The Perinatal Matrices according to Grof

by | Apr 23, 2022 | Article, Holotropic Breathing | 0 comments

In this article, I would like to introduce the perinatal matrices according to Grof. Just as in CranioSacral Therapy, certain repressed traumas come to the surface when applying the Holotropic Breathwork technique, with birth trauma being the most common phenomenon. The founder of holotropic therapy, Stanislav Grof, determined four distinctive phases with their characteristic manifestation patterns.

The knowledge of the individual manifestation of each perinatal matrix can help us in therapy to better determine the quality of the trauma and the deriving imprints from that. Since every unfinished or negatively valued life process binds potentials and energy, therapeutic reappraisal is of great importance when supporting the individualization process of the human being.

In my series of articles to which this contribution belongs, I holistically address the topic of trauma treatment through consciously induced alternative states of consciousness, comparing CranioSacral Therapy with Holotropic Breathwork. In this context, the Perinatal Matrices are of significant importance because they emerge where one goes below the surface into the depths of the unconscious.

The Perinatal Matrices

The Freudian view

In traditional psychiatry, the psyche mapping is limited to postnatal events. Sigmund Freud said that the newborn is a tabula rasa, a blank slate. There is nothing of interest to the therapist that was before birth, including birth itself. Strangely, the birth itself is not considered a psychological trauma in contemporary psychiatry. Yet the immediately following experiences during breastfeeding are considered profoundly influential—for the rest of our lives.

Thus, we are asked to believe that the experience of childbirth is of no value to the psyche, although it may proceed and be experienced as a potentially life-threatening and highly challenging situation.

The birth in the gynecological sense

Birth in the gynecological sense can last for different lengths of 45 minutes, 2, 15, 40 hours, or even three days. In the most dramatic case, the child may even die in the birth canal and must be resuscitated. The fact that the child does not notice anything strange is the current state of psychology. There should be no record of it in the memory.

After the birth, the child is put in the female breast immediately or later, depending on the doctor’s decision. This situation can be either satisfactory or unsatisfactory, given that this early educational experience can profoundly impact lives.

Undeniably, the period immediately after birth, the increasingly applied “skin on skin bonding,” and the further breastfeeding period play an important role, but the experience of birth itself has so far played at best a secondary role, and therefore I plead that emphasis in therapy should not be placed only on this postnatal period.

Birth according to Stanislav Grof

Through my own experiences and reexperiencing different stages of birth, I have come to understand Stanislav Grof’s model more and more and realize why, based on his observations, he expanded the classical cartography of the human psyche to include this “perinatal imprint.”

We carry the memories of the experiences after birth and the individual Freudian unconscious and the powerful imprint of the prenatal, perinatal, and postnatal processes. That is the process before, during, and around birth.

Birth in itself may represent a biological process that has not been completed, but may also be the primary traumatic experience of the human being in his life in general.


Stanislav Grof

The matrices of birth

Transformative processes

The transformative processes, growth, expansion, and healing processes to come to a new level of experience and reach new dimensions can also be associated with unpleasant, sorrowful, and painful feelings—just as a fetus can experience. Normally it has enough space in the mother’s belly, floats weightlessly in the amniotic fluid, and is nourished, and consequently, it grows and becomes bigger and bigger. At some point, it is so big that it is restricted in further growth. Then it becomes increasingly uncomfortable.

A dichotomy arises between the security of the abdomen versus the confinement of the uterus and the pressure of suffering. To follow the further natural process of growth and expansion, something has to change. We do this transformation cycle throughout life, over and over again. If we don’t get stuck, we keep moving forward. Whereas with Grof, “getting stuck” is also part of the cycle. He described this birth cycle and everything connected as a process with four distinct phases and divided them into the so-called perinatal matrices.

Birth as trauma

The significance of such experiences far exceeds that of ordinary psychological traumas. The emotions and bodily sensations resulting from situations in which the survival or integrity of the organism was threatened seem to play an important role in the development of various psychopathological forms, a fact that has not yet been recognized by academic science.

Regression from birth processes

When people experience regression from the birth process, they experience it in certain clusters of experience. Experience clusters are interrelated experiences of different experiences of the same quality. Moreover, the different phases are not all of the same quality.

The birth phase, which may not have been naturally planned or predetermined, as Upledger also observed, can leave a much more intense imprint on our psyche than the one that happened “organically.”

After multiple observations of thousands of “rebirths,” it was found that each of these clusters is characterized by specific emotions and specific psychosomatic experiences. Each of these phases has its characteristic symbolic language that escapes from the collective unconscious, according to Grof. You could compare it to symptom language.

Thus, this broadly means that certain patterns that shape us are related to birth and are present in all of us, more or less the same experiential qualities and psychodynamic control systems of the psyche in later life, which emerge cyclically and in different life situations.

Continuation of the matrices

Summary

I hope, with this introduction, I could make clear that the birth process can represent a trauma that can determine or influence the whole life of a person. In holistic therapy, we have several potent tools at our disposal to emotionally devalue these experiences and thereby neutralize the psychological consequences.

This intention can be a long-term and agonizing undertaking in classical psychotherapy, but with CranioSacral Therapy and Holotropic Breathwork in combination, the process can be accelerated tremendously. Also, my experience shows that homeopathy can gently assist here.

The perinatal matrices at a glance

Thematic questions

Continue with 1st perinatal Matrix >

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