Where East Meets West The Buddhist Wheel of Life
Over the ages man has attempted to explain his self and psychology via various myths, systems, depictions and wisdoms. Many cultures developed a system of archetypes to explain the various types of human consciousness outcomes found in its societal members Campbell: 1990). Some of these systems were woven into the spiritual systems and frameworks of their culture because psychology and spirituality were not seen to be separate or divisible.
One of the surviving systems of spiritual and psychological truth that has survived to this day, and whose truths are still widely adhered to as profound, is the Buddhist Wheel of Life. The Buddhist Wheel of Life is widely regarded as a profound pictorial representation of the spiritual and psychological makeup and environments of human and other worldly realms of existence by Buddhist followers. What is little known is that this 2500+ year old eastern system has been independently validated and supported by a western system of clinical psychology over the last 100 years.
Very few people are both practising Buddhists as well as bodymind psychotherapists who can see this profound link. I am one such person and this article is the first I have encountered that explores the similarities and same conclusions about human existence that the Buddhist Wheel of Life and Reichan Bodymind psychology both point to.
ORIGINS OF THE BUDDHIST WHEEL OF LIFE
The Wheel of Life originated in the time of Buddha Siddhartha Gautama who was also referred to as Buddha Shakamuni, or the publicly known historical figure who created and first realised the system of Buddhism as we know it today. Buddha Gautama is considered to have lived in the period approximately 563BC near Benares in Northern India.
During his life Buddha Gautama travelled and taught and was used as wise counsel by many Kings, Princes and rulers of kingdoms that existed in this time and area. The history of Buddha was maintained both through oral tradition from teacher to disciple in an unbroken lineage, and also by the scholarly system of teachers and students recording teachings, and events into Sutras or written works, teachings and their commentaries. Over time various lineages of Buddhism developed in this way and each created and preserved their own teachings and commentaries, where each system of Buddhism had emphasis on certain practices and wisdoms.
One such sutra is the Extensive Enjoyment Sutra. In this sutra it is explained that a king called Bimbisara (or Bimbasara depending on the Sutra), once received a marvellous gift from a friend.
The giver of that gift was very wealthy and did not have need for any materialistic objects. The king who had received the gift thought long and hard about what would be an appropriate return gift that would honour the giver of the original gift. Knowing that the other person was from a kingdom that was irreligious, the king consulted Buddha Gautama.
The Buddha’s clairvoyance and other gifts enabled him to discern that the other person was ripe to receive and hear the teachings of Buddhism (Dharma). Buddha explained to the king how to draw the Wheel of Life in all its intricate detail. As with a mandala there is nothing included in the picture which is not profoundly wise or symbolic and enables the viewer to contemplate and directly meditate on its contents for advancing wisdom and realisations.
Once the picturegram was complete the king was instructed to give the Wheel of Life to his friend and that “he would definitely be satisfied” as a result. The story goes that upon receiving the Wheel of Life this person developed a special feeling even though completely ignorant of Buddhist and religious matters. When this person read the 4 line verse at the bottom of the Wheel of Life he immediately understood the meaning of the Wheel of Life. This in turn caused him to develop certain special Buddhist realised minds of renunciation and gained a direct realisation of emptiness. This in turn led to the entire kingdom over time converting to the spiritual paths of Buddhism.
The Wheel of Life is considered one of the most profound of all the Buddhist teachings for it encapsulates the primary and advanced teachings of Buddhism regarding the subtle realities of life in its reincarnating principles and environments. The Wheel of Life contains all the essential teachings of Buddhism and is a most profound instrument of teaching and depiction of the interrelated doctrines of Buddhism.
The 6 realms of rebirth represent the destinations that the wandering awareness principle of the mind that survives death, can be attracted to as a place of rebirth. It is stated that after death our mind awareness principle survives and wanders in a bardo or state of in-between death and our next life. In this 49 day period each realm appears as 6 dim lights to the mind awareness and if the mind does not liberate itself at this point it is basically destined to take rebirth in one of those 6 realms based on designated karmic laws.
The visions that appear to the mind in this bardo state, or state between the time of death of the previous life, and the next rebirth, are hostile forms of the intellect and deceptive visionary images. If the mind is not trained and realised from meditative and wisdom practices in past lives, then there is a strong chance that mind will take rebirth in one of the 6 realms that the Wheel of Life depicts.
This is why Buddhists spend all their lives preparing for death. They act to cleanup and purify bad karma and also build good karma through deeds and practices, whilst also preparing their mind with meditations and practices for the journey through the bardo state after death to achieve either liberation or at least a fortunate or higher rebirth.
Many commentaries on the Wheel of Life focus primarily on the 6 depicted realms of rebirth, and the 3 mental factors or poisons of hatred, attachment and ignorance, as the primary focus of discussion, contemplation and meditation.
The Wheel of Life is also lesser understood as an explanation of the states of mind that we each suffer daily in the continuum of our bodymind throughout our human life, and also as an expression of the key psychological and embodied states of being that humans suffer in the karmic outcome of being born in the human realm of suffering.
The Wheel of Life is far more than a profound commentary of the types of reincarnation or samsaric rebirth into spiritual planes of existence. It directly shows the key bodymind archetypes that humans develop in our growth from conception up to adulthood. There are key embodied and key emotional/mental factors and defences that arise in this process that are depicted in the Wheel of Life that will be highlighted in this article.
ORIGIN OF REICHAN CHARACTER STRUCTURES
Western science and spirituality has developed in a separate lineage from the 17th century as science via materialism and reductionism made spirit and religion unscientific and excluded from scientific investigation. The predominate Judeo-Christian spiritual framework in Western society was centred on a linear system of a single life and a salvation or judgement after death based on the principles of how the single attempt at life was lived.
When western psychology became organised and found its place amongst the sciences under Sigmund Freud there was two emerging schools of thought regarding the relationship of the body and the mind. Classical science kept the two separate and psychology under Freud progressed more or less down a path of treating the mind in a mental conceptual way with a relationship to the brain being mapped out under psychiatry and medical sciences.
However Freud had two colleagues who chose to see the Bodymind reality differently. One was the famous psychoanalyst Carl Jung who studied traditional cultures, religious, spiritual and shamanistic systems in attempting to understanding the nature of our human condition. He believed that the unconscious mind was partly at least to be found in the body, and saw our mind as not being wholly tied to individual consciousness, but that collective unconsciousness and interconnectedness were realities tied to our essential natures.
Wilhelm Reich was a colleague of Sigmund Freud who fell out with Freud over the role of the body in its relationship to the mind. Wilhelm Reich believed that not only was the unconscious mind to be found in the body and brain but that the relationship between body and mind was tight and inseparable for the effective treatment of clients mental and emotional issues, and that our experiences in our childhood and from those environments literally shaped our bodies as well as our mental defences.
Wilhelm Reich was a classically trained scientist and so was observant of what occurred in his clinical practice of seeing many clients over the years when associated with Freud. He noted that he started to see a pattern emerge between what stories, childhood backgrounds and issues that the client struggled with, and the shape of their bodies, posture, and other embodied qualities.
Reich put together a hypothesis over time that he refined until he found that he had developed a framework or system to describe what are 5 dominant archetypes of the human embodied condition, with physical, mental, emotional and energetic dispositions constellated around each one. He also had an explanatory background thesis or proposition for each character archetype in which was able to describe the key issues, dynamics and traumas that occurred in childhood, at which age, with which caretaker or parent, that led to the embodied “character” outcome.
Over time he called this system “Characterology” and published a landmark book entitled “Character Analysis” which is still a reference text today in some schools of psychology and psychotherapy. Reich spent his life investigating the concept of how the body and the mind work interdependently as well as with a life force energy he named “Orgone” that he hypothesised flowed in and around the body.
Reich’s energy concepts paralleled many Buddhist and eastern concepts of the chakra energy system philosophy but was arrived at independently from his scientific experiments, and his clinical work with the breath and emotions as a form of that energy. Reich’s appreciation for the need of human beings to live from their heart is also a key truth of Buddhism. The approaches taken by Buddhism and Reich to achieve this end are where there is departure from each other.
THE COMPARATIVE EXPLANATION OF THE TWO SYSTEMS
There are differences in scope and application of the two systems under consideration. Firstly we must understand that Wilhelm Reich devised a system that was only concerned with the human condition from a psychological perspective. Reich as a psychiatrist and a scientist was influenced by the split between psychology, religion and spirit and never attempted to incorporate spirituality or religion into his thinking or philosophies. He saw problems with the shaming of youth in their sexuality by societal institutions such as the church but did not try to create a replacement system of theology.
Reich did see a cycle of life in the context of how a person’s life played out based on their experiences which literally shaped both the body and mind of the individual. He articulated a form of developmental body-centric psychology that followed the linear progression of childhood development and age. He also articulated the recurrent or revolving wheel of misery and suffering that a person would suffer in that lifetime, both as mental or emotional disorders, neurosis or psychosis, and re-enactments of childhood wounding dynamics. In this context he did articulate conditions and mental or inner and outer environments which cause suffering and which parallel in many ways the Buddhist Wheel of Life.
Having clarified that point up-front I will now summarise the Wheel of Life as the baseline for discussion and then where applicable highlight the similarities and differences of Reich’s model of the human condition. My explanation of the Wheel of Life is drawn from explanations and commentaries by celebrated Buddhist Spiritual Guides such as the Dalai Lama, Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, and the various interpreters of the 5 key strains of Buddhist thought and lineage. My understanding of Reich is drawn from Reich’s books, writings, and the evolution and commentary of his work by Reich himself, David Boadella, and Edhouse Baker, as well as later revisionists and evolvers of his work such as Alexander Lowen (Bioenergetics) and John Pierrakos (Core Energetics).
As you read this explanation it is advised that you have alongside you the pictorial depiction of the Wheel of Life. I have included this in this article such a depiction of the Wheel of Life sourced and acknowledged as being from the book “The Joyful Path of Good Fortune” by spiritual guide Geshe Kelsang Gyatso.
If one looks at The Wheel of Life one should start their understanding by looking at the overall diagram and noticing that there is a terrifying figure holding the entire wheel in its mouth, arms and legs. This is Yama, the Lord of Death and symbolises that there is not a single being who is not caught up in the reincarnating death and life cycle, who is not mortal and impermanent, and that there is not a single being, no matter how gifted or resourced, who is outside the control of death.
Every being or type of being must go through the jaws of death and this is part of our suffering and is the greatest obstacle to our liberation from such endless rebirths and suffering. The only beings who are outside Yama are the Buddha’s of which one is standing on a cloud pointing at the moon. The Buddha is outside the wheel as that symbolises how they have become liberated from being reborn uncontrollably with other beings. The Buddha points at the moon to symbolise how one needs to realise the cessation of causes that bind us to be caught up in suffering and samsaric rebirth. In Buddhism the moon symbolises true cessations of suffering with rebirth being a suffering.
The Wheel of Life encompasses the biggest scope possible in life. It represents all the environments that reincarnating beings can encounter and describes all the beings who inhabit these environments. The diagram reveals not just psychological states and realms of being, but spiritual and actual physical realms of reincarnation, and it also reveals the nature of Samsara (the nature and environments described within the Wheel of Life).
Wilhelm Reich also wrote alot about suffering from the point of view of psychology and the human condition. Reich considered just like the Wheel of Life that the mind of humans were tormented by revolving thoughts or wheels of desire, anger and ignorance which took its toll on the body and the mental condition of the person. Reich believed that society was sick in the 1920’s inasmuch as it suppressed natural desires, feelings and pleasure.
Reich believed that cessation of suffering came from the expression of natural feelings and impulses, and if this did not occur then energy blocks developed in the body over time to block these impulses and feelings from conscious awareness. A person became defended and suffered as a result with a mind that often cycled through states of neurosis or psychosis, and bodily illness caused by disturbances in the mind and emotional life of the person.
Reich was only concerned with the experience of the human being in this life and in that life as a human. He did not speculate on reincarnation or spiritual matters and restricted his attempts to help humans find “liberation” to that which an adult could do so via Bodymind psychological techniques in the Reichan tradition. Reich articulated a system of both energy economy (Orgonomy) to explain the concept of a life force energy that mediated between the mind and body of a human, and how this would need to be incorporated into any form of therapy.
Reich conceived of a system of energy pathways in the body which he believed to be psychophysical in nature. His explanations are not that dissimilar to the subtle Kundalini energies of Buddhist thought and the spiritual centres of consciousness in the body at the chakra sites now well recorded in Western thought. Reich was concerned with the implications of energy flow within the body and its affect on consciousness and states of being (pleasure) which was not that far removed from Kundalini yoga and its aim of transcendent consciousness and states of pleasure (bliss) that result.
Reich also conceived that some of these energies were sexual in nature which aligns to some of the Kundalini traditions of Tantric Buddhist philosophy. Reich also had views of energy flow that are not too far removed from the Tantric Buddhist views of energy “drops” and “winds” and their role in states of consciousness.
If one looks at the innermost point of the Wheel of Life diagram one notices an inner circle of 3 animals. In Buddhist tradition the heart and origin of suffering comes from ignorance which is symbolised by the pig. The pig represents the root cause of all suffering which is our ignorance of the true state of reality. There is a pigeon which represents desirous attachment and a snake which represents hatred, and both these are coming out of the mouth of the pig. This explains the reality that desirous attachment to things, and the mind of hatred both in general arise from ignorance. Taken together they all represent the 3 mental poisons that all beings suffer whilst trapped within the reincarnating cycle represented by the Wheel of Life.
Wilhelm Reich also wrote about the nature of hatred, anger, lust, attachment and ignorance in his explanations of each of the personality types he conceived of that represented certain bodymind outcomes. He saw all humans afflicted by both suffering and ignorance of their natures and constrained by dysfunctional societal views about the states of anger, hatred and desire. He articulated ideas about the difference between healthy and unhealthy love, obsessional and neurotic states of mind, as well as the healthy self love for one’s own nature and one’s own body.
The next innermost feature on the Wheel of Life is a circle that is half white and half black. This circle shows how we can rise or descend in the samsaric reincarnation process to be born in a lesser or “lower state” as shown by the black half of the circle, or a “higher state” as shown by the white half of the circle. Whichever of these states of reincarnation you end up in are dictated by one’s karma that ripens in the bardo states between death of one life and rebirth into the next life.
This circle also reveals at a more subtle level how we all cycle though higher and lower states of body and mind all thoughout our lives, and this process is described as “changing suffering”. In this reality we all suffer unstable minds which are influenced and dragged from one state of being and feeling and thinking by the 3 mental poisons mentioned earlier (ignorance, hatred, desirous attachment). One finds this discomfort experientially in meditation where one encounters our “monkey mind” that continually jumps around and is anxious, distracted and suffering. We also find major or minor tensions in the body whilst meditating that represent bodily changing suffering.
In this way we are constantly shifting within ourselves all the time, moment to moment, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day. Our body and our mind fluctuate in its state of happiness, health and well being, and is quite unstable. Advanced Buddhists seek to attain a stability and suppleness of body and mind known as “Tranquil Abiding” which is a key attainment on the road out of this cyclic path or suffering and reincarnating existence. This meditative process of concentration brings a person to a stable and powerful concentrating mind that overcomes the turbulence and suffering of this “monkey mind” chaotic reality.
This innermost circle could be considered to be “spinning” faster than its outermost companion and looked at as an engine that drives the greater process or wheel above it. The innermost circle is the moment to moment suffering that no-one inside this system (all of us) can escape from for even a moment. This inner wheel implies how unstable and prone to suffering our mind and body really is from such a basis of contaminated reality.
This inner wheel also shows how over the day or over a lifetime how one may start out being born or experiencing a “higher” state of being or lifestyle, and then fall down to a lower state of being or experience or environments over the course of a day, a month or through the course of a life. Everyone can identify how rich people lose their fortunes and become poor, disadvantaged people fight their way out of poverty and get to “the top”, and versions in between. In the body someone can be born with a deformity and then be healed or treated at some stage in their life and so “rise up”. Likewise someone can be born intelligent and beautiful, and have a car accident as an adult, and be disfigured and left a quadriplegic. The Wheel is ever moving and our circumstances are ever-changing.
Even during the course of one day we may wake up feeling well, and are happy and content. Then on the way to work we get held up in the traffic, get enraged and act out “road rage” on someone, get to work in a foul mood, fight with the boss, get fired, and collapse into grief at one’s own folly. By the time one gets home you are stressed and tight in the body and then come down with the flu. The wheel is always in spin.
Wilhelm Reich also saw this cyclic reality and articulated how we as humans erect psychological and bodily muscular defences against both suffering and pleasure and states of happiness. We suffer constantly in body and mind as a result and this cycles throughout the reality of a person like a wheel, with recurrent thoughts, waves of negative feelings, and chronic muscular tensions becoming part of the “normal” reality of the person on a day to day basis.
Reich showed how we normalise our suffering into our existence and then disown or “forget” it via repression into the unconscious part of our human condition. Because this is still an unresolved part of our reality we are prone to unconsciously be attracted again and again to re-enactments of the original suffering or wounding dynamic that set us up to suffer in the first place.
We can go through life with a repetition compulsion or a tendency to follow a negative pattern of relating, doing and being in life.The unconscious nature of this process is our ignorance and the two key emotional drivers that fuel these repetitions are linked to desire and lust, or anger and hatred, which mimics the Buddhist view.
Reich showed how many people lived unconscious lives of suffering where they had their wills suppressed out of them and now lived passive lives of quiet suffering where they had psychological splits and traumas which eventually showed themselves as illness in the body. The body was considered the repository of the repressed unconscious urges and emotional wounds of the person and if not made conscious and given expression and integration back into the wider conscious personality, that person was fated to suffer throughout their life.
