A part of my work as a psychotherapist involves helping people move into old
painful memories. Using techniques like breathwork or emdr people are moved
into the old pain and thereby have the opportunity to re-experience the
painful memories and events and be relieved of the old trauma. (Many men
prefer this sort of therapy over traditional talk therapy because they don't
have to "sit and talk about it" to get to the raw emotion. Actually,
painful events that occur prior to the acquisition of language can't be
retreived through "words" in therapy...you can talk till you are blue in the
face and you will never get there....)
When I started doing this type of work a number of years ago I noticed that
the painful memories were often clustered...as someone re-experienced one
old trauma they would often spontaneously experience others that were
related in some way. I began to see that one of the experiences that was
not uncommon for men to "re-experience" within a cluster of old trauma was
the pain and trauma related to being circumcised. When I first noticed this
I was amazed and shocked...I hadn't thought of the experience of
circumcision as being anything but a routine medical procedure. The men who
re-lived things were usually just as startled. They were usually expecting
other issues to surface and were surprised to see circumcision as one of
them. We were both shocked at the intensity of the related pain. I started
looking into the medical aspects and was completely blown away to find that
doctors didn't use any anesthetic...the assumption being that babies don't
feel pain. Now there is a mind blower!
I checked with other therapists doing this sort of work and folks who had
written about this and found that it was not an uncommon experience.
I am convinced that the practice of circumcision can create trauma in boys.
I can't imagine anyone allowing little girls to be cut in their genital area
shortly after birth. You would see an avalanche of protest! These boys
get through the gauntlet of the birth canal only to find one of their very
first experiences with other humans is being cut in one of their most
sensitive parts. Not a good start. To me routine circumcision seems
senseless. If someone has religious reasons that's their call....but
routine procedures...hell no. Why create more pain??
As usual the nurses are on the forefront of change...here is an excerpt from
a document where nurses were "conscientious-objectors" refusing to
participate in circumcisions.
"Our medical position was that neonatal circumcision was unjustifiable. Our
ethical position was that it violated a newborn's right to a whole, intact
body. As patient advocates and nurse-educators working in maternal-child
health, we believed that we had a professional duty to dispel myths and
offer parents factual information about circumcision, and that we had a duty
not to participate in a procedure that surgically altered the normal
genitalia of unconsenting minors."
Thank you nurses for taking a stand for boys!
You can read the entire document here:
more info here:
None of us who have been circumcised can remember that on a conscious level, so why attempt to
dredge it up? Of what use is that?
Good question. I am certainly not recommending you dredge it up. What I
was trying to say is that it was one of the memories that surfaced for some
men when they were re-experiencing other very powerful trauma.
Why bring it up?
Short answer...only if you have to.
Long answer...Well, old trauma tends to reside in our unconscious memory.
Usually it lays dormant and has little impact on our daily consciousness.
Most people have adequate defenses to contain it easily or don't have enough
old trauma to become bothersome. Trauma seems to accumulate...the more old
painful memories we have that are not dealt with the bigger our cesspool of
unfinished trauma...and the more defenses we need to contain it.... So with
good defenses and only a bit of unfinished trauma most of us will never have
to deal with the kinds of dreadful symptoms of the men we mentioned.
However a number of variables can wake the dragon....things like the
occurrence of a similar trauma, the additive effect of multiple trauma, or
the crumbling of our usual psychological defenses. If any of these (or many
other possibilities) happens then the trauma can be brought into
consciousness and completely disrupt ones daily functioning. An easy rule
to gauge this disruption is related to a persons ability to live in the
"here and now." Can the person experience life in the present moment? Can
they work and love? If they can then all is fine...but with the eruptions
we are talking about here there is so much chaos that the person can't
function....disabling anxiety, panic, continual and unrelenting images of a
trauma, sleeplessness, suicidal urges and other unwelcome crap. Often these
symptoms are related to the original trauma. An example might be a man who
saw his wife murdered and has repetitive memories of the event. In some
ways it seems the psyche is making an attempt to re-experience things..the
images keep coming to his mind...but he fights it for all he is worth and
runs! Most of us would run like hell! The simplest way to describe this is
that the therapy is geared to not run from this stuff but to sit in it for a
while. By facing it squarely and allowing ourselves to not run but
experience it at its fullest we begin to de-sensitize ourselves to the
troubling material. This is the hard part. It takes a great deal of
courage to stand next to this sort of powerful material. Therapists have
found that by standing in the tension the symptoms begin to recede. I don't
think anyone is absolutely certain about the mechanisms that are at work
here...but it is apparent that it helps to relieve the symptoms by
Hope that long winded response answers your question. I have included a
Nootka story that is related to this discussion. Hope you like it.
You are walking by the ocean. As you walk you notice the cliff behind you,
the trees and rocks jutting out from the side of the cliff. The trees are
twisted and gnarled as if they were attempting to escape the ground in which
they grow. That, in fact, is what they are doing, for they have seen
Sisiutl. Sisiutl is the monster from the sea, a hideous-looking creature
with two heads. When anyone sees Sisiutl there is only one response: total
fear. The urge to run is uncontrollable, it is blinding, the only thing one
can think of is to run as fast and far as possible, and not to look back.
This is the way it is when one sees Sisiutl.
Suddenly, out in the ocean, you see Sisiutl. Your entire body reacts
automatically and wants to run, but you stand firm. You know if you run you
will never stop running, you will be like the twisted trees on the cliff
attempting to leave the ground in which you stand, so you stand firm.
Sisiutl comes in closer, you can see his two heads waving above the surface
of the ocean. Now he is close enough for you to smell his foul stench and
you utter prayers of protection as he moves in. With one more wave he will
be upon you. He lets out a screeching sound, both heads approaching you from
either side. It's too late to run; fear washes over you. Just as the heads
are inches away from your own head, they stop. Both of Sisiutl's heads stare
into the other's eyes. He stops and stares.
Sisiutl searches far and wide for anyone who will stand firm so he can
glimpse his other side. When his other side is seen, truth is given to the
one who stands firm in that tension. Whenever you stand firm like this, you
will be visited by the vision people, and they will show you truth.