Wilhelm Reich was a major contributor to the bodymind sciences of the early 20th century, and is credited as being the key driver of this form of scientific enquiry in the West up until the 1940’s. Reich proposed a model of the human condition that postulated a theory of energy being a primary component of all matter and space, a concept he called the orgone energy. This energy was important for living organisms as in effect it was a “life force”. Reich who was trained as a scientist, devised ways in which quantified this orgone as being electro-magnetic in nature, and that it could be measured, sensed and worked with in therapy.
Reich had developed some key concepts about the human condition that fell under his theories of Orgonomy. Reich delineated armoring concepts during the Character Analysis and Orgasm Theory period of 1928-34. Reich defined Orgonomy as being the science of cosmic orgone energy (Reich:1934). Reich (1934) further defined orgone energy at that time as being “primordial cosmic energy; universally present & demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically, and by means of Geiger-Mueller counters, in the living organism”.
From this place, Reich was interested in how this orgone energy interacted with the human condition, and expressed itself in the body and the mind. Reich established orgone therapy from this place as being the “Mobilisation of the orgone energy in the organism, ie, the liberation of the biophysical emotions from muscular & character armorings with the goal of establishing, if possible, orgastic potency”(Reich:1934). Reich stated that we develop muscular armouring to block this orgone energy.
He stated “Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body”(Reich:1936) . He saw that there existed character armouring which he defined as “the sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against their emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity in the body, and lack of emotional contact ”. He defined muscular armouring as “the sum total of muscular(chronic muscular spasms) which an individual develops as a block against the breakthrough of emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation” (Reich:1936).
The overall effect of muscular armouring with character armouring created the individual. Alexander Lowen, who was an associate of Reich, best summed up this overall effect as “The character of the individual as it is manifested in his typical pattern of behaviour is also portrayed on the somatic level by the form and movement of the body. The body expression is the somatic view of the typical emotional expression which is seen on the psychic level as character. Defences show up in both dimensions, in the body as muscular armoring. ” (Lowen:1976).
This theory was contained within Reichs overall theory of energy economy. This theory stated that “Economically speaking the character in ordinary life and the character resistance in the analysis serve the same function, that of avoiding unpleasure, of establishing and maintaining a psychic equilibrium – neurotic as it may be – and finally, that of absorbing repressed energies. One of its cardinal functions is that of binding “free-floating” anxiety, or, in other words, that of absorbing dammed up energy in the body.(Reich:1934).
Reich then established a theory of segmental armouring to explain how the body establishes its psychic equilibrium. In this Segmental Armouring theory, seven segments of the body exist where armouring or muscular tensions develop or takes place, and where the segmental contractions are at right angles to the flow of “life force” or orgone energy in the body. In fact Reich's concept of 7 segments also has a correlating overlay of the 7 chakra system of eastern Philosophy, and in many ways has a premise that is basically the same as proposed by eastern philosophy but in a western manner that attempts to be more quantitative and deductive.
This theory as re-interpreted and updated under Bioenergetics and Core Energetics sees the 5 primary Character Structures as the fixation of the energetic movement in the body of a person. The organized vertical energy flow is antagonistic. The fixation of movement keeps the body in the sympathetic nervous system. When flow stops or is constricted, form develops with muscle or fat or stress develops and affects bone, muscle and fascia development.
According to Core Energetics therapist Lisa Loustaunau (2004), when in childhood, a muscle contraction responds to a fearful situation, this is healthy, however, if the muscle stays contracted and gets stuck there, this becomes unhealthy (the body loses some of its natural, or core, wisdom).
These are the 7 segments that were delineated by Reich:
1. Ocular or Eye
The characteristics of the 5 basic archetypal character structures are predictable outcomes based on Reich's armouring theories, and tell us much about a person’s personal history which is written into the body.
Reich also delineated the concept of a physical block held in the body, which may show physical manifesting signs. Blocks often show one of the 7 segments as overcharged, an adjoining segment undercharged, and tension is in both the boundary of the 2 segments, and also the overcharged segment. The undercharged segment often shows atrophy of muscles and skin turgor. Reich also believed that the left side of the body revealed feminine self identity issues, and the right side of the body revealed masculine self identity issues.
1. Ocular or Eye
The Ocular segment: It is always involved in processes of psychosis and disassociative disorders. Now we have known for a long time that, for example, in schizophrenia, there is a problem in eye tracking. That’s a well known phenomenon, and in ordinary psychiatry, it’s considered one of the phenomenon in schizophrenia. In orgonomy, that fact is regarded as a central issue. The fact that the eyes are not in contact with the world to the extent that they are in normal people, we think is a factor in being able to distinguish reality from unreality. We work at great length with such people in establishing better eye contact with the world.In the sphere of the ocular armor segment, we find a contraction and immobilization of all or almost all of the muscles of the eyeballs, the eyelids, the forehead and lachrymal gland.The loosening of the ocular armor segment is brought about by opening the eyes wide as in fright; this causes the eyelids and the forehead to move and to express emotions. Usually this also effects a loosening of the upper cheek muscles.
The Oral segment: We look for voice tone. We listen to people: are they talking in rhyme, are they barking, are their jaws tight, do they have a problem biting, do they have a problem sucking, are they talkative so that they cannot keep their mouths shut, can they cry fully, can they scream, can they yell fully, and finally, are they capable of gagging. Is there a problem in the throat and the oral segment that keeps them from maintaining a lively gag reflex.The oral armor segment comprises the entire musculature of the chin, pharynx and the occipital musculature, including the muscles around the mouth.They are functionally related to one another; for example, the loosening of the chin armor is capable of producing spasms in the musculature of the lips and the related emotion of crying or desire to suck.Likewise, the freeing of the gag reflex is capable of mobilizing the oral segment.
