Gastrointestinal Symptoms and Unprocessed Birth Memories

by John A. Speyrer

Psychiatrist Stanislav Grof believes that some psychosomatic diseases present with symptoms which clearly make it obvious that their origins are from the perinatal matrix. In this category he includes headaches, cardiovascular complaints, palpitations, muscular tensions, chest pain, etc. These are symptoms which many exhibit while under stress and it seems reasonable to conclude that as fetuses some of us endured strains and pressures to those organ systems during birth.

However, other symptoms which seemingly have no connection to birth, actually do have this connection. For example, in the cases of symptoms which are the result of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system innervation, origins may also be traced to birth and its various stages of delivery. Among these include "constipation or spastic diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, general irritability of the gastrointestinal system, excess sweating, hypersalivation or dryness of the mouth, and chills alternating with flashes, as examples." Grof, Beyond the Brain, 1985, p. 289.

This is in contrast to those more psychoanalytically inclined, who, for example, attribute stomach problems to being not able to "swallow" or "stomach" something. (ibid., p. 129)

Whether the later complaints, for example, express themselves through the stomach (stomach pain, nausea and vomiting, etc. ) or the colon (diarrhea, spastic colitis, etc.) the system which bears the brunt of symptomology, according to Grof is less a function of the birth process, and its origins seems to occur in traumas of later life, to wit: ". . . (M)emories of events linking digestion with anxiety, aggression, or sexuality." ( ibid., p. 291)

However, later in Psychology of the Future, 2000, Dr. Grof expresses with conviction his changed position that all psychosomatic symptomatology have their ultimate roots in pre- and peri-natal traumas. He believes that traumas after birth, in and of themselves, are not of sufficient import to explain emotional disorders. He calls these later explanations ". . .superficial and unconvincing." (pps. 127-8).

He contends that the primary driving force are thus, not traumas of the psyche, but rather actual "unintegrated physical traumas." According to Grof, childhood diseases in which there was a closeness to death such as in whopping cough, as well as early surgeries, injuries, accidents and near drownings are all important factors in organizing the tendency towards psychosomatic symptoms and diseases. Yet, there remains, Grof writes, an even deeper and more primary connection to the earlier traumas of birth. (ibid., p. 129)

My chief complaint of stomach and duodenal pains began in my twenties and from which I did not have relief until age 42, when I began having spontaneous regressions to my early traumas. The experiences had been loosened up by a combination of gestalt therapy and transactional analysis. When the regressions began, I informed my therapist and group members about what was happening, but was warned that such relivings of infancy and early childhood could be dangerous. At that time my birth primals had not yet begun. The warning had the effect of my discontinuing the therapy group.

I soon began shucking a number of bothersome psychosomatic symptoms. In just two months, my perennially congested sinuses became the first symptom to leave. Stomach pains became inconsequential after six months. I also discontinued valium about that time. After nine months had passed, I began reliving my birth traumas.

Colitis took about nine years to resolve, Hypertension after thirty-one years of birth regressions was finally no longer a symptom. As high blood pressure began to be resolved, so did high intraocular pressure! The later symptom had resulted in glaucoma. Fortunately, the vision deterioration has ceased, a grateful accompaniment with reduced eye pressure. Regrettably insomnia continues even today, or rather, tonight!

Before I began this primal route and when my stomach ailments were at the worse, the wrenching stomach and duodenal pain started within seconds after I opened my eyes from the night's sleep. The pain sometimes would continue until I fell asleep. On those nights when the pain was severe, paradoxically, I was able to sleep. When there was no or little stomach pain, sleep would always elude me.

Since the earliest times, physicians. poets and philosophers recognized that the gastrointestinal tract was affected by emotions. As children and as infants, many who later were to later suffer from such symptoms also had similar problems, especially colic. When I was a baby, the medication for colic which eliminated the symptoms related to the intestinal tract was also the one -- paregoric (tincture of opium), which tranquilized the baby's entire body. It is no longer a legal drug. Highly effective, it quietened all of the baby's symptoms, including those derived from recent birth traumas.

Ulcerative colitis and crohn's disease are both inflammatory and serious diseases of the large intestines. Some regression therapists have theorized that the tendency towards such ailments are laid down during the early intra-uterine phase of development.

Those who have studied the psychological aspects of gastrointestinal diseases have emphasized the symbiotic nature of lower intestinal tract diseases, as crohn's and ulcerative colitis, and those psychoanalytically inclined believe that it reveals deep attachments to mother. Extreme dependence, rigidity, egocentricity, extreme sensitivity, need of love are all typical of these patients and so recognized by most schools of psychosomatic thought. Others have theorized that quite early inutero developmental trauma may be the source of these gastrointestinal conditions.

Dr. Grof writes that,
". . . (i)t is not uncommon that, in situations of vital emergency, the individuals involved lose control over their bladders and bowels. This is a characteristic of the final stage of birth. . . . It can be illustrated by the clinical observation that, in old-fashioned deliveries where no enemas or catheterization were used, the mother frequently defecated and urinated at the moment of childbirth, and so did the infant. The neurotic loss of control over the bladder (enuresis) and the less frequent failure to control the bowels (encopresis) can be, in the last analysis, traced back to the reflex urination and defecation at birth. In subjects experiencing elements of (the third and fourth birth stages) . . . concern about sphincters and their control frequently occurs. Urination is fairly common when a subject in experiential psychotherapy approaches the moment of total surrender and letting go. . . . As with other disorders, later biographical events of a specific nature are necessary to change this potential, existing on the perinatal level, into an actual clinical problem. . . . However, this is only part of the story and, ultimately, the deep roots of these disorders can be seen in the reflex release of the sphincters during the termination of the pain, fear, and suffocation at birth and psychological reconnection with the post natal and prenatal condition in which there are no impositions on unconditional biological freedom." (Grof, Beyond the Brain, p. 293)

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