This post will begin my series on Reich’s Character Types. I will utilize additional input from Object Relations theory to amplify the content, particularly at the end of the series. Reich’s character type typology gives us a map of how developmental passages combine with nature and nurture to influence formation of our defensive structures and, over time, define our consistent way of being. This system of organizing character types is functional in that it does not pigeonhole people in a black and white way. Most people fit into a defined character type with some consistency, yet we are also all unique, therefore adding shading to an individual’s description. Reich’s character typology creates an elegant map that correlates with his schema of body armoring. This is a comprehensive and integrated approach to the mind/body: the character types organize the body structure and vice versa, affecting the entirety of the body, including the autonomic nervous system.
In classical analytic theory, it is understood that development is a complex interaction between our genetic, energetic template combined with early attachment progress, family dynamics, external situations (i.e. war, death, relocation, medical issues, etc.) and other influences that effect how our lives progress. Reich wove all these factors together and defined the inevitable fixations and resulting armoring as they occur during various developmental stages. This tapestry defines how and where the energy can get concentrated or blocked. Symptoms occur when there is blockage at various points of development.
Without making this explanation too confusing and academic, let’s just say that as we grow up, either we sail with some turbulence through our developmental passages with a fairly clear path to the development of the Self – or not. If the core feelings are relatively unimpeded, we grow up feeling alive and expressing freely, for the most part, and become our best Self without too many issues. Even in the best circumstances, there are challenges that need to be reckoned with and these are necessary for the maturation process. This is one scenario.
The other scenario is that our development is plagued with difficulties that steer us away from a capacity to develop our Self. We are diverted, taken off course due to addiction, inhibiting or uncontained family dynamics, cultural mandates and discrimination, etc. In this case, we learn maladaptive coping strategies in order to survive and reduce pain. Some defensive strategies do not stymie our development so we can become fairly functional, though we are left with plenty of baggage to cart away when we can become more conscious. Or our strategies for survival can be highly dysfunctional and we suffer greatly – and others around us suffer too.
These concepts will clarify as we begin to discuss Reich’s character types. You may recognize aspects of yourself in the discussion. Again, it is not to categorize you, but rather give you greater understanding, leading to self-awareness.
For our therapist-readers, these types can help you better understand your clients and know the best way to intervene. Interventions can be more effective when you know the character type and therefore the related, effective clinical strategy. So learning the types will greatly increase your skill level.
Discussion of the Genital Character Type
Let’s start with Reich’s description of a healthy person, which he labeled the Genital Character. Other theorists discuss health in relation to the individuated or developed Self. There is basic compatibility between multiple theorists on the qualities or capacities of health. I will list Reich’s delineation of health below.
The genital character type can sense, feel, and express sufficiently to be able to experience satisfaction in all areas of life. Because he is free to experience and actualize satisfaction, he does not build up body or character defensive armor. He is not regressed to earlier, immature modes of gratification and thus functions in a mature capacity. His aggression through assertion is available for mastery of work and love.
Energetically and biophysically the Genital character has available movement, fluidity, and flexibility in the body. There is suppleness in the musculature and a lack of physical symptoms and stasis. The natural free-flowing energy is not stopped by extreme tension, flaccidity, over or underdeveloped muscles, and chronic gripping, for example, in the neck, shoulders and back. Body weight is consistent with good health and well-being and not a preoccupation. The eyes are alive, open and contactful. The mouth is soft and capable of relaxing without tension in the jaw. The voice is strong and expressive without constriction. The circulation flows to the extremities so the person can maintain warmth. The belly is soft and pliable to allow ease of digestion and elimination. The pelvis is mobile and able to feel full sensations. The breath is open, full, and consistent.
Sexually, this character type can surrender to a loving mate without problems and has sufficient available energy and contact to experience sexual satisfaction. Integrity in relationships is maintained.
This character type is comfortable in her skin and responds naturally without self-consciousness or awkwardness, and is capable of spontaneity and good contact. Feelings are accessible across the entire spectrum – from deep sadness and grief to appropriate anger and hate. The range of experience is from pleasure to pain, all willingly felt and integrated.
As Elsworth Baker states in Man in the Trap: “Because his primary drives are fulfilled, he has a natural decency. He is unafraid of life, and therefore does not have to compromise with his convictions if his own are opposed. He knows what others want and can accept their needs.” (p 103) The genital character can be fully responsible in all areas of his life.
This healthy state allows for autonomy and closeness. There is both self-sufficiency and a capacity to be comfortably dependent on others.
There is a capacity to create, follow one’s bliss, and live one’s true meaning and purpose.
The genital character can regulate feelings without being overwhelmed with states of mind, emotions, or reactivity. There is an ability to contain difficult events and feelings without losing the Self.
From an Object Relations standpoint, with a developed Self, there is a felt sense of wholeness. Also, one sees others as whole so does not project idealization or badness unilaterally onto the other. There is an ability to maintain one’s self esteem and self-soothe when in difficulty. Having a developed Self provides a capacity to commit to one’s objectives in work, creative pursuits, relationships and family, as well as the capacity to persevere when challenged. The Self provides appropriate entitlement to responsibly get what one wants and needs, resulting in success and a pleasurable life.
So… the genital character, give or take our normal limitations, does quite well in the world and can achieve a relaxed, confident interface with the deep wisdom that engenders humility in the face of the grand adventure called life.