Friday, May 22, 2009

Wilhelm Reich - Armoring

A man and a woman performing a modern dance.Image via Wikipedia
Wilhelm Reich was a student of Freud's who believed that the body plays an important role in an individual's expression. Crucial to his understanding of psychology is the concept of Armoring which is basically the physical component of repression as understood by Freud.

Armoring occurs when an impulse is halted at the muscular level. For example, it is natural for a child to cry when they are sad. However, a child who is punished for crying will find a way to inhibit this behavior. At first, this inhibition is conscious, and may include tensing the muscles of the eyes and face, holding the breath, or whatever else works that the child is capable of doing. Reich said that normally a child will cease the inhibition once the threat passes, but when a child is repeatedly subjected to the same kind of treatment, the inhibiting behavior becomes learned and integrated into the child's way of being, along with the accompanying muscular armoring. It becomes habitual and unconscious, and the person no longer notices they are "doing" anything at all.

Reich viewed the purpose of this armoring as protecting the child from perceived threats, but the cost is the diminished freedom that comes fighting against constant muscular contraction as well the energy that is required to maintain this state of contraction.

You may be able to fight and win battles in a suit of armor, but when you're wearing one all of the time without knowing it, it becomes impossible to dance.

If you're interested in learning more about Wilhelm Reich's theories on Character and Body Armoring, there are two books I might recommend: Character Analysis, and Function of the Orgasm. Reich conceptualized all biological energy as sexual energy, and so his book Function of the Orgasm focuses on how biological energy either flows or does not flow through the body. Happy learning!

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  1. Always interesting to read what your posting... I like the way you clearly post here in the nononsensepsychology blog.

  2. This is fantastic, Dan. An excellent explanation of armoring. Like Rick, I love reading your postings on this blog.

  3. I really like this! I hope you write more soon. I'll keep checking back :)

  4. Very well said. So many of the new forms of integrated psychology and 'body work' are just beginning to touch on what Reich discovered so long ago. Awesome to see another professional interested in applying Reich's work.

  5. A very good resource on Reich for you Dan, (in case you hadn't yet come across it) or anyone interested in learning more. His work is largely distorted, but the museum is dedicated to maintaining accuracy. If you get on the mailing list its also a good way to know what other people are doing across the US regarding Reich's work. Cheers!

  6. What Reich did discover was a persons' ability to dissociate (fragmented self) and the resulting body anaesthesia or what he called "muscular armoring". It takes psychic energy to hold the fragments of yourself apart therefore an overload on your central nervous system therefore the resulting body anaesthesia or "armoring" as Reich called it.


  7. This is fascinating. Thanks for the writing.
    What book are you recommending?
    Sorry if I'm missing the obvious somehow.