Physical Dynamics and Character Structure: How the Body Reveals Personality, Alachua, Fl: Bioenergetic Press 1958/2003
It is noteworthy to see that Alexander Lowen wrote The Language of the Body before Pleasure: A Creative Approach to Life, the book I discussed earlier. This present book is way more theoretical. I admit it is also much more difficult to read. However, for those who are interested in learning the mechanics of bioenergetic thinking, this early work of a master healer is a must-read.
As Harris Friedman, PhD, writes in the Introduction:
For anyone wanting an in-depth exposure to the theoretical underpinnings of bioenergetic analysis as a whole system, this is the book that I would unwaveringly recommend as a starting place.
I have admittedly read Wilhelm Reich’s ‘Character Analysis’ already back in the 1970s. Yet there is a difference between reading Reich’s first attempts to build a characterological analysis, and this work of one of his best disciples who has worked that early draft out into a mature methodology. Here, as in my former review, I will as well shortly outline the content headers of the chapters, for they let us very clearly see the broad scope and the very systematic approach of the author to the topic.
- Development of Analytic Techniques
- Somatic Aspect of Ego Psychology
- The Pleasure Principle
- The Reality Principle
- The Bioenergetic Concept of the Instincts
- Bioenergetic Principles in Analytic Therapy
- Character Analysis
- Character Formation and Structure
- The Oral Character
- The Masochistic Character – 1
- The Masochistic Character – 2
- The Hysterical Character – 1
- The Hysterical Character – 2
- The Phallic-Narcissistic Character
- The Passive-Feminine Character
- The Schizophrenic Character
- The Schizoid Character
It may go without saying that I will not be able to discuss the present book in the same depth as the former, because this would be quite impossible to achieve, not only because I am not myself a trained psychiatrist, but because most lay readers couldn’t see the linking points between the different quotes, because of the conceptual barrier. It is for this reason that I have chosen to discuss here only PART ONE, Point 5, ‘The Bioenergetic Concept of the Instincts’. This is of particular interest as Lowen draws a line to Freudian psychoanalysis that is very important to observe. To begin with, Lowen explains:
The impulse itself is an energy movement from the center of the organism to the surface where it affects the relationships of the organism to the external world. This movement of energy from center to periphery has two purposes or ends. One is related to the function of charge, such as taking in food, respiration, sexual excitement, etc. The other is related to the function of energy discharge, the foremost expression of which is the sexual discharge and reproduction. All activities can be classified according to this simple criterion; that is, whether they fulfill the function of energy charge or discharge./62
Hence, what Freud and early psychoanalysis called ‘the instincts’ must not be confounded with the zoological definition of the ‘instinct’ in animals. It is a fallacy that Freud used the notion of ‘instinct’, while he defined it differently.
But only bioenergetic thinking made it possible that what Freud wanted to express really became cognizable.
We are here confronting a simple dualism that marks all life functions, it is charge and discharge, an energy metabolism in the cell plasma. This is how we can cognize the energy nature of our emotions and find ways to regulate them sanely, without blocking them or replacing one emotion by another because we find the latter ‘more acceptable’ than the former.
This metabolism also conveys that life is essentially a vibration or oscillation where the constant balance of charge and discharge creates a slightly waving ‘band’ on an oscillator. Now, to come back at how Freud saw the ‘instincts’ and how he related the sex drive to them, is controversial. Lowen bluntly states:
In … eros, Freud recognized the libido of the sexual instincts. Originally the concept of libido was restricted to the energy of the sexual instincts directed toward an object. Freud declared later that the libido could be withdrawn and turned inward as narcissism. This in no way disproves its original character as an energy or force. One cannot agree with Freud when he equates eros with the sexual instinct. One is a force. The other, as we defined it, is the channel in which the force moves./67
It seems that popular thinking goes along the same lines of oversimplifying the concept of erós that originally meant to be ‘divine love’ in all religions. In other words, erós is the striving up of man toward the divine, agapé is the divine responding to man in bestowing love upon man. This vertical direction or orientation of man is not just figurative, it is also structural.
Lowen explains in detail in this chapter that the fact that man walks upright and has thus a ‘vertical’ structure, contrary to the animal which has a ‘horizontal’ structure, comes from the fact that in the human, energy processes have been evolved to a point that a dissociation between the impulse and the control of the impulse was possible; while the animal can also control its movements, it cannot cognize such control, which man does; this is what we call consciousness, the possibility of self-reflective thinking that is available only to humans, not to animals.
By the same liberating movement of seeing life as an energy function, Lowen comes to deny Sigmund Freud’s idea of a ‘death instinct’— and this is really significant because Lowen here fully corroborates Reich’s earlier criticism of Freud’s myth of a death instinct.
The concept of a death instinct is illogical. Since the world ‘instinct’ implies life, it is as if one said ‘life equals life plus death’, or A equals A plus B. Death can be contrasted with life, it is not a part of it. The animate develops as part of its structure, a framework of inanimate matter which may cause a drag or inertia on motility. It cannot be designed as a tendency or instinct. Freud assumed the ‘presence of a sadistic component in the sexual instinct’, which he felt was a representative of the death instinct. I do not, however, accept the connotation of sadism as appropriate to this component. We must distinguish between sadism and aggression. The lion who kills for food is aggressive, but not sadistic. The action of a lynch mob is sadistic. In sadism, the pleasure is derived from the act of destruction per se. In the case of the lion, the destruction only makes possible the pleasure which is derived from the satisfaction of the hunger need. We can apply / the same distinction for the sexual act. If the pleasure is derived from the feeling of domination over or injury of the woman’s ego, the act has a sadistic element. Where the pleasure is derived from the experience of communication, both physical and spiritual, which is the essence of the sexual act, no sadistic quality can be ascribed to the action. /76-77
Our culture is very much influenced by Freud’s pseudoscientific or outright mythical teaching, not by the real insights of bioenergetics. This is one of many reasons why the scientific achievements of bioenergy research have not penetrated so far into our mass media and remain a kind of hermetic professional knowledge. Lowen’s books tear down the veil for those who want to know, how few they may be …