CHARACTER STRUCTURES & DEVELOPMENTAL MODEL
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.
The Character Structures
(each named after its main theme)
The right to exist and feel safe in contact, and related themes from the birth imprint
The right to sense ones own needs and express them.
The ability to sense ones curiosity to explore the world while keeping contact and accessing support when needed.
The ability to plan, prioritize, and make choices and use ones power to take action
The ability to maintain balance between love and sensuality-sexuality; also the ability to make alliances and learn about family roles.
The ability to form and express one’s own opinions including norms, values and rules.
The ability to balance performing at ones best, while helping and supporting all group members and the group as a whole to function at its best
Decisions made during these years, while repeating all of the above themes.
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:
- 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 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.
- 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.
Whereas previous body oriented psychotherapies adhered to the Reichian concept of armoring or rigidity, the Bodynamic system found this limiting in practice. Very often clients who were made to work with armoring alone seemed to regress in terms of life function. Noting this, Bodynamic pioneers researched muscle response patterns in detail and eventually formulated the concepts of hypotonic and neutral muscle response.
Whereas earlier approaches seemed to ignore the possibility of hypotonic resignation, the Bodynamic team was one of the first to shift to a Body-Dynamic approach that sought to support hypotonic muscles in a way that we now call Resourcing so that hyper-responsive muscles could relax in a more natural way that was gentle to the overall system. The Bodynamic approach allows for more integration, instead of the fragmenting that sometimes occurs with strict Reichian approaches.
The concept of hypo-responsiveness is unique to the Bodynamic System. Muscles that are hypo-responsive need support and contact to grow-up. Neutral muscular response/responsiveness is also a concept unique to the Bodynamic system. Neutral muscle response supports the development of new psychological resources, or access to more choices in life.
New therapeutic capabilities
The new ability to recognize and work directly with psychological resignation and to build new ego resources transforms the nature of psychotherapy. Working in the context of a therapeutic relationship, clients can learn to awaken undeveloped impulses and skills. The acquisition of these new ego and motor resources, which are exactly the ones missing but most needed, greatly facilitates working through developmental issues with inner safety and empowerment.
Working with somatic resignation transforms the nature of body psychotherapy, enabling the therapist to understand when it is necessary to work in a gentle and supportive way in order to develop or restore resources that have been given up. The therapy does not proceed by breaking down resistance or forcing emotional release, but by transforming clients through the awakening of profound states of body awareness. This awakens resources deep within the self, which are then encouraged to emerge.
Transference and Counter-Transference
Transference and Counter-transference are important tools for healing old developmental patterns. According to Boadella (and others before him), transference reflects the history of earlier psychological patterns in the muscles, which then get projected onto therapist / trainer / group members.
Many years of experience in teaching and training psychotherapists that work with other modalities (non-Bodynamic) have shown that the Character Structure model may be applied as a powerful tool for describing different patterns of transference and counter-transference. The Character Structure model describes muscle response patterns in tandem with the person’s patterns of contact, social interaction and behaviour.
The Bodynamic therapist-trainer can involve transference patterns specifically in relation to character structure or developmental patterns by utilizing specific exercises, healthy parent messages, contact patterns, psycho-motor work and language. By establishing this new contact pattern in the transference, or resonance as Boadella describes it, a new imprint is created and integrated into daily life.Text by Yorgis Toufexis