Defending ourselