Home Concepts Managing Stress & Challenges Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart II: Reich’s and Feldenkrais’s Preparation for Treatment

Oiling the Tin Man’s Armor and Healing His Heart II: Reich’s and Feldenkrais’s Preparation for Treatment

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The character armor is formed as a chronic result of the clash between instinctual demands and an outer world which frustrates those demands. Its strength and continued raison d’etre are derived from the current conflicts between instinct and outer world. The expression and the sum total of those impingements of the outer world on instinctual life, through accumulation and qualitative homogeneity, constitute a historical whole. This will be immediately clear when we think of known character types such as “the bourgeois,° “the official,” 0the proletarian/” ,.the butcher,” etc, It is around the ego that this armoring is formed, around precisely that part of the personality which lies at the boundary between biophysiological instinctive life and the outer world. Hence we designate it as the character of the ego.

In this final statement, Reich seems to be paying homage to Freud’s basic assumptions about the clash between instinctual urges (the Id) and societal expectations and requirements (the Ego). Reich moves beyond Freud, however, when he introduces up to the ways in which character armor relates to specific societal roles (a topic to which I will turn shortly). At this point, we turn to the matter of flexible armor—does it suggest that armament can be a “state” condition rather than a “trait.”

Trait vs. State: Armor as character or symptom

Perhaps the most important questions to ask when seeking to treat the rigidifying effects of armor is to determine if the armor in one’s client or patient can readily be removed or if it remains firmly (and resistantly) in place. Can the armor be worn during battle but taken off when the battle no longer is being waged. If this is the case, then the armor can be considered a temporary and situationally based State of one’s personality. Does it expand and contract as Reich suggests?

Is the armor, instead, being warn even at home—long after the war is no longer being waged (and lions have long since left the savannah). We see armor being worn all the time in the painful and poignant portrayal of the drill sergeant in “The Great Santini” (a movie based on Pat Conroy’s novel). While armor probably should be worn when this man is training new Marine recruits, it should be taken off when he is at home. Instead, he wears the competitive armor while playing basketball with his son on a backyard court.

He overwhelms his young son and finishes the game by slamming the basketball into the net. He exits the court leaving behind a devastated son. The sergeant’s wife stops him and reminds him that the purpose of playing the game was not to win but instead to spend some quality time with his son. The sergeant had lost the father/son relationship game big time. He couldn’t take off his armor. Armor for the sergeant was permanent. Under these conditions, the armor is considered a permanent part of the person’s personality. It truly is character armor and is identified as a personality Trait.

I turn back to Reich’s (1972, p.48) own words to gain greater clarity on this issue:

Whereas the symptom corresponds solely to one definite experience or one circumscribed desire, the character, i.e., the person’s specific mode of existence, represents an expression of the person’s entire past. So a symptom can emerge quite suddenly, while the development of each individual character trait requires many years. We must also bear in mind that the symptom could not have suddenly emerged unless a neurotic reaction basis already existed in the character.

This statement would suggest that character armor is an established trait that is not easily changed. While character armor might not be embedded in one’s genes it is acquired gradually over time (from childhood to adolescence). While there might be state based “symptoms” that emerge periodically during one’s lifetime, the character armor is impervious to the outside world. The Tin Man could have remained unchanged (though perhaps rusted) for many years in the forest.

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