This post continues our discussion of Wilhelm Reich’s schema of character types. As I stated in the last post, I will add further types from Object Relations Theory to complete the typology at the end of this series. I will present Reich’s types initially as he delineated them to give you a clear sense of his system and how he evolves the types out of the psycho-sexual developmental stages. I will eliminate some of the extensive elaboration and specificity within his typology so my readers don’t bog down. This post will include historic contextual markers relevant to Reich’s theoretical evolution and the development of this specific character type.
We have arrived, in our delineation of the segments of armor, at the final, seventh segment: the pelvis. Once the other six segments have been opened, releasing the pelvic segment will allow us to experience a complete flow of energy and circulation from the top of our head through to our feet. Energy can circulate and be released through work, pleasurable activities, exercise, and sexual expression. The pelvis should be flexible, mobile, and move with ease so that it can allow energetic movement rather than become a block to expression. This openness from head to toe creates a sense of well-being, health, ease of movement, and relaxation. Relational intimacy also increases as our expressions flow more freely and we can make good contact with others.
Reich delineated seven segments of armor. As a review of my prior posts, we have covered the ocular, oral, cervical, thoracic and diaphragmatic segments. The remaining two are the abdominal and pelvic segments. At a point in the therapeutic process when all these segments have been sufficiently opened, the energy can be released effectively throughout the body, and particularly in the lower half. Reich called this energy economy in that energy is created and released efficiently. This supports a healthy mind/body because tensions and stasis that build up are released regularly through the open channels of all the segments. With the opening of the final, pelvic segment, sexual contact becomes more gratifying, with full surrender and release of the body’s excess energy. This allows for expansion, deep relaxation, and complete pulsation within the autonomic nervous system (ANS).
As we travel down the body designating the bands of armor, we have passed the thoracic segment (see my last post) and are now at the diaphragmatic, or fifth segment. This band of muscles separates the upper body from the lower half. It is the gateway to the pelvis. It affects the openness of our breath. If this band is tight, our breath is stopped from easily moving into our abdominal cavity. Even if our chest is mobile, we can still have immobility in the diaphragm.
According to Reich, our most important segment is the thoracic as it contains our vital organs: the heart and lungs. When we are tense, anxious, angry, or depressed we can feel those emotions in our chest. When we are tense, we may experience our chest as if it were in a vise grip or a knot. Our anxiety may be reflected in rapid, shallow, breathless breathing. If we are angry, our breath speeds up – our muscles tighten. We may want to release our anger either with vocalizations or through hand and arm gestures. Our muscle contractions may result in chronically taut back muscles that reflect a stance of “holding back” – a rigid, detached stance that can manifest as persistent back pain. If we are depressed, we may feel a heavy weight on our chest pressing us down. Our energy level lowers with shallow breathing and we feel more lethargic and down.
Have you noticed at times that your throat feels tight and squeezed? This is likely because you have a block, or armoring, in the third segment, also known as the cervical segment. This segment includes the tongue and all neck muscles.
We can also experience armoring in this segment as tension or rigidity in our neck. When we hold back feelings and expressions, we can experience a lump in our throat; a lump of pain as we swallow down crying, sobbing or anger. Sometimes our neck can feel stiff, reflecting stubbornness in attitude. We hold our neck rigidly as a way of saying “I won’t give in” or “You won’t get to me”.
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.
In my last blog post, I discussed the general concept of somatic armoring including character armoring. I will hone in now on Reich’s map of the body and what he called the segments of armoring. There are seven segments delineated and I will cover them over a series of posts.
As Reich defined various character types, he also outlined how these various defensive styles manifest as blockages in the body. His schema of blockages started with the eyes and head, and ended at the pelvis, correlating the segments with how energy circulates from top down.