At its most basic level, the body runs on energy. Everything we do– from eating to working to exercising– requires energy. Without a current running through us, we wouldn’t get up in the morning and we wouldn’t get anything done. The more freely our energy runs through the body, the easier it is to do everything.
There are many names for this energy: prana, chi, libido, the Force, bioelectric or orgone energy. I like to call it “charge,” because everyone knows what it’s like to “have a charge” on something. You might feel a charge when you run into your ex-husband, when you’re excited about getting a raise, or when you’re scared or angry. You feel a charge when you’re sexually aroused, and all spiritual experiences – even insights—bring up charge.
The body is a storage battery for charge. Just as a truck can carry more cargo than a bicycle, but requires more energy to get going, larger bodies can store more energy, but also require more charge to become energized. Thinner bodies, by contrast, can’t store much charge–there’s simply not enough tissue for it–yet they charge up more easily, often too easily. Without the storage capacity of larger bodies, thinner bodies must discharge or fragment their energy to maintain equilibrium. In other words, larger bodies can contain excitement, emotions, and stress, while thinner bodies excite more easily.
In fact, the body is shaped by the way charge is held or released in different areas of our physiology– from muscles, tendons, and fat, to organs, glands, and even physiological processes, such as circulation, breathing, reproduction, or digestion. Storing charge might make one person overweight or another more muscular, while the inability to contain may keep one thin, regardless of eating or exercising habits.
Most importantly, charge shapes the body while we’re growing up – literally forming our body as we deal with the various tasks and challenges we face at different stages of childhood. If contraction is part of what you had to do with your charge, the body will become chronically contracted. If pulling your charge up into the head and shoulders is a deeply ingrained habit from childhood, the body structure will exhibit broad shoulders and a commanding head. If you had to keep your cool in a highly charged situation, then you might have created a larger body to do so, and may struggle with weight forever after.
This binding of charge into the body gives rise to a number of observable patterns that we call character structures, originally described by Wilhelm Reich, and later examined by many healers and theorists, such as Alexander Lowen, John Pierrakos, Barbara Brennan, Stephen Johnson, Steven Kessler, myself, and many others.
The term character structure refers to the patterns of holding charge in the body that give rise to observable physical characteristics, such as body shape, posture, muscle tone, and weight distribution, as well as typical behavior patterns, beliefs, defenses, emotions, and developmental wounding. Learning about these structures provides a valuable key to understanding yourself and others. It has immense value for working with your clients.
Wilhelm Reich observed these patterns in the structure of the body itself, and noticed that they were accompanied by typical defensive behaviors, beliefs, emotions, and stages of childhood wounding. Each structure’s shape is generated by the way a person holds (or fails to hold) charge. This occurs through various skills or developmental wounds that the child accumulates as he or she grows up and faces the trials and tribulations of life. A younger child has fewer skills available to deal with a situation. For instance, infants have no verbal skills to defend themselves, so if they don’t like what’s going on, they can only defend by tightening their muscles. An older child has verbal skills and may have already developed a sense of their ego and power, so they have a greater command of their charge, but may use it to please or dominate others. The defensive strategy a child employs becomes a constant part of their “structure,” hard-wired into their energy system. But it can be healed.
Character structure is determined by a wide variety of factors: the age of wounding, the resources available at the time, the type of wounding, the genetic structure of the body, the belief systems, defense strategies, and the amount of charge available to a child at the time. A child who grows up in a volatile family with intense emotions and lots of siblings will likely carry a higher charge than someone who was an only child and suffered from neglect. Of course, like any system, it is not always so cut and dried. We may have multiple woundings at different ages. We may exhibit more than one layer of character armor, and a variety of defenses and beliefs.
What is important to remember is that these structures are patterns that are lodged into the body, patterns that are held in place by energy. And these patterns have a cost. They limit the full and free expression of who we are. Their dysfunction ranges from mild to extreme as they limit our freedom, authenticity, and command of charge. Learning to recognize these patterns gives us the choice to distance from them, disable them, and eventually move out of them completely.
Integrating mind, body, and spirit is the only way for healing to become permanent. Once we understand our character, we can awaken to who we truly are as essence, freed from the patterned conditioning of our past. This awakening is not just an intellectual insight, but occurs on a physical and energetic level as well. As we shed this armor, our being can truly shine.
Dr. Anodea Judith
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