My work with the 'alternative to psychiatry' movement in London in the mid 1970's led me to regard labelling people as not only destructive and dangerous, but also a very subjective, inaccurate, and misleading exercise.

So many therapists and psychiatrists are still happy to fling psychiatric labels around while hiding behind a clinical detached facade of objectivity. However, I found Reich's view of character based on his idea of armouring a lot more useful.

"Character Armour—The sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity of the body, lack of emotional contact, 'deadness'. Functionally identical with the muscular armour." - Selected writings, P10.

Reich also clearly states that "the orgonomic concept of character is functional and biological and not a static, psychological or moralistic concept." (P9)

Since using Reichian therapy I've found it useful to make some simple character assessment as an aid to the therapy. For example, a person who regards themselves as depressed will often have very little chest movement in breathing and their energy level will literally be depressed. Likewise a very energetic person may become overenergised with a usual amount of breathing work.

What Reich's definition quoted above makes clear, and our own experience will bear it out, is that armouring is a dynamic concept, that sometimes we are more armoured than at others.

And as John Southgate indicated in his excellent article on Character Analysis (see Reading List) the 8 classic psychoanalytic character positions are merely positions we can occupy in certain circumstances.

So its possible to work out for ourselves which of the 8 we tend to occupy and when. John's article with its emphasis on body movement makes these character positions accessible to a bodywork approach.

I've found some character analysis along the lines of John Southgate's article very useful, both in my own work and in my own therapy and self-knowledge. John describes the 8 basic character types of psychoanalysis in terms of body positions. He does this by introducing 3 factors which taken in combination give the 8 types The first factor is that of openness or closedness which is relatively self-explanatory—is the person open or closed to the world? The second factor is that of advancing or retreating in relation to the world at large. The third factor is that of grounding. Is the person solidly grounded (vertically grounded) or are they undergrounded (horizontally grounded). See John's article for details of these factors.

John's work draws on the object relations approach. It is not strictly pure Reichian but I found it easy to grasp—a way into the complex realm of character analysis.

Taking John's basic description I drew on Reich, Baker, and Lowen, plus my own experiences to give a segmental and characterological aspect to it. From the descriptions it's possible to work out the positions one is most often in and when, likewise for one's regular clients. I've found that when therapy gets difficult with a client it is sometimes due to being in incompatible character positions, e.g. my tendency towards being in a masochistic position isn't that good for therapy on someone heavily into a phallic narcissus position, (see over for details).

This might be a useful starting point for looking at relationship hassles.

Also finding the words associated with each position is a great help.

Note that if we start a session with a client lying down on the mattress we are encouraging them into a horizontal grounding position i.e. the first 4 positions. To get a feel of these positions face someone and assume the position physically and move towards or away as appropriate and say the associated phrase.

The Eight Character Positions

1) The Schizoid Position

Open, Retreating, Horizontally Grounded

Result of early deep ocular blocking due to an attachment disturbance, little armouring elsewhere. The chest will be loose and if you encourage them to breathe they will soon overenergise and heavily contract up against the energy making therapy difficult. Verbal work is best.

Having loosened the eye segment, armouring will appear elsewhere, and will progressively loosen as per usual. People heavily into this position are usually very in touch with the orgone and energy flow, but confused about it. Lowen says that in this position there is usually severe diaphragmatic tension that will split the body in two and that we will find, "There is often a marked discrepancy between the two halves of the body."

Verbal message; "I can't handle this"

Greative version;- wonderment

2) The Paranoid Position

Closed, Advancing, Horizontally Grounded

A suspicious look indicates the need for ocular work. Fear is usually to be found in their raised shoulders. Fear, panic, and anger are often found mixed together as they fight what they see to be a threat to their right to exist.

Many people associate therapy with loud paranoid discharge. The quest is to get beyond it and beneath it to the softer feelings.

Verbal message; "Leave me alone"

Creative version;- real need for fight, flight.

3) The Oral Position

Open, Advancing, Horizontally Grounded

Give attention to the oral segment, to the abdominal segment, and to wanting, held back in the arms. (Ask for what you want). Special attention to the 'sour milk' muscles—those lines running from the nose to the corners of the mouth. The lack of good holding and breast feeding in our culture leaves nearly all of us starved and we can become clingy and demanding trying to get our needs met. Lowen tells us how the oral character breathes shallowly and has low energy as oral deprivation has reduced the strength of the sucking impulse, for "Good breathing depends on the ability to suck in the air."

Verbal message; "Feed me"

Creative Version;- "I have needs too"

4) The Masochist Position

Closed, Retreating, Horizontally Grounded

"The first object of the therapy must be to turn the masochism back into the sadism from which it started" -Baker.

