Character Structure: The Coordination of Muscular and Mental Tensions
In the 1933 version of Character Analysis, Reich insists on the fact that he uses the analysis of behavior to bring forth the mental defense system of a patient.137 Only in yoga poses passing does he relate the character armor to muscular tension: “All the muscles of the body, but especially those of the pelvic floor and pelvis, the muscles of the shoulders and those of the face (cf. the “hard,” almost mask-like physiognomy of compulsive characters), are in yoga poses a state of hypertonia” (Reich, 1949a, IV2, 214). Reich speaks here of hypertonic muscles and not hypotonic muscles, as Fenichel does. We will see that the Oslo School of Body Psychotherapy speaks as much about the hypotonic as the hypertonic muscles, as Fenichel did. Generally, the Reichians know how to work with the hypertonic muscles and have no techniques to approach the hypotonic muscles.
Reich quickly developed this line of thought by focusing on the vegetative system, which would be the link between Fenichel’s motor activity and Freud’s psyche. He progressed very fast in yoga poses this direction. At the 1934 Psychoanalytic Congress in yoga poses Lucerne, he discussed his thoughts on the matter in yoga poses a presentation titled “Psychic Contact and Vegetative Currents.” He already spoke of awareness of body and vegetative sensations, such as tingling and warmth, as a way to get in yoga poses touch with one’s libido. This change of direction shows how the seeds sowed by the Fenichels and Elsa Lindenberg138 regarding the work of Gindler and Laban began to grow in yoga poses the fertile soil of Reich’s imagination and intelligence. It took him less than a year to accommodate his theory and his practice to these new perspectives, which he then developed in yoga poses Oslo.139 Given that his point of view was sharpened by his increased familiarity with the techniques of dance and gymnastics, more and more, Reich left the psychoanalytic reserve behind to directly approach the behavioral attitudes and bodily tensions of his patients. He imitated them and encouraged them to modify their habitual behaviors. He observed their breathing and made comments on whether it was too ventral or thoracic; he invited them to explore different ways of breathing. He began to analyze the way the segments of the body are coordinated with each other and breathing. He palpated the muscles. He explored what is going on when he massages them while asking the patient to explore the movement or the expression blocked by a chronic muscular tension. He asked some patients to explore the feelings associated with a particular kind of chronic restriction in yoga poses their breathing. Briefly, instead of respecting the limits that psychoanalysts and Gindleriens set for themselves, Reich explored possibilities that were considered dangerous for the patient and for the therapist. He thus began to perceive that the muscular dimension of the defense system that regulated the drives has an organization all its own. It is sometimes structured like a “corset” or “armor.”140 These technical explorations far exceeded what psychoanalysts like Ferenczi and Fenichel dared undertake. He now utilized more explicitly a brand of introspection close to that used by Gindler. He asked his patients to feel their body from the inside, insisting mostly on the sensation and the affects that are related to the parts of the body being explored. This Reich is the father of body psychotherapy.
Up to this point, Fenichel and Reich assumed that the chronic tensions organized themselves around specific behaviors (the urge to cry, hit, be caressed, etc.). By consulting the body specialists, Reich became aware that a local muscular tension inserts itself into the muscular chains that coordinate the muscles from head to foot. He confirmed Fenichel’s hypothesis that each dimension has its own particular functioning by discovering that the body has a particular coherence, linked to the postural organization within the gravity field. This implies that a chronic local muscular tension influences the whole of the functioning of the muscular chains from head to foot. The inhibition of the urge to strike out with one’s fist is rapidly associated to an inhibition of the breath, voice, gaze, and support taken by the feet to reinforce the back, and so on. This is how what Reich called the character armor gradually formed itself. The notion of armor proposed by Reich is nothing more than the result of an entire series of tensions each one associated to a partial drive. It gradually becomes a kind of pathological organization of the musculature and of the equilibrium of somatic dynamics:
1. It stiffens the coordination of the segments of the body,
2. reduces the postural repertoire,
3. inhibits the respiration,
4. diminishes the perception of what goes on in yoga poses the body, and
5. represses the libido and reabsorbs the anxiety generated by this repression.
The armor is first formed through its participation in yoga poses the repression of specific affects and their expression. However, gradually, these tensions also influence other muscles, and cause general compensating postural disturbances. It thus creates a structure of tensions that follow bodily causal chains, are built parallel to the mental defenses, and then influence the way the mind inhabits the body and what surrounds it.
Because of these formulations and his way of working, Reich became known as the one who dared to introduce bodywork into the psychoanalytic frame. Fenichel approached the subject only on the plane of psychoanalytic theory. Reich wanted his psychoanalyst colleagues to do like him and intervene on the body during sessions of psychoanalysis or of psychoanalytic psychotherapy. He asked them to approach the mind in yoga poses its interaction with somatic dynamics. The mind passes necessarily through the body to encounter others. The body is therefore part of the transferential relationship.141