Reich also agreed that a person could shift throughout their lives in terms of their psychological reality and how their presenting social mask and defences could change over time. Reich noted that the loss of vitality, health and flexibility of the body was hastened by such defensive posturing of the body and the mind. He agreed that human existence was dominated by suffering unless a person was prepared to confront their “shadow” or negative aspects of their personality and work through their issues at a bodymind level, and not just from a talking therapy level.
If one looks inside this second most innermost circle in the Wheel of Life one sees 6 characters or depictions of the 6 primary types of beings who inhabit the reincarnating nature of reality. There are 3 figures in the “lower” or black shaded half of the circle and this is so as it represents the 3 categories of incarnation in the heavier, grosser or severest states of ignorance and suffering. There are also 3 figures in the “higher” or white shaded half of the circle and this is so as it represents the 3 categories of incarnation in the more subtle suffering, attachment and desire configured realms, or potential for contaminated happiness realms.
It is here that the comparisons between the Buddhist Wheel of Life and the Reichan bodymind characterology archetypes show some close correlations. At this point I will explain each Wheel of Life figure in this inner circle turn, and explain the Buddhist view of this realm of incarnation and suffering. If one looks at the next outer circle of the diagram one finds a 6 segmented circle with each circle rich in diagrammatic symbolism and representations. Each of these segments corresponds to one of the 6 figures in the smaller circle and explains key points and attributes of that being and its sufferings and environments.
The explanations given below each draw on the chosen figure and its corresponding segment in the larger circle since taken together we get a comprehensive view of that type, which can express itself as a complete reincarnation as a rebirth, or as a moment of mind, a period of hours, days, weeks, or a chapter of a person’s life.
A person may be born into the human incarnation but depending on a number of factors which include karma, they will experience the other 5 types as states of mind, emotion, feeling, as environments, experiences, and bodily changes, accidents or sensations, throughout that human life. We are wheels within a wheel and each wheel has its suffering.
The explanations that follow relate to the reality of a being or person in its reincarnated reality and the typical environment that accompanies that realm of existence. As we will see however is that the explanation also applies to those moments, those type of days, months and years in a human beings life, as well as the bodymind outcome possibility that a human can manifest.
What I am saying is that the canvas of the human born or reincarnated being is itself one of the 6 overall Wheel of Life outcomes or realms that one can land in. However paradoxically one can also inherit or create for oneself any of the 6 realm types onto that basic canvas of the human bodymind. This realisation is the gift of the Reichan view of the Bodymind and its 5 key characterology states.
As one will see there is a resolution to the problem of how 6 buddhist archetypes go into 5 Reichan equivalents. There is a neat solution to this riddle and a profound wisdom contained within it. One will see how the Wheel of Life turns within each of the different realms but this will only be highlighted from the perspective of the human realm and how this operating principle works. One could by extrapolation then consider how the same principle could manifest in at least some of the other realms but that is beyond the scope of this article.
I will now consider each type in turn. Firstly I will need to explain the relevant or related Buddhist Wheel of Life picturegram before I can show its correlation to the Reichan Characterology view of the human condition. I will explain how Buddhist thought sees each of its own 6 types expressed in the Human realm and how their understanding as to the nature of the 6 types in the human bodymind has strong correlation to Reichan/Bioenergetic school of thought.
HELL REALM vs SCHIZOID or HATED CHILD ARCHETYPE
The hell realm represents the “lowest” or the most grossest realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the hell being represented as the lowest figure in the black half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “falling position” to indicate it is going downwards in terms of its relative rebirth from another realm. The Buddhist philosophy is that we should strive to never be reborn in the 3 lowest realms and a practice known as “going for refuge” is a primary practice used by Buddhists to gain karmic protection from such unfortunate rebirths.
If one looks at the depicted figure one will notice the hell being and the next higher being known as the “hungry ghost” have similar depicted bodies. This I will return to and comment on from the Reichan characterology perspective later. Buddhists recognise the existence of states of human suffering which directly resemble the 6 realms in the way I have noted already. They call these states of human suffering “resembling or occasional hell” and this term means because their body, mind or environment temporarily resembles an environment of a hell realm. The Reichan forms of human suffering noted in his works would all be included under this category of Buddhist explanation.
In Buddhist thought one finds the actual depictions of the actual hell realms divided into 3 primary types of hels. They are given various names in different traditions but primarily here are 3 types of hell realms:
- Great or Hot Hells.
- Neighbouring Hells.
- Cold Hells.
These hell realms each have subtypes or environments of specific types of torture and suffering which are too numerous to go into here. Being born into any of these hells is a moment-to-moment unceasing torment with no relief even for a second. In the Wheel of Life diagram one notices the orifices of the hell being are issuing fire to indicate one type of such a hell realm or torture.
In the Wheel of Life diagram one sees depicted the various hell realms and their sufferings depicted in the lowest of the 6 segmented circle with its profuse pictorial representations. It is of course on the lowest portion of the circle to indicate it is the “lowest” form of reincarnation. There are beings being burnt in boiling pots, beings burnt alive in houses, crushed by mountains, impaled on sharp objects, weapons and trees, with wrathful assistants overseeing punishments and tortures.
There is a fourth hell realm known as the “Resembling or Occasional hell” which has already been noted is the possible experience a being from another realm has where their body, mind or environment temporarily resembles an environment of a hell realm. Let us now see the correlations between Buddhist explanations and those of Reichan bodymind literature.
THE REICHAN SCHIZOID OR “HATED CHILD” CHARACTER
Wilhelm Reich introduced the notion and science of Characterology and its 5 basic character types. Each character type has a set of bodily postures, muscular skeletal structuring, touch, feeling, and contact presentations to the world, and also a cognitive and emotional set of equivalent issues, plus a mask or presenting appearance to the world.
The “Schizoid” term is the old Reichan and psychiatric derived term that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. We at the Energetics Institute tend to refer to this character structure as the “Unwanted Child” or the “Dreamer” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
The need to be wanted and accepted is a primary safety need of every person. We cannot progress far in our survival needs unless we satisfy these basic needs of having connection with someone who safely helps us feel wanted and included. We are born and designed to be part of a family and a community, and find our place within these and with a sense of safety about life.
The Unwanted Child essentially perceived or experienced their earliest life, from conception till birth and beyond, as a hostile reception or hell like realm where they were rejected not just in their own nature and humanity, but for existing at all. The child felt threatened and unsafe, and may have wanted to die rather than continue in life.
The childhood dynamics that setup a person to have a Unwanted Child Personality outcome are typically those where the environment, which typically is represented by the mother, or what is happening to the mother, turns hostile against the vulnerable and totally dependent foetus or child. In this way the child feels born into an unrelenting hell of an existence where they suffer considerably.
Wilhelm Reich articulated that the key issue here for such a child is terror. The child quickly learns to feel unsafe, and feels terror for much of its life as a consequence of early life traumas. The child will struggle to fit into the world and is ever trying to settle, adjust, feel safe, or find refuge from feelings of hatred being directed at it.
The process may begin at conception when a child first physically entered into a relationship to its environment. The child develops and grows in the womb. Its world is contained in the mothers belly inside the placenta which is a separate world contained within the body of the mother. Science now talks about how the placenta functions in some ways similar to a cell and its membrane in terms of how it translates its external environment into meaning within the cell or placenta.
In fact it now said that the placental wall or sac serves the same purpose as our cellular membrane in that it translates the stimulus of the outer environment of the mother into transcription signals that then affect the physical development of the foetus. This is an important concept which overturns the old mechanistic science that states we are hardwired from our DNA and develop to a fixed template of some sort.
This is now understood to be only partially true. We develop to our DNA inheritance but signals from our environment affect the cellular replication process using parts of the DNA, and we develop in adaptation and response from our environment. Remember that the environment of the foetus is the mother, firstly and directly the placenta and womb, and then the wider body of the mother.
It follows that whatever is going on for the mother affects the perception of the foetus, and also the signals reaching the foetus from outside the womb, about the state of the environment “out there”. The baby is affected by both the mother’s physical state, emotional state, and her perception of her place in the world. This is because whatever happens to mother then is in some way translated and affects the child. The most obvious effect is from the physical state of the mother and her physical inputs while pregnant and soon after birth.
We know how alcohol ingested by mothers during pregnancy can corrupt and cause mutation in the developing child, an outcome known as Foetal Alcohol Syndrome. Likewise babies born to drug addicts and smokers often have the baby born with a pre-existing addiction of the same type. This is primarily due to the physical substances that are ingested by the mother reaching the child and being ingested by the child.
The toxic substances wreak havoc to the fragile developmental processes that are building the child in the womb, and also toxify the child. This can only be received by the child as a hostile act or from a hostile environment. Affected babies often go on to have hellish lives of disability and neural and bodily disorders, which create manifest suffering.
Likewise the mother also produces a range of hormones, neurotransmitters, chemicals and substances that regulate her own bodily system. When the mother goes into the Sympathetic or “Fight or Flight” state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), they release key chemicals from their HPA Axis (Hypothalamus, Pituarity, Adrenal glands), which reach the foetus through the blood stream.
In adults these chemicals produce hyper-vigilance, anxiety, aggression or perform such functions as draining the blood supply from the limbs into the trunk of the body, in case there is a fight. Also there are clotting agents and digestion slowing hormones, and inflammatory hormones released such that if there is a fight then the mother will not lose so much blood if a limb is bitten, broken, torn or torn off in the fight, and survival and repair mechanisms can kick in.
However recent research shows that for the developing foetus their reception of these same chemicals from the ANS starts to shape its own developing body. In a foetus regularly experiencing this “fight or flight” effect from the mother, it starts to starve the developing limbs of the foetus of nutrients and blood which are needed for normal limb development. The net effect is the foetus develops with thinner and more undeveloped limbs, which may be elongated. In both the Wheel of Life diagrams of the Hell-being and the Hungry-Ghost we find the distended bellies and elongated, thin limbs.
If the mother is not caring for herself properly in pregnancy with proper diet and supplements, especially where there is already a malnourishment problem, or toxicity from drugs, alcohol, or junk food and drink, then the impact will be probably felt directly on the foetus in some negative way. Addiction researchers describe the effects of drugs and toxins on the life of the unborn child as traumatising, with babies moving within the womb detected in scans and observed in pre-natal care.
If you look at the depiction of the Hell-being you will notice fire issuing from all its orifices. This symbolises the complete experience of “fire” or suffering both within their bodies and not just from their external environments. In developmental psychology some literature talks of the way in which a unborn child in the womb appears to somatise or hold in its bodies any emotionally negative energies or traumas that come its way during pregnancy. Such literature describes the process of “introjections” as being the most primitive form of psychic defence that infants possess, and use to survive negative traumas.
The clinical body of experience within Bodymind psychotherapy that started with Wilhelm Reich has noted that adults who have negative womb experiences and/or negative early post-natal experiences have an outcome where their bodies somatically hold terror and rage in the muscles and possibly at cellular memory level. Therapy with such individuals relates to somatic release of such trapped and frozen energies (Cold Hell?) and how the person who suffers in this way has introjected hatred or negative feelings from the mother into its bodies to survive such experiences.
As they grow older they then start to use projection of these same trapped negative feelings of hatred and anger outwards onto others and their encountered environments. They then make a cognitive mistake of believing that other people and “out there” is hostile and a constant hell, which is the experience of a hell-being. This triggers a new round of terror in this individual and creates a hyper-vigilant, hyper-aroused individual who manifests many symptoms of what is now termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
This same ANS process also interrupts the developing babies limbs and body in the same way once the baby is born and outside the womb. Here the babies own ANS will create the same effect as the child is regularly put into a “fight or flight” state from the many ways mentioned in this article. Toxified babies will show cravings, withdrawals, and normally suffer attachment-bonding issues with their mothers once born.
Such issues are manifest suffering and create the basis for deficiencies in the development of the babies social-engagement system of the brain, to experience fear of death via abandonment when it cannot bond with the mother, and to have a traumatised nervous system, and possible brain impairments. Trauma research now shows the primary importance of the attachment process between mother and baby for creating and sustaining an environment of safety in the child.
It would appear from emerging medical research that the human foetus developed an evolutionary code for translating the mothers ANS produced chemicals into bodily outcomes. The mother in a parasympathetic or relaxed ANS state produces a happy and well developed child who often births easily. The mother in a Sympathetic or “fight or flight” state of ANS produces a child who has somatic or bodily issues, is often underweight, and who often has a difficult birth.
The difficult or protracted birth of a baby by a terrified, traumatised, depressed, or angry mother could easily be seen to be akin to one of the key “neighbouring hells” of Buddhism. The hell is described as that where a person experiences being smashed or crushed together by two mountains, or crushed between two large objects, which one could restate as the muscular holdings of a contracted pelvis which does not dilate properly out of fear.
We believe that the developing foetus which evolves under the Sympathetic ANS state gets “wounded” beyond its physical self to have a sense of being “unwanted”, “rejected”, “unloved”, “hated”, or is “unsafe” in the world. No-one knows when a foetus develops consciousness. From case studies with the “Unwanted Child” personalities they appear to have a deep sense of alienation, fear, horror, and hostility from their time in the womb where such conditions existed.
Their perception of reality as adults when they come into therapy reveals a perceived reality of being unsafe in the world, maladapted in the world, and being sensitive and hyper-aroused to anger or persecution by others. This mimics the hell realm of Buddhist literature. They often are suffering some form of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Their history will normally show the mother was also often not able to be there for the child. This disconnection or self-obsession can occur where the mother may have been stressed, anxious or depressed during and after pregnancy, a drug addict or alcoholic, unable to cope with the pregnancy, it was an unwanted or difficult pregnancy, was forced to work long periods of time rather than rest and nurture the child and themself.
The mother may have been a single parent, quickly had another child close before or after this one, already had numerous other older children to look after, or were in poverty or survival consciousness due to lack of resources or from living in a war zone or disaster.
The mother may be in a unsafe or abusive relationship, or the mother’s partner may be emotionally shutdown or resent the unborn child’s presence, be unable to communicate emotionally in general with the mother, not support them, or attack or rage at the mother and therefore the child. By default, what affects the mother and makes them upset or unsafe, will then make the child feel unsafe or unwanted. The foetus or baby feels the hostility or unsafe energies, emotions or embodied reactions of the mother, and takes on the reality of being in an unsafe, persecutory, or hostile world.
The birth of the child may also be traumatic and create the sense of hostility and the world being unsafe in the child. Some of the states of hell realms described in Buddhist literature resemble the birthing process, with the sensations of suffocating, being crushed, having the head grasped by torture implements (forceps), and undergoing attack by others (induced birth).
The hell realm can continue for the baby once it is born. A new born baby is totally helpless and dependent on the mother for its survival needs and sense of safety. The mother may not bond with the child at birth, or get post-natal depression, or have problems getting the breast feeding process going, so affecting the mother-child bond. The baby relies on the Attachment process between mother and child to commence immediately from birth so the child can feel safe, get nurturance, and retain the symbiotic bond that existed in the womb between mother and child as one embodied entity. Disruption of the attachment process creates trauma for the new born baby and trauma to a new born baby is analogous to being in a hell realm.
Some schools of developmental psychology now postulate that the human child develops for a year outside the womb and is not fully formed until that year has passed. This is due to the physical constraint of the developing child’s head and how the mother must birth the child before the head becomes too big for the vagina to pass safely when birthing.
The extra time outside the womb is needed to complete the child’s formation and requires the close symbiotic attachment process with the mother for that process to be completed. Separation between the mother and the child is now increasingly being found to create traumatisation that results in anxiety, stress, attention deficits, and gastro-intestinal disorders in such abandoned babies.
The absence of touch, nurturance, mirroring of love and contact between the mother and child has shown from orphanages to create a stress which descends into a hell of traumatising shutdown of the body and mind of the child, which if not intervened, leads to a death of the infant from loss of touch and nurturance from a form of systemic shock.
This is a hell of a “cold” nature as it relates to the absence of emotional energies, a contraction as a result, a psychological “freezing” and shutting down of the bodies and nervous systems of the affected infants, as the Parasympathetic system instigates a “stilling” process to conserve whatever energies and resources are still available to such a child.
Another form of separation and therefore creation of a possible hellish existence for the child relates to how birth can be traumatic for either the mother or the child, and a long labour, breech or other complications such as tearing of the uterus may lead to hospitalisation of either the mother or child, and so force their separation.
Separation of mother and child was commonplace in hospitals until recent years as medicine and psychology did not understand the significance of birth attachment processes between the mother and the child. The Buddhist description of some of the cold hells where the being wanders a lonely existence and freezes can be an analogy to this form of abandonment.
In many ways our Western hospital births of the last 150 years have been depersonalised, cold and “hellish”, traumatic events for many mothers and their children. Many people who were adopted or “given away” were born into this world emotionally unwanted. They had to suffer rejection in the womb from the mother, which is emotionally a “cold hell” of abandonment and absence of love and connection, then be birthed mechanically and whisked away from the mother without ever having a connection or bond. People born and handled this way often suffer in their adult lives from impaired social-engagement systems with other people, and find life hard to fathom, relationships hard to make and keep, and life a struggle.
The adoption system and the orphanage/foster parenting systems of the 20th century have shown to have resulted in widespread trauma for many babies who were born and raised into such a emotionally deprived environment. The systemic abuses of babies and children under care of such institutions mimics the descriptions of some hell realms that involve torture and abuse and the absence of relief of suffering. The act of the various forms of abortions via drugs, needles, punching and vacuum extraction read directly from the Buddhist hell realm literature as the reality that babies in wombs must have felt as their placental sacs and bodies, were pierced, poisoned, hit, and torn apart into pieces.
The recent fad of mothers having a caesarean birth also creates numerous issues for the child. The natural vaginal birthing process has been shown to coat the child with the mother’s feel-good Oxytocin hormone which then helps forge the mother-child attachment bond at birth. The interruption of this process has been linked to mothers then going on to suffer post natal depression.
