Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Character in Reich

There are a few early articles that show how Reich first conceived of character. From there Psychic Contact and the Vegetative Current adds another dimension in which impulse is paired with fear and gives us the basis for understanding repetition-compulsion. In his early view:

Characterological Mastery of the Oedipus Complex

Popular thought classifies human beings as hard or yielding, proud or meek, cool or warm, aloof or hot-blooded. Psycho-analysis of these different types of character can prove that they are all only different forms of armouring of the ego against the dangers of the external world and against the repressed instinctual demands of the id. The excessive politeness of one hides the same anxiety as functions through the harsh and sometimes brutal behaviour of another. Only their differing histories have determined that the one discharges, or tries to discharge, his anxiety in this way and the other in that. When the clinical psycho-analyst speaks of passive-feminine, paranoid-aggressive, obsessional-neurotic, hysterical, genital-narcissistic and other characters he has laid hold, through this nomenclature, of different reaction-types, in a somewhat rough scheme. What is needed now, however, is both to grasp the common nature of all character-formation as such, and also to give some account of the fundamental conditions which lead to such typical differentiations. 453-4

By this insight into a portion of human development we are enabled to answer a question which Freud once raised: in what form does the repressed persist?—as duplicate copy, as memory-trace, or otherwise? We can now conclude, with all due caution, that those parts of infantile experience which are not elaborated characterologically are retained as memory-traces carrying an affective cathexis, whilst those which suffered the fate of characterological transformation persist as present modes of behaviour. Obscure as the process may still be, this 'persistence as function' cannot be doubted, for analytical therapy is able to resolve such characterological functions again into their original constituents. We are not concerned with raising something submerged, as, say, in hysterical amnesia, but with a process which might perhaps be compared with the recovery of a chemical element from a compound. Moreover, we now understand more clearly why it is not possible to clear up the Oedipus conflict in many severe cases of character-neurosis merely by analysis of content. The conflict no longer exists at all as a present fact, and can only be recovered by analytic decomposition of the formal modes of reaction. This naturally extends our therapeutic possibilities. 465

The decisive part is played in the end by the natural impulses to genital pleasure and social activity which the character-neurosis had hindered only from unfolding. The technical process consists in this, that after a part of the characterological behaviour has been understood, it is isolated, presented to the patient and continually objectified. Since the patient, whilst conscious indeed of his neurotic symptoms, knows nothing of his neurotic mode of reaction, the latter must be objectified before it can be analysed. By this means the patient is enabled to take up the same attitude to his neurotic character trait as to the symptom which torments him subjectively. Character analysis, consisting essentially of this isolation, objectification and interpretation of character, does not take place at the end of the analysis, as a sort of completion, nor as an accompaniment in such cases as shew a specially marked character neurosis, but is indicated in every case, for the following reasons. First, there is no neurosis which is not erected upon a neurotic character; it is not a matter of differentiation between neuroses expressed in symptoms and neuroses expressed in character—we can only distinguish between neuroses of character with and without neurotic symptoms. Secondly, as long as the characterological armour remains intact, it obstructs the therapeutic effectiveness of our analytical interpretations. It is more than an analogy when we say that the interpretations rebound from the character and evaporate, if this itself is not first opened up so as to provide access to the trends protected and warded off by it. In the third place, our argument has already shewn that the most important infantile conflict situations have been transformed into characterological reactions and are therefore not understandable without analysis of attitudes. Finally, systematic analysis of character facilitates direct access to the central infantile conflict. 466-7

Character Formation and the Phobias of Childhood:

The 'lord' phantasy had begun in his fourth year. He had realized the necessity for self-control somewhat later, from fear of his father. To this was added a very important motive for the control of his aggressive impulses, that of a counter-identification with his father. The latter used constantly to quarrel with his mother and make an uproar, and the boy set before himself the ideal of being not like his father, but the exact opposite, corresponding to the phantasy: 'If I were my mother's husband, I would treat her quite differently; I would be kind and control my annoyance at her deficiencies.' This counter-identification was thus completely under the influence of his Oedipus complex—love of his mother and hate of his father.

