Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart I: The Nature of Energy and Anxiety

Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart I: The Nature of Energy and Anxiety

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Sources of Anxiety: Reich

Like Feldenkrais (and his fellow psychoanalytically inclined colleagues) Wilhelm Reich tends to look toward the early days in the life of a child when searching for the sources of profound anxiety. He specifically proposed that anxiety arises as a result of childhood fears, a pull between the internal/instinctual world and the outside world of reality, and ambivalence regarding his relationship with important people in his life. I turn first to his reflections on childhood fears.

Childhood Fears: Reich joins with Sigmund Freud in his belief that a child holds many fears. However, unlike Freud, Reich focuses on the fear of punishment (though Reich’s focus on punishment might align with the fears evoked by Freud’s super ego). As in the case of armor being used to protect the warrior in medieval battle, the armor clad by the child might serve a protective function (Reich, 1972, p. 52):

If we trace the formation of the character into early child­hood, we find that, in its time, the character armor ensued for the same reasons and for the same purposes the character resistance serves in the contemporary analytic situation. The resistive projection of the character in the analysis mirrors its infantile genesis. And those situations which seem to appear by chance but actually are brought about by the character resistance in the analysis are exact duplicates of those childhood situations which caused the formation of the character. Thus, in the character resistance, the function of defense is combined with the projection of infantile relationships to the outer world.

For Reich, the fear of punishment often shows up as shyness or childhood phobias which, in turn, create the armament (Reich, 1972, p. 157):

It turns out . . . that this first transformation of the ego, e.g. the shyness does not suffice to master the instinct, On the contrary, it easily leads to the development of anxiety and always becomes the behavioral basis of childhood phobia. In order to maintain the repression, an additional transformation of the ego becomes necessary: the repressions have to be cemented together, the ego has to harden, the defense has to take on a chronically operative, automatic character. And, since the simultaneously developed childhood anxiety constitutes a continual threat to the repressions; since the repressed material is expressed in the anxiety; since, moreover, the anxiety itself threatens to weaken the ego, a protective formation against the anxiety also has to be created. The driving force behind all these measure[s] taken by the ego is, in the final analysis, conscious or unconscious fear of punishment, kept alive by the prevailing behavior of parents and teachers. Thus, we have the seeming paradox, namely that fear causes the child to want to resolve his fear.

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