The child’s vaginal birth also causes it to have its head slightly compressed which like pressing a button, activates the babies brain to set off certain reptilian brain segment survival functions such as breathing, whilst also compressing the lungs to drive out amoebic fluid, and create the initial vacuum that triggers the lungs to start breathing. All this is interrupted by caesarean births which are now accepted and promoted by doctors as “normal”.
If a mother struggles to bond with the baby at birth then trauma often results. A post-natally depressed mother will not engage the child properly with the Attachment process for depression creates issues in both the way a person’s eyes mirror emotional states (they often have a dull emotional affect), and the mother may not be able to generate love or feel love, and may instead become upset, angry, irritable at the defenceless child. Breast feeding or breast milk production can be disrupted and so affect this crucial aspect of the attachment process a child needs with its mother.
Whatever may have gone in the world of the mother and her environments, either internally or externally, may the suffering may then continue once the baby comes home from hospital. If the mother was depressed or unhappy when pregnant, chances are that little has changed. As with all the conditions and circumstances I have mentioned, few get resolved or changed by the act of birth. In fact some dynamics worsen as the child is now present, demanding, crying and wanting attention and love and nurturance. All of these can add to the negative dynamics and experiences of the child, and may set it up to suffer more persecution, torture, rejection, abandonment, and trauma.
Children are born with strong instinctual and encoded intelligence for both socialisation and for reading people’s faces, voice intonations, gestures and other cues. The child quickly learns whether in fact it is wanted, loved, safe and can be relaxed or stressed. The child can quickly learn to perceive it is under hostile or attacking overseers, which is well described in Buddhist hell realm literature where the overseers of such realms are punishing, aggressive, hostile, torturing and unceasing in their actions of terror.
Wilhelm Reich noted how the baby quickly perceived its world and its caregivers as unsafe and hostile towards itself. The problem for the child is that it only has a few primitive nervous system and psychological options or strategies with which to deal with perceived threats or hostility from its caregivers and/or environments.
Basically Reich noted that the baby has only the ability to dissociate or “split off” from a terrifying or threatening dynamic in order to survive negative stimulation or threats. This is an attempt to turn away or avoid the situation and escape it by mentally “going away”. At this early stage in life there appears to be a generalisation made by the foetus and baby that all life in general is unsafe as a consequence of a single major, or repeated traumatic episode(s) that encountered.
This will then be the negative disposition and anticipation that the baby will carry into childhood and then into adulthood, and it will be particularly triggered in social settings, relationships, and work environments. Even though the child survives the physical “hell realm” of pregnancy, infanthood and childhood, it will be prone to suffer “resembling hells” for the rest of its human life through the psychological processes such as repetition compulsion, being unconsciously attracted to rewounding scenarios such as similar environments or types of people who wounded them in the first place.
Reich articulated that the net effect of whatever dynamics are playing out is the child grows into an adult who still feels unsafe in the world in general, and typically has a general life conclusion that they are not safe, and that the world is hostile and unsafe. This unsafe or hostile feeling is more conscious and manifest around people and crowds. This is living in a self generated hell realm.
Reich noted that terror is the primary feeling that always appears close to the surface in these individuals, leaving them anxious and hyper-aroused or shutdown and hypo-aroused. Buddhist hell realm literature describes how hell beings suffer pervasive and unceasing suffering which is in agreement with Reich. The adult will typically be hyper-vigilant and live almost continually from the Sympathetic state of the ANS, leading to psychosomatic illnesses in the body over time.
They particularly fear any resemblances to that which constituted the original traumatic form and experience. They tend to compensate as adults via social isolation, withdrawal, and retreat into imaginary mental day dreams or worlds. In present day we assist such people in this endeavour via virtual worlds on the internet, that will help avoid or escape any stress, particularly of a social nature.
Some Buddhist hell realm literature describes a reality of different forms, environments and realities appearing that compel the person to crave for and chase them, only to end up suffering more, or suffering persecution or torture as a result. The internet via Facebook, Cyber-bullying, pornography and internet addictions is now being seen to create this very suffering reality in new and different ways.
The Unwanted Child tends to recreate their perceived hostility in choices they make about themselves, and in the relationships and environments they choose. The Unwanted Child as an adult will have tended to have internalised the hostie reactions of caregivers, and will now replay the same hostility to themselves from their unconscious. They may enter abusive relationships with harsh and critical partners who are emotionally shutdown or have unresolved anger issues. They may have unresolved trauma issues that see them triggered and descend back into a trauma re-enactment if their childhood was severe.
In this way they cannot escape their hell realm and like Buddhist literature are constantly “reborn” into the same environment after time they suffer and “die” within it. Unless the Unwanted Child enters therapy and works hard to expose their embodied terror and rage, and undergoes trauma healing, they will often lead hellish lives with constant recreations of suffering.
This echoes the Buddhist literature that the hell being cannot escape their fate or seek relief as every appearance of safety or relief turns into more persecution and suffering or abuse. The Unwanted Child often lives that reality with the choices they tend to make in their life. What appears safe turns out to not be safe. This is a common problem that trauma sufferers face when they often mix up defensive reactions (run away) with attachment impulses (go toward) and end up in trouble.
Reich noted from case histories of such individuals that the typical compensation for the Unwanted Child is the escape either into spirituality, reclusion, a virtual reality, or a narrow vertical form of skill specialisation which they master in a rigid perfectionistic way, and within which they can stabilise and attempt to operate within safely. Escapism is a form of dissociation, and when done in isolation, it assists in making the person feel safe. Social activities are often terrifying for many such individuals.
As the world is harsh and hostile to the Unwanted Child, they tend to idealise and seek out spiritual refuge in dissociative spiritual practices like meditation, contemplation, solitude, and retreat activities away from life. They report feeling an affinity with spirit and wanting to leave this life and return to spirit which they see is their true heritage. They want a way out of their suffering just like hell beings.
They may have suicidal ideation and may wish to stay out of their body which they see as alien to them, a source of pain and suffering, and which is not safe to them as they often feel threatened by their own feelings, desires, impulses and urges. Trauma sufferers are often phobic of their bodies as the body triggers and arouses them in an out of control way that is threatening to them.
They often are sick and suffer from somatisation disorders which are not dislike Buddhist hell realm literature which describes great bodily suffering, welts, boils, and horrible sufferings. The Unwanted Child may feel part of them is possessed or evil as they feel disconnected from their own primal drives, impulses and urges, and see them as threatening.
They may compartmentalise their thoughts away from their feelings, and not be able to link their feelings to their thoughts. They may also forget things and panic when trying to recall information, escalating their anxiety, and it may trigger a panic attack. As they suffered the ultimate betrayal of trust, that being from their caregivers, truth and trust are major issues for the Unwanted Child. They only trust the truth and are vigilant for when the truth is betrayed as this proves that trust cannot exist in this place or with that person. They see and fear the worst from life and so life is bleak and threatening.
They are often intuitive, some would say psychic, and at least they operate from their own internal summation of others from this intuitive place. The problem is they often project their internalised terror and disowned hostile feelings onto others, and then “read” this information back from the other as if it exists on the side of the other person.
In this distortion they then perceive good and safe people and environments as being unsafe, hostile, and terrifying. In this way their discrimination can be faulty and they create hell where it actually does not exist. There is no safe refuge for this person just as there is not in a hell realm of Buddhist literature.
They likewise can be fooled by unsafe people and environments and as these are somehow familiar, and Unwanted Child can adapt and make sense of such settings. Contemporary case histories show that the Unwanted Child can end up in Narcissistic led, psychological and spiritual based cults and churches and feel strangely at home. They adapt and feel “comfortable” with the often mental, emotional, spiritual, sexual and physical abuse that is often linked to such groups. In Buddhist hell realm literature we find hell beings rushing towards kindly looking beings and environments which then transform from refuge into persecution and abuse.
The resulting outcome of the bodymind of a predominant Unwanted Child personality can be summarised as a person in shock, whose is now frozen and compromised. They may appear cold, energetically dead, and out of touch with themselves and others.
The body tends to show the contraction of the muscles and movements that led to the original impulses that resulted in hostility, frustration, pain and negativity coming its way. These chronic contracted muscles then affect posture and possibly affect bodily system regulation and proper function. The person loses spontaneous movement, some feeling, and behaviour as a result. This trade-off occurs to minimise feeling pain. The person shuts down across itself, deadens, and survives.
Expression and release of the blocked impulses is equated to the illusion that this will annihilate them and others around them. They shut down and become deadened in the body, still, and peaceful in movement and mind, and adopt spiritual giving as a defence against vigour and energetic release, so reinforcing their blocks.
The body therefore appears deadened, stiff, and moves mechanically and with prior awareness of the person who ensures it is safe to do so. The child had to undergo a self-negation process where they disowned their impulses, faced intense attack and hostility, which produced sheer terror and pain, often from the caregivers. To stay present and to resist or protest were both too painful to bear, and could invite further punishment or abandonment. The key way we shut these down in the body is by restricting our breathing. The Unwanted Child character has shallow breathing.
This will be found in the tightness and constriction of the chest muscles, the tight intercostals muscles between the ribs which constrict breathing, and a raised set of shoulders, thereby creating a constricted and extended chest. The Unwanted Child person often shows an accompanying restriction in the throat which can produce a high pitched voice, and raised sinewy neck muscles.
The throat is constricted, the person chokes when excited or anxious, and feelings are cut-off between the body and the head. The person often has an under developed chest, with a possible spine twisting either as some form of Scoliosis, Lordosis or Kyphosis, as an expression of turning or twisting away from the terror.
In some Unwanted Child persons they manifest a malnourished body that resembles someone who needs to eat more, or who looks like they were in a concentration camp. They have a sinewy body, veins, muscles and bones are prominent. They may have a distended belly. They are not in contact with their impulses which are repressed and so often are not aware of own hunger, thirst, heat or coldness of the body. They often dress inappropriately and do not align to their environment.
There may be a more prominent Adams Apple in the throat, a narrow and sinewy throat, a deeper hollow in the bottom of the throat, and the head may be stiffly held, with a slight tilt to the side, or thrust backwards slightly in terror.
The eyes are striking in this personality as they normally deeply express the frozen shock of the terror that they faced in the womb and from whatever and whoever traumatised them. The eyes lack warmth, or are unresponsive, and stay frozen or fixed, and go classically vacant when the person dissociates or “splits off”. This is the visible part of a deep block that runs around the whole ocular segment of the base of the head.
This is often termed the “Terror Response look”, and coupled with the raised shoulders, projects the classic frozen stance of a startled person. This block is considered to function to prevent the person becoming conscious to feelings and also so as not to actually see the outside terrifying object of hostility. As a consequence they may wear glasses or have sight issues.
They often have deep blocks in the jaw as seen in the Mastoid, Masceter, and facial muscles that are painful when pressed. Likewise this personality often develops bruxism or the grinding of teeth due to the rage and terror held in the jaw from the baby needing to suppress the need to cry out in horror or to get its oral nurturance needs met. The blocks also prevent grief and sobbing from occurring.
The limbs of the Unwanted Child personality are weak, thin and under-developed due to the previously noted effect of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) chemicals and hormones affecting the developing child. The net effect is the child develops with limbs that may be locked and braced, and be thinner and more undeveloped limbs, especially where there is often already a malnourishment problem from under-feeding, or poor parenting skills in understanding proper diet or nutrition for infants.
The thinning effect is seen in the limbs, which also may show a pale colour and be cold to the touch in their extremities such as feet or hands, as blood flow may still be a problem in adulthood. Also this personality will have developed deep blocks to reaching out with their arms for what they want, which is a gesture of arms outstretched. There will be chronic tensions across the shoulders and back, the pectorals, and between the shoulder blades, particularly the rhomboid and Terres muscles. Their joints also suffer from the freeze effect in the body, and may hold tension, be enlarged, and be subject of Rheumatoid Arthritis later in life.
The trunk of the body may appear out of proportion to the limbs and head, and a general asymmetry may show up in the overall body. The body may not present as a unitary whole, or left and right sides may be different sizes, and it is speculated that the foetal stage of developmental growth may have suffered interruption due to the internal hostile environment inside the womb.
The abdominus and lower abdominal muscles will be tight to prevent full breathing and sobbing. Their pelvis is often locked and frozen with lower back tightness present, and may have hip problems due to higher back Scoliosis, Kyphosis or Lordosis. The bloated belly relates to gastro-intestinal issues and the held energies of terror and grief in the belly and chest. This resembles the depicted body of the hell being in the Wheel of Life.
The Unwanted Child personality often has hammer toes and a raised arch in the feet, reflecting the terror reflex where their toes are clawing into the earth like a cat. The feet may be larger than the ankles and out of proportion, be cold to the touch, have gnarled toes and poor circulation. They often appear ungrounded and may walk awkwardly. They are ungrounded and this shows in the feet and legs.
Their legs, while thin, also show a bracing or stiffening of the knees, which in turn affects chronic tension they already hold in their backs, and to compensate they tilt their pelvis forward in a locked or frozen position. They may suffer supination or pronation of the feet which makes them unsteady on their feet, which reflects their fragility in the world. They often struggle with balance, posture or leg/feet issues which reflect their struggle in life.
We describe the Unwanted Child as being “blocked” in an energetic sense. This reflects in their neglected or malnourished bodies. However energy exists and is dammed up, and they feel the tension of this blocked energy wanting to flow as an alien force or possession by some entity that makes them go into terror, fear their own rage, and feel evil.
If one looks at the pictorial representation of the hell being then one notes some similarities with this archetypal embodied outcome for the Unwanted Child. The correlations between the mental/emotional world of the Unwanted child and Buddhist hell realm descriptions are significant as is the interpretation of the same literature as applied to the baby in the womb, and in the first 6 months after birth.
THE HUNGRY GHOST REALM Vs THE ADDICT OR ABANDONED CHILD ARCHETYPE
The Hungry Ghost realm represents the “second lowest” or the second most grossest realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the Hungry Ghost being represented as the middle figure in the black half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “falling position” to indicate it is going downwards in terms of its relative rebirth from another realm, except the hell realm from which such a rebirth is a “higher” relative rebirth. As already mentioned it is the Buddhist philosophy that we should strive to never be reborn in the 3 lowest realms and a practice known as “going for refuge” is a primary practice used by Buddhists to gain karmic protection from such unfortunate rebirths.
If one looks at the depicted figure of the “Hungry Ghost” one notices a body quite like that of a hell being. The body depiction has significance in the Reichan characterology perspective which I will comment on later. The Hungry Ghost in general has more resources and mental capacity than a hell being, and even is quite gifted in some ways, but suffers significantly.
Buddhists recognise the existence of states of human suffering which directly resemble the hungry ghost realm. These principally relate to being unable to get the resources they crave and desire, and to suffer abandonment and wander alone and unable to accept or take-in any food or nourishment they encounter. The ways in which Wilhelm Reich describes the suffering of this character closely resembles the forms of hungry ghost suffering noted in Buddhist explanation.
The Buddhist literature describes these entities as not having a physical body but being ghost or spirit like. They suffer from 3 primary hindrances:
- External hindrances
- Internal hindrances
- Hindrances to obtaining food and drink
These hindrances need some explanation. These beings can visit and be seen in ghost form in the human realm. They wander their environments trying to find food, water, and when it presents to them it then vanishes like a mirage when the hungry being approaches them. In this way they are unable to find sustenance and nurturance and suffer abandonment when things and people vanish in front of them. This will be shown to have a strong symbolic resemblance to the experiences of the Needy Child of Reichan literature.
The Hungry Ghost has a mind that is dominated by attachments and cravings which it cannot satisfy, as well as miserliness which stems from past life actions of the same type. This description mimics that of a person who suffers from an addiction where they are single-mindedly obsessed with wandering around thinking of their next “hit” or experience. Their minds become anxious and obsessed with finding basic resources which keep eluding them in their deprivation, or they are driven to chase after their cravings for which Reich would substitute the word addictions.
The tie-in here with the states of anxiety and of potentiality poverty, and addictions as a part of their lifestyle or personality, is uncannily those key character outcomes shown by Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen to afflict the “Needy Child”. The “disappearing act” of food, drink, and people as the Hungry Ghost approaches them is a symbol for abandonment which too is a key psychological wounding and also re-creation that the Unwanted Child tends to setup in their own lives.
In both Buddhist literature and in Reichan/Bioenergetic literature there is commentary to the fact that the being/person experiences constant anxiety, fearing that any seen or gained resources will be snatched away from them before they can properly secure it for themselves, and indeed this is often the outcome.
In general the Hungry Ghost is considered in Buddhist texts to undergo 6 basic types of suffering:
- Intense heat
- Intense Cold
- Intense Hunger
- Intense Thirst
- Great Fatigue
- Great Fear
Each of these sufferings are considered to occur constantly over the life of a Hungry Ghost. In the Wheel of Life diagram we see the lower left hand side of the 6 segmented panel as displaying the various depictions of the Hungry Ghost as they attempt to find and approach food and persons only to be defeated, persecuted, abandoned or have the appearances vanish. One also sees the orifices of such beings erupting into fire as they try to take in food or water or resources.
In each of these sufferings we find equivalency in the mental and physical states of suffering that the Needy Child tends to experience in its human existence. Let us look at this further now.
REICHAN “ORAL” or NEEDY CHILD ARCHETYPE
Wilhelm Reich introduced the notion and science of Characterology and its 5 basic character types.
The “Oral” term is the old Reichan and psychiatric derived term that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. The Energetics Institute tends to refer to this character structure as the “Needy Child” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
All humans have needs and wants all through their lives. A key developmental stage in childhood is the evolution from dependence to independence. This occurs in stages and at different levels in all of us. In infancy, from birth till the age of about 3 years, the child is on a journey of slowly going from a place of complete dependence, to a place of more or less basic autonomy and separation at the physical and some emotional level from the parents.
