Stanislav Grof's Perinatal Matrixes of the Unconscious
and Women's Medicine
Dr. Nelson Soucasaux, Brazilian gynecologist
Among the several kinds of archetypes related to the female genitals,
the modern concept of perinatal matrixes of the unconscious acquires fundamental
importance. Stanislav Grof, one of the most important psychical researchers
of our times, identified in the unconscious of men and women a very typical
group of experiential patterns which he named "perinatal matrixes."*
These psychical contents are related to the phases of childbirth and other
archetypal subjects, as well as to transpersonal aspects of existence. They
would be a kind of "memories" linked to the final moments
of intrauterine life and the passage through the birth canal, and seem
to be not only personal but also part of the collective unconscious.
The process of birth of the human being is deeply traumatic, not
only for the mother but also for the child, since in it both inflict
great physical suffering upon each other. Concerning these perinatal matrixes
of the unconscious, Grof observes that, even if the total spectrum of the
experience that occur at this level cannot be reduced to a revival of biological
birth, the birth trauma seems to represent an important core of the
process.* Anyway, what matters the most here is that these psychical
contents are clearly associated to some of the first human experiences related
to the female genitals the place where all of us, men and women, were
conceived and generated.
The possibility that some negative uterine archetypes may originate
in these perinatal matrixes described by Grof also acquires special relevance
in women's medicine. Nevertheless, considering that this subject concerns
mostly modern psychical research, the study of the perinatal matrixes
of the unconscious by far transcends the boundaries of gynecology and obstetrics.
Here, only the topics directly related to women's medicine will be briefly
According to Grof, the perinatal matrixes of the unconscious exhibit
a clear correspondence to the clinical stages of parturition.* So, let us
speak a little on some of these correlations.
The first stage of parturition corresponds to the period in which, under
the effect of the uterine contractions, cervical dilation takes place. Nevertheless,
when the dilation of the uterine cervix does not complete, not allowing
the propulsion of the child and actual birth, the effect of the strong
myometrial contractions in a still "closed" uterus may give rise
to feelings like a "suffering without resolution," a severe
"imprisonment in pain." As to the perinatal matrix related to
this phase of childbirth, Grof observes that, symbolically, it comprehends
a feeling of "no way-out or hell."* This experiential
pattern concerns not only the child but also the mother.
The second stage of parturition begins when the uterine cervix is completely
dilated and, consequently, the uterine contractions cause the propulsion
of the child through the birth canal. In this phase, voluntary contractions
of the woman's abdominal muscles add to the uterine ones. The "no
way-out" stage finishes and the one of the "titanic fight"
starts (Grof).* At the same time, as the child goes through the narrow pelvic
canal under the strength of the powerful uterine contractions, his/her
passage traumatizes the mother's tissues, which are violently stretched
and squeezed against the lower part of the pelvic bones.
The third stage of parturition corresponds to the actual childbirth.
At this moment and at the expense of enormous distention and dilation of
the perineal muscles and the vaginal entrance, the child is finally expelled
from the maternal body.
Grof observes that the perinatal matrix corresponding to the second
stage of childbirth comprehends experiential patterns typical of a "death-rebirth
struggle" and may also include sadomasochist components. About the
latter, he comments that they reflect a combination of the aggression imposed
upon the child by the female genitals and his/her responsive biological
rage regarding suffocation, pain and anxiety.* As already said, throughout
the final stages of parturition mother and child inflict on each other intense
suffering. The mutual violence and pain reaches its peak along the second
and third stages of labour, but normally all of this is followed by a great
relief and relaxation as soon as childbirth is finished.
Grof also mentions the existence of a sexual component in the perinatal
matrix corresponding to the propulsion of the child through the birth canal.*
If this is true, this matrix may contain elements typical of sexual violence
by including a combination of fear, struggle, aggression, trauma, pain and
sadomasochist feelings. It is also pertinent here to mention Masters and
Johnson's observation that, during the second stage of parturition, some
women report sensations roughly similar to those of the initial phase of
The fact that childbirth takes place in traumatic and bloody circumstances
may also give rise to negative associations between the female genitals
and blood. In this way, here we have one more element that can contribute
to the elaboration of the negative menstrual myths and other pathological
ways of experiencing menstruation.
This subject of the perinatal matrixes of the unconscious and its relationship
with the traumatic aspects of parturition lead us once again to the extremely
complex problems of pregnancy. In my book "Novas Perspectivas em Ginecologia"
("New Perspectives in Gynecology"), the emphasis I made on the
"aggressive" and traumatic aspects of pregnancy and parturition
for women annoyed many people who are still conditioned to the naive romantic
view of motherhood unfortunately, an ancient and deep-rooted view
still present in our culture.
In my aforementioned book, I pointed out the great sacrifices imposed
by gestation and childbirth on the female body by causing in it not only
enormous physiological overload but also intense distortions and stretching
of tissues that not always return entirely to normal during and after puerperium.
Some of the several sequelae often left in the woman's body by pregnancy
and parturition were duly emphasized by me. Therefore, my analysis was made
focusing my attention on women. Now, based on Grof's work we can see how
much specifically parturition is also traumatic for the child.
Pregnancy and parturition are physiological events with frequent pathological
consequences. During pregnancy, the processes resulting from the embryonic
development cause a series of "physiological aggressions" in the
woman's body. At the moment of parturition, the "aggressions"
between mother and child become reciprocal. Although the uterine contractions
are not under voluntary control, I have already observed that the very potent
myometrial contractions of labour can be regarded as the way through which
women, after nine months of passive submission to the evolution of pregnancy,
"actively" participate in childbirth, putting an end to the long
and strenuous period of gestation. However, besides traumatizing even more
the mother, the entire process of parturition also traumatizes the child.
In this way, we can see that the "physiological/pathological"
processes of gestation and childbirth are always very, very problematic.
For more details on the problems of pregnancy for women, as well as those
regarding the possibility of becoming pregnant, see my article "The
Possibility of Becoming Pregnant, its Implications for Women and Abortion,"
published here at the MUM.
* Grof, Stanislav: "Beyond the Brain: Birth, Death and Transcendence
in Psychotherapy." State University of New York, Albany, 1985.
** Masters, William; Johnson, Virginia: "Human Sexual Response."
Little, Brown and Company, Boston, 1966.
The text above is an adapted excerpt from my book "Os Órgãos
Sexuais Femininos: Forma, Função, Símbolo e Arquétipo"
("The Female Sexual Organs: Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype"),
published by Imago Editora, Rio de Janeiro, 1993. For more information
on the book, see page http://www.nelsonginecologia.med.br/orgaos.htm
, from my web site www.nelsonginecologia.med.br
Copyright Nelson Soucasaux 1993, 2005
Nelson Soucasaux is a gynecologist dedicated to clinical, preventive
and psychosomatic gynecology. Graduated in 1974 by Faculdade de Medicina
da Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, he is the author of several
articles published in medical journals and of the books "Novas Perspectivas
em Ginecologia" ("New Perspectives in Gynecology")
and "Os Órgãos Sexuais Femininos: Forma, Função,
Símbolo e Arquétipo" ("The Female Sexual Organs:
Shape, Function, Symbol and Archetype"), published by Imago Editora,
Rio de Janeiro, 1990, 1993. He has been working in his private clinic since