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Reich’s Map of Body Armor: Oral Segment

 

I discussed the ocular segment in my last post and will now move on to the oral segment. This segment includes the mouth, jaw, throat, and back of the head. Presence of armoring in this segment can be quite apparent both in behaviors and physical symptoms.

In infancy, our first critical need is to obtain nourishment, which is met through our mouth with milk from mother’s breast or bottle. As we pass through the oral stage developmentally, we can experience degrees of satisfaction, frustration, or deprivation. This stage, with its emphasis on feeding, includes contactful nurturing; a warm, relaxed, and secure bodily and emotional context; and a resonant bond with the mother or caretakers that allows for abiding trust to establish and grow.

If we have a disrupted bonding experience, we can have two reactions: either we are forever seeking satisfaction or we are cut off from ever having any satisfaction.

If we are constantly seeking satisfaction because we chronically feel tension or an oral charge to release, we may find ourselves trying to relieve the tension or charge with over-eating, talking too much, smoking, buying things, drug addiction, alcoholism, or other behaviors focused on taking in constantly through the mouth to relieve anxiety. We need, want, crave, and gorge on experiences, food, material stuff, trying to secure supplies, and avoiding pain. If we are not taking in, we may feel highly anxious, tense, and restless, and crave satiation to relieve the building tension.

If we never experienced pleasure and satisfaction early in our lives, we may become a more ascetic type. We might tend to be “tight-lipped” and uninterested in oral gratification at all. We wouldn’t enjoy food that much and may tend to compensate for our feelings of deprivation by creating a disciplined life characterized by more abstinence. With a repressed ocular block, we may deny ourselves pleasure, feel contracted, be judgmental about pleasurable pursuits, and behave with rigidity. The tendency to be overly controlled and controlling goes along with this type.

The oral segment regulates our expression. The oral unsatisfied type might be over-talkative, attempt to manipulate through constant expression, can cling, and be demanding and devouring. The mouth is open a lot!

The oral repressed type is avoidant of communicating, sparse in conversation, can hold in feelings, and tighten down and distance in relationship. The mouth has a severe, flat expression.

Oral armoring can be seen in habitual expressions: sarcastic smiling, continuous smiling, or a contemptuous or smug grin. The chin may be collapsed or pushed forward. The throat can be pinched in a way that results in a whining sound or weak voice. There can be continuous coughing, swallowing, and fear of choking.

The entire facial presentation is effected by oral armor. The face can appear frozen if the mouth and voice are rigidified, or slack and saggy with a needy formlessness. As we develop early in life, our spontaneous expressions, communications, and feelings may be inhibited by our family/societal norms. Thus, we literally swallow down our feelings or distort our facial expression to conform to expectations. Our entire face may reflect both our inner pain and our distorted expressions.

I have delineated the extreme versions of this block. We can experience oral armoring to a lesser degree in our tight jaw, teeth grinding, and tension headaches emanating from our clenched jaw.

Many feelings are held in the oral segment: anger, sadness with a chronically downturned mouth, and fear that wants to scream out with an open mouth. When the mouth is armored, all feelings are stymied as their natural expression is blocked.

When this segment opens with therapy, it allows our mouth to be supple, expressive, and able to take in and experience satisfaction and pleasurable sensations. We express ourselves with an open mouth without a need to devour or control. Our mouth makes contact with all the expressions available and enables a spontaneous and regulated life.

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