In characterological terms, the “Needy” character encountered some developmental arrest or interruption to their satisfaction of early needs, dependency and dependency gratification. The needs may have been physical in terms of enough breast feeding and therefore nutrition, enough physical needs such as touch, clothing, stimulation in their environment, or emotional such as mothers touch, presence, love, loving eyes, and verbal coo-ing to the child.
We understand today more than ever the importance of the presence of the birth mother to the infant, but as a society we practice abandonment and neglect of the child’s needs at the same time. As such it is stated that this Oral or Needy wounding shows up in us all in Western society at some level. In some it is primary and defines their body and their personality whilst in others it is secondary and may only show a secondary effect in the body and personality.
The childhood dynamics that setup a person to have a Needy personality outcome are typically those that result from a lack of mother-attunement with the child. It is critically an outcome of the Attachment phase of infancy that starts at birth till the age of about 2 to 3 years, depending on the child. The father plays a secondary but still important role of both support and nurturance to both child and mother at this stage, but the mother is the key defining relationship that shapes the child at this stage of development. Typically there was deprivation or unreliability of the parents towards the child’s nurturance needs.
All human beings require an effective social engagement system in order to build attachment and an affilitative relationships. This social engagement system develops and is influenced by early attachment experiences that the infant has with its caregivers, and will shape how it deals with and regulates internal and external forms of stimulation.
We as human beings are only born with limited capacities for self-regulation. We learn and are dependent on those attachment relationships with our care givers to give us our context by which we as adults will then have lifelong tendencies for regulating arousal of stimulus and reactions that we will engage with as a result (Ogden:2006).
Early life disruptions to our process of attachment with parents will have major consequences for how we as adults will then deal with attachment as adults. This may show up as diminished capacity to modulate arousal of stimulus from internal or external sources, impairment in developing healthy relationships, susceptibility to addictions and cravings, and an inability to cope with stress (Siegel:1999). It is here that we start to see Hungry Ghost traits forming from such early life traumas.
Babies only have certain cues to use in its social engagement system with its parents. The baby will vocalise with sounds, cries, and also use facial grimaces to signal distress. The baby will smile, gaze, or use cooing sounds to signal love and safety with its care givers. The baby will also gaze at the parent and use neural or brain recognition of the parents eyes and facial muscles to ascertain the stance being taken toward itself. (Porges:2004). It is believed that we all inherit inbuilt templates of basic facial patterns so we can start to make sense of our environment as defenceless infants.
These behaviours and recognitions serve to increase proximity between the parent and the baby (Ogden:2006), and repeated experiences of attuned interaction form a bonding and understanding that allows the baby to become increasingly effective at signalling, engaging, and responding to the parent (Siegel:1999). The experiences shape and enhance the social engagement system of the child. The baby is totally dependent on the mother for all its resources, nourishment, needs and safety at this stage in its life, and relies on this social engagement system to communicate its needs.
The child learns via this system to experience safety and to maintain or return arousal to a window of tolerance by dampening their Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) and Dorsal Vagal parts of the brain and nervous system (Ogden:2006). A well formed and stable social engagement system that effectively regulates the child’s brain and nervous system in this way will over time allow the baby to become a child with a wider window of tolerance of experience and stimulus that does not compromise its safety. This then becomes the basis for the later adult to have the capacity to tolerate, process, and even transform difficult experiences into opportunities for growth (Ogden:2006).
This social engagement system is built partly on face to face engagement, bodily contact between the parents and child, attunement and sympathetic interaction by the parent towards the child with bodily postures, facial muscles, word and sound tones, and touch and sensitivity. This interactive dynamic between parent and baby is believed by neuroscientists such as Merencich (Doidge:2007) to facilitate the development of the key emotional and arousal processing centre of the brain, known as the Orbital Prefrontal Cortex.
The baby relies primarily on tactile and body centric interactions and communications when first born, and then over time is able to interact with auditory, verbal, and visual stimulus and communication becoming available and integrated into consciousness and experience. The baby develops their own sense of self through the careful and gentle attention and stimulation from the mother or parent in each of these areas from repeated and stable experience that allow the baby to sense and understand the contact and its meaning (Siegel:1999).
When this occurs, social engagement, secure attachment, and regulatory abilities in the child are established and adaptively supported (Ogden:2006). If however the child experiences some form of one-off trauma, or abandonment, repeated failure or neglect or abuse at this early stage, the interpersonal trauma is not only a threat to physical and psychological integrity and formation in the child, but also a failure of the social engagement system (Ogden:2006). This may not have been intentional but will create shock and trauma to the child nevertheless (Siegel:1999).
If there are problems, neglect or ignorance on the part of the parent in understanding their role in supporting their child at this critical age, this failure of the attachment relationship will undermine the child’s ability to recover and reorganise, to feel soothed or even feel safe again with the parent or other persons (Ogden:2006). The baby’s opportunity to effectively utilise social engagement for care, survival and protection will have been overridden, and the baby will experience overwhelming arousal without the availability of attachment-mediated comfort or repair. This is the basis for trauma.
The secure-attachment process is achieved by bodily contact and the nurturance and caring touch, sounds, looks and emotions from the parent towards the child. A parent who is emotionally unavailable, absent, drunk, drugged, angry, depressed, sick, or who is self-absorbed for any number of reasons, will not only fail to repair the trust, but will probably deepen the trauma and the breach of trust (Siegel:1999). Breaches of trust are life or death situations to the totally vulnerable infant and will be processed in this way as great fear by the infant. Abandonment is a death-like terror to the infant (Lowen:1996). Hungry Ghosts are only one step removed from the Hell Realms and so still experience “great fear” as one of the 6 identified primary sufferings they must karmically undergo in that existence.
The Needy child is one who shows this deprivation of nurturance and contact in their bodies. Just as in Buddhist literature they approached the sources of nourishment, food, and contact and these “vanished” or abandoned them. Typically this was a mother to child dynamic. As a consequence the Needy personality gives the impression of being undercharged, deflated, “not filled up” or deprived of energy and their body limbs shows a corresponding undercharge, thinness, weakness or dependency.
They may have large distended bellies and if not they may have oral tract and gut issues such as Irritable Bowel syndrome, or a throat block of constricted muscles which affects speech or shows disturbance in mouth, tongue, lips, chin, jaw, or throat. These disturbances according to Reich are based on the unconscious stance to life that relates to still looking for someone or something to “fill them up”. Like the Hungry Ghost they will continue to wander the world looking for someone or something to “fill them up” and this often is out of reach or abandons them once they form an attachment or bond.
The Needy child history will normally show the mother was not able to be there for the child. The mother may have been depressed, a drug addict or alcoholic, unable to breast feed, was forced to work and be away long periods of time up until age 3 of the child, been a single parent, quickly had another child close to this one, already had numerous other older children to look after, or were in poverty or survival consciousness due to living in a war zone or disaster. The mother may be emotionally shutdown or resent the child’s neediness, be unable to communicate emotionally in general, or rage at the child or make the child feel unsafe or unwanted.
The net effect of whatever dynamics are playing out is the child then grows into an adult who still feels dependent and needy. Two main outcomes result. In one outcome, the Needy personality may disapprove of their own neediness, and be stubborn in admitting they are needy of others in some way. In this variation they experience their needs as alien and wrong, and become needless and wantless. This reflects the pain of having had needs and wants once which were painfully not met, and so now it is better not to admit them, than to have them and be hurt again.
This classic version of the Needy personality then focuses intently on the needs of others, and becomes a “caretaker” or co-dependent personality. They do this from a depleted energetic self, and so tend to take on more than they can sustain, and then usually collapse, and fail to deliver. It is only in the collapse do they make contact with their unmet needs and wants, and may then reach out for support and nurturance themself.
The problem arises in that the people they typically have gathered around themself are often either needy themself and so unavailable, or “takers” who use caretaker personalities to their own end. This mimics the Hungry Ghost who approaches people with resources they need but that person or resource then vanishes in front of them. A narcissist is a classic personality who seeks out co-dependent types like this for self gain.
In any event the Needy personality has effectively recreated their childhood dynamic by having unavailable “mothers” around them who cannot give back, and who abandon them when the Needy person expresses their own needs and wants. The receiving person on the end of the giving process often feels manipulated by the Needy “giver” and this is often true as the giver is often unconsciously giving in order to get.
The Needy person will at this point become resentful at being “used” or not having their giving reciprocated, but soon forgives and fears being abandoned by pressing their needs and wants onto others, and proves to themself it’s not safe to have needs and wants, and so shuts down again. Whenever the Needy person gets self gratification they feel immense guilt and feel they “do not deserve it”, and tend to try and sabotage others genuine attempts to give to their needs. In this way they are like Hungry Ghosts in that even when offered food and resources they are “blocked” in being able to access, consume or hold onto those gained resources or nurturance.
The impaired outcome of the baby no longer feeling soothed or safe again, and becoming anxious and needy is a common outcome from this type of social-engagement failure or trauma stemming from abandonment. (Ogden:2006). The result is the baby further develops into an infant who “are not able to create a sense of unity, and continuity of the self across the past, present, and future, or in the relationship of the self with others. This impairment shows itself in the emotional instability, social dysfunction, poor response to stress, and cognitive disorganisation and disorientation” (Siegel:1999 and Ogden:2006). This is similar to the distress and anxiety that pervades the Hungry Ghost as it wanders aimlessly in its world.
A second form of the Needy personality are not adjusted or compensated to disown their impulses of neediness, and will show and demand their needs quite readily and often. They will be demanding of others, and have endless needs and an inner void than cannot be filled up by whatever they get or consume. They can become obsessive and addictive in this consumption which never equates to enough because they are trying to fix an inner emotional problem with materialistic “out there” objects or substances. This equates to the classic Hungry Ghost stance of having cravings that cannot be satisfied or “filled up” and how their whole existence is dominated by their endless search for more objects of craving such as food or drink.
This Needy personality can be addictive to food, drink, smoking, drugs, collecting in some shape or form, or relationships, which may be both medicating or self-soothing their pain and feelings by these externalised strategies and addictions in order to fill an inner emptiness. They are a bottomless pit and often drive away partners who feel suffocated by their neediness and endless demands that never cease. This mimics the abandonment dilemma that faces the Hungry Ghost who even when they get access to resources and food suddenly lose them and are abandoned again.
In both types of the Needy personality, they were not mirrored or raised by the parents in nurturance, and so they typically suffer self neglect as adults. They can suffer from both depression and recurring minor physical illnesses, as their immune system and bodies are often both suppressed and malnourished. They often have poor diets.
The Buddhist literature on how the bodies of a Hungry Ghost look are uncanningly like that of how body psychotherapy describes the “Oral” phase wounding in the bodies of humans who suffered in infancy in this way.
One Buddhist description is “Hungry Ghosts also experience particular sufferings because of their peculiar shape. Their throats are blocked so that even when they obtain food they can swallow it only with great difficulty. Their bodies are huge and ugly, with large distended bellies and emaciated limbs”.
If one thinks of starving children in drought stricken third world countries one then can see how starvation can create distended bellies and weak, thin limbs. The Oral or Needy child can develop the same body structure which is sickly, suffers digestive, throat and gastro-intestinal disorders, which all can affect food and drink intake and its triggering of suffering in the body when that occurs.
They may also develop psychosomatic illness as a compensated response to getting their needs met from others. The Needy child in childhood may have noticed that their needs were met when they were ill as children but not when healthy. The parents gave them love and attention in these times. Children respond to negative attention as much as positive attention and in attention starved families a child will adopt a negative strategy as a way of getting love and approval.
Many Needy personalities learn that sickness brings attention and as adults will unconsciously manifest illness and depression in order to get attention and nurturance. Their malnourished bodies find that easy to manifest. They also manifest sickness and depression from burnout in caretaking others. In Buddhist literature we find a description that Hungry Ghosts “… resemble human beings who are dying of extreme hunger and thirst”.
In a related description we also find that “Hungry Ghosts wander for years in search of food, and when they find it and swallow it, it becomes like fire in their stomachs and this fire flares out through all their orifices”. Alexander Lowen noted how the Needy Child manifests an in-balance in their gastro-intestinal tract and gut such that they can suffer with indigestion, bile reflux, diahorrea, stomach pains, throat infections, colds, flu’s and oral based disorders. These type of afflictions often have an acidic or “fire” element quality to them as symbolised by fire in the orifice of the Hungry Ghost.
Depression in the Needy personality also relates to their suppression of their anger, hostility and rage at the people whom they caretake but who return no similar favours. The Needy person has a social mask of being an “Unconditional Giver” or “Martyr” but this often hides deep anger and resentment. They are acting out (giving) what they really want to receive (to be given to in the same way). Secretly the Needy personality resents the role they have placed themselves in, and the people they now serve. Underneath the anger lies deep grief which is so painful and intense it has been repressed into the unconscious. Deep grieving and anger work is part of their healing.
There is a grandiose quality to the Needy personality. They make plans and start grand projects which are way beyond their capacity to execute and finish. In these times they take on too much responsibility, over commit, and start on ventures which soon start to drain them, leading ultimately to a collapse. In Buddhist literature the Hungry Ghost is often described as “Their necks are very thin and their heads enormous and heavy. When they try to move about their legs can hardly support their bodies, and they can collapse.”
This collapse often leads into depression and an exposing of their real vulnerable, child like natures. Underneath all this is a deep unconscious belief that it is still “someone else’s job to take care of them”. This is the arrested developmental need or unmet need from childhood still running the adult. They resent and resist being responsible for themself and their own needs.
Their oscillation between this optimistic and grandiose vision of themself, and the subsequent collapse into fatigue, depression, illness and abandonment of the vision, show the essential undercharged, and ungrounded energetic nature of this personality. The resulting outcome of the bodymind of a predominant Needy personality can be summarised by looking at both the eyes and the bodies of this personality. The Neddy child and Hungry ghost descriptions are quite similar as we have already seen.
We noted that the child had to undergo a self-negation process where they disowned their anger, grief and hostility at the caregivers when their needs were not met. To have kept these active was both too painful to bear, and could invite further punishment or abandonment. The key way we shut these down in the body is by restricting our breathing. The Needy character has shallow breathing. This will be found in the tightness and constriction of the chest muscles, the tight intercostals muscles between the ribs which constrict breathing, and a hunching forward of the shoulders, thereby creating a constricted and shrunken chest. The Needy person often shows an undercharged, under developed chest, with rounded shoulders, and with the female having small, or flaccid or droopy breasts.
In some Needy persons they manifest a malnourished body that resembles someone who needs to eat more, or who looks like they were in a concentration camp. This may produce a larger distended belly that is painful to touch. They have a sinewy body, veins, muscles and bones are prominent. In others there may be a thick but flabby fat layer all around the trunk and limbs which covers up and “nurtures” or “mothers” the body. This is not the thick musculature of the Endurer personality but “baby fat” that wobbles and is flaccid.
There may be a more prominent Adams Apple in the throat, a narrow and sinewy throat, a deeper hollow in the bottom of the throat, and the head may be thrust forward as if looking to feed from the breast, which is a natural posture of a baby looking to feed from the mother. Hungry Ghosts have these features as well.
The eyes are striking in this personality as they normally deeply express the longing of needing someone to care for them. This is often termed the “Puppy dog look” of the big pleading eyes, which society finds attractive and shows up in many of our female models who are often the Needy personality in their size 8 malnourished classic shape and form, with the big “puppy dog” eyes.
The lips are often big and full, or are pencil thin. The theory is that the big full lips shows the baby got breast feeding or oral nurturance but wants more, and hence over develops this orifice for that reason. Others have the pencil thin lips or turned down lips, which is equated to the baby who had anger at the mother over a frustration at the oral nurturance process, perhaps lack of milk, or the baby was a nipple biter, bringing disapproval or removal from the breast. The pencil thin type often have deep blocks in the jaw as seen in the Mastoid, Masceter, and facial muscles that are painful when pressed.
The jaw may show either an over-bite or an under-bite. Studies have shown that the oral sucking and feeding process in babies has an important developmental outcome in aligning and developing the upper and lower jaw in the baby, and the oral issues in teeth, jaw and throat of the Needy personality can be traced to disturbances in the oral tract feeding process. These disturbances represent blocks and under-developed aspects of the body of this personality.
Likewise this personality often develops bruxism or the grinding of teeth due to the rage and terror held in the jaw from the baby not being able to get its oral nurturance needs met. The blocks also prevent grief and sobbing from occurring. In Buddhist literature there is noted several blocks to taking in nourishment that occur in the mouth or throat areas.
The limbs of the Needy personality are weak, thin and under-developed. This apparently relates primarily to the Sympathetic state of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) in the developing child. For the developing infant, its experience of its environment affects and shapes its developing body. When a child starts to cry it goes through identifiable stages from the alerting cry, to an angrier cry, which are evoked from a Sympathetic state of the ANS. The infant, if still not met with relief, then progresses its cries to dismay, grief and a shutting down, that often results in the ANS invoking a parasympathetic state that causes the child to sleep. This is a defensive function to fend off the painful feelings and trauma of abandonment.
The invoking of the ANS causes various stress hormones and natural substances to be released into the bloodstream as part of our “fight or flight” function. In an infant the Sympathetic state produces such substances that have an effect of protecting us by constricting blood flow to our limbs, and bringing it back into our trunk where the major organs lie. In an adult this effect passes, but in a child regularly expressing this effect, it starts to starve developing limbs of nutrients and blood which are needed for normal limb development. The net effect is the child develops with thinner and more undeveloped limbs, which may be elongated, especially where there is often already a malnourishment problem from under-feeding, or poor parenting skills in understanding proper diet or nutrition for infants.
The thinning effect is seen in the limbs, which also may show a pale colour and be cold to the touch in their extremities such as feet or hands, as blood flow may still be a problem in adulthood. Also this personality will have developed deep blocks to reaching out with their arms for what they want, which is a gesture of arms outstretched. There will be chronic tensions across the shoulders and back, the pectorals, and between the shoulder blades, particularly the rhomboid and Terres muscles.
