DEVELOPMENTAL MODEL & CHARACTER STRUCTURES
The noted Reichian scholar Dr. David Boadella, Director of the Biosynthesis system, (and former chairman of the European Association of Body Psychotherapy EABP) has called Lisbeth Marcher the Scandinavian legacy of Wilhelm Reich and described the Character Structures model of Bodynamic Analysis as one of the most advanced models to come out of the new generation of body psychotherapies emerging in Europe, as it goes significantly beyond those of Wilhelm Reich, Frank Lake, Alexander Lowen and other somatic theorists.
According to the Bodynamic System a child’s development moves through a series of specific overlapping age phases from the 2nd trimester in utero through age 12 years. We also regard the teenage years as a significant period of personal development, and know that later in life personality is remolded through a series of adult developmental phases, overlaying and interacting with the Character Structures established during childhood and adolescence.
Seven Developmental Phases
The Positions of Character Structures
We distinguish three possible Positions distinct outcomes of each Character Structure and its main theme, as they occur in the parent-child interactions:
If there are severe or early disturbances during a particular stage, the child will be likely to give up the impulses to act and feel in ways appropriate to that stage. Abilities and insights will tend to go unexpressed, unlearned or resigned. In the adult they will appear to be preconscious or outside of awareness, a position we call Early. This is the origin of psychological resignation.
In order for the child to be able to be her/his true self, the parenting ought to be adequate good enough in Winnicott’s terms in the younger structures of childhood; while in the older structures the social environment plays a role nearly as important as parenting. Good parenting and environment assure that the child will be able to maintain deep Connection, while at the same time she/he will develop the skills appropriate to each developmental stage, becoming what we call resourced, in other words healthy.
If the disturbances in that particular stage are less severe or occur at a later time within the stage, the person will have a tendency to hold back impulses to act or feel, or the impulses may be enacted rigidly, a position we call Late, the origin of psychological armoring (often called rigidity).
Both the Early and the Late positions result in distortions of the Self and relationships. For example, in the Need Structure the collapsed or early position is termed Despairing; the rigid or late is termed Distrustful; and the healthy or balanced position is termed Self Satisfying.
Imagine a small infant whose very survival depends on having her basic needs met. If the baby does not experience safety around this, she will fall into deep despair. Another infant may sometimes have her basic needs met, and at other times not. That baby may become distrustful of his caregivers. The child whose needs are met by a good enough mother will likely experience the feeling of being self-satisfied; whether it is for contact, food, safety, love, play, or a clean diaper.
Developmental Splits Overview
(2nd trimester → 3 months)
Where a basic imprint of one’s right to exist and sense of being alive is formed, from womb life, birth and early infancy. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can manifest as either a withdrawal from connection and a strong mental life, or as an anxiousness about possible loss of connection to others and a strong emotional energy.
• Spirituality/Physical Being
• Contact – physically, emotionally, energetically
• The ‘Me’ (including reflexes)/ the ‘I’ (Ego)
• Rhythm & Matching
• Experience of contact/experience of oneself without contact
Early - Mental
- Dissociation – Splits into head & thoughts; schizoid
- Child felt unwanted/threatened by annihilation
- Feels connected to others through thoughts
- Avoids physical/emotional contact; becomes “emotionally absent”
- Existential Terror/Rage of annihilation at the core (holding deep)
- Fear of fragmentation
- Feels isolated
- Make energetic contact
- Thinks philosophically
- “I am not enough.”
- Energy is drawn to the bones
- Eyes unfocused, looking into distance
- Takes up little space
- Uncoordinated when moving
Need to Learn:
- To feel body, emotions and concretize understanding
- Build capacity for emotional closeness
Late - Emotional
- Flight toward life – Splits into body & emotions
- Child felt secure at one point, but now, no longer feels wanted
- Sense of having lost paradise, and of desperately wanting to regain it
- Child flings itself toward intense contact and high emotional charge in an attempt to ensure it’s own continued existence, and that of the world
- Feels connected to other through emotions
- Clings to emotional contact/expression
- Becomes activated when conflict is sensed
- Insists on emotional contact
- Feels lonely
- “I am too much.”
