Character Armor and De-Armoring Explained | Wilhelm Reich

Published: Feb 8, 2024 | Revised: Feb 23, 2024
Written by: Marce Ferreira

Knight wearing body armor

The concept of Character Armor — in British English Character Armour — was developed by the Austrian physician and psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897 – 1957), and explains how people may cope with and protect themselves from emotional pain and trauma.

According to Reich, a Character Armor expresses itself as physical manifestations — what Reich called the Body Armor, Emotional Body Armor, or Muscular Armor — and psychological or character traits, which both serve as an emotional defense mechanism.

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Physical manifestations typically include phenomena such as muscle tension and contraction, tensions in organs and other bodily tissues, shallow breath (chest breathing), inflexibility and rigidness of posture, and/or color changes in the skin. Moreover, these habits and features are unconsciously held.

Psychologically, one’s Character Armor may show as characteristic postures, gestures, speech, movements, attitudes, and reactions, for instance, avoiding eye contact, being dominant or submissive, petulant or stubborn, habitually crossing the arms in front of the chest, impairment of movements, or keeping a sizable physical distance to other people. In addition, the person involved would show signs of social withdrawal, depression, anxiety, loneliness and isolation, and avoids sexual excitement.

The Character Armor tends to arise because of the inherent conflict between our authentic human needs, desires and emotions and the unnatural attitudes and conditioning our parents, family, and society impose upon us. In fact, Reich claimed that we repress or suppress our natural expression in order to align with the expectations of family and society, and subsequently we shape an artificial, unnatural character.

In addition, Wilhelm Reich believed that a Character Armor can grow stronger in response to chronic stress and traumatic events later in one’s life, while it inhibits us from experiencing our full set of desires and emotions (or numbing them), expressing our true selves, and from actually digesting and healing our emotional wounds.

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As a whole, we could say that the Character Armor is thought to be created to prevent feeling the emotional pain that traumatic experiences cause, and/or prevent further emotional hurt. Reich also thought that an important negative result of this defense mechanism is that people often struggle to form intimate relationships and connect with others on a deeper emotional level.

To heal from trauma, and to be able to express ourselves naturally, attain sexual health, and start enjoying life again to its fullest potential, Reich proposed a specific type of therapy which he called Vegetotherapy, a form of Body Psychotherapy or Somatic Psychology, which today is usually called Body De-Armoring (or Body De-Armouring).

Body De-Armoring — in the Reichian setting — then includes Psychotherapy, but additionally the use of physical i.e. somatic practices such as Breathwork, massage, touch, pressure, and acupressure to release the Body Armor (a person’s physical tensions and constrictions) to subsequently release the hurt of corresponding emotional traumas that arises and heal emotionally.

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