if early traumas
rather than "aggressive human nature" are the cause of our violence, then
efforts to radically reduce these traumas can be reasonably expected to
reduce war and social domination. If, rather than continuing the
millennia-old historical cycle of traumatized adults inflicting their inner
terrors upon their children, we try kindness instead, effectively
helping mothers and children as a society rather than burdening, abandoning
or punishing them, we will soon be able to end our need to reenact our
traumatic memories on the social stage. Let me describe why I believe
this radical reduction of violence is possible in our society today.
The studies that I cited earlier on maternal rejection included solid
statistical evidence showing that when babies are unwanted by their mothers
and have birth complications they will, when they become teenagers, commit
four times the number of violent crimes as those who are wanted.
If this four-to-one ratio holds for most restagings of early trauma, then
reducing this trauma to just a small fraction of what it is today can be
expected to save almost 75 percent of the cost of social violence.
I estimate the yearly cost of American social violence, external and internal
sacrifices combined, to be over $1 trillion per annum, adding up the cost
of most of the military, the interest on the debt, which is all for recent
wars, most of the criminal justice system, the loss of life and property
in crime, and so on. The savings, then, would be 75 percent of $1
trillion, or $750 billion per annum. The only question is:
How is it possible to eliminate most early trauma and child abuse, and
what would it cost to do this?
The answer to this question is no longer merely theoretical.
A decade ago, a psychohistorian, Robert McFarland, M.D., reasoned that
if my psychogenic theory of history is right, he should be able to improve
both the health and the wealth of his community in Boulder, Colorado, by
reaching out to every new mother before her baby was born and help
her to welcome and then parent her child, a task society usually believes
does not require help from the community. Two issues of our Journal
of Psychohistory, entitled "Ending Child Abuse," and "Changing Childhood,"
were devoted to showing how effective parent outreach centers can be --
centers which have been replicated in several other states -- describing
such activities as facilities to new mothers, prenatal services, parenting
discussion groups, baby massage courses, single mother help, fathering
courses, puppet shows, lectures on how to discipline children without hitting,
psychotherapy referrals and home visiting during early years. All
these are provided on a shoestring budget, mainly with volunteer and paraprofessional
help, using local community resources. By providing this prenatal
and early childhood help, fetal and child abuse -- as measured by physical
and sexual abuse reports, hospital records of injuries, and followup studies
-- have been drastically reduced. No new mother or father wants
to reject or abuse their baby, the formula for baby battering being, "I
had my baby to give me the love I never got; but instead she cried and
sounded like my mother yelling at me, so I hit her." What McFarland and
others found was that providing new parents with help and hope allowed
their underlying affection to replace the abuse that comes from fear, abandonment,
The cost? Since McFarland stresses local community resources
and volunteer labor, very little. Even when he has expanded his parenting
centers to include day care facilities, he expects a local sales tax of
one-tenth of one percent to be sufficient to run the entire enterprise,
a very small "children's tax" that would represent the community's commitment
to invest in their children's future. A similar sales tax in every
community in the nation would produce .1 percent times $5 trillion in yearly
retail sales in America or $5 billion a year in tax revenues, about the
cost of two of the B2 bombers the military is building that they admit
are not needed.
The savings, then, 15 to 20 years from now, if we should decide to
save our children from early traumas, would be $750 billion per year saved,
less $5 billion invested annually, or $745 billion per year net savings,
far more than enough to end poverty forever in America. This does
not even begin to consider the additional trillions we currently spend
on drugs, gambling and other addictions that handle the pain of early traumas,
activities which are likely to wither away without their traumatic underpinnings.
INVESTING IN THE REAL WEALTH OF NATIONS
We regularly decide to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in technology
hoping for future benefits, under the notion that material investments
invariably produce prosperity. But Adam Smith was not radical enough
when he said the wealth of nations lay in its investment in technology.
The real wealth of nations is its children, since every scientific and
technological revolution has been preceded by a childrearing revolution.
Investing in the mental and physical health of children by preventing damage
to their brains from early traumatic experiences must accompany investments
in material technologies, or else any resulting prosperity will continue
to be destroyed in wars and social violence. Few people realize that
the cost of eliminating poverty entirely for all children in America is
only $39 billion, one-half of one percent of our gross domestic product,
or about the same amount as we waste financing the CIA. A healthful,
loving childhood without trauma isn't expensive; in fact it saves trillions
of dollars. And it's the most important goal of mankind.
In the past two prosperous decades, we have purposely brought about
through our social policies an increase in the percentage of children
living in spirit-crushing poverty in America by over one-third, from 15
percent to 22 percent, which will soon make life in America more violent
than it had been when we were much less prosperous. "We are underinvested
in our children," says Frederick Goodwin. "We spend seven times more
per capita on the elderly than we do on children. . . . we are wasting
a tremendous resource." The connections between early traumas and
neglect are everywhere, yet we continue to insist on policies that are
guaranteed to increase social violence and to undo the progress and prosperity
we work so hard to achieve.
It may seem simplistic to conclude that most of human destructiveness
is the restaging of early traumas and that what we must do if we wish to
put an end to war and social violence is teach adults how to stop abusing
and neglecting and begin respecting and enjoying their children, but I
believe this is precisely what our best scientific evidence shows.
Our task, then, is clear and our resources sufficient to make the
world safe for the first time in our long, violent history. All it
takes now is the will to begin.
This article is based upon primary source material fully referenced
in the 186 footnotes contained in the article when it originally appeared
in The Journal of Psychohistory, 23(4), pp. 344-392. It was given
as the keynote address at the 7th International Congress of the Association
for Pre- and Perinatal Psychology and Health in San Francisco, California,
on September 29, 1995. Interested readers can direct their inquiries to
the original article, and they can also find much substantiating information
on the psychohistory website www.psychohistory.com.
Additional pertinent information surrounding the ideas in this article
are to be found in the psychohistory section of this website, especially
the commentary article by Michael Adzema titled, "The
Scenery of Healing," and in the following seminal works of Lloyd deMause.
[Note: Click on book title
or its cover icon for more info on book or reference, including how to
deMause, Lloyd. (1982). Foundations
of Psychohistory. New York: Creative Roots.
deMause, Lloyd. (1988). On writing childhood history. The Journal
of Psychohistory, 16, 135-171.
deMause, Lloyd. (1991). The universality of incest. The Journal of
Psychohistory, 19, 123-164.
Other books by Lloyd deMause include:
History of Childhood (The Master Work)Reagan's
LLOYD DEMAUSE is Director of The Institute of Psychohistory, 140 Riverside
Drive, NY, NY 10024; Editor of The Journal of Psychohistory;
founding President of the International Psychohistorical Association; and
author of The
History of Childhood,
of Psychohistory, and Reagan's
America. He has established a 100-plus page Psychohistory
Website at www.psychohistory.com.
It has articles from his journal, his new book Childhood and History,
as he writes it chapter by chapter, and other material of scholarly interest.
He can be e-mailed at email@example.com
Related Article: Go to "Planetary
Survival and Consciousness Evolution: Psychological Roots of Human
Violence and Greed" by Stanislav Grof, M.D..
Related Article: Go to "The
Emerging Perinatal Unconscious: Consciousness Evolution or Apocalypse"
by Michael D. Adzema.
Related Book: Go to Apocalypse,
Or New Age? The Emerging Perinatal Unconscious by Michael
Go to "The
Scenery of Healing: Commentary on deMause's 'Restaging Prenatal and
Birth Traumas in War and Social Violence'"
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