Well, here it is, the final installment of my take on the five "Character Structures," those defensive cocoons we build in our first five or six years of life to protect us from the slings and arrows of an imperfect childhood. As a reminder of how a character structure is formed - When the child’s basic needs are not met, rage, terror, and grief are the ultimate affective responses to that reality. Because the child cannot live in such a state of chronic negative emotion, a defensive structure will be created to ward off these incapacitating feelings. The particular defenses used will be a function of the severity of the trauma, the age and developmental level of the child at the time of trauma, and the child's genetic strengths or weaknesses. That difference will largely determine the defenses chosen to avoid the painful feelings and cope with the dysfunctional environment. Similarly, the development of the ego, of the self, and of the expression of life force will be stuck at the point at which these defenses are chosen and cemented into the character structure.
This character structure, the Rigid Character Structure, is where the history of psychoanalysis began. Formally known as the "Hysterical Character Structure," or the "Histrionic Personality Disorder," people with the conflicts described below were typical of Freud's first patients back in the early part of the 20th Century. Usually attractive and successful, even wealthy, and often held in high esteem by society at large, this defensive structure not only didn't sabotage success, it demanded it, ruthlessly. While this person may be open to the idea of therapy as yet another form of self-improvement, they are usually not open to the emotional surrender necessary to break through the character structure. In addition, society at large usually heaps great rewards upon this person for their high levels of achievement. Unfortunately, all of that vicarious support only makes it more difficult for this person to find happiness.
Let's see why -
THE RIGID CHARACTER STRUCTURE
PRESENTING PROBLEMS (when first coming to therapy)
- Unwillingness to fall too deeply in love or engage in a long-term, monogamous love relationship;
- Series of broken relationships, marriages or extramarital affairs in which either some sexual or emotional gratification is experienced, but never the two together with the same person;
- Drivenness, competitiveness, restlessness, hyperactivity, relentless need to “look good” and “achieve”;
- Feelings of unfulfillment in spite of substantial success in work-life; never feeling satisfied;
- Intense fears around vulnerability and betrayal and concerns about looking foolish;
- Hysterical outbursts, psychosomatic symptoms, insomnia;
- Primary falling fear: falling forward (on one’s face);
- Primary holding pattern: holding back;
- Primary longing: to surrender;
- Primary survival struggle: the right to love sexually.
EARLY ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
(Developmental Period – 40th to 60th Months)
- Child’s natural erotic strivings and expressions, including masturbation, were greeted with anxiety, rejection, severe disapproval or punishment by sexually repressed parents;
- The parent of the opposite sex reacted to the child’s amorous advances, flirtatiousness and romantic fantasies with rejection, possessiveness, or overstimulation;
- The parent of the same sex vicariously encouraged the child to express that parent’s repressed sexual feelings (mother dressing daughter up in “sexy” outfits, father encouraging son to be a “ladies’ man”, encouraging coy, provocative behavior, etc.), or that parent inappropriately confided in the child about the details of the marital relationship;
- The parent of the opposite sex was significantly absent from the child’s life during the 3rd to 5th year of life (due to work, illness, death or divorce, etc.);
- A major trauma (severe illness, surgery, accident, etc.) occurred in the child’s 3rd to 5th year of life.
- Though the body is generally integrated and harmonious, with body parts proportionate, there is often rigidity and excessive uprightness in the posture;
- Rigidly held straight back and neck (correlates to pride);
- Pelvis is pulled back, while the chest is pushed out with exaggerated authority or seductiveness (“You can want me, but you can’t have me.”);
- The jaw is often set in a look of determination;
- In men, the face may be sharply masculine and very hard-looking; in women the face may be doll-like;
- Physical armoring tends to be superficial and can move around; there are spasticities in the extensor and flexor muscles that create the rigidity in the posture;
- Walking or gesturing tends to be sexual and flirtatious, or very businesslike;
- History of unexplained psychosomatic (“hysterical”) symptoms that appear and disappear without any apparent physical cause (vertigo, fainting, loss of vision, skin rashes, allergies, hyperventilating, heart palpitations, paralysis, etc.);
- Chronic areas of tension: the long muscles of the body, inner thigh muscles, vaginal muscles in women.