- Energy is located around bones and skin, but lacking in the muscle layers in-between
- Skin looks flushed or has a more reddish hue due to increased blood flow to the skin
- Eyes are focused, fixed on foreground and background simultaneously
- Their energy takes up a lot of space
- Powerful activity in their movement
Need to Learn:
- Accept and appreciate contact without powerful emotions
- Distinguish between reality and intuitions by precisely naming their feelings and emotions
Secure Being: Happy to Exist - As a child, she felt wanted, accepted, protected, and secure. As she grows up, she has a lust for life, and can integrate thoughts and feelings. Her energy moves freely in her body, and her head and body are experienced as a coherent wholeness. She enjoys contact and enjoys being alone. She has integrated creativity and sensitivity with emotional energy and presence.
(1 month → 18 months)
Where the infant’s experience of having core satisfaction of basic needs is established in the relationship with the parents, leading to the beginning of self-regulation. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can manifest either as a despairing or distrustful attitude about being able to get you needs met, and not being aware of what your needs are or how to sense satisfaction.
• Establishing own rhythms (of being awake/sleeping, hunger/satisfaction etc.) and getting your needs met in a timely way
• Begin to say yes and no.
• Feeling oneself seen/ met in contact (mirrored - imitated).
• Experiencing that others can experience me and my needs (and respond with mirroring, verbal feedback, and appropriate reactions).
• Exploring in contact with others.
• Being oneself without contact and exploring own movements and different objects around them e.g. textures and forms.
• Concrete thinking.
• Connecting words with objects.
• Connecting words with emotions and needs.
• Claiming the right to have their needs fulfilled.
• Having the right to experience a state of being fulfilled.
• Balancing between giving and taking.
• Leaning to distinguish between different needs and feelings.
Early - Despairing
- Mother is emotionally absent and does not meet needs of child; ex. A child left to cry alone for hours on end.
- Does not recognize their OWN needs
- Feels abandoned; left behind
- Waiting for nourishment to come
- Can love others, but has difficult taking love in from others; cares more about others than self
- Energetically & emotionally merges with others and environment, loses self
- Frequently engages in projective identification (defense)
- Is very good at mirroring others
- Tendency towards a pollyanna outlook on life; glass half full
- “If you’re happy, then I’m happy.” ; “It’s all OK.”
- Makes use of superficial platitudes, such as “Love is all there is.”
- Tend to “babble” more
- Don’t take in or absorb energy
- Can result in anorexia.
- Eyes yearning/sucking seeking expression
- Lips tend to be Full & ‘loose’
Need to Learn:
- To feel deeply what they need
- How to take contact in and absorb it so it lasts. Build capacity for satisfaction
- Distinguish between their own needs and others; differentiate themselves from others & environment
Late - Distrusting
- Mother only half-meets the needs of the child
- Paranoid, distrustful, bitter,
- Is certain others will not fulfil their needs.
- Feels misunderstood. Takes what they can get.
- Able to recognize their needs, however bitter that they are unfulfilled.
- Pessimistic; glass half empty
- “If I have to tell you my needs, it’s already too late.”
- Knows their needs but it only feels right when they are met spontaneously.
- Makes emotional but unarticulated demands. Typically will not ask for help.
- Gives freely but is bitter over not receiving.
- Rejects what they receive as wrong/not good enough. Takes in, spits back out.
- Typical Defenses: Complaining, Ruminating
- Nothing will ever satisfy them.
- Manage their energy and feelings by rejecting
- Can result in bulimia.
- One eye sucks in, other pushes away; or both eyes push away
- Lips tend to be pursed
Need to Learn:
- That they themselves know what they need
- To communicate their needs with specifics
- Build capacity for satisfaction when needs are met
Satisfying: Feeling Secure that their needs will be met - As an adult, a person that is resourced will have a sense of what they need, and also how to act to satisfy that need: i.e., I’m hungry, I need to eat; or, I’m full, I want to stop eating. The adult body will have soft, contactful, eyes. They will hold their head and spine in an erect way. Their lips will be full, and they will be comfortable reaching out for their needs as well as taking in. They will enter into intimate relationships with an expectation and belief that they can express their needs to those close to them, and often enough receive a caring response. They also will be happy to reciprocate with that person’s requests for help, and will have a sense that this will mutually deepen the closeness between them.
