Wilhelm Reich Psychotherapy – The Unwanted Child (Schizoid)
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. This character structure is also referred to as the “Unwanted Child” or the “Dreamer” 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 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 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 an 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.
The process begins at conception when a child is 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 like a large cellular membrane. In fact it serves the same purpose as a 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 partially wrong. 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 the placenta and womb, 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 in some translated way, happens to 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.
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 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. 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.
However 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 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. 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.
This same ANS process also interrupts the developing baby’s 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.
It would appear that the 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. 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 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 depressed, a drug addict or alcoholic, unable to cope with the pregnancy, 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 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 birth of the child may also be traumatic and create the sense of hostility and the world being unsafe in the child. 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. Birth can be traumatic for either mother or 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.
In many ways our Western hospital births of the last 50 years have been depersonalised, cold traumatic events for many mothers and their children. The fad of mothers having a caeserean birth creates numerous issues for the child. The natural birthing process has been shown to coat the child with Oxytocin which then helps forge the mother-child bond at birth. The interruption of this process has been linked to mothers post natal depression. The child’s birth causes it to have its head slightly compressed which activates its brain to set off certain survival functions such as breathing, and also compresses the lungs to drive out amoebic fluid, and create the initial vacuum that triggers the lungs to start breathing. All this is interrupted by caeserean births which are now accepted and promoted by doctors.
Whatever may have gone in the world of the mother and her environments, either internally or externally, 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.
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 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 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.
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 this unsafe or hostile feeling is more conscious and manifest around people and crowds. 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. The adult will typically be hyper-vigilant and live almost continually from the Sympathetic state of the ANS. 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, or virtual worlds on the internet, that will help avoid or escape any stress, particularly of a social nature.
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 hostility reactions of caregivers, and will now do 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. Refer to our article on Trauma.
The typical compensation for the Unwanted Child is the escape either into spirituality, virtual reality, or a narrow vertical form of skill specialisation which they master in a rigid perfectionistic way, and within which they can operate safely. Escapism is a form of dissociation, and when done in isolation, it assists in making the person feel safe. Social activities are 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 may have suicidal ideation and wishes 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. They may feel part of them is possessed or evil.
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 person.
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.
They likewise can be fooled by unsafe people and environments and as these are somehow familiar, they can adapt and make sense of such settings. The Unwanted Child can end up in Narcissistic psychological and spiritual based cults and churches and feel strangely at home.
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 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 head(refer my article on Reich’s 7 bodily segments).
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 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 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.
- 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.