- Strong, vigorous energy charge, but held back somewhat at the periphery of the feeling side of the body, allowing for the movement of energy internally and through the will, but with a controlled receptivity;
- Energy is often directed to “getting things done”, often with some hyperactivity; the “rest” rhythm is resisted, while all of the will centers are active and open;
- There is little capacity to bind energy with armoring, so this person is prone to the development of psychosomatic symptoms;
- Chakras (energy centers): Crown - (spiritual connection) varies, can be open or closed; Third Eye - (intuitive abilities) developed and open; Throat - (self-expression) partially blocked; Heart - (love feelings) developed, but partially blocked; Solar Plexus - (universal wisdom) partially opened and asymmetrical; Sexual - (pleasure and creativity) developed, but partially blocked; Base – (grounding and connection to physical life) open.
OPERATING MODES OF THE MIND, EMOTIONS AND WILL
- Love and erotic feelings are strong, but are controlled by the mind and will; there are intense fears of having one’s “heart broken” in love;
- Surrendering to another is deemed unacceptable and collapse is unthinkable;
- The mind is developed, with an efficient, but unyielding intellect that is trusted much more than feelings or impulses; thinking tends to be very linear, with good concentration, but little capacity for abstraction; creativity is controlled;
- Pride is the driving force in this structure and great efforts of the will are directed towards performance and outer appearances (always being attractive and never appearing vulnerable or foolish);
- Aggression, is generally expressed through competitiveness in socially acceptable ways, without much inhibition.
- An inadequate sense of self caused by the separation of love feelings from sexual feelings;
- A strong Reality Principle that dominates a mistrusted Pleasure Principle;
- Intense pride and competitiveness with an excessive focus on accomplishments, appearances and performing for self-esteem;
- Feelings of emptiness, boredom and dissatisfaction caused by the resistance to receiving from and surrendering to others and feelings;
- Passivity and submissiveness are intensely avoided and experienced as weakness, while stubbornness and rigidity are seen as strength;
- Repressed sexual feelings are pathologically expressed through psychosomatic symptoms, in frequent sexual activity without any love involvement (“flings” or affairs), restlessness, hyperactivity or “flighty” behavior”, or diverted into ambitiousness in the material world (“No time for love in my busy life.”);
- Unresolved Oedipal conflicts are repressed, causing deep longings for the opposite sex, but with persistent fears of betrayal; there is intense competitiveness with the same sex, but with fears of retaliation (“castration anxiety”);
- Constant attention-seeking, trendiness, and a need for compliments pervade the personality;
- Main defenses: repression, sublimation, somatization, identification;
- Typical masks: the flirt or tease (“I’m available…not!”), the alluring temptress (“I’ll give you my magnificent beauty and unimaginable sensual pleasures…maybe if you’re lucky!”), the real man (“I take what I want!”), the serious man of business (“There’s no time for fooling around or getting involved. There’s work to be done.”), the “Barbie doll” (“I’ll be the perfect girlfriend, cheerleader or trophy wife, the ‘Perfect Ten’, just for you!”), the proud one (“At least I’ve got my pride.”), the high society lady or gentleman (“Manners, formality and civility are all that really matters.”);
- Childhood history may include driven perfectionism and competitiveness in learning situations, extreme frustration around any perceived failures (“sore losers”), constant participation in activities that are socially approved of (sports, school plays, musical training, religion, etc.), constant attention-seeking through performing, intense same-sex sibling rivalry, psychosomatic symptoms (allergic reactions, fainting, nosebleeds, etc.); early “dating” or going steady and a preoccupation with romance and gossip.