(8 months → 2 years, 6 months)
The child’s curiosity and life force moves them to explore the world through an explosion of psychomotor skills. An imprint of the child’s impulses toward autonomy is formed. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can lead to a lack of awareness of one’s own impulses and feelings, or to a fear of having to give up one’s impulses and feelings in order to be in relationship, leading to the avoiding of commitments.
• Curiosity; exploring the world.
• Learning to distinguish emotions and activities.
• Gaining ownership of emotions.
• Connecting words and objects.
• Needing help to do things themselves.
• Awareness of the learning of causal connection.
• Being oneself in contact with others.
• Mastering own activities in interaction with others.
• Learning to use the toilet.
Early - Non-Verbal Activity Changing
- Child gives up on own desire & impulses
- May act from other people’s desires/impulses
- Waiting to be swept off their feet. Seeks and wants others to stimulate them.
- Exhibits charming child-like innocence and playfulness.
- “Tell me a story.”
- Sensitive to control, power and manipulation. Has issues with “authority”.
- Commitment phobic
- Tends to experience self as helpless & others in control; omnipotent transference
- Don’t know what it’s like to receive help without being overtaken
- Changes plans abruptly without saying anything. Does so subconsciously.
- Avoids unpleasant feelings by walking away without talking
- Despise boxes; prefers the “freedom” of ambiguity
- Feel empty inside. The “Void”.
- Appear to be very well “anchored”
- Has a waddle like walk & grover arms; energy triangulates into the lower body/legs
Need to Learn:
- To connect and act from their own impulses.
- To self-stimulate rather than relying on others for stimulation.
Late - Verbal Activity Changing
- Can’t dare how much something means to them
- Can’t tell them what to do; Has issues with “authority”.
- Commitment phobic
- Changes topics in conversation frequently and abruptly to avoid uncomfortable feelings; skittish. Does so subconsciously.
- Quick to boredom therefore tend to keep busy
- “Just messin with ya”
- May feel shame when asking for help (therefore usually won’t) or not knowing the correct answer
- Inability to ask for or accept help
- Show too much interest/ in them and they get scared of being taken over
- Try to do everything themselves
- Has trouble going “deep”
- Magnanimous eyes
- Appear to be very energized & impulsive
- Has a superman like posture; chest puffed out; energy triangulates in the upper torso of the body
Need to Learn:
- Feeling and taking in support from others
- Slow down, relax and connect with their center, the origin of their impulses
Emotionally autonomous: Curious & excited to explore - A person acting from a healthy or resourced Autonomy position can sense, feel, and act on his own impulses. He has experienced that his involvement and activities will be encouraged and supported. He can accept help when he needs it, and can also follow another person’s lead. His upper and lower body are equally energized and energy moves freely between them. He can give and receive from his core. He can sense how much energy he has to give, and when to stop . He can balance his own impulses, and feelings/desires against other’s expectations. He can be helpful, charming, and outgoing.
(2 → 4 years)
The child at this age becomes able to separate her thinking, intentions, and actions; to make choices and put all her power into her action. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can lead to either acting from a self-sacrificing position and having difficulties in planning, or holding back power and appearing angry, while believing that if there is a problem it is someone else’s fault.
• Will - choice and consequences.
• Experimenting with coping with things including body functions
• Managing - power/being without power.
• Balancing between acting from myself or out of altruism.
• Distinguishing between intention and action.
• Distinguishing between physical/material reality - imagination and extrasensory experience.
• Guilt - punishment - self-punishment.
• Expression of all emotions at full blast – containing / regulate own power.
• Experiencing two emotions simultaneously.
• Experimenting with roles and humor.
• Operative thinking, understanding of dualities (e.g. boy-girl, large-larger) and generalized thoughts.
• Short term planning - consciousness of time (being able to act as planned on purpose (can wait).
Early - Self-Sacrificing
- Parent treats child with the attitude “do for me, not for you”
- Child gives up own sense of power to serve/please others
- Child is crushed/smothered when using his/her own power
- Child is unable to choose for themselves and act from core
- Experience themselves as inadequate because they believe they should know without asking or learning.
