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Reich’s Character Types: Phallic Character Types & the Manic Depressive Character

This post continues our discussion of Phallic Character types. In our last post, we described the Chronic Depressive Character , a phallic type distinguished by repression in the oral segment. The Manic Depressive also has an oral block, but it is the unsatisfied type. Please refer to my post on the oral segment as it discusses the oral repressed and unsatisfied types that color all the major characters.

Remember, Reich defines the character by personality style, as well as biophysical correlates that describe the body type and accompanying energetic system (see post Reich’s Map of Body Armor). The body armor, or patterns of biophysical distortion and holding, define, through patterns of contraction and expansion, one’s energetic / physical / mental / emotional experiences. For example, if we hold chronic tension/stress in our digestive tract, we experience blockage (armoring) that impacts our mood, our energetic capacities, our subjective experience of ease, and our attitudes about self and life. Also, chronic patterns of armoring can lead to physical symptoms that impact us in a myriad of ways.

The Manic Depressive Character type is referenced typically as Bipolar Disorder. This is an over-diagnosed label and parlance these days. I notice that many people are referred to as ‘bipolar’ in every day conversation. Of course, there are legitimate diagnoses in DSM-5 for vegetative Bipolar Disorders requiring medications to achieve basic social functioning. I would suggest that the Manic Depressive Character Type be the focus rather than the symptom picture, as that would change the conventional treatment approach. It would encourage less pharmacological interventions and a more therapy-oriented approach, when suitable. What I am discussing is a character type that embodies features of volatility, psychological instability, and impulsivity with repetitive mood swings from inflated, elated moods to depression. The description goes beyond defining mental problems solely from a symptom approach, i.e. a mood disorder, and encompasses a broader palette for understanding the individual and their problems. As discussed, a character type develops out of repetitive, stylistic, behavioral, attitudinal approaches to life; a method of survival and defense founded on nature and nurture aspects.

As I mentioned, the Manic Depressive has reached the phallic phase with an unsatisfied type oral block that leads to oral unsatisfied traits. The Manic Depressive is more unstable and less integrated than the Chronic Depressive. When the block yields, a manic phase ensues. Thus, manic traits are unleashed making her demanding, impatient, and erratic. She tries to fill up her oral craving as that desire is unavailable when she is depressed and the oral block is in a contracted phase. So she is ‘free’, with a heightened feeling of energy. She may overeat and drink, be talkative to the extreme, go on buying binges, smoke, do drugs – all leading to an accelerated level of activity as she tries to gain satisfaction. She is not used to the energy and she becomes disorganized quickly. Due to this restless quest, she is excitable and can be loud, displaying exaggerated self-confidence. It is difficult to be rational and focused under these circumstances. Therefore, she exhibits poor judgment and faulty decision-making. Due to her unrealistic inflation, she can become dogmatic and rigid in her views and push head-long into situations with disastrous consequences.

Another contributing factor to the Manic Depressive’s poor judgment is their accompanying eye block. This type suffers from contactlessness in the eyes that leads to lack of clarity. The eyes go out of focus particularly in the manic phase and thus, perceptions are distorted. During those times, it is hard to reach someone in a manic phase as they are all-knowing, intense, and enough out of contact to ignore input.

Then, inevitably, the high ride is over and the oral block contracts. This is because expansion and contraction or pulsation is the nature of all things. Everything in the universe expands and contracts and so do we – our cells, our organs, our nervous system, energy levels, etc. When the oral block contracts, the Manic Depressive falls into a depression with the attendant discouragement and hopelessness. Their body and mind slow down and inactivity takes over.

There are variations in how extreme the swings are. Some individuals have subtler shifts between mania and depression; others fluctuate wildly from one to the other. Some tend to be more depressed, others more manic as their steady state. As individuals age, these phases can be more entrenched and the repercussions more debilitating.

Therapy for Manic Depressives focuses on containment. This individual must understand his intrinsic dynamics so he can see his swings, make adjustments, and not identify with them. The manic fluctuation needs to be recognized and contained so that the issues and feelings underneath can be explored. When in the depressive phase, energy can be mobilized by breath and movement. The individual can learn to get needs met in a productive way. Healthy habits have to be learned and sustained as the character is unraveled in treatment. Then this individual can become stable and in control of his moods. The oral segment is opened up so that the block is diminished and the person can experience healthy pulsation and pleasure without volatility and craving. The eyes are worked on to increase contact and clear perception. As the individual settles down in therapy, distortions can be ironed out and the person develops a stable self, with appropriate creative expression and satisfaction in relationships.

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