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Reich’s Concept of Contact


My blog has focused lately on a delineation of armoring and the seven segments of armor. I will move on to another relevant concept, contact, contributed by Reich to the field of psychology and psychiatry. Elsworth Baker in Man in the Trap aptly describes contact: “Contact requires movement of energy above a certain minimal level plus excitation. Where the organism is free of blocks there is a free-flowing plasmatic movement which gives rise to sensations (organ sensations) and a three-dimensional perception of the body.”

What does this really mean in our daily life? When we feel in contact with another, there is an exchange of energy, feeling, body sensation and excitation. An interesting personal, psychological, political or philosophical conversation can engender an experience of contact. Our cognitions, feelings, and body sensations intertwine and we feel ‘alive’ in the interaction. It can be a simple discussion between two people about prosaic items, like plans for dinner, an event you are going to, or a project you are taking on together, and you enjoy the mutual contact and exchange.

Contact with Self is another aspect of contact. We can feel deep contact with self by observing or participating in a natural setting, listening or playing music, exercising, writing, cooking, or practicing other artistic pursuits. Whenever our body/mind is actively engaged and our senses are open, we can experience things with greater flow and excitement. This is referred to as being ‘in the zone’. This term connotes that it is a special state. It can be, as in athletic pursuits or other heightened endeavors. Yet daily life can be filled with equally contactful times of focus. If our armoring is, for the most part, dissolved: our eyes can see clearly, our mouth is relaxed, our voice is free, and we can breathe fully thus allowing energy to stream throughout our body. We can see everything with crystal clarity and have sufficient energy to create and interact well. Then there is a level of excitation that illuminates everything.

When we are fatigued, over-worked, ill, or depleted, our contact diminishes. This is normal as there are times that our energy runs low or we have drained it out without replenishing it. This is not the time for an important conversation as we will be out of contact with the other and less able to read signals, feelings, and sense what is going on. When we are working at something, we need to be aware of our energy and when it is best to embark on an endeavor. And if we want to create, we need to have an ample portion of energy.

Rest, sleep, relaxation, quiet solitary time, walking in nature, sometimes exercise, and pleasurable activities, are restorative. If we are in contact with ourselves, we can assess when and what is needed and take time before we are completely depleted and then out of contact.

We need to watch how we utilize our energy so we don’t waste it in empty pursuits thus diminishing our contact with Self and other. Sometimes we are lost in our cell phones, Facebook, TV, over-exercising, over-eating, compulsive activities, work etc. and our contact is unavailable for our Self, our children, friends, or partners. That, of course, affects the quality of our relationships, as we may feel spacey, distant, numb, preoccupied, grumpy, or reactive in our interactions.

Our life histories are unique and we need to understand the nuances of our life development. All of us need some fine-tuning no matter how we view our history. Some of us have had greater difficulties and we learned to cope through methods that drastically affected our ability to make contact. We armored characterologically, utilizing one of many styles to cope with life’s painful scenarios. Our self-perception became distorted leading to a multitude of problems. Our body might have become chronically taut and tense, or weak and undercharged so our life energy was immobilized and trapped in physical and psychic pain. We may have developed styles of self-centeredness, reactivity, withdrawal, paranoia, disconnectedness, competitiveness, or arrogance to name a few. We remained immature, never growing up and interacting realistically with life’s challenges.

Our personalities can become dysfunctional and we lose contact with the effect we have on others. We start arguments with close others as a way of making contact, discharging frustration irresponsibly or as a way to stimulate ourselves. We might withdraw from contact as a way of life yet, at the same time, acting out dependency by clinging to the relationship, but offering little. We don’t know how to listen deeply to another and feel with them. Or we dominate and control rather than make contact with the other. And our anxiety obliterates our ability to feel for others.

We can feel bored – a form of contactlessness. We are not engaged in life. We have lost energetic connection with the Self and its inherent vitality. At times we are bored or sleepy with others. That means there is a problem with contact from either side. If we are with someone that is superficially connected to themselves and we want more authenticity, we may feel frustrated. Or we may be distracted, self-engrossed, and not attentive to the situation. Then we don’t read the cues and are disengaged. Both people may lose interest in the conversation and come away feeling disappointed. Boredom comes from a lack of aliveness due to a lack of investment. We need to generate our own aliveness through commitment and we will no longer be bored.

Contactlessness exists in families and can be seen in dysfunctional, repetitive, patterns and chronic problems or symptoms that go unattended. Parents of any age, or young adult members may not see destructive situations clearly that reside in their family. They are out of contact, meaning that, if they don’t see individuals and situations lucidly, they cannot understand what is happening that is causing pain within the family system. This also pertains to adults with older parents. Any member of a family, through clarity of contact, can take responsibility for a family problem, assess appropriately, and respond accordingly. Many families with contactlessness have reoccurring, painful dynamics. If family members are in contact, they can see what is problematic and take action or seek professional help. When we are out of contact, we just continue with dysfunction and the family continues in decline. We can ignore what is right in front of our nose because we have gone out of contact with reality. Good contact is the ability to assess reality well – to face what is, as it is, without denial, avoidance, or fantasy. When we face things as they are, we can see what needs to be changed and take action no matter how difficult that might be.

So, our ability to make contact starts first with ourselves. Contact is the source of our experience of joy, aliveness, and right action. Secondly, our relationships depend on substantial capacity for awareness, sensitivity, and presentness. Be aware of how your contact is and do what is necessary to take responsibility for the relational results. Open your eyes to what you see. Feel it in your body too – experience the sensations of a crisp day or reach for your friend’s hand. See a problem before you and assess it with honesty. All of us have so much to offer: intelligence, goodness, love, warmth and inspiration – and we need to be present to all our exceptional qualities.

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