The abdominus and lower abdominal muscles will be tight to prevent full breathing and sobbing. Their pelvis like the rest of their body is often under-developed and does not hold a strong charge, which in turn prevents full orgasmic feelings from developing. They prefer child-like holding and nurturance instead of adult sexual intimacy and do not find sex satisfying.
The Needy personality often walked early as an infant, in an attempt to develop independence in the face of abandonment of their needs. Their legs, while thin, also show a bracing or stiffening of the knees, which in turn affects chronic tension they already hold in their backs, and to compensate they tilt their pelvis forward. They may have flat feet which signals a “giving up” stance to the world, or suffer supination or pronation of the feet which makes them unsteady on their feet, which reflects their fragility in the world and dependence on others who are a “crutch” to lean on. They often struggle with balance, posture or leg/feet issues which reflect their struggle in life.
We describe the Needy personality as being “undercharged” in an energetic sense. This reflects in their neglected or malnourished bodies. Many people report that around them that they feel energetically “drained” by them after contact with them. We believe energetically that indeed the Needy character has some way of “feeding” off another’s energy field as part of their neediness and unmet feeding or nurturance needs. It has no psychological precedent but the reported experiences by others of this effect cannot be dismissed as a random or non-existent phenomenon.
The life dilemma of both the Hungry Ghost and the Oral or Needy child is the same. It is a survival based search for substances or nurturance that attempts to fill up an emptiness that cannot be satiated or filled. There are blocks and sabotaging dynamics in both types which defeat them constantly in life in getting what they crave and chase after. They each suffer from these dynamics of frustration, abandonment and craving and each devote their existence attempting to satisfy their cravings and impulses from a place of deprivation and loneliness.
THE ANIMAL REALM Vs THE ENDURER OR MASOCHIST ARCHETYPE
The Animal realm represents the “third lowest” or the third most grossest realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the Animal being represented as the highest figure in the black half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “falling position” to indicate it is going downwards in terms of its relative rebirth from another realm, except the hell realm and Hungry Ghost realm from which such a rebirth is a “higher” relative rebirth. As already mentioned it is the Buddhist philosophy that we should strive to never be reborn in the 3 lowest realms and a practice known as “going for refuge” is a primary practice used by Buddhists to gain karmic protection from such unfortunate rebirths.
If one looks at the depicted figure of the Animal one notices that of all the animals that could have been depicted there is a buffalo or oxen style of beast used. This beast is of a type that has a large stocky, heavy set body that has a slow, lumbering quality of movement. The buffalo or oxen body depiction has significance in the Reichan Characterology perspective which I will comment on later.
The Animal in general can be born into a wide number of bodies, consciousnesses, and environments which can provide differing resources and mental capacities amongst this grouping, and some animals can be trained to be quite gifted in some ways, but each type suffers significantly.
Buddhists recognise the existence of states of human suffering which directly resemble the Animal realm. These principally relate to dullness in awareness and mental thoughts, and a general “heaviness” or slowness in body, speech and mind. The ways in which Wilhelm Reich describes the suffering of this character closely resembles the forms of Animal suffering and the embodiment of this personality is probably most closest to the oxen or buffalo animal archetype.
The Buddhist literature describes animals as suffering from 5 primary hindrances:
- Ignorance and Stupidity
- Heat and Cold
- Hunger and Thirst
- Exploitation by human beings for labour, food, resources and entertainment
- Being prey to one another
These hindrances need some explanation for some relate to the direct nature of being embodied as an animal whereas others are more archetypal and reveal themselves more readily in the human condition as well as directly in animal form.
A key suffering of animals is their mental capacity. In general animals operate from an instinctual and impulse driven brain that we would say equates to our own reptilian brain segment. This is an unconscious brain which processes sensory input and operates at a lower level of consciousness where there is no conceptual, rational or “conscious” thinking. Most animals are reactive and impulsive in this way.
Some animals such as mammals and primates have a form of Limbic or mammalian brain which then extends processing of sensory input to more advanced forms and allows a still unconscious form of emotional substrates to exist apart from instincts and impulses. Such animals often have “procedural learning” capabilities which are that which would equate roughly to skill formation such as “riding a bike” or operating a machine based on different responses or triggers which they recognise.
Advanced primates and some animals such as dolphins are now thought to higher states of consciousness than originally understood by science, but relative to humans they still are “ignorant” in terms of conscious awareness and their impulse driven realities. That is not to say that humans are better than animals as many humans are abusive or ignorant in how they exercise their will, free choice, and higher executive reasoning minds and consciousness.
Animals are considered to basically exist without being able to exercise states of minds other than those that promote survival and impulse satiation. While science has found empathy and social attachment boding behaviours in animals which have mammalian brain segments they are not in a spiritual sense able to constructively use the life they are given. They are also prey for more advanced animals and humans.
Some animals also exist in cold, dark environments or are constantly vigilant as they represent food or prey for other animals. In this way there is a wider scope of outcomes for some animals. For instance a cat may be born into a domestic environment where it is well treated, spoilt and looked after, and can enjoy its surroundings. However that opportunity is not able to be taken advantage of in any useful way due to the limitations of being an animal.
However some animals are born into a hellish existence as well. For instance battery hens are born into a caged and restricted existence, sit in the acidic nature of their own excretion, amongst a large group of distressed other hens which would entrain them in their own stress. Their bones and muscles never get to properly development and they grow in a mutated form which directly resembles a hell realm. They are then “harvested” and die a mechanical death once they have served an economic purpose, which resembles the Buddhist observation that animals are used for food and labour by humans.
The sufferings of heat and cold, and hunger and thirst I find are more directly animal sufferings. The other sufferings are those which I believe translate into the human condition as outlined and shown to have a strong symbolic resemblance to the experiences of the Endurer character of Reichan literature.
The tie-in here with the states of ignorance as a part of their lifestyle or personality, is uncannily like those key character outcomes shown by Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen to afflict the “Endurer”. The Endurer will be shown to suffer from a heaviness in their body and mental processes that leads to sufferings of shame, humiliation and loss of will and interest in life, which leads to certain ways of being in the world, and certain ways of coping and compensating.
In the Wheel of Life diagram we see the lower right hand side of the 6 segmented panel as displaying the various depictions of the Animals as they attempt to live out their lives in their environments. We see some animals preying on other animals, animals having to roam to find food, water, and exposed to heat and cold. We see an animal bound up as it is either a subject of amusement, labour or intended food for a human. Other animals are grouped and so display the instinctual bonding and “herd” instincts. The symbolic relationship between the Animal realm and the Endurer archetype will now be explored.
THE REICHAN “MASOCHIST” or “ENDURER” ARCHETYPE
Wilhelm Reich introduced the notion and science of Characterology and its 5 basic character types. Each character type has a set of bodily postures, muscular skeletal structuring, touch, feeling, and contact presentations to the world, and also a cognitive and emotional set of equivalent issues, plus a mask or presenting appearance to the world.
The “Masochist” term is the old Reichan and psychiatric derived term that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. The Energetics Institute tends to refer to this character structure as the “Endurer” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
The childhood dynamics that setup a person to have an Endurer outcome are typically based around the need for a child to separate from the parents, to individuate, and form their own unique identity. One common unresolved issue in parents is their need to be in total control of the child, or to regulate and control the child to some idealised set of values or outcomes. We are born and designed to be in free expression of our unique characters and live within that freedom by learning appropriate boundaries, responsibilities and obligations to others.
There is a constant ongoing dynamic within us all to be free and to find acceptance within the community or group or family we are part of. The Endurer personality essentially underwent ongoing intrusion, control, and humiliating subjugation at the hands of one or both parents till they gave up their free will and freedom. In this sense the child, like an animal, was “tamed” and had their animal or natural desires, impulses and instincts suppressed and brought under parental control.
The often highly aggressive responses by the child that occurred along the way in this losing fight for their separate existence were eventually eliminated and disowned, till they became docile and compliant, just like a domesticated animal. Resistance was futile and squashed till it stopped. The rage at this suppression went underground and into the child’s body as a disowned emotion.
The child who experiences such persecution starts to no longer trust their own impulses about when they are hungry, when to go to the toilet, how much to eat etc, for all this is now under the control and direction of the intrusive parent(s). In this sense the child learns to no longer trust, and to reject their own instinctual, emotional and cognitive nature and humanity, and seeks instead to be guided and directed by the parent instead. They lose self determination and self direction. They are good, compliant, docile, pleasing, and falsely happy all the time, but are seething inside. They become like a tamed but angry animal in service of the controlling parent.
The parent may threaten the child to force compliance to the adult’s expectations. This can involve such dynamics as the threat of punishment, the threat the parent would leave the home and abandon the child, or that the child would be thrown out of home and abandoned by the parent.
In many cases it is “smothering” rather than “mothering” that occurs, and occurs at the socialisation skill level of the child, but it can also occur around bodily intake impulses (eating & drinking), and bodily elimination impulses (Excretion and urination). This is akin to torturing an animal as it tortures the dependent and fragile child who typically finds their expression and will under suppression from age 2 to 3.
Basically if you corrupt the intake and/or elimination processes in the child they can start to lose their will and control over such processes, and capitulate to the parent. There is often then an interruption to the “flow” of these processes, meaning too much intake of food or drink under coercion of the parent, or pressure to eliminate according to dictated timetables.
Sometimes the child starts to “hold in” and the body will start to take on a “pressure cooker” look which matches the inner psychic world of the Endurer who fears intrusion, control, smothering, and loss of freedom by other people. In a sense domesticated animals feed under the supply and timing of its owners timetables and directions.
The Endurer presents in life as a self-depreciating, self-defeating, and often self torturing or self humiliating individual who seems to have a need to suffer, and in their suffering, torture others. This personality type will have a need to whine, to complain, and a sense of suffering or absence of real joy. They may also at the same time present with a fixed smile which is what they were forced to put on for their parents as a child, and is now unconsciously in them the “expected thing to do”. In a animal sense they stoop and shoulder a “yoke” of emotional and other burdens imposed on them by the parents.
Wilhelm Reich noted this personality had a condition known as the “Masochistic morass”. In this dynamic, anyone who tries to help this individual will be defeated and frustrated by the Endurer’s helpless immobility, which in fact is a passive-aggressive stance towards others and towards life itself. In this stance, their disowned rage and anger “leaks out” in passive aggressive way, from non-compliance via inaction, being late, forgetting, simply not answering a question, or a hundred other ways of resisting passively. This stubbornness is often equated in animal terms such as being as “stubborn as a mule” or “pig headed”.
These people trust no-one as those who should have loved them, instead intruded and abused them. The absence of trust in others and in the world promotes helplessness. In therapy the person may make a breakthrough and improve, but will then relapse. This unconsciously relates to the fact they distrust the help, the helper, and leads to a spiteful retaliation against the helper, as the helper is more powerful and therefore the parent, and so now the parent must be defeated. Trust invites humiliation in their world. The Endurer resists change and has negative pleasure in their own stuckness. Like an animal they can only learn so much and will not improve beyond a certain point.
Other people get fooled at first by the pleasing presenting face of the Endurer, and then get quite triggered by the underlying spite and resentment bound in this person, and by their passive-aggressive and defeating gestures, actions and inactions. This in turn often triggers others to retaliate and be hostile towards the Endurer who then gains apparent justification that you cannot trust anyone who claims they want to help you or befriend you.
In this way, like an animal, others prey on them, torture them, humiliate them, and persecute them as being dumb, slow, clumsy, and ignorant. The unfortunate negative archetype of the slow, lumbering term “village idiot” is an outcome of this archetype where in the “herd” mentality of the group, such different individuals were singled out, and made the subject of common persecution, humiliation and jokes. This mirrors one of the animal realm sufferings where animals are “exploitation by human beings for labour, food, resources and entertainment”.
At this point the Endurer feels permission to vent their held-in rage and anger, which brings them great relief and satisfaction from all the pent-up energy their carry around inside themself. They then complain of being victimised. They are negatively self-reinforcing in this dynamic. In this sense they do like animals turn and prey on others of their type, which is an animal suffering noted in the Animal realm of Buddhist literature.
Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen observed that the Endurer has a mind and cognitive style that is slower, duller, and less imaginative or visionary than other character types. They may suffer chronic low grade depression due to the repression of their own rage and anger. This may contribute to the “heaviness” affect they report as well as the dullness or cognitive fuzziness that are both attributes of Depression. I believe this is why the Buddha chose an oxen or buffalo to represent the animal realm as it also is a close analogy for the human Endurer Archetype from these symptoms and bodily outcomes.
The Endurer is often identified with and work as the “helper” to a strong authority figure, who may also abuse or demand and control them, setting up a recreation of childhood dynamics. Others are alone and aloof due to their trust issues, and a desire to be “free” and hence alone. This too mimics the animal realm where some animals are brought into servitude, such as the oxen or buffalo, whilst others remain wild and aloof and are “wild and free” and resist capture.
Reich and Lowen both noted that the Endurer normally lacks spontaneity and can endure pain and suffering very well. They also have enormous strength and energy. This is not unlike an oxen or buffalo which could also have the same attributes. In the human Endurer form they have a paradox of a stuckness of their energy due to massive muscular formation in the body that has chronic tensions and holdings. As a result they often complain of a lack of energy and being tired.
The resulting outcome of the bodymind of an Endurer personality can be summarised as the formation of thick musculature that is designed to create a chronic holding back of the unacceptable or distrusted impulses that are their birthright, but were squashed during childhood by the invasive and controlling parents or caregivers. Hence I believe the choice of a stocky muscle bound animal to represent this outcome in the Buddhist Wheel of Life.
The Endurer will often be seen to have thick trunk and thick arms and legs, with tight, heavy muscular development. The muscles are tight and not floppy, and serve to hold in the tension and restrain the impulses no longer allowed. In many people they are shorter, and this appeared to Reich to be symbolically related to the notion of being “squashed” or controlled in childhood.
In the buttocks there is often a “cut-off bottom” or no bottom, as the gluteus muscles are tight and shortened to reflect the humiliation and shamed nature of their sexuality, and the principle of being cowed. If one looks at a scolded dog, when they put their tail between their legs, one also sees this cut-off affect which has an animal dimension. The Endurer often suffered a scolding or humiliation in the process of being subdued in childhood.
There are blocks in the belly to hold back the soft feelings from rising into consciousness, and into the head. Instead the trapped energy is heavy and stuck inside, and creates a heaviness and slowness in the person to reflect this energetic posture. The shoulders are heavily armoured and pulled back to prevent the Endurer being able to vent their aggressive impulses which were squashed in childhood, when they were defeated in having their “No”.
The neck is thick and short, and this shows the held in spite and resentment, as they are both suppressed from above, and pulled in to prevent being controlled. There are thick Trapezius and tight muscles in the Rhomboids, Terres muscles and neck attachments and rotators such as Scalenes which suppress feelings. The Sterno-Cloido-Mastoid on the side of the neck will be thick and flared to lock or bind in rage which this personality tries to suppress within themself. All these constrictions block feelings from the body reaching the head, and leave the person “living in their heads”.
There is a block in the rear ocular segment just behind the neck, where the base of the skull meets the spine and neck. This block is the last major line of defence from feelings making it from the body into the head. Likewise at the front of the face the Maceter and facial muscles are often tight and the mouth pulled into a permanent but false smile to show compliance.
The eyes either are small and beady, showing the spite and resentment that lurks below the surface of the personality and the muscles, waiting to erupt, or they can be vacant and pleasing and show a complete surrender and submission, and now no longer show emotional affect beyond a type of pleasing innocence.
In general there is a lack of feeling in the body due to the heavy musculature preventing the flow of energy in the body, and they may have both hot (emotionally charged), and cold areas (site of blocks), in different parts of the body. They can take pain and appear dull to pain in the body. Their body does not move easily but more as a total unit, a rigid dense mass which has lost alot of its flexibility.
They may also have flat feet as a sign of having “given up” the struggle with the world.
In this overall summarised description one finds the slow moving, heavy set oxen or buffalo not a bad symbolic fit for the Animal realm depiction of the Endurer character of the Reichan tradition of Bodymind psychotherapy.
THE HUMAN REALM
The Human realm is the next highest realm in the Buddhist Wheel of Life or the fourth highest realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the Human being represented as the lowest figure in the white half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “rising position” to indicate it is going upwards in terms of its relative rebirth from another realm, except the Demi-god and God realms from which such a rebirth is a “lower” relative rebirth. As already mentioned it is the Buddhist philosophy that we should strive to be reborn in the higher 3 realms and the half circle is white in colour to denote the favourable karma and conditions that occur in these 3 “higher” rebirths. The white half of that inner circle denotes favourable rebirth whilst the black half denotes unfavourable rebirth.
If one looks at the depicted figure of the human realm in the 6 segmented circle, which is positioned in the upper left hand area of the Wheel of Life diagram, one notices the environments and activities of a human being some 2 thousand years ago. There are depictions of child birth, learning knowledge as a child, working the land for a living, illness, using animals for labour, blindness of the eyes, and a figure carrying a dead body.
The body depiction of the human is that of a typical human figure except it is in the act of pulling an arrow from one eye. This denotes both the sufferings of our human body via injury but also the spiritual and psychological sufferings of ignorance.
This is so because when one has wisdom one can “see” the truth, whilst the arrow represents ignorance and blindness to wisdom. The person is in the act of pulling out the arrow which denotes the special significance of this human realm where a person can enter and develop wisdom on spiritual paths, and so remove ignorance from their state of existence. This ability does not occur in any of the other 6 realms. This is why the human realm is actually the most special and fortunate realm of rebirth.
This is the realm which does not have a direct corresponding equivalent in Reichan characterology. This is to be expected as Reich delineated all the archetypes from the human realm so in one way they all relate to this single realm. In a more indirect way Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowen, and John Pierrakos worked entirely to devise wisdoms and understandings that would “remove the arrow of ignorance and suffering” from the human condition.
