THE ORAL CHARACTER STRUCTURE

Here's the third in the series, again not necessarily in order of the chronological stage of development in which they are created. This one, the ORAL CHARACTER STRUCTURE, formed during the first year and a half of life, covers a lot of territory in terms of future dysfunctions. Addictions and eating issues, co-dependent relationships, difficulties accomplishing tasks or making money, back problems, bad teeth... if you have any of those, you've got some Oral Character Structure stuff happening.

Enjoy the chart!

THE ORAL CHARACTER STRUCTURE

PRESENTING PROBLEMS (When first coming to therapy)

- Inability to sustain relationships, projects, jobs or interests, often after a brief period of intense involvement;
- Lack of motivation and energy, chronic fatigue;
- Addictions, eating disorders, chronic money problems (under-earning/compulsive spending);
- Depression and/or chronic mood swings, manic-depressive disorder;
- Inability to let go of relationships, or recover from loss;
- Intense fears of being alone or abandoned;
- Difficulty delaying gratification, impatience, chronic irritability;
- Frequent physical injuries with slow, drawn out recovery periods;
- Dependency on institutions, parents or others for basic survival needs well into adulthood;
- Primary “falling” fear: falling behind;
- Primary holding pattern: holding on;
- Primary longing: for independence;
- Primary survival struggle: the right to need.


EARLY ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
(Developmental Period – First Eighteen Months of Life)

- Mother, during first year and a half of child’s life, offered some warmth and nurturance, but was not consistently available, or was prematurely taken away, due to financial problems (i.e.- mother needing to go to work), marital problems, another pregnancy, depression, illness or death, or mother’s orality in general (i.e. - lack of energy, substance abuse or addictions, etc.);
- Mother was uncomfortable allowing the child to bond with her symbiotically and so pushed the child away prematurely, or mother was unwilling to separate and so held onto the child;
- Child was left alone for long periods, and cries were not heard or answered;
- Parents overly relied on child’s premature independence and precocious development (walking and talking early, playing alone, etc.);
- Giving to the child was based on the parents’ needs rather than the child’s, both in terms of timing and what was given (i.e. - food or pacifier given instead of being picked up and held);
- Trauma occurred during child’s first eighteen months that separated mother and child (hospitalization, placement in foster care or adoption, etc.)


BODY STATUS

- Posture is often one of tiredness and collapse; body is generally child-like in appearance (there may be very little body hair), underdeveloped in musculature and the body may be either long and thin (compensated) or very tiny (collapsed); body is generally not extensively armored;

- Neck is often long and reaching forward (looking for nourishment);

- Lips are often thin (holding against reaching out), jaw is clenched (against rage) and there are frequent dental problems or other physical problems around the mouth and throat; chin may be pulled in (against swallowing) or jutting out (determined not to need); in some, mouth may be very large, showing a lot of teeth (aggression, for biting); teeth may be pushed out due to an extensive period of thumb-sucking in childhood;

- Eyes have a longing, pleading look;

- Shoulders are rolled forward, collapsing chest and causing shallow breathing (negating the need to take in); breasts in women tend to be either very large (compensated) or very small (collapsed);

- Tender pain in between shoulder blades (collapsed will center) and in lower back (premature self-support); chronic lower back problems;

- Hands, feet and pelvis (points of contact with the world) are immature-looking, undercharged and often very small; arches in feet may be fallen and knees locked (making this person a “pushover”); feet and legs are not experienced as offering good support;

- Body overall is often in pain, with frequent injuries or illnesses (lower back, knees, respiratory) that take a long time to heal;

- Chronic areas of tension: jaw, shoulder girdle, between the shoulder blades, lower abdomen and lower back, root of the neck (all of these to prevent crying, reaching out or the expression of aggression), and in the back of the knees.


ENERGETIC CONDITION

- Generally undercharged, especially so in chest and the lower half of the body, and in the points of contact with the environment;
- Energy tends to come to the periphery weakly and leak out;
- “Energy vampires”, seeking to get energy by “sucking it” from others;
- The core is accessible, but the energy is not metabolized (correlates to shallow breathing not allowing the “burning of fuel” for action);
- Chakras (energy centers): Crown - (spiritual connection) partially open; Third Eye - (intuitive abilities) open; Throat - (self-expression) partially collapsed; Heart - (love feelings) partially open; Solar Plexus - (universal wisdom) partially opened and asymmetrical; Sexual - (pleasure and creativity) partially collapsed and inverted; Base – (grounding and connection to physical life) partially collapsed.


