In the course of his clinical work in Vienna (1924-1930) and then in Berlin (1930-1933), Wilhelm Reich worked out his own techniques of psychoanalytic practice that emphasized the analysis of resistances and the structure of the character. He made his techniques public in his book, Character Analysis (1933/1945), his richest contribution to psychoanalysis. Character represents a stable, more or less rigid, organization of the libidinal economy of the person; it is at the same time submitted to the pressures of the drives and to social constraints, to gratifying or traumatic experiences, and to the repetitions or defenses that they give rise to: "Character is in the first place a mechanism of narcissistic protection."
The "character traits" that it brings together under the name of "character armor " correspond to the mechanisms used by the person to deal with the repressed. Reich described two great poles of character, defined by their degree of "orgasmic potency" and the prevalence of various states of the libido: The genital character, the Reichian ideal, is distinguished by an orgasmic potency that reaches a true plenitude, a flexible and free circulation of libidinal energy, and also by modes of relation to the self, to others, and to the world, founded on a rational approach that respects the reality principle. The neurotic character, conversely, suffers from a libidinal imbalance that gives primacy to repression and negation or, in other cases, to impulsivity and an inability to master the pressure of unconscious impulses. In addition to these fundamental character types, Reich described "some well defined forms of character," such as the hysteric character, dominated by ostentation and sexual mobility; the compulsive character, where rigidity, retention, and obsession for order dominate; and the phallic-narcissistic character, structured so as to resist the "anal and passive-homosexual impulses." For the masochistic character, Reich refers, through several individual examples, to a cultural form marked by guilt and the desire for punishment—in short, the death drive, as the source of the tendency towards such deadly political practices as fascism.
Reich's broadening of character analysis included a third part called "On the Psychoanalysis of the Biophysics of Orgone," in which Reich, linking "physical contact" and "vegetative current," emphasized the role of violent, elementary sensations such as the feeling of "breakdown" and the "representation of death." He proposed, on this basis, an original interpretation of the "schizoid disintegration," by which certain symptoms typical of schizophrenia—the "faraway stare," dissociation of the personality, and catatonia—are presented in a clarifying and suggestive light. By inscribing his researches within a "language expressive of life," Wilhelm Reich committed himself to a vitalist vision that shall see subsequent and more ample developments.
See also: Character; Character formation; Character neurosis; Reich, Wilhelm.
Reich, Wilhelm. (1945). Character analysis: Principles and technique for psychoanalysts in practice and in training (Theodore P. Wolfe, Trans.). New York: Orgone Institute Press. (Original work published 1933)
Boadella, David. (1973). Wilhelm Reich, The evolution of his work. Chicago: Henry Regnery.
Dadoun, Roger. (1975) Cent fleurs pour Wilhelm Reich. Paris: Payot.