Dreaminess and self-constraint concealing active sadistic phantasies characterized him as a boy, and represented the 'lord' phantasy. At puberty he made an intense homosexual object-choice in the person of a teacher, which ended in an identification. This teacher was, moreover, the very essence of a lord, dignified, calm, self-restrained, faultlessly dressed. This identification began with imitation of his clothes. Other identifications ensued, and at about fourteen years of age his character, as we had it to deal with in analysis, was fully formed. It was no longer a mere 'lord phantasy'; he was a 'lord' in his actual behaviour. 223-4

A considerable amount of castration anxiety was included in this display of dignified behaviour. The history of the connection between the two things indicated an end-product of a childish phobia, concerning which little has hitherto been known. Between the ages of about three to six years the patient suffered from a very intense phobia of mice. As to the content of this phobia, it suffices to say that it constituted a working-out of his feminine attitude to his father as a regressive reaction to his castration anxiety. Connected with this was a typical masturbation anxiety. Now as the boy's 'lord' phantasy developed into 'lordly' behaviour, so his phobia decreased. Later there only remained a trace of anxiety just before he went to bed. During analysis, with the resolution of his 'lordly' behaviour, there arose again, and moreover with emotion, his phobia of mice and his castration anxiety. It was thus evident that a part of the libido involved in his childish phobia, or alternatively, the anxiety, had been transferred to and elaborated in his characterological behaviour. 225

Particularly noticeable in a narcissistic, masochistic hypochondriac [1] were his loud, excited and emotional complaints concerning the severe treatment he had received from his father. As regards its content, one might summarize all that he brought out during months of treatment in the words: 'See what I have suffered through my father; he has ruined me and made me unfit for life'. Very thorough work had been done on his infantile conflicts with his father during a year and a half's analysis with a colleague of mine, before he came to me, and in spite of this there had been hardly any alteration in his attitude or his symptom.

Finally a characteristic of his behaviour in analysis struck me. His movements were languid, his mouth drooped as if tired. His speech, scarcely describable in writing, was monotonous and gloomy. When I had guessed the significance of this note in his voice, all was at once clear to me: he speaks as if he were in torment, as if he were dying. I learned moreover that in certain other situations outside analysis he would also sink into this unconsciously posed lethargy. His speaking in this way also meant: 'See what my father has done to me, how he torments me, he has ruined me and made me unfit for life'. His attitude was a severe reproach.

The effect of my interpretation of his 'dying', reproachful and complaining manner of speaking was astonishing [2]. It seemed as if, with the loosening of this last formal foothold of his relation to his father, all the earlier interpretations of analytical material began also to be effective. It was permissible to draw the conclusion that so long as the unconscious significance of his manner of speech was not recognized, a large part of his father-complex remained emotionally bound up in it, and the material relating to it which had been disclosed was, in spite of being made conscious, not sufficiently invested with emotion to be of therapeutic value.

It is thus evident that a single unconscious, infantile process may be recorded and expressed in duplicate: in what the individual says and does, and in the way in which he speaks and acts. It is sufficiently interesting to be recorded that the analysis of the 'what' leaves the 'how' untouched, in spite of the unity of matter and form; that this 'how' proves to be the hiding-place of similar psychical material as has apparently already been resolved or made conscious in the 'what'; and that finally the analysis of the 'how' is of particular efficacy in releasing the associated affects. This is owing to the grievous disturbance of narcissistic equilibrium involved in the analysis and interpretation of characterological attitudes. 229-30

[1] notice that Reich here says narcissistic and masochistic character and sees character as specific types of armouring that an individual may have.

[2] sounding as if he was dying would be a regression to a pre-oedipal impression of one's own death but this regression is clearly linked to the conflict with the father and would therefore have a "wish" dimension that could be analyzed as well. Reich was certainly a genius of the non-verbal but anyone who has read his use of dream-work will find him greatly wanting there.

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