The Cervical segment: Some people walk around with their shoulders held high and their neck held high as if they are watching for where the next blow will come from. “Where will the next danger come from?” They look like scarecrows in the field – this neck is always rigid and on the alert. And such people, if you ask them on the couch to just let their heads fall and let gravity take their head, it is impossible. They cannot let their heads simply fall because then God knows what danger might come! In the neck is also revealed stubbornness, haughtiness, trying to separate the head from the rest of the body, with a big, long separation here, and problems in the cervical area also involve problems in deep crying, shoving, yelling , etc. The armor of the third segment comprises essentially the deep musculature of the neck, the platysma, and the sternocleidomastoid muscles. While the hands can be used to get at the surface muscles of the neck, this is not possible in dealing with the larynx musculature. The best way to eliminate the 'swallowing' of emotions is to liberate the gag reflect. Work on the neck armor by means of the gag reflex brings about a loosening of the fourth and fifth armor segments. In other words, we do not eliminate one armor ring after the other in a mechanical and rigid manner. We work on an integrated life system, whose total plasma function is hindered by transverse armor rings."
The Chest segment: The chest is one of the most significant areas for armoring because of its participation in the function of respiration. The full expansion of breathing is involved in all armoring. In expressing anger we breathe heavy if we are really fully angry. If we are passionately loving, we go, ah, ah, ah. Contrariwise, in fear, we go, he, he, he, he, we pull our chest in, which is why people with acute anxiety so often complain of a lump in the chest or a weight on the chest. When we cry, we move our chest fully in sobbing. So we can see that in all of the emotional expression the free movement of the chest is involved. Contrariwise, when we want to inhibit any emotion, we hold our chests. This is why most of us walk around not breathing fully, because all of us are repressing something which we might feel fully if we let this go.
Also involved with the chest segment are the shoulders and the upper extremities, which is part of this segment. In the expression of the emotions that this segment is capable of, we have patients punch with all the anger they can muster on the couch. I have a baseball bat that they bang on the couch, and we distinguish between those people who punch like this (punching weakly) and people who punch like that (punching vigorously), because the second is like human beings should be capable of.Another expression of the upper extremities is to be capable of feeling love, of being able to stretch out one’s arms longing for someone else, and longing for contact with the universe just to make connection.
The armoring of the chest is manifested in the elevation of the bony structure, a chronic attitude of inhalation, shallow breathing, and the immobility of the thorax. We already know that the attitude of inhalation is the most important instrument in the suppression of any kind of emotion. All the intercostal muscles, the large chest muscles (pectoral) the shoulder muscles (deltoid) and the muscle group on and between the shoulder blades are involved in the armoring of the chest."
The Diaphragmatic segment: The diaphragm is used in all expulsive acts. The diaphragmatic segment is what we work on mostly in the expression of gagging, for that’s where the gag reflex starts, with the contraction of the diaphragm. It’s used in and is obviously related to disgust which means to disparage what’s in here to get rid of it out there. The diaphragm and armoring of the diaphragm is geographically very close to the solar plexus. This is one of the most important plexus of the body. It is also very close to the heart, which is why when we feel emotions very deeply, we have a feeling in this area of our body and why we talk so much in terms of heart feeling, because this is a very important area for deep emotional feeling. Consequently, when we succeed in loosening the diaphragmatic area, patients often experience a flowing of energy into their abdomen and pelvis which they have not experienced before, and which most invariably they first experience for a very short time as pleasurable, and then experience as anxiety-provoking.
The fifth armor segment forms a contraction ring which extends forward over the epigastrium, the lower part of the sternum, back along the lowermost ribs, toward the posterior insertions of the diaphragm, that is, to the tenth, eleventh and twelfth thoracic vertebrae. Essentially it comprises the diaphragm, the stomach, the solar plexus, including the pancreas, which lies in front of it, the liver, and two bulging muscle bundles extending alongside the lowermost thoracic vertebrae.
The Abdominal segment: This segment generally has much simpler emotional functions. "Contraction in the middle of the abdomen represents the sixth independently functioning armor ring. The spasm of the large abdominal muscle (rectus abdominus) is accompanied by a spastic contraction of the two lateral muscles (tranverses abdominus) which run from the lower-most ribs to the upper margin of the pelvis."In the back the lower sections of the muscles running along the spine (the latissimus dorsi and sacrospinalis) corresponds to this segment."The loosening of the sixth armor segment is easier than the loosening of all the other segments."After it has been dissolved, it is easy to approach the armor of the seventh and last segment, the pelvic armor.
The Pelvic segment: When one begins to work on the pelvic armoring, what one invariably encounters is more anxiety than one had encountered up until that time throughout the whole rest of the therapy. This is because the pelvis is the place where there is the residue of all sex negativity, all the sexual repression. Everyone in our culture suffers from pelvic anxiety. In addition to the anxiety that is generated when one starts working on this segment, one also sees the secondary layer of manifestations in the pelvis which are rage and the contempt that the pelvis holds. It is not by chance that in practically all western cultures the expression, “Fuck you!” is the most hateful thing that one can say to somebody.