Wilhelm Reich Psychotherapy – The Endurer (Masochist)
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. This character structure is also referred to as the “Endurer” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
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 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 in children 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.
The highly aggressive responses that occurred along the way in this losing fight for their separate existence were eventually eliminated and disowned, till they became docile and compliant. Resistance was futile and squashed till it stopped. The rage at this suppression went underground and into the Childs body.
The child 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 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.
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).
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.
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”.
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.
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.
Other people get fooled at first by the pleasing presenting face of the Endurer, and then 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. 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.
The Endurer has a mind and cognitive style that is slower, duller, and less imaginative or visionary than most. They may suffer chronic low grade depression due to the repression of their own rage and anger. They are often identified 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.
They normally lack spontaneity and can endure pain and suffering very well. They also have enormous strength and energy, yet the stuckness of their energy sees them 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 parent.
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 appears related to the notion of being “squashed” 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. The Endurer often suffered a scolding.
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 a lot of its flexibility.
They may also have flat feet as a sign of having “given up” the struggle with the world.
- Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith, 2004, Celestial Arts, USA.
- Character Analysis, Wilhelm Reich, 1975, 5th enlarged edition, New York, Farrar Publishing.
- Bioenergetics, Alexander Lowen, 1976, Penguin books, New York.
- Language of the Body, Alexander Lowen, 1971, MacMillan, New York.
- Character Styles, Stephen Johnson, 1994, W.WW Norton & Co New York.
- Characterological Transformation – The Hard Work Miracle, Stephen Johnson, 1985, W.W. Norton & Co New York.
- Free Yourself 1 – Releasing Your Unconscious Defence Patterns, Annie Marquier, 2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
- Free Yourself 2 – The Power of the Soul, Annie Marquier, 2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
- Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, 2005, Mountain of Love/Elite Books, USA.
- Core Energetics, John Pierrakos, 1990, LifeRhythm Publication.