- “You make me feel xyz.” ; omnipotent transference; Defense: Projection of will
- Gives up power in one way to gain it in another often by taking care of others
- Gains power by taking care of people in a one-up one-down relationship; self-worth derived from this
- Leads with “unconscious compassion” and an open heart….yet underneath harbors lots of resentment
- Blames others for not helping
- Can’t grasp consequences, resulting in difficulties with choices and planning
- Prone to black and white thinking
- Feels temporary pseudo-power through “hard work” and continuous activity of “doing”, “willing” and “efforting”
- Burdened & proud, altruistic, devoted & patient; martyr
- Experiences guilt, shame and low self-esteem easily
- Tends to be masochistic & enduring
- Very self-critical; self flogging; thousands of times a day; often leads to depression
- Assumes connection will be lost/relationships will end when they go into their own power
- Carrying an invisible yoke across their shoulders; tail drawn between legs
- Pained-Compassionate expression on their face; apologetic
Need to Learn:
- Give up the fantasy of being able to remove/solve others’ problems.
- Ask others about their expectations instead of believing they know them.
- How to feel and emobdy their own sense of power using bodynamic ego functions & associated muscles
- Accept criticism of their actions without confusing it with criticism of their personality
- Conscious compassion (directed with bounds) instead of unconscious compassion without bounds
Late - Judgmental
- Parent isolates child when he/she acts with their own will & power
- Child is unable to feel connected to family when they use their own will & power
- Critical, Judgmental and often have disgust expression
- Chronically irritated, cross their arms, blame a lot
- Feel only powerful on their own and then tend to do things full blast
- Feels that people around them are stupid & dumb
- Experiences that “it’s the others’ fault”
- Act on unarticulated rituals, rules and plans.
- Task is more important than their own needs
- Overly optimistic about time needed to complete a task
- Continuous “doing” and “willing” and effort. Must be done well.
- Do not like to be told what to do. Instantly resist.
- Tend to hold-on and push through
- Letting go feels threatening & dreadful
- Defense: Blaming
- Feel that it’s all on them
- Rigid & stubborn
- Holding back on anger, strong emotions & vulnerability results in lots of upper back & neck tension
- Bruxism; undifferentiated muscle tension, tight hamstrings
- Can’t relax unless all work is complete…which it never is…
- Analyzing/Judging look in the eyes
- “Bull necked”
- Resting Bitchy Face or Resting Asshole Face
Need to Learn:
- Compassion by melting the armour around the heart using the bodynamic ego functions & associated muscles
- Experience problems as solutions waiting to be found as opposed to burdens
Assertive: Determination, Power, and Persistence - A resourced person’s back and shoulders are straight and unburdened, and the shoulders and buttocks are full and energized. They have a lot of energy that they can choose to put behind their intentions, decisions and actions in the world. The person is able to use all their power while still being considerate of others. They can be altruistic, but they are aware of their own limits and of taking on burdens. They can follow suggestions without feeling a loss of freedom. They can act freely and assertively with others and in groups, giving and receiving help. They are able to plan well, with time for unforeseen events. They can be devoted, patient, critical, and humorous without being sarcastic.
(3 → 6 years)
Where the child learns to love in a romantic way and learns to integrate heart and sexual feelings. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can lead to a split between loving and sexual feelings, and a romantic or seductive way of being in relationship.
• Becoming conscious/aware of one’s gender.
• Develops and integrate of love and sensuality/sexuality (between heart and gender).
• Expresses love feelings with awareness of energy in the pelvis that is together with sensual/sexual feeling and energy.
• Directs these towards the parent of the opposite sex then grown-ups, and children of the same age.
• Being in love with, 1) the parent of the opposite sex (homosexuals often in the same sex), 2) with other grown-ups, and 3) with peers/ children of the same age.
• Gaining ability to speak in long sentences and is able to reason and participate in talking (from concrete to abstract thinking).
• Gaining ability to change focus from the imagination/ fantasy world to concrete reality, from romantic fantasies to bed-rock reality.