It was only John Pierrakos from the Core Energetics tradition who considered a spiritual dimension to the psychological health of humans and so it is natural to expect that the two systems deviate in some way in this one area. The Reichan traditions constrain themselves to explore all the types of embodied suffering we as humans experience whilst alive as humans, and so in fact all 5 Reichan archetypes fit into this realm.
If one reads Reich’s books then the descriptions of ideally what a human being could live out their life after resolving mental, emotional and somatic (bodily) issues, the Reichan view is that a person could live peacefully in their bodies and be “in present time” or in an aware state moment-to-moment, and also without suffering, tension, or “splitting off” or dissociating, due to unresolved emotional and cognitive triggers from external persons or environments.
As a psychological science it did not concern itself with spiritual questions. In a sense there is a sixth archetype which is the “healthy human” that is well described but is an outcome and healed archetype that does not have a specific bodily shape or mental apparatus, nor a specific childhood or developmental background. Reich argued that each one of the other 5 archetypes could with therapy be led to this humanised and peaceful state, which equates to the Buddhist promise of being able to “extract the arrow from one’s eye while in the human realm”.
The significance of the human realm is also well represented in the Buddhist Wheel of Life diagram. Not only is there a segment for the human realm in the 6 segmented circle, but the entire diagram was written for the human realm as its audience to awaken them from their sleep of ignorance and get them to take advantage of this precious human life.
The wisdom of how there are a set of 12 dependent-related links in creating and sustaining suffering and living within the whole cycle of continual rebirth or reincarnation are depicted in the outermost circle as a set of 12 panels or bordered diagrams. These 12 depictions are designed to further educate their human audience as to the dependent nature of our suffering, and how an unbroken chain of cause and effect exist to fuel our remaining trapped within the continual reincarnating process depicted in the Wheel of Life.
Whilst I will not specifically explain each of the 12 dependent related links here, the idea is that if one contemplates and meditates on the wisdom of the 12 dependent related links then one will gain realisations of the nature of subtle dependent related phenomena, and start to free oneself from attachments and ignorance. This “removes the arrow of ignorance” from the eye.
Psychology at best can only remove the psychological arrow of ignorance from the eye of man. Buddhism works at both psychological and spiritual levels to achieve this same aim. In this way the two systems are different in aim and context. Despite the fact that psychology tends to dismiss spirituality, many Western people who choose to work on their psychological issues in therapy also choose a spiritual path of some sort as part of wellness and a new perspective on life.
THE DEMI-GOD REALM Vs THE WARRIOR or PSYCHOPATHIC ARCHETYPE
The Demi-god realm represents the second highest or the second most subtle realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the Demi-god being represented as the a human figure in warrior costume as the middle figure in the white half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “rising position” to indicate it is going upwards in terms of its relative rebirth from another realm, except the God realm from which such a rebirth is a “lower” relative rebirth.
If one looks at the depicted figure of the Demi-god one notices that the figure has an action or fighting stance. The figure has a human shape as do all the 3 higher realm beings in the Wheel of Life. The fighting stance depiction has significance in the Reichan characterology perspective which I will comment on later.
The Demi-god in general has a fortunate rebirth in the sense it is endowed with resources and capabilities. It is however an aggressive being which is constantly suffering from states of jealousy, envy, avarice and anger that propel it to fight with others, particularly the higher “god realm beings who they wish to usurp and take over their privileges, environments and enjoyments.
If one looks at the Buddhist Wheel of Life one finds the Demi-god depicted in the upper right hand panel in the 6 segmented circle. In this segment we notice a regal figure being served and worshipped by others. This is the sense of entitlement and egoic grasping that the Demi-god believes is their due. They demand worship and they believe themselves not to be a lesser god or Demi-god, but believe that they truly belong in the position and realm of the gods. Their bodies, possessions, and environments are generally good but inferior to that of the Gods who they envy, and so are driven to over-take them.
They are therefore not happy with their place in life and are constantly driven and aspire to “make it to the top” which is the god realm. They are only able to attain this by aggressive means and by being driven by their suffering states of mind such as envy, pride, jealousy and anger. They are doomed from this place not to find contentment but to be active and moving in aggressive ways to undermine, attack and takeover from the gods, who are above them in the Wheel of Life diagram.
This fact is depicted by a tree that is growing and which overflows from the boundary of the Demi-god and God realm boundary. This is the only boundary that is breached and allows direct interaction between the two classes or realms of beings. Every other other realm has solid boundaries between them. Their jealousy, anger and desire states obscure their good judgement and wisdom to accept their own place in life as being enough.
If you notice in the tree inside the Demi-god section that the Gods are at war with the Demi-god. This is a suffering commonly shared by these two realms and beings of these realms. Demi-gods act aggressively and start the wars from grasping and greed fuelled by anger to take the spoils and enjoyments away from the gods for themselves, and to enjoy the reputation and status of being a God. Demi-gods cannot bear to see and know about the good qualities of Gods and they engage in a losing battle to unseat them and steal their status, wealth and enjoyments.
The gods play out a defensive war of repelling the Demi-gods who would unseat them and rob them of their enjoyments. Gods act from attachment and pride of their enjoyments and privileges and status but would not be aggressive or defensive otherwise with Demi-Gods unless attacked or challenged. The Gods can lose the battle and die at the hand of a Demi-God. When the God wins the battle they cut off the heads and limbs of the Demi-gods once they kill them as a warning to others to leave them alone. The Gods have enough issues in their own realm to deal with without coming under attack from another realm. Gods do not attack others outside their own realm and would prefer a quiet life which we will explain later.
Another suffering of the Demi-gods is that they are doomed to fail in their endeavours and wars. Buddhist literature depicts these Demi-god/God wars are being causes for both types of beings to die and then often suffering lower realm rebirth which is a profound sabotage and tragedy. Another tragedy is that the Demi-god sabotages themselves by their behaviours and by being not as skilled or resourced as the Gods at war and so often fail to unseat them.
This is depicted as a Demi-god cutting down the tree on which access to the god realm is achieved, and from where war is depicted. In Western terms the Demi-god “cuts their own legs out” or cuts down the tree in Buddhist thought. There is a dead Demi-god nearby to signify their failure at their endeavours. There is no peace in the Demi-god realm.
Buddhists recognise the existence of states of human suffering which directly resemble the Demi-god realm. These principally relate to the self-grasping and self-cherishing natures that create the “7 sins” of Western philosophy. The Demi-god is the ultimate embodiment of these 7 sins and in psychological terms we equate them today to be depicted under the general terms of the Narcissist and the Psychopathic personality or personality disorders.
We see very clearly the Demi-god state being acted out in the human personality and both Wilhelm Reich and Alexander Lowen had alot to say about these two bodymind character archetypes.
THE CONTROLLER/LEADER/WARRIOR or PSYCHOPATHIC & NARCISSISTIC ARCHETYPES
Wilhelm Reich introduced the notion and science of Characterology and its 5 basic character types. Each character type has a set of bodily postures, muscular skeletal structuring, touch, feeling, and contact presentations to the world, and also a cognitive and emotional set of equivalent issues, plus a mask or presenting appearance to the world.
The “Psychopath” term is the old Reichan and psychiatric derived term that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. The Energetics Institute tends to refer to this character structure as the “Controller/Leader” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
The Narcissistic personality was not directly delineated by Wilhelm Reich who grouped this personality under the umbrella of the psychopathic personality. In 1985, Alexander Lowen wrote a book called “Narcissism – Denial of the True Self”. In this book he clearly articulated the Narcissistic personality as a separate personality type that fell in between the classic psychopathic structure and the Rigid/Perfectionist structure that we will consider in the God realm discussion later. This discussion summarises the common ground of these two related Psychopathic and Narcissistic personality types.
The childhood dynamics that setup a person to have a Controller/Leader outcome are typically those that follows but other dynamics can also lead to this same outcome. The basic need of every person is to be healthily esteemed. Self esteem issues are at the core of this personality type. Like the Perfectionistic character, this person creates a false self to cope with a rejection of their own nature and humanity. The difference is the rejection came explicitly from the parent who constantly puts down and “narcissistically injures” the child. The adult does not operate to the truth that we are born and designed to be human and live within that humanity which is the paradox of perfection within imperfection.
The parent typically judged and belittled the child’s authentic self expression as either “not enough” or “too much” for the parent, or the parent demanded the child provide more gratification, excitement or meaning for the parent than was possible, or a combination of all of these. There is a degree of chaos and instability operating here in the parents. The parent essentially rejects their child’s own nature and humanity, and seeks instead to force the child into an idealised version of themself, one in which grandiosity and a form of perfection is the only choice in all aspects and dimensions of life. The child normally fails to live up to the grandiose false idealised image that the parent compels them to be.
Often one parent is a Narcissistic personality themself in this dynamic. They effectively create the idealisation of the child via their own projection of a false idealised and narcissistic self. They ask the child to join them on their pedestal where they can worship each other and be worshipped by the other. This creates a “puffed up” self, including the body structure that we will touch on again. Often the other parent is frozen out of this relationship, and so a triangle develops. The frozen out parent starts to resent both the parent and the child, and the attention that is happening between them. This parent may then humiliate and shame the special child, and pull them off the narcissistic pedestal, and further and more directly narcissistically injuring the child.
Because the child needs and wants love it will give up its authentic self, and start to live from the false self created for it by the parent who is effectively using the child for its own narcissistic or unmet needs. The child learnt to restrict those parts of themself that were not reinforced, and to inflate those parts that were highly valued and demanded of them. They may have been able to “get love” by being beautiful, the winning athlete, the intellectual, or a combination of performing roles.
The false self is evident later in life both by others and internally by the now grown child, but as it is the only remaining source of self-esteem, it is guarded, reinforced, and lived from. As the real authentic self was squashed or disowned, the person has low self esteem, doubts themself, and is now sensitive to criticism, disapproval or failure.
The false self is often typically constellated around the 20 defining characteristics of a Narcissistic personality, that I have summarised in my Narcissism – Living Without Feelings article. Alternatively one can also read from Narcissism as Prophecy article which is an interesting summary of Narcissism based on a carefully worded 2000 year old prophecy. Both articles will inform you as to the traits of the Narcissistic personality. One will quickly see from these articles how the Demi-God depicted in Buddhist spirituality closely matches the Narcissistic personality type.
The description in Buddhist literature of how a Demi-god behaves is exactly matched by the Narcissistic personality. In this space the Narcissist is most easily understood in organisational dynamics. In organisations where they may be referred to as Corporate Psychopaths, they are driven to “get to the top” just like the Demi-gods. They are envious of the leaders who hold all the power, status, and wealth earning capacity (Gods), and they embark on a ruthless campaign to overtake and usurp the leadership and claim the power, status and wealth for themself.
The God in society is anyone “at the top”, just as Gods in the God realm are “at the top” of the Wheel of Life. It may be an organisation, politics, sport, socialite or media figure. In our current society such leaders are esteemed and admired, and the subject of envy and desire by some of those who aspire to themself to become a leader. Some leaders or Gods are “at war” with their critics who seek to unseat them.
In the world of the Psychopath/Narcissist “its all about them”, and lacking any genuine real feelings they have no compassion or empathy, and instead are impatient, demanding, and motivated to “fight” and undermine others to get to their goal. They are effectively without a value system other than a selfish posture and an attitude of entitlement and grandiosity. They are typically an aggressive and critical personality.
Like the Buddhist Wheel of Life portrays, they feel superior, or “like a god” and gather a retinue of typically low self-esteem followers and admirers to adore them, worship them, and feed them their narcissistic ego supplies on a constant basis.
Not all attributes will be present and not all Controller/Leaders are Narcissists, but some alignment exists, and all Narcissists have a base structure that includes the Controller/Leader characterology to some degree. The common ground is often that the self-esteem is fragile and is typically propped up by perfectionism and an extreme reliance on achievement. Internally there is always self-doubt, self-loathing present, and a degree of inner chaos that may or may not breakthrough into externalised behaviours and the acting out of self-soothing addictions.
This personality finds from this internal chaos and lack of self acceptance a need to be constantly moving, unable to relax or be still, unless self-medicating with an addiction, or on the go. There may be procrastination of starting and finishing projects, where just before the deadline they go into a chaotic frenzy to avoid failure and the missed deadline. This will typically be covered up with lies, and constant spin or image management as they constantly seek to project powerful images to the world about who they are and what they have attained.
It is also true that another type of household exists that gives rise to this Controller/Leader personality.
In middle class and wealthy homes the parent who creates the idealised child is often a Narcissistic personality. In some of these same homes, and in many lower socio-economic homes, this parent is more psychopathic in nature. What is the difference?
Well there are similarities but one obvious difference is that the psychopathic personality is often more emotionally chaotic, and also emotionally reactive, and will lash out physically without proper boundaries and restraints. They often have underlying addictions to drugs, alcohol or some other substance, and financial issues and pressures may exist. In these dynamics the child may be both “raised up” and then “smashed down” by the same parent in terms of their personality and self-expression, creating direct narcissistic injury, but also safety issues for the child. The narcissistic injury is more severe and the torment more ongoing in these type of homes, and deepens the primary self-esteem wound.
A common dynamic that exists is an alcoholic, workaholic or drug abusing parent. For instance in the morning they are typically sober, rested and reasonable. The child approaches them and is welcomed, esteemed and possibly elevated and made special. The same child comes home that evening and the same parent when they arrive home is drunk, stressed or drugged. The parent lashes out at the child from this state and belittles, hurts, humiliates or crushes the child. Physical and sexual abuse may be present in this dynamic. It is the same dynamic as the Narcissistic parents home except the injuries in the psychopathic home are often more gross, direct, traumatising, and possibly physically injurious to the child.
In this home the child becomes hyper-vigilant and wary, and learns to watch and sense the verbal and non verbal cues of the either psychopathic, psychotic or somehow unstable and unsafe parent. The child adopts this stance to feel safe, and to prevent abuse. They learn techniques to calm the parent, to attend to the parent, to deceive the parent, to comply with the parent, and ultimately where possible, to control the parent.
From this place over a number of years they learn about the power of being able to manipulate both parents and this sets them up to become manipulative, controlling, and liberal with lying and the truth. They identify with the association between power and feeling safe, and so are always primarily working to empower themselves at the expense of others to feel safe. They develop a false self to survive and then use this same false self to rise through life.
The child also becomes a performer, a fluid personality that moves with environments and events, and works with them to create their own safety and advantage. The child’s home environment was fluid and shifted within a chaotic framework that called upon the child to perceive and adjust quickly or be annihilated.
The child constantly shifts inside themself between a sense of power and grandiosity, to the other pole of inferiority and worthlessness. They give up their values and authenticity to survive and become selfish and entitled within themself. They trust no one and kill their own painful feelings to cope with the pole of inferiority and worthlessness.
They are left with a hyper-vigilant, street-wise, aggressive and seductive personality that is unfeeling but feigns any feeling. They can perform for anyone, and can read another person’s verbal and non-verbal cues with amazing accuracy. They are often either seductive at first, then become controlling, especially when in leadership roles or in relationships, and over time may start to have trust issues with the people they are engaged with, and a form of paranoia creeps in, and they may become accusing, aggressive, and increasingly controlling.
Their currency is power and status, and they will compete with others for it, but often lack a moral fibre and so will resort to deception, lying, and manipulation to get what they want. They often saw violence and had it acted out upon them, and now as adults will resort to physical, emotional and mental violence against others when imposing control over them. This starts to resemble the Demi-god impulses of warrior like actions of fighting and action against others.
In both types of Controller/Leader personalities, the resulting outcome of the bodymind of this personality can be summarised as the development of blocks in the body and musculature that restrain or render unconscious those impulses and reactions that are unacceptable or result in punishment or abuse. At the same time the bodily expressions of character also can reflect the ideal or false self presented to the world in compensation for the original narcissistic injury.
Basically what we see in the body is one of these two principles, or a combination of both. We firstly often see an upward displacement energetically and in the bodily composition of bulk and muscles. By this we see weak or thin legs, which come up into smaller and tighter thighs, with a small set of buttocks. The body then starts to flare out from the mid back into a wide set of shoulders where there is more bulk and compensating musculature. The head is often large, and may be jutting slightly or prominently forward on the neck, which is an ominous posture to the world.
In this person they often have a “puffed up” look, as energetically they breathed in and held their breath. In terror in childhood situations, they often held their breath in terror at being made wrong, criticised or punished. They have the classic “V” shaped build that is put up in society as a heroic archetype, and the most appealing shape, especially for a man.
The eyes are often magnetic and dazzling, as the eyes represent an orifice for energetic discharge, and this personality has an overcharge of energy in the upper body. They seduce, compel, threaten and engage through their eyes which always attract attention.
The overall “V” shape also energetically represents the personality built on narcissistic development, where the base or foundation (legs) are ungrounded and weak or unstable, This insecure base then supports a character or body of exaggerated power, wilfulness, and driven achievement.
In the second type of embodied narcissistic personality, which some writers refer to as the “closet narcissist”, one finds a more Rigid-Perfectionist style of body which shows few bodily disturbances. The uniform and ideal shape reflects the false idealised self that is presented to the world that hides the inner chaos. Their body presents an ideal look but hides blocks and chaos internal to the self.
The female version of the Controller/Leader personality may also show an inverted “V” shape, or a body where the enlargement is downwards oriented in the thighs, hips, buttocks and upper leg muscles. Reich noted that a large set of breasts may also be present. The reasons for this formation and representation relate to the expression of female creativity and sexuality of the feminine as power centres within their female body, versus the masculine power centres of aggression of power and status via the intellect which constellate in the head and upper body of a man.
A woman who disowns their feminine and adopts a masculine false self that is driven into achieving often demonstrates the classic “V” shape of a man, as they identify with their masculine principles, and disown their feminine except as weak, and only useful as a power or seduction object in objectified or sexualised dynamics.