INTERPERSONAL AND SEXUAL FUNCTIONING
- Relationships often exhibit a push-pull quality, especially around sexual contact, with a constant seeking out of sexual situations and simultaneous flight from them; often one person is chosen as a sexual partner, while another is chosen as a love partner;
- Relationships are often sought out with people who are seen as having status in socially acceptable ways (the "checklist"); others are often related to as either competitors (to be defeated) or suitors (to be seduced);
- There tends to be a superficial or formal quality to interactions, though often with undertones of intrigue (gossiping or a soap opera kind of drama as the style of communicating), argumentativeness, or there may be an hysterical quality to self-expression;
- Something is always held back in relationships to maintain interest and mystery and an “edge”;
- Sex is primarily sought after for validation of one’s attractiveness and prowess and secondarily for pleasure; sexual energy is often re-routed into external or material accomplishments;
- Sexual desires are often experienced as incestuous;
- Sexual pleasure and full orgasm are possible, but often avoided out of the fear of surrendering and appearing vulnerable; orgasms, when allowed, may take a long time and a lot of effort.
PREDOMINANT NEGATIVE CORE BELIEFS
- “If I love, I will be vulnerable.” “I will get love by appearing invulnerable and attractive.”
- “If I desire sexually, I will be rejected.” “I will get sexual gratification by controlling my sexual longings.”
- “I will accept praise, attention and accomplishments as a substitute for love and pleasure.”
- “No one surrenders to another.” “I will survive by never surrendering.”
- “The world is a rejecting, competitive place.”
HIGHER SELF ASPECTS
- Tremendous passion and connection to the sensuality of human relationships, with a true appreciation for and capacity to express the wonder of coming together physically in love with another;
- Great capacity to let go and surrender to the flow of love, to fall in love with life and with others;
- Genuine capacities to make and sustain commitments;
- Strong organizational skills combined with flexibility, patience and acceptance of new approaches to situations;
- A deep appreciation for the beauty of physical life, and sensibilities to integrate the elements of form to create beauty.
- Develop the capacity to experience love and sexual passion at the same time, connecting the heart and genitals energetically;
- Bring into consciousness and release the guilt feelings and judgements for having had loving desires for the parent of the opposite sex, and reverse the repression of those desires caused by fears of retaliation by the parent of the same sex;
- Develop the capacity to yield to others and to surrender to feelings without fears of becoming weak, vulnerable or losing face;
- Develop the capacity to experience the full pleasure of sexual release without ego control, and the joy of falling (falling in love, falling asleep, etc.);
- Become able to make and sustain commitments without fears of being rejected;
- Relax the fierce competitiveness and hyperactivity and constant need to prove oneself;
- Develop flexibility in the body, particularly the back of the body and neck (will centers) and the tensor and flexor muscles; develop natural sensual movements rather than exaggerated gestures of sexual “come on”;
- Develop flexibility in approaches to life’s tasks and relationships, relinquishing the exaggerated pride and need to hold back;
- Eliminate psychosomatic symptoms by making the connection with the repressed impulses behind them, and allowing those impulses to be felt;
- Become aware of and open up to the true depth and beauty of the self that exists beyond the superficiality of appearances and performances;
- Acknowledge and experience the different aspects of the personality, opening the lines of communication between them, while establishing an identification with the adult self;
- Become aware of the erroneous conclusions, images and beliefs of the mask/false self, and the limitations and unreality of the idealized self image;
- Experience pleasure and expansion, and recognize and express one’s Higher Self aspects with less fear of embarrassment;
- Primary raw negative expression that needs release: “I won’t surrender!”
- Primary positive self-affirmation that needs assertion: “I have the right to love.”