OPERATING MODES OF THE MIND, EMOTIONS AND WILL

- Emotional needs are frequently denied mentally and suppressed by the will, creating an inner emotional climate of deprivation, grief, despair and bitterness;
- The intense fear of abandonment and loss of love, combined with an equal fear of losing oneself in love, creates an ambivalent attitude towards surrendering to feelings; separation anxiety is extreme;
- Deep rage at unmet needs is often turned against the self into depression (sometimes alternating with unsustainable periods of exaggerated elation), and aggression is expressed passively and indirectly (through verbal sarcasm, refusing to follow through on tasks, getting sick, not paying bills, chronic lateness, etc.);
- Deep crying and reaching out are suppressed, though a lot of superficial “bitter” crying and clutching and clinging may be manifested;
- The will is used either to try and give excessively to others (in order to get) or to cling desperately onto others for direct support;
- There is a genuine capacity to express love, but relationships often very romanticized by the mind to an unattainable height, or easily given up on;
- Mentally, there are strong intuitive and intellectual capacities, but creative ideas are not charged or put into action, because the will is being used to prevent self-sufficiency in order to get taken care of;


PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTIONING

- An inadequate sense of self caused by feelings of unfulfillment, incompleteness, and a perceived inability to be independent, combined with intense self-loathing for the perceived weakness and dependency;
- Extreme dependency conflicts may manifest in addictions (in an effort to substitute for the needed, but ambivalent caretaker and genuine sustenance);
- There is an intense focus in the personality on the functions of the mouth and their related psychosocial correlates: taking in (acquisitiveness), holding on (tenacity & determination), biting (destructiveness), spitting out (rejection, contempt), and closing (refusal); continuous smoking, eating, drinking, talking (often fast), biting, etc., may be present, or self-depriving behaviors, like poverty or self-starvation may be acted out;
- Mood swings, cyclothymic disorders, depression, borderline or manic-depressive disorders may be present;
- Main defenses: identification, displacement, reversal, turning against the self, denial, projection, splitting;
- Typical masks: rescuer, caretaker, compulsive giver (“I have so much to give because I have no needs of my own.”); exaggerated self-reliance and pseudo independence (“I stand alone.” “I have to do it all myself.” “No one can do it as good as me.”); helplessness, inadequacy, neediness (“You have to take care of me because I can’t do it.” “I can’t!”); Idealized Self-images: “the Lone Ranger” (“I hide myself and stay alone, coming out only to rescue others.”), “Scarlett O’Hara” (“I will survive by being alone, even though I once had the greatest lover of all time.”), “Mother Theresa” (“I am a saint, devoted to the needy.”)
- Childhood history may include: very early accomplishment of developmental tasks (walking, talking, toilet training, getting dressed and other self-care tasks, reading, writing, etc.), disturbances around eating, intense separation anxiety (i.e. - refusal to go to school, unable to sleep over someone else’s house or be with a babysitter), frequent illnesses or injuries, collecting, clinging and holding onto objects excessively, thumb-sucking well into later childhood, romanticized relationships with teachers or others adults, wishing to be adopted by them.


INTERPERSONAL AND SEXUAL FUNCTIONING

- Trying to get love and support is the predominant motivation in relationships; this is often attempted either through insistent care-giving (that is experienced by the recipient as intrusive, controlling and demanding), through a helpless, deprived presentation of the self (hiding a covert demandingness and feeling of entitlement); or by direct, self-righteous demanding (“You owe it to me!”); the alienating effects on others of these behaviors will seem to reinforce the experience of early abandonment, causing the person to “give up” on relationships at times;
- Relationships will go back and forth between intense, totally “lost-in-love” involvement to sudden and absolute endings as the symbiotic struggle is acted out (wanting to merge with the all-powerful, giving parent versus wanting to separate from her and individuate);
- Relationships are frequently sought out with people who are extremely needy as the defenses of denial, projection and identification are employed (“I’ll take care of you as the needy me that I’m not.”);
- Love is related to as both “manna from Heaven” and potentially suffocating or devouring (“Can’t live with it; can’t live without it!”);
- Sexual interactions may be used to avoid abandonment and loneliness and for some sense of belongingness; orgasms may be frequent and easy but not particularly charged or strong in women, and men may not have full erections or they may ejaculate easily and prematurely without much charge; being held or cuddled is often more desired than actual sex;
- Surrendering to the love feelings for another brings up intense fears of abandonment and falling behind, losing oneself, being left alone.


PREDOMINANT NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS

- “I must not need.” “If I need, I will be abandoned.”
- “I am alone.” “No one will ever be there for me.”
- “If I connect with another, I will lose myself.” “If I am independent, I must be alone.”
- “I cannot stand on my own two feet.”
- “I must give to others in order to get.” “The needs of others will devour or suffocate me.”
- “There is not enough.” “The world is a depriving place.”