In all these cases there are muscular blocks in the body which prohibit full feeling awareness from operating. This suppresses their real self and their suffering or chaotic inner life. The body is our real self and in a sense these people try to live from their heads, and not in their body. They objectify and use their body to achieve their ends, just as they use others and any other resource to their own end without compassion or empathy.
Uniformly there is rigidity and constriction in those areas of the body that block natural flow of feelings and emotions, and hence energy since the word emotion means (Energy in MOTION). This personality type was often also either objectified, used or punished/shamed for their sexuality. Their pelvis shows a posture that is rigidly held, the tension blocking awareness and release of the sexual charge.
There is often present a constricting band around the waistline that further inhibits the awareness of sexual impulse, and dams energy in the upper half of the body, whilst also constricting and so undercharges them in the lower half of the body. This constriction which is often visible on the body, also inhibits the awareness of the ungroundedness in the person and leaves them “in their heads”.
There is normally constricted and atrophic muscles in the diaphragm area of the chest, and the intercostals muscles between the ribs hold tension to keep the breathing shallow. This makes the person “ticklish” but this can quickly turn to rage if tickling persists and threatens the bodily blocks. Shallow breathing is a key bodily method used to suppress feelings and is a major block in this personality.
The shoulders are often broad but also raised, with tight muscles in the Rhomboids, Trapezius complex, Terres muscles and neck attachments and rotators such as Scalenes. The Sterno-Cloido-Mastoid on the side of the neck may be thick and flared to lock or bind in rage which this personality tries to suppress within themself. All these constrictions block feelings from the body reaching the head, and leave the person “living in their heads”.
There is a block in the rear ocular segment just behind the neck, where the base of the skull meets the spine and neck. This block is the last major line of defence from feelings making it from the body into the head. Likewise at the front of the face the Masceter and facial muscles are often tight to prevent facial emotional expression from giving them away, leaving them with an angular or chiselled look to the face. The jaw line may be thick and broad showing deep blocks in the muscles which bind in the suppressed rage which wants to erupt through the mouth and eyes.
The eye block also allows them to dissociate from others, and block empathy and compassion arising, and instead assist in the objectification of the other person, or denial of the other persons humanity. However they can flood this block with energy and “use” their eyes with feigned emotion to seduce, threaten and compel others, as this was a survival technique needed from time to time that has precedence over the eye block’s primary objective.
The psychopathic and the Narcissistic personality often betray themselves in their pursuits of more status, power, wealth, sexual conquests etc. This is attributed to the fact that they are impulsive and strongly impulse driven, and so often betray themselves with their actions and agendas. Both personalities can be quite obsessive in their pursuits, can be risk takers, and have blinded judgement where their sense of entitlement and grandiosity does not match reality nor societal conventions. In this way they are like the Demi-god cutting down the tree which symbolises the self-betrayal or “cutting out one’s own legs from beneath oneself”.
The “closet narcissist” may not show so much embodied defence as they will have compensated in their personality via a smooth but slippery way of navigating through life and with people, using others for their gain. Their body is a form of camouflage portrays innocence but this deception hides a chameleon of a personality who is predatory and cunning in their approach to life.
In their healed form this personality is a natural leader who is normally charismatic, fearless, can think on the run, is able to sum up people and situations with accuracy within seconds, and who can protect others, and be their advocate. They are visionary, very intelligent, can start and finish projects, and inspire others to do the same. They are very gifted individuals in this healed form.
The uncanny way in which the Demi-God depiction is a close match for the Psychopathic personality in general, and the Narcissistic personality in particular is quite striking and reinforcing of the hypothesis that the two systems are correlated in these comparative archetypes.
THE GOD REALM Vs THE RIGID PERFECTIONIST ARCHETYPE
The God realm represents the highest and most subtle realm of incarnation in terms of abject suffering. In the Wheel of Life diagram we find the God being represented as a human figure in kingly costume as the top figure in the white half of the circle we mentioned earlier in the article. The being is in a “rising position” to indicate it is going upwards in terms of its relative rebirth from all other realms. Within cyclic rebirth there is no more fortunate state to be born in from the point of view of it being a peaceful and positively resourced and experienced world.
If one looks at the depicted figure of the God one notices that the figure has an open stance. The figure has a human shape as do all the 3 higher realm beings in the Wheel of Life. The relaxed enjoyment stance depiction has significance in the Reichan characterology perspective which I will comment on later.
The God in general has a fortunate rebirth in the sense it is endowed with the finest resources and capabilities. It is however a complacent or unmotivated being spiritually which as it enjoys its environments and experiences. It will constantly suffer from the actions of Demi-Gods who disturb its peace by trying to unseat the God through attack and war.
In a more subtle sense the God is also experiences mental suffering due to being self aware of when the end of its life is coming. It suffers anxiety and from attachment to those enjoyments it may have experienced for a long time as a God and will lose when it dies. They also know their next rebirth and so may panic and fear the suffering if that rebirth is to be a horrific one.
Also from the point of view of rebirth if you are “at the top” then the only way forward is down into less fortunate rebirths. Gods understand through clairvoyance and other skills such truths and this evokes great fear. Whilst alive in God realms some Gods encounter other gods who may have more merit, beauty, possessions and other factors, which causes envy and depression in the lesser God.
Gods can be born into 3 types of realms:
- Form realm with physical bodies and environments
- Formless realms where they have no bodies and are just a mind or consciousness
- Desire realm Gods exist in forms in very beautiful and stimulating environments
Form and formless realm Gods are less affected by the dynamics described in this realm than that of those born in the Desire realm for whom the descriptions of “God issues” is more apt and applicable. Many of the descriptions here relate to the desire realm Gods. Buddhist literature also describes humans as existing in a desire realm by its nature and environments.
Stronger and more beautiful Gods seize the possessions and partners of the lesser Gods. There is much internal anxiety and conflict both within and between the Gods in their realms. Satisfaction actually creates more desire which in turn creates the basis for suffering. Gods of the Desire realm in particular suffer more mental suffering than humans.
The key problem for Gods is that this realm burns up and exhausts much of their accumulated good action karma from previous lives. Gods ignore spiritual advancement whilst enjoying such fortunate environments, minds, distractions and lives and so spiritually waste their life as it is not turned into an opportunity for spiritual advancement. This is why only the human realm is special and fortunate for it is the only realm where one has both the conditions, and mind that is open to receive and develop one’s own spiritual wisdom, good merit and karma, in any significant way.
Gods therefore also suffer from states of jealousy, envy, avarice and desire that propel it to fight with others, particularly other God realm beings who they wish to overtake, and also lower Demi-God beings who seek to in turn overtake and usurp them and their possessions. Their attachment to their gained possessions and enjoyments creates them anxiety of being separated or dispossessed from such objects. The Gods discriminate amongst each other and even shun a dying God whom is losing their good looks, and may even seek to take advantage or resources from another in this weakening state.
If one looks at the Buddhist Wheel of Life one finds the God depicted in the top central panel in the 6 segmented circle. In this segment we notice a regal figure being served and worshipped by others whilst playing a Lute or instrument from a place of relaxed and sublime enjoyment. Only to the one side are they then pulled away from this peaceful state and forced to fight with other Gods and Demi-Gods in a defensive action to protect what they have earned and are enjoying.
They are therefore not able to relax and be happy with their place in life and are constantly driven and aspire to improve their already fortunate situation due to being driven by more desire for more good things and from a competitive place of comparing themselves to other Gods. They also have to act defensively when attacked by other Gods and Demi-Gods.
THE PERFECTIONIST and OBSESSIONAL ARCHETYPES
There are a number of terms that were used to describe the various types of this personality types in the old Reichan and psychiatric derived language that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. The Energetics Institute tends to refer to these character structures as 2 related types known as the “Perfectionist” and the “Obsessional” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
The need to be perfect is a false illusion. We are born and designed to be human and live within that humanity which is the paradox of perfection within our imperfection. The Perfectionist person essentially rejects their own nature, sexuality and humanity, and seeks instead to be an idealised version of themself, one in which perfection is the only choice in all aspects and dimensions of life.
Reich noted that the childhood dynamics that setup a person to have a Perfectionistic outcome are typically those where in the emerging oedipal stage from age 3 to 4 up to about age 7, or in early teenage years, the child was continually rejected by the parent of the opposite sex, and possibly also of the same sex. At this age the child will have natural instinctual impulses to gravitate to the parent of the opposite sex, and will undergo an innocent and infantile falling in love process with that parent.
This process sees the child become vulnerable and fully open-hearted to this parent, and being at an oedipal stage, it may also involve having infantile sexual impulses towards that parent. The responsibility of this parent is to be aware of this emerging dynamic and work skilfully with it, such that the child is not rejected, used, punished or shamed for having natural impulses of the heart and their sexuality.
The wounding parent is often a Perfectionistic person themself, who by definition, has a closed heart, lives in their head, and is threatened by others feelings. In any event the adult parent will dismiss or criticise or punish or reject the child who approaches them out of love. This crushes the child who will learn from such repeated attempts to form a defence that prevents them from being rejected and from feeling the painful feelings at all.
A parent may also feel uncomfortable with a child’s infantile sexual behaviour and shame them for this, or react angrily, so leaving the child to believe there is something wrong with this part of themself. One parent may use the child’s love interest in them as a tool to trigger reactions and anger in the other parent. Here one parent plays a cruel game where they encourage and exploit the sexuality and love of the child in order to create competition with the other parent. When it becomes too much, or threatens the relationship with the spouse, the manipulator withdraws from the used child, or humiliates or punishes them for these previously encouraged behaviours.
The child learns that it is unsafe to love sexually with an open heart and to experience natural human rivalry. The child will start to control themself so their impulses and urges do not lead them into painful outcomes, and by splitting themself in this way, they disown these impulses and feelings into their unconscious, and start to compensate by wanting to please the parent and win love in other ways.
In one type of outcome, because they feel flawed and wrong for having their natural impulses they decide to become fully in self-control and to become “perfect” and to achieve at whatever will win them praise and love and positive attention. In this first dynamic, the wounding parent will often be critical and perfectionistic themself, and so demand perfect behaviour, perfect academia and sporting achievement from the child if the child is to please the parent, which every child does, and will adopt now as the substitute for the disowned natural sexual love feelings which have been rendered unsafe.
This stance by the parent is abusive and wrong, and effectively uses their own children to promote the false ideal of perfection in the family. Many such parents may also be narcissistic and want “trophy” children they can trot out to others and show off, and whom they can boast about their sporting and academic achievements. The real authentic child is lost in all this, and becomes a false idealised self in order to survive and be accepted. They buy-in to the illusion that they are or need to be perfect just as if they are some type of God.
Another outcome is a person who uses over dramatisation and expression of their feelings in order to prevent them feeling their true feelings. This stance was commonly labelled “The Hysterical Woman” as the literature tended to associate this behaviour with women. It also carries the label of the Histrionic personality. This outcome is often related to a history of inappropriate encouragement and exploitation of the child’s sexuality and the resulting competition it fostered with the other parent. This is a less relevant archetype today as sexual mores become more relaxed and sexual expression is more open and tolerated.
Yet another outcome was the person distracts themself from their feelings by preoccupying themself in their heads with obsessional thoughts and/or compulsive rituals and behaviours. This outcome is often related to a history of inappropriate encouragement and exploitation of the child’s sexuality and the resulting competition it fostered with the other parent, but in addition there was actual punishment as well of the child for having these thoughts and feelings, despite being encouraged to do so. It is often considered as well that this outcome can also be the result of the previous early life wounding occurring that we know as the “Unwanted Child” or in Buddhist terms as a hell realm dynamic from early human life.
The resulting outcome of the bodymind of a predominant perfectionstic person who adopts either the classic “perfectionist” role, or the Histrionic role, can be summarised as a person who presents harmony, order and perfection to the world. Both sexes show an athleticism and harmony in their bodies, with symmetry to their bodies. They look like “Gods”.
This starts the process of the creation of the “God-like” figure. The God in society is anyone “at the top”, just as Gods in the God realm are “at the top” of the Wheel of Life. It may be an organisation, politics, sport, socialite or media figure. In our current society such leaders are esteemed and admired, and the subject of envy and desire by some of those who aspire to themself to become a leader. Some leaders are “at war” with their critics who seek to unseat them and it can generally be said that society promotes an ideal that there are winners and losers and that “getting to the top” of your profession or in some area of life grants you kudos and status of acclaim.
The male perfectionistic figure can be particularly beautiful and graceful, with the men having either a graceful boyish manful look like actor Jude Law, or a more rugged countenance like actor Daniel Craig. This is because the muscular armouring in the Perfectionistic person may be visually subtle and athletic due to its mesh-like configuration in the chest and back, while the face is youthful, or the muscular armouring may be more angular and plate-like, creating a more squared off physique, and pronounced facial muscles, possibly with a squared off jaw. The net effect is acclaim for their beauty.
The female typically follows the physical outcome of a harmonious, athletic, attractive body and face where there is good symmetry in the body. A person such as the actress Halle Berry typifies this outcome. Both sexes will have a good uniform breathing pattern that involves the chest, diaphragm and belly, but the breathing will be shallow in order to suppress feelings in the body. Both sexes may have problems with their throats either physically or at least as a communication channel. This stems from the unconscious fear of being criticised, scorned, wronged, or rejected for speaking their opinion or truth, leaves many Perfectionistic persons with a block in their throats to represent this fear of speaking up.
Their bodies reveal their attempt of achieving perfection more than it does revealing major blocks or flaws or somatic wounding beyond the key points noted here. There is an emerging line of thought from Epigenetics that the mind influences the expression of our genes. In this theory an early life determination to “be perfect” as a compensation for conditional love or criticism would influence bodily development to a “perfect” outcome to the extent that this persons genetic inheritance in their DNA could foster and support. The mechanisms for this remain unknown.
These 2 types of Perfectionistic persons have pride as a key fault, and will have a deep conviction of being superior to others which they may not publicly admit. This mirrors the Buddhist God conviction of their own perfection and superiority. They may still have a strong connection to the parent of the opposite sex, and may be “Daddy’s little Princess” or “Mummy’s little Man or Her Prince”. This relationship speaks of this infantile triangulated and sexualised relationship that may still be in place decades later even when the child has grown into an adult.
It is not uncommon for this childhood or early teenage origin dynamic to still operate when the child is an adult, and will effectively still create a triangle as the spouse of the parent in this dynamic is often sidelined, resentful of both of them, and unable to compete with the child for the spouses attention or affection. This also explains why these perfectionists as adults often created triangulated relationships, as this dynamic may be normalised to them now, after all these years of living it in a family system.
They may still triangulate their own adult love relationship by still having the original parent “on a pedestal” where their current relationship partner is in competition with that parent, cannot please that parent, and where they feel the hostility of that parent towards them. This can be the archetypal “mother-in-law” who criticises the new girlfriend as not being “good enough for my boy!!”. In Buddhist literature the God is not happy with their partners and often replace partners from a selfish entitled place. They also want to be on a pedestal and worshipped by others due to their status.
The adoption of the “need to be perfect” stance towards life by this personality type, sets up that Perfectionistic character to be effectively like a mouse on a treadmill, driven to be constantly achieving and striving for perfection and yet seemingly getting nowhere as they constantly encounter their true but rejected less than perfect natures. Like the Buddhist God their attainments are never enough and they suffer from needing to crave and chase more and more, which they are then anxious of losing.
Life to them is essentially a checklist of ongoing external challenges and accomplishments to be conquered, and the Perfectionistic personality is very competitive within themself, and secretly with others. They must secretly try to win. Its a life or death struggle for many, a win-lose equation for most of them. Like the Buddhist Gods they constantly check out competitor perfectionists and feel depressed when they notice another “God” or perfectionist having more beauty, resource, reputation, status or enjoyments than them.
Even when they win, their underlying anxiety gives them little time to stop and smell the roses, and take in their achievements. As the Buddhist Gods are doomed to feel, they too must suffer much more mental suffering than the rest of us human beings. They are already focussing on the next challenge(s) and items to be ticked off in life. Nothing must challenge their thus far achieved status and level of perfection. Like Buddhist Gods they fear other Gods stealing their top-dog status, position, resources or achievements. Likewise they must in business watch for other God and Demi-God narcissistic personalities who want to unseat them, betray them, and take what they have.
To be perfect means to always be in control of the situation at hand. Perfectionistic characters are in total self-control, which contrasts with the Leader/Controller Demi-God who focuses control on those around them. This gives the appearance of the serene tranquil God like presence resplendent in beauty, and graceful and eloquent, but which hides anxiety and suffering underneath.
Perfectionistic persons therefore do not cope well with unforseen events or circumstances that spoil their plans that see them lose control, that expose them to criticism, or expose them to inadequacy or not being perfect. The Perfectionistic person is constantly checking in with themself to ensure they are maintaining their mask of perfection and control to the world. Gods must play their part in looking like a God and giving that appearance of perfection to other mere mortals so as to trigger envy and acclaim.
This personality develops a form of “analysis paralysis” where they go to endless lengths in thinking in “what if” outcomes about any planned action or project. They seek to work out the best way forward and anticipate the consequences and outcomes so they can steer a path away from anything that will see them again humiliated, punished, exposed, and made to seem less than perfect. This mental gymnastics sees them prone to fall into procrastination, intense recurrent thoughts in their heads, negative and fear based thinking, and so results in them having procrastination in life as an issue. The Obsessional form of this personality learns to retreat into this world as an escape from guilt and other feelings.
In some ways this is not unlike the variety of God born into the formless realm. In this manifestation all you have is consciousness or mind which is powerful, alert, constantly thinking and analysing. However there is no need of a body for this being. In human terms Reich noted some Obsessional Rigid Perfectionists lived totally “in their heads” and effectively had discarded their bodies as an annoyance. They are often tagged as “living in their heads”.
