Armor as a holistic portrayal with a homeorhesis perspective.
In seeking to answer the question of treating character armor in the mid-21st Century I will dwell a bit longer on Reich’s description of dynamics associated with the formation and maintenance of character armor. I approach this further analysis of Reich’s work by offering a related concept: homeorhesis.
Central to Reich’s conception of the psychic armament that is to be found among many people (especially those who come to him for therapy) is a version of what many systems theorists call “homeorhesis”. While most of us are aware of the tendency of all systems to return to homeostasis (point of balance) if they are to remain viable, the process of homeorhesis is less commonly identified or appreciated. This is the tendency of viable systems to return to some established pattern. It is not only that systems tend to return to some performance level (homeostasis)–systems also tend to return to a way in which this performance takes place (homeorhesis).
Reich (1972, pp. 51-52) has introduced a form of homeorhesis in his description of the dynamics operating in the formation and maintenance of armor:
The character armor is the molded expression of narcissistic defense chronically embedded in the psychic structure; In addition to the known resistances which are mobilized against each new piece of unconscious material, there is a constant resistance factor which has its roots in the unconscious and pertains not to content but to form. Because of its origin in the character, we call this constant resistance factor “character resistance.”
It is in Reich’s description of “character resistance” that we find the powerful process of homeorhesis (“typical behavior”) in operation:
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On the basis of the foregoing statements, let us summarize the most important features of character resistance.
Character resistance is expressed not in terms of content but normally, in the way one typically behaves, in the manner in which one speaks, walks, and gestures; and in one’s characteristic habits (how one smiles or sneers, whether one speaks coherently or incoherently, how one is polite and how one is aggressive}. ·
It is not what the patient says and does that is indicative of character resistance, but how he speaks and acts; not what he reveals in dreams, but how he censors, distorts, condenses, etc. The character resistance remains the same in the same patient, regardless of content. Different characters produce the same material in a different way. The positive father transference of a woman suffering from hysteria is expressed and warded off differently than that of a woman suffering from a compulsive neurosis. Anxiety is the defense mechanism in the former; aggression in the latter.