Reich’s Concept of Armoring

 

Wilhelm Reich coined the term armoring as a reference to character and body armor. Initially trained as a psychoanalyst with Freud, Reich veered from standard theory and practice and over time conceptualized a very different paradigm. He practiced with an engaged style in the here and now, interacting with how patients presented in the office and toward him. 

Reich created the term character armor. He meant that we all have coping patterns – stylistic character defenses that we develop throughout our life, usually starting before we can think or talk. We scope out our life situation with parents, caregivers, and early schooling, and figure out the best way to adapt. Depending on how our life unfolds, our defensive structure either becomes more adaptive or becomes problematic. Reich called our habitual demeanor, stance and attitude character armor. Our dominant, submissive, pleasing, withdrawn, petulant, stubborn styles, for example, become a uniform we wear in relationships – our suit of armor.

As Reich’s work progressed scientifically, his focus turned to the body and the way it mirrors the character in all systems. He found that our bodies embody the template of our personalities and conform to those dictates. Reich discovered the basic pulsation in the universe and that healthy organisms and organs have natural expansion and contraction. That life energy pulsates. When we are armored, our pulsation is interrupted and the movement restricted; the energy flow throughout our body is impeded. We may experience this as a lack of sensation, aliveness, a stiffness or tension. Armor can develop into painful sensation if places in our body have chronic holding or are under-charged. So our physicality speaks as well as our voice. Our armoring reduces our creative capacity, our natural expression of our unique Self.

If we allow expansion, we naturally experience new ideas and interests that we have energy to pursue. As we reinstate our natural pulsation by interrupting our character and dissolving our body armor, we naturally and spontaneously embrace life in the way suited to us. When we are imprisoned in unconscious ways of being, we lose flexibility necessary for healthy adaptation.

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