- Establish a respectful and professional environment, acknowledging the person’s genuine accomplishments in life, and the seriousness and concern for how he or she has successfully managed many aspects of adult living; also acknowledge the confusion and disappointment the person feels that in spite of these achievements, he or she is bored, lonely, restless and dissatisfied;
- Engage the person’s subtly provocative manner with warmth and an accepting neutrality; do not initially confront any seductive behavior or offer praise for superficial attributes;
- Use unsatisfying experiences in adult relationships to make connections with childhood experiences, particularly to illuminate times in which the child may have felt disappointment and rejection by the parent of the opposite sex, or an uncomfortable possessiveness by that parent (i.e. – not allowing dating as a teenager); also uncover memories in which the parent of the same sex may have shown moralistic disapproval towards, competitiveness with or vicarious involvement in the person’s young love life (i.e. - being overly involved with the teenager’s boyfriends or girlfriends);
- Encourage the person to give examples of having had his or her heart broken in relationships, and the vows they may have made secretly to never be vulnerable again; surface the controlled longing to “have it all” (love and passion) in one relationship, but the fear of surrendering to that longing or believing in its possibility;
- Use stretching, bending, massaging, rolling and vibrating to loosen the rigidly held back and neck, and the spasticities in the tensor and flexor muscles; use pelvic thrusts and rotations to release the holding back in that area and to allow for the experience of pleasure moving through the pelvis; use hitting and kicking to express aggression and pride and refusal to surrender; use massage and hands-on touch over the heart to help opening up to the love feelings, and use visualizations to help the person focus on connecting their heart center to their sexual center; this person will experience the body work as embarrassing, so a professional and technical explanation of its usefulness can be helpful;
- Analyze the meanings of psychosomatic symptoms, their timing, the part of the body affected, etc., and make connections to guilt or anxiety about sexual feelings, competitive impulses, etc.;
- Explore hidden and emerging feelings, desires and fantasies towards the therapist as a love object in a matter-of-fact way, including using dream interpretation, to decrease guilt and anxiety about the feelings, to normalize them, and to begin undoing the pride defense that anticipates rejection or exploitation; when transferences are made to the therapist (i.e. – accusing the therapist of being seductive or rejecting), clarify them as they occur;
- As this person’s heart and genitals become connected and the powerful onrush of integrated love feelings comes forward, he or she will become very sensitive to any perceived insults to their pride or any abuse of their perceived vulnerability; simultaneously, because of the openness, the person will feel exhilarated yet relaxed, confident yet supple, secure yet not rigid; re-assure the person that those new feeling combinations are real, and that now in fact he or she is truly not vulnerable, because of the flexibility and strength of being open;
- Help the person recognize their Higher Self aspects, especially their capacity to love fully, to see that their gifts are there even when hidden behind the mask, and that although they have a wounded aspect in their personality, they need not identify with that aspect in order for it to get the help it needs; in the later stages of therapy, as the person drops the mask and releases the raw negative feelings, fear of pleasure and expansion must be addressed as it comes up with reassurance, based on their own new experiences, that they can tolerate the energy now and that the fear is not a regression or a setback.
Hysterical Personality: (also known as “Histrionic or Repressed Personality) vain, attention-seeking, sexually provocative, dramatic presentation of the self, with a history of many vague symptoms, chronic feelings of disappointment, excitability and exaggerated emotionality; primary repressed conflicts center around genital incestuous strivings.
Identification: the process by which one either blurs or eliminates the distinction between the self and others by extending his or her identity into another, borrowing one’s identity from another, or fusing identities with another (merging).
Oedipal Complex: the dilemma of early childhood, occurring after the 4th year, in which the genitally charged child focuses on the parent of the opposite sex as a primary love object, and comes into internal conflict over perceived competition with the parent of the same sex.
Repression: the process of banishing from consciousness ideas or impulses that are deemed unacceptable.
Somatization: bodily disorders arising from deep-seated emotional and mental conflicts through which repressed instinctual tendencies gain expression.
Sublimation: the modification of an instinctual impulse, expressed in such a way as to conform to the demand of societal norms.