Ask Dr. Phil: Angie

Circumcision Question
Dr. Phil talks to a mother who has felt extreme guilt ever since circumcizing her baby boy.

"My job as a mother is to protect my son from harm," explains Angie. "I feel that I've let someone deliberately harm him for no reason at all ... Before he had the circumcision, he was a different baby than he was afterwards. I feel that by allowing the circumcision, I changed some of the wiring in his brain [that will] affect his sexual performance or his sexual life later down the line. I'm feeling tremendous guilt because I picture the doctor taking him away and strapping him down ... My husband would argue that I was being ridiculous and that it's something that millions and millions of people do. I really hope that Dr. Phil can help me to cope with this so that I don't waste 18 years of my life fretting."

"I don't think he was a changed baby," says Angie's husband Larry. "I did not see that. I had no idea this was going to be a big deal to her. This happened two years ago. Get over it."
"So you believe that your son, who's now 2 and had this circumcision, resents you for it?" Dr. Phil asks Angie.

"I believe that by the time he has children, circumcision will not be a routine procedure anymore," explains Angie. "Because they're proving more and more now that it's not medically necessary, that as long as you're cleaned properly, it's not causing the problems that it had in the past. I think he may resent me for not standing up for him and that he may be different from his son, if he has a son."

"There's no anesthetic," Angie continues. "It's a part [of the body] that I didn't put there, God put that there. And it's functional. It's healthy. Why should I do it?"
"Do you think you had a bad motive here?" asks Dr. Phil. "You see, to me, blame and guilt go together. And both of those imply negative intention " that you've done something that you've intended to be hurtful and painful. Whether it was the right thing to do or not, blame and guilt imply that you did this on purpose and you had a bad intent. Is that true?"

"No, that's not true at all," answers Angie.

"So what are you upset about?" asks Dr. Phil. "That you caved in?"

"I just keep reliving it in my head," says Angie. "Seeing him strapped down, seeing the doctor, and seeing him jerk in pain. It's just the pain I can't get over. I let someone inflict pain on my son when I didn't have to do that."
"Do you understand that there are millions and millions of children who have been circumcised who don't hate their mothers?" asks Dr. Phil. "I know [about] all the stuff you've been reading. In fact, I was doing some research on it myself, and one of the authors says, "An infant does retain significant memory traces of traumatic events. When a child is subjected to intolerable, overwhelming pain, it conceptualizes the mother as both participatory and responsible, regardless of her intent."

"What a load of crap!" Dr. Phil exclaims. "One-day-old children do not encode pain messages from short to long-term memory. One-year-old children do not make attributions concerning pain."

Dr. Phil continues, "The kid was 1 day old. He was pre-verbal. If you're pre-verbal, you don't make those kinds of attributions ... If they did, then wouldn't they be upset about going through the birth canal? You think that's an easy trip?'"
"You know what, you're making a problem where one doesn't exist," Dr. Phil tells Angie.

"How about when he's 15 and he says something like, 'Why did you do this to me?'" asks Angie.

"You say, 'Because it was a custom and a practice at the time'" answers Dr. Phil. "The American Academy of Pediatrics says there's really no indication for it medically, but there also is no risk or downside, such that you certainly should respect family practice, cultural practice, or religious practice. You need to let yourself off the hook here."