Tight jaw, neck and chest, whinny voice, with often a sour look around the mouth which will hold back (self) disgust—getting them to pull faces can help. The chest may be tight against a fear of collapse, often with a death fear and death fantasies, or a fear of bursting, and there may be associated physical disturbances in their breathing. Deep jaw work is needed with special emphasis on voice work and special attention to the chest breathing. Getting them into anger is recommended even at themselves if directed against a pillow. Block any attempt to hit themselves. A person consistently in this position is very hard to work with and negative transference has to be explored i.e. getting them to get angry with you if necessary.

According to Lowen a person in the masochist position "counters the fear of exploding by a muscular pattern of holding in. This powerful muscle restrain any direct assertion and allow only the whine or complaint to come through." He also draws our attention to the tense short neck, tense waist, and a pelvis that is pulled forward and tells us that; "The skin of all masochist characters tends to have a brownish hue owing to the stagnation of the energy."

Verbal message; "I'm no good"

Creative version;- withdrawing to lick your wounds.

5) The Obsessional Or Compulsive Position

Closed, Retreating, Vertically Grounded

"This character has a non-vibrant, feelingless, overcontrolled quality to his/her voice." -Maria Coleman-Jutasi, Article in Energy and Character, Vol 11, no. 3

Tight throat and jaw will avoid softer feelings, including crying.

"All the muscles of the body, but especially of the pelvis, pelvic floor, shoulders and face are spastic. This gives the typical hard expression and awkwardness." -Baker.

A person in this position is obsessed with details, with getting things done whatever the cost and under pressure the grounding changes and they flip into the masochist position.

This flip is often diagnosed as manic depressive.

Verbal message; "I must get it right"

Creative version; "I have work to do on my own".

6) The Passive Feminine Position

Open, Advancing, Vertically Grounded

A misleading and sexist label for this position, misleading because it is neither passive, nor confined to women. Perhaps we should call it compulsive caring or defensive caring.

"A great deal of character work is necessary to bring out awareness of the hate and spite behind the overtly compliant, co-operative attitude." -Baker.

There is repression and a fear of aggressive feelings often directed towards the father. Over friendly in an attempt to defend against this aggression (Hence strong negative transference). Their voice will be too soft and the surface of their body soft. Often there will be a desire to bite. Flip under pressure into the oral position, which is from caring into a need to be cared for.

Verbal message; "I care for you".

Creative version;- real nurturing

7) The Phallic Narcissus Position

Closed, Advancing Vertical

Attack is the best form of defence!

"Armouring is usually generally, being particularly marked in the chest, diaphragm, and legs, and heavy in the shoulders". -Baker

Aggressive behaviour as a defence against surrender and feeling weak. Sex for a person in this position is aggressive and vengeful-conquest.

This position is associated with the traditional patriarchal male but women can also be in this position. Flip under pressure into the paranoid position.

Verbal message; "I'm right"

Creative version;- assertion

8) The Hysterical Position

Open, Retreating, Vertical

"Armouring is present, but is always soft and light and shifting" - Baker

Under controlled voice, tendency to giggle with embarrassment. Strong sexual feel and fear with bodily agility due to under armouring.

"The orgonomic concept of character is functional and biological, and not a static, psychological or moralistic concept" - P9 Selected Writings

"There is a constant push towards genital contact with a simultaneous flight from it" - Baker

A person in this position seems to be activated by the oedipal conflict i.e. there's a strong desire for genital gratification but as soon as this is awakened or responded to, immense (castration) fear arises. A lot of free energy switching between pleasure and fear. Note that as therapy proceeds and people become less armoured they will more likely find themselves in this position. Flip under immense pressure into schizoid position.

Verbal message; "Don't touch me"

Creative version; separating

Creative Aspects Of The Character Positions

John Southgate in his article lists the following as creative aspects of the character positions.




-floating, fusing, relaxing


-active, discharging, peaking


-receiving, nurturing


-thoughtful introspection and concern


-active detailed energising

Passive Fem.

-giving, nurturing




-actively relaxing

A couple of quotes from Reich on character analysis.

"Our investigation of the differentiation of character types proceeds from two facts; First, no matter what the form of character, its basic function is an armouring against the stimuli of the outer world and against the repressed inner impulses; Second, the external form of this armouring has its specific historical determination" - P189 "Character Analysis".

John is here using his concept of the creative orgasmic cycle of nurturing, energising, peaking and relaxing, and relating the positions to aspects of this naturally occurring energy cycle.

In our work with these character positions in Energy Stream (and this is not the only way to work with Character, Baker's "Man In the Trap" provides an alternative insight into character, as does Lowen in Bioenergetics) we have renamed Passive Feminine as Compulsive Caring, and Phallic as Patriarchal Narcissus, in an attempt to get away from the sexist and misleading names used.

Finally, let me once more emphasise that in therapy one is dealing with people and not with character types and while as the classification of people in terms of character positions may be a great help to their therapy, it should be immediately discarded if it leads to a rigidity of approach. People never cease to amaze me, in and out of therapy, and often they will seem and probably will be unclassifiable, which after all is what therapy should lead us to in any case.