The Perfectionistic character presents beautifully in body and in mind, and through the self control and adherence to the highest stands of bodily image via grooming, dress, deportment, and physical health and fitness, they cut a stunning near perfect figure to the world. They are the closest human embodiment of what a God archetype could be.
Likewise they attempt perfection via the intellect and are normally very intelligent and disciplined in study and work, and are reliable, hard working, but often require black and white, formal work and intellectual frameworks in order to make them feel safe. They are over-represented in “black and white” industries and careers such as engineering, law, accounting and administration of rules and policy. Buddhist literature describes the Gods as collectively having great discipline, intelligence, and mental gifts, just like the Perfectionist.
The Perfectionistic personality fears the “grey” of subjective and interpretive careers and subjective debates as they fear being wrong, or being criticised or exposed as less than competent or perfect in this place. The Perfectionistic personality will often procrastinate over a new task or discipline they have not mastered for the same reason, and will often suffer alot of anxiety in this procrastination period, before the looming deadline kicks in a rush of activity right near the end of the deadline, as a larger fear of true failure causes mobilisation to occur.
The Perfectionistic personality tends to value thinking above feeling, being right above being in truth, and living to an image versus living from their hearts. They work out what society values as important in all areas of life, and then chases after that ideal. In a sense one notices the Buddhist gods noticing what other gods have and they then aspire to have that, and may attack another god to get that object, such as their partner.
In a sense, due to their real inner low self esteem, they compensate via what is termed outer or other-esteem by achieving everything possible, and having the most degrees and achievements, the best house, the right suburb to live in, the most connected friends, the right accessories that fashion trends dictate, the mandatory holiday, and being seen to socialise in the trendiest settings and with the right people. Partners must share this outlook on life and it is not uncommon to find two Perfectionistic personalities living together in their attempt at living “the dream” together as a “power” couple.
In this way we see how the Perfectionist sets up a God realm where they and their consort or partner just live like gods in peace where possible, and are distracted by, and attached to such a way of opulent living. The focus on achievement and attainment is often unending and may have a compulsive feel to it. Desirous attachment propels this behaviour just as in the case of the Gods of the God realm.
So what is wrong with all this you say? Nothing except that it hides a high level of social and general anxiety, it often results in Depression, Generalised Anxiety Disorders (GAD), Addictions, or burnout long term in an attempt to keep this lifestyle going. Like the little black duck on the pond they look so cute and peaceful from afar, but underneath the water the little ducks legs are kicking furiously to keep the appearance going and the duck afloat. Many ducks drown over time as the illusion of perfection cannot be maintained and the motto “what is not in truth collapses” shows up.
The Perfectionistic personality suffers from an intense “inner critic” or internalised critical voice of the parent(s) or authority figure that made them feel unlovable in their humanity in the first place. This inner voice typically is constantly scanning others and noting if the Perfectionistic person is better or less perfect than that other person, often across a number of reference points.
The Perfectionistic person often then feels sick inside when later alone that they have then within their own private thoughts just done a character assassination on that other person from such a critical mind. This then makes the Perfectionistic person loathe themself, feel bad and they then criticise themself again, and try harder in the future, thus perpetuating the cycle of criticism and low self esteem they try to escape through perfectionism. This reinforces the Buddhist observation that the Gods suffer intense mental suffering which is more than that of other human beings.
In reality the Perfectionistic character is more focussed on failure than success, more sensitive to criticism than others, displaces and mistrusts positive feedback with their own internal critique of how things could have been better. Outsiders imagine the Perfectionistic character has it all in life, and are often envious of their achievements, but to the Perfectionistic person themself, they are normally unable to feel or truly be happy within themself or with their own achievements.
The Perfectionistic person only can then put happiness out into the future and often has a form of thinking based on outcomes like “once I achieve x then I will be happy”. This cognitive distortion means they stop being a human “being” and instead become a human “doing”, where they cannot sit still and just do nothing, but must always be doing something, and start to get anxious when they feel frustrated that they are wasting precious time, or they “should” be doing something more substantial. The Perfectionistic person will often overwork and may sacrifice socialising for work, and they often struggle with anxiety based sleep disorders and workaholism. This is further evidence of their mental suffering.
The Perfectionistic person is often ruled by black and white thinking where they often live to rules and other black and white constructs, or try to impose such frameworks on others. They often speak in terms of “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” and their rigidity mixed with perfectionism gives them little heart and little compassion in how they live. The Perfectionistic person often mistrusts their feelings and so retreats into “living in their heads”, becomes critical and negative and judgemental of others as their inner critic starts to surface and be manifest in their personality. This may echo that form of God who lives in a formless realm of a consciousness or mind only reality.
At work the Perfectionistic person will achieve and get promoted through a combination of intelligence, application, overwork, and competitiveness. However once in power they often demand perfection from others who do not understand this insane drive to achieve at the expense of happiness and life balance. The Perfectionistic boss will launch angry judgemental tirades at staff who they judge as lazy, stupid, weak or incompetent.
This type of boss may micro-manage and be unable to trust others via delegation, and will typically introduce many rules, black and white reporting systems, statistics and only view success through financial or other empirical Key Performance Indicators. Staff turnover and absenteeism due to stress is high in workplaces where a Perfectionistic boss rules and sets the tone for the workplace culture.
It is common that these personalities show a generational link, with either one or both parents, either the same sex or other sex parent, having the same Perfectionistic personality that they then as parents then create in one or more of their children. The parent wounds the child through their perfectionistic demands, betrayal of the childs sexual love, harsh black and white thinking, and criticisms and judgements they visit on their children they are supposed to love. At home the spouse or partner may suffer as the Perfectionistic person is normally emotionally unavailable, is mentally often not present, and living in their head or are still in their office in their heads.
The partner and the children will feel unseen, unappreciated or unloved, and will typically withdraw and start to either avoid the Perfectionistic person, or please them via perfect achievements at sport or academia in order to be “seen” or to get “love”. The first born child often becomes the “perfect” child and goes down the path of being the “good one” or the “achiever perfectionist” themself, whilst the second born is often unseen, and may rebel and act out the negative disowned qualities that horrify and shame the Perfectionistic parent, and shame the family who are expected to present Brady Bunch perfection to the world.
In the long term either the Perfectionistic person or their neglected partner may start to have an affair outside their relationship. In Buddhist literature Gods are recorded as being prone to seduce and take other Gods partners away from them for themself. This perfectionistic trait could be interpreted in this way.
As a child their united sexuality and love, as symbolised by their pelvis and heart, was made wrong, and became the basis for humiliation, shame, punishment and exploitation. As part of shutting down their feelings and creating defences against being hurt again, they split their love and sexuality between two people in all future situations. By this they will tend as adults to have a “confidante” which whom they can have “heart to hearts” but no sex, and then have a separate partner to whom they submit sexually but will withhold their heart.
When this person enters a relationship this split stance towards sex and love can be confusing for partners. They may start a relationship with a strong libido, but as they fall in love they face the internal tension of being betrayed again, and so unconsciously split their love and sex, or pelvis and heart. For many this will mean giving the partner sex, but withdrawing and relating “from their heads”, with little emotional connection. For some they will cultivate a “friend” outside the relationship at this stage, thus creating a triangle which resembles their childhood triangulated dynamics, and where they displace their heart needs.
Sometimes the relationship will progress where the Perfectionist gives their heart and head to their partner, but shuts down their pelvis or sexuality and libido leaves the relationship. They become more like “brother and sister” emotionally and with no sex, but maintain the facade to friends and the world of the “perfect couple”. In this dynamic the Perfectionist or their partner may eventually act out a sexual affair in order to satisfy their unmet sexual needs. The Perfectionist personality often has triangulated relationships, and affairs whilst inside relationships can be a major issue in their life.
In our work we describe this as a pelvic/heart split. In a relationship the person tends to shut their heart down and be actively sexual for a period but not really open their heart, since they actually fear emotional intimacy. The Perfectionistic person experienced the painful rejection and criticism in childhood as heart breaking and so as a defence is now closed off to being hurt in that vulnerable way again. They instead only offer part of themself to a partner, typically their thinking intellect and sexuality and keep their heart closed, with other persons existing outside the relationship to whom they have their heartfelt relations with.
The two ways of being, in the heart and the pelvis, are normally never expressed through a single person or partner. If a Perfectionistic personality was to be fully vulnerable to another person again then they could be hurt and betrayed again which is too big a risk to take, and too much of a fear to live with. What often happens in a relationship with either one or both persons being Perfectionistic is that they connect sexually and mentally or intellectually well in the first stage.
Once the heart shows up in the relationship for one or both of them then they live a dilemma of how not to get hurt. What occurs is either they keep their hearts closed and live in the status quo of having a sexual and intellectual bond, sacrificing the heart and its feelings, or the sexuality shuts down as the heart in one or both of them opens. In either dynamic they cannot get fully hurt as they are not fully open or fully vulnerable to the other person, and so can better cope with betrayal or criticism or judgements from the loved one.
Unfortunately this can also lead to the person who shuts down their sexuality then being tempted in fantasy or in reality to having an affair where its purely sexual and where they never intend to leave their partner. This person gets all their needs met through two different persons in a triangulated dynamic.
The Perfectionistic personality struggles with constructive criticism or negative criticism, or indeed even feedback said from a empathic place can be perceived and received in an overly sensitive and personal way. They can get overly wounded and withdraw, and in extreme examples where they get publicly exposed or they perceive shame there are well known examples of such successful person’s suiciding.
In a well known example, the recent Global Financial Crisis saw Adolf Merckle, the worlds 44th richest man, drop down the rich list to number 94. For 99% of the population this position would still see themself as a vastly wealthy person with opportunities, achievements and resources beyond what all of us will not see in this life. In his world the perceived loss of face and loss of control was unbearable and he threw himself under a train in his own perceived sense of failure and shame.
Some authors also note that some people become perfectionistic in order to thrive or survive in their careers. In Australia, Charmaine Dragun was an attractive Australian television presenter who had both the pressure of being a well known public figure on Television, and was in her own words strongly perfectionistic. In the competitive world of television and media, media celebrities often are looking over their shoulders at upcoming talent who no doubt covet their job, just like the God and Demi-God battle of Buddhist texts. In media, image is everything and in recent accounts of female media personalities who once worked in Australian TV, they have reported a culture where the pressure to be perfect and sexual and beautiful on camera was a benchmark by which they were judged.
Charmaine had reportedly been struggling with Anxiety and Depression for which she was receiving help, and these disorders are a common issue for the Perfectionistic personality. She was reported to have had a solid relationship, but reportedly felt “empty”, which is a common feeling that Perfectionistic personalities feel with the perfection trap they create for themselves in life. Charmaine was reported to be “emotionally troubled”, and possibly suffered Bipolar Type 2 disorder. She reportedly was beset by negative thinking and feelings of hopelessness. Charmaine had some suicidal feelings during all this and eventually committed suicide when she apparently became overwhelmed with her life circumstances.
The Perfectionistic personality often resists entering therapy due to the notion that they must be perfect, and doing therapy or getting counselling is an admission of failure. Often it is only after their own self-controlling efforts to run their life to the illusion of perfection have failed, that they enter therapy in crisis. Also the Perfectionistic personality may end up in counselling due to being unable to remain faithful in romantic relationships, where the idea of an affair may be acted out in reality.
The Perfectionistic personality may collapse into an Anxiety or Depressive disorder, or suffer Chronic Fatigue or burnout or an illness related to a suppressed immune system, as they are unable to keep up with their own relentless demands to achieve more and more. This is becoming more common in our society with terms such as Executive Stress or Executive Burnout often describing this dynamic. In Buddhist literature Gods are prone to feeling depressed under certain conditions.
I mentioned earlier a third type of Perfectionistic personality that uses obsessional thinking, or compulsive ritualised actions as a defence and distraction from being in their forbidden thoughts and feelings. This type of Perfectionistic personality often had the “Unwanted Child” or hell realm style wounding in the womb, or in early life. Here it is believed that the Obsessional type redirects their own will towards controlling what is uncontrolled, that being one’s spontaneous thoughts, impulses, desires and feelings. Mental suffering is increased with this type of personality.
Coming from an Unwanted Child and/or Perfectionistic child background where the world and parents were hostile, and/or from the situation where they were punished or used or humiliated in their own sexual love feelings, the Obsessional develops an inner sentinel which issues internal dialogue warnings, admonitions, commands, directives and warnings. This sentinel can be believed by the Obsessional to be an external alien force, voice or evil possessing them, and not understood or accepted to be part of their inner life. The Obsessional believes they are compelled to obey the directives of this sentinel. The sentinel is a more severe form of the classic perfectionists “inner critic”.
The parents of this Obsessional type are found often to be stern, exacting, rigid, rule based, cold personalities who were threatened and disgusted by the spontaneity of the child, and who punished and threatened the child until the child gave up their true self and became a “perfect” child. The child must enact self-control to suppress their instinctual behaviours and become the false perfect self demanded of them by the parent(s). Commonly one or both parents are either threatened or competitive with the child’s often intelligent and creative original nature.
Where the person has an Unwanted Child background there is often a more survival oriented need for this rigid Perfectionistic outcome. The Obsessional based perfectionism prevents the collapse and fragmentation of the person occurring. The person imposes a self-will in order to maintain order in the face of internal chaos and this must be maintained as their internal life is often threatening to fragment. The order and structure is maintained through this internal sentinel that keeps watch and uses ritual and rules to make the person functional.
Regardless of their background the Obsessional type typically is a person under constant internal pressure to do, behave, feel and think the right thing. They attempt to control their own feelings and motivations so they are the right kind of person and do not offend. This keeps them busy behaviourally and cognitively, and fends off any impulse to sidetrack off into spontaneous and therefore unsafe territory. Their intense and narrowly focused attention, particularly to detail, coupled with their noted doubt, indecision, and procrastination, keep them safe from making mistakes.
The Obsessional can be quite stilted, pedantic and rigidly correct in social settings, being an observer more than involved, with others seen as the personification of the social rules, expected niceties, and imperatives they must live up to, and so are submissive to those above them, and punishing to those below them who must comply and follow the rules, have proper attitudes and values. This subjugation of those below them is the basis for them recreating their childhood wounds, and so sets up possible trans-generational wounding in this type in families.
Over time the suppression, self-regulation, and self-vigilance, they impose on themself, coupled with their feelings of their internal self collapsing into chaos if they do not keep their obsessions and rituals going, can create depression. In their world, as they feel threatened or stressed or overwhelmed, it only leaves them with a strategy of more of the same. Here they will obsess more, be more compulsive, increase rituals and behaviours, and often at this point there intrudes into consciousness some repressed thoughts of a sexually sadistic or somehow otherwise hostile nature.
At this point they may act out their darker thoughts, or regain control and punish the “bad” part of themself for having such thoughts, or for acting them out. They may also collapse or act out if exposed by someone else in a way that humiliates or shames them as wrong or uncovers an aspect of them they have tried to suppress and hide.
This Obsessional personality does not typically exhibit the harmonious body of the classic Perfectionist personality. If they have the earlier Unwanted Child wounding their bodies will show that characterology or bodily characteristics. The Obsessional personality shows itself more in their mental life and behaviours than it does in the body. They can be phobic of their bodies which alludes to that formless realm version of the Gods. The ocular segment block, which is found in other personality types, and which principally shows in the eyes, the facial and jaw muscles, and the rear neck line where the skull meets the neck, will normally be present. This acts to repress feelings coming from the body into the head, and creates a split between the head and the body, which results in that person ”living in their heads”.
The Perfectionistic personality is also partly present in the related development of the Narcissistic personality, and the two tend to share some similar outlooks on life, self, and what drives them in life. Most Narcissistic personalities also tend to have a developmental background that involves the dynamics shared by the Leader/Controller personality type which is outlined elsewhere in this article.
In this way the tree which spans both the God and Demi-God realms of the Wheel of Life diagram may have significance in that it signifies the commonalities and more subtle boundary that exists between these two types of beings due to shared heritage, outlooks and drives in life.
The Wheel of Life is revered in many Buddhist traditions as a source of great significance and insight. The Wheel of Life is also lesser understood as an explanation of the states of mind that we each suffer in the continuum of bodymind throughout our life, and also as an expression of the key psychological and embodied states of being that humans suffer in the karmic outcome of being born in the human realm of suffering.
There are compelling similarities between this system of psychological and spiritual realisation and that of the Bodymind psychology outlined by the lineage of Wilhelm Reich/Alexander Lowen/John Pierrakos. The comparison process is persuasive in its illumination of the Wheel of Life as a profound system of human bodymind psychology. Given this document is some 2500 years old then one must be impressed at its insight and accuracy as it both validates and is validated by the Reichan bodymind psychology clinical models of the key archetypes of our human condition.
As such both systems gain from the presence of the other. It is not common but it is refreshing when an ageless system of spiritual wisdom meets a contemporary body of psychological knowledge and finds common ground. Both have key differences but meet in the common truth of the sufferings of our human condition and so in this way East meets West in these fascinating insights.
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Bioenergetics, Lowen Alexander, 1976, Penguin books, New York.
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Character Styles, Johnson Stephen, 1994, W.WW Norton & Co New York.
Characterological Transformation – The Hard Work Miracle, Johnson Stephen, 1985, W.W. Norton &Co New York.
Free Yourself 1 – Releasing Your Unconscious Defence Patterns, Marquier Annie, 2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
Free Yourself 2 – The Power of the Soul, Marquier Annie,2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
Biology of Belief, Lipton Bruce, 2005, Mountain of Love/Elite Books, USA.
Core Energetics, Pierrakos John, 1990, LifeRhythm Publication.
Depression And The Body; Lowen A., 1976, Penguin Books.
Trauma and the Body – A Sensorimotor Approach to Psychotherapy; Ogden Pat etal, 2006, Norton & Co Publishers.
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