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Reich’s Map of Body Armor: Thoracic Segment

 

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.

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Reich’s Map of Body Armor: Cervical Segment

 

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”.

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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.

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Reich’s Map of Body Armor: Ocular Segment

 

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.

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Reich’s Concept of Armoring

 

Wilhelm Reich coined the term armoring as a reference to character and body armor. Initially trained as a psychoanalyst with Freud, Reich veered from standard theory and practice and over time conceptualized a very different paradigm. He practiced with an engaged style in the here and now, interacting with how patients presented in the office and toward him. 

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