HIGHER SELF APSECTS

- Great capacity to give to others in a deeply nurturing, truly healing way;
- An appreciation for the vastly abundant nature of existence and the joy of sharing;
- Genuine independence, autonomy and self-confidence with full capacity to surrender to the oneness with another;
- Powerful intuitive abilities and the capacity to follow insights through to fruition by sustained, patient effort.

15 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this.

Anonymous said...

Very insightful and well written thoughtful piece of wisdom.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent summary of the Oral defence character, aka Borderline Personality Disorder. I trust this will educate families and individuals suffering from this neurosis.

Stiaan Klue
South Africa

The hand that pens said...

Beautiful. Just what I wanted.
THANKS

aaron said...

loffredo: interesting...only blog i've seen with the charter structures fully detailed...i will be referring clients to your postings. listen, it would be very helpful for me if you have some useful exercises to evoke/provoke process in a process group i am just about to lead. would you be amenable to such a sharing? i have some of my own, but have significant holes to provoke beyond oral and schizoid typing. thanks in any regard....aaron

Karin said...

Wonderful! thank you for this truly comprehensive piece! You're a genius!

Zalaba said...

I really am this type...Can i fix it(as a problem)or just live with it?

Zalaba said...

I really am this type...Can i fix it(as a problem)or just live with it?

nexuzeb said...

This is all beautiful an all, but there should be a section on how an oral character can help himself out of these patterns.. With practical tools to keep him/her busy and feel development.. Aren't there any evolved oral characters that knows some advice other than "learn to stand on your own feet" "sharing is a choice" " the world is abundant" and such? Some advice for some oral people who are a bit further than at the start of realizing their issues?

CITY ROCK NETWORK said...

Thank you for contacting me and for your comments. The fastest, most practical and effective way out of this structure is through a full-spectrum mind-body-spirit therapeutic process, like Core Energetics.
Best,
PL

Anonymous said...

I agree: excellent overview; and most definitely needs exercises, affirmations, healing modalities, suggestions, etc. on how to bring about healing and growth. Others it's just so depressing.

Anonymous said...

For the first time in my 42 years of suffering, my person is described in this piece.

My latest break-up has left me unable to move on at all, suicidal thoughts pervade me, depression, and feelings of complete unworthiness, emptiness, apathy, and loss of self.

I'm at my 51st attempt at a relationship, and feel like there is no other person that can fulfill my life other than my ex. She hates me, despises me, and considers me dead to her. I feel like I should be dead, and did irreparable damage, verbally abusive and venomous when she asked for space. My conscious mind knew what had to be done, but I could not stop myself from exploding in rage, fear, self-sobotage, self hate. I went home and cried and sucked my thumb like a baby, like I do every night since I came into the world at 26 weeks in 1972 and lived in a plastic box for 12 weeks. I loath myself for thumbsucking, but I cannot stop no matter how hard I try. If I don't do it I simply don't sleep. Starve myself continuously, smoke cigarettes at a ridiculous ferocity. At least I don't self medicate on THC anymore, instead dexamphetamine stop the channels changing in my head. I hate myself, I am weak, and I know that if I do not get help now, I will surely kill myself if I ever behave like this again. This piece gives me hope...I am BPD, ADHD, and probably NPD too at times. Seeing my psychiatrist on Friday to tell him that he has not got me all sorted yet, and then off to the psychologist, afraid that I am so hardwired in my thinking that there is no happy future in this life for me, especially since I am now financially ruined to. The only thing stopping me diving off this 8 storey balcony now (like I did in 1993 from the first floor straight onto my head), is that God will send me to hell, and I am a miracle baby, that must at least try to get better.

Anonymous said...

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MC said...

Should you not attribute this description to its original author Stephen Johnson? I don't know if you've done so elsewhere but he is a brilliant Psychologist who deserves to be clearly credited.

Peter Loffredo said...

Dear MC - Actually, other authors well before Stephen Johnson have described the character structures in depth, most notably Alexander Lowen in "Bioenergetics." Also, writers contemporary to Johnson on the subject were John Pierrakos in "Core Energetics," Barbara Brennan in "Hands of Light," Ellsworth Baker in "Man in the Trap," and of course the originator of the concept of character structures, Wilhelm Reich. So, there isn't only one person to give credit to for this orientation. My version has evolved over the last 20 years based on the work of these writers, and of course, my own work with patients.
Thank you for reading.
PL

 

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