Wilhelm Reich Psychotherapy – The Needy Child (Oral)
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. This character structure is also referred to as the “Needy” 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.
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.
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. 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.
The Needy personality gives the impression of being undercharged, deflated, “not filled up” or deprived of energy and their body shows a corresponding undercharge, thinness, weakness or dependency. They are still looking for someone or something to “fill them up”.
Their 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, 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 the 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 either needy themself and so unavailable, or “takers” who use caretaker personalities to their own end. 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.
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 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.
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.
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 malnonrished bodies find that easy to manifest. They also manifest sickness and depression from burnout in caretaking others.
Depression in the Needy personality also relates to their suppression of their anger, hostility and rage at the people 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. This 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.
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. 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.
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 and frustration at the mother over 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.
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 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 limbs 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.
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