• Develops friendship relationships with another child of same sex (best friend).
• Practicing the creation of constructive alliances.
• Becoming aware of muscular tension and relaxation.
• Becoming aware of gender roles and different aspects of the gender roles in the family, in groups and other families.
• Learning to balance one’s loving, intimate and sexual emotions and actions in the social context (these different relationships)
Early - Romantic
- Parent negates sexual component of love, and encourages child’s “sweetness”
- Child denies sensual/sexual feelings and identifies with romantic & heart feelings
- Repressed sexuality
- Wound is in the pelvis, results in poor pelvic energy
- Experiences their love as pure, untainted by sexual desire
- Coquettish – flirty however waits for other to initiate contact
- Waiting for their prince charming/princess, so they can “give” their heart away when they arrive
- Thoughts and feelings wrapped up in fantasy
- Wants reality to be different than it is
- Defense: Denial
- Paradoxically uses sex to get love/connection
- Female version: Charlotte from Sex and the City
- Male version – chivalry, white-knight
- Romeo & Juliet, Beauty & the Beast
- Neck is held high
- Gaze is innocent/flirty in females, proud in males
- Sex organs are “hidden”/”drawn back”
Need to Learn:
- Integrate fantasy and reality without giving up on either
- Feel sexual arousal/desire in the lower part of their body as opposed to exculsively in the heart
Late - Seductive
- Parent focuses on sexual component of love; focuses on reality at expense of fantasy
- Child identifies with sexuality and represses feelings of love
- Gaze is straight on; undresses you with their eyes
- Wound is in the heart
- Guards/protects heart from deeper intimacy
- Paradoxically shows love to get sex
- "What's Love Got To Do With It" - Song by Tina Turner
- Female version: Samantha from Sex and the City
- Male version – Don Juan, Womanizer, Player, Lothario
- Neck is held straight
- Gaze is seductive
- Move like they are on the prowl/hunt
- Sex organs are forward, exhibited
Need to Learn:
- To have friendships without sexualizing them
- Drop the guard around their heart and open to feelings of greater heart intimacy
Balancing heart and sexuality: Enjoys both Loving and Sexual Intimacy - A person acting from the healthy or resourced Love/Sexuality position feels valued and respected for her loving and sensual/ sexual feelings and behavior. She senses both of these and decides how to act on them. Her muscular coordination is free and well-integrated. Her pelvis is centered, and not rotated forward or back. She can enjoy flirting or being seductive, and does so responsibly. She can be loving or sexual with another person, or both. She can accept refusal or rejection. She responds clearheadedly to the overtures of others. She avoids triangulation and does not unconsciously take sides in other people’s conflicts.
(5 → 9 years)
The child learns to put himself, his center into words, and learns to deal with rules, norms and culture. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can lead to either difficulty in forming and expressing opinions, or having rigid opinions and rejecting those of others.
• Knowing the difference between right and left side of oneself, east/west.
• Understanding the meanings of words and why things are as they are.
• Reality testing.
• Understanding unified wholes and grasping the differences in opinions and way of life in own family, school, one’s age group, neighbors, other families, etc.
• Forming own opinions and rules and fighting for them by arguing.
• Using arguments in a confronting contact manner.
Early - Sullen
- Parents ignore/shun child when he/she begins forming their own opinions
- Child loses contact when forming independent opinions
- “If I have an opinion, something will go wrong.”
- Has difficulty forming, holding and articulating opinions
- Passively opposes opinions of others; Passive- aggressive
- Non-verbally insinuates another’s opinion as foolish
- Gives up on intellectual curiosity
- Difficulty rotating spine
- Sways from side-to-side
- Slightly raised eyebrows and a passive, given up and know-all expression in the eyes
Need to Learn:
- to feel supported in their opinions, how to form them and hold on to them using bodynamic ego functions & associated muscles
- feel supported and affirmed in developing intellectual curiosity
Late - Opinionated
- Parents reject child when he/she cannot explain or argue their point of view
- Identified with being right and will fight for it
- Holds onto opinions irrespective of logic or correctness
- Forward leaning
- Argumentative, stubborn, snobbish
- Actively seeks to confront others
- Picks arguments and tries to persuade others
- Unable to examine and self-reflect on own point of view
- Frequently says "Yes, but...."
- Makes use of leading questions: "Right?", "Don't you think?", "Ya know?"
- “Ready to fight” expression in the eyes
- Head protrudes forward with energy in insisting manner
Need to Learn:
- Letting go of the feeling of the need to be right
Opinion-embodying: Know what they think and are open to what others think - A person with a healthy Opinion Structure understands that opinions are only based on what you presently know, and are not necessarily truth; they can be challenged and changed when you get new information. She understands and accepts that social norms and values vary according to the situation or place. She treats people so they feel equal and included. Her movements are becoming more refined and she enjoys running, skipping, and jumping.
(7 → 12 years)
Where the child finds a place in their culture by learning how to be a member of group and community. This is also a time of acquiring and mastering high level skills. In an adult, the disruptions from this stage can lead to a fear of competing or standing out in a group (leveling), or a need to be the star in any group in spite of the consequences for oneself or the group (competing).
• Engaged in working in groups; concerned with being in and out, up or down (in hierarchy/position), near or distant in the contact with friends and finding a balance between relations with a best friend and other friends
• Engaged in contact between groups - we/them.
• Often in groups of the same sex for a period of time.
• Develops solidarity feelings and at the same time develops own individuality further.
• Practices being a leader, mediator and "rank and file" member of different groups.
• Competes with self and others.
• Specializes - wants to be able to do something special and practices physically, psychologically and cognitively to be able to do it.
• Seeks knowledge, education, interests, hobbies.
• Develops a sense of responsibility concerning duties.
• Develops an understanding of the value of money.
Early - Leveling
- Parents/peers/teachers put child down when he/she begins to perform well
- Child experiences a loss of worth and dignity related to performance
- Child often is often shamed/ignored when he/she begins to shine
- Does not want to stand out by being special
- Very concerned with fairness, equality, and conformity
- Identifies with group and tries to maintain status quo
- It’s a sad dog that doesn’t wag its own tail.
- Ideologically akin to Communism, Socialism, Collectivism
- ‘Social Justice Warriors’
- Everyone gets a ribbon for competing; Everyone is a winner.
- Can engage in shaming to try and level the playing field
- Face: focused with a searching look
- Appears to have a soft expression in the eyes
Need to Learn:
- To come out and feel secure in their uniqueness
Late - Competitive
- Parents/peers/teachers reward child with contact/connection when he/she performs or competes
- Child begins to see performance as the best way of getting connection
- Child learns it’s value is not inherent but only related to how well he/she performs/achieves
- Ballet and soccer Moms & Dads are notorious for creating this structure or parents who demand
- nothing less than an A+ academically
- Very image conscious and social status driven
- Driven to acquire status and/or symbols of status; ex. position at work, coming first in a competitive sport, letters behind name (academics), fancy cars, jewelry, big homes, lots of shoes, designer everything, make-up, physique, etc.
- Competes with others for best position, often competes with self
- Ideologically akin to Capitalism, Darwinism - Survival of the fittest
- Often become over-achievers in order to try and maintain connection
- Has difficulty fitting into groups
- Hogs the ball in soccer, or the puck in hockey, or the ball in basketball; has difficulty passing and being a “team” player
- Obsessed with performance & being clever
- Vindictive; Retributive; Jealous
- Face: focused with an expression of goal-directedness and performance
- Appears to have a hard expression in the eyes
Need to Learn:
- To feel that they have value irrespective of their status/achievements/performance
- Te be OK with being an ordinary group member
Balancing self and group: Secure in leading, Excelling, or being a member of a group - He is able to establish a positive sense of himself in a group and feel deeply a part of a group. He gains value by being able to move between doing his best and helping others to be their best, and between leading or going along with and supporting the group and others, as needed.
He can give his best and also accept when he fails or when another is better. He is comfortable doing what is needed by his group, and is able to recognize other peoples’ skills and support them if they need assistance. Physically the healthy person has a straight back, an erect posture, and flexible and fluid movements. He enjoys using and developing his physical and mental skills and will practice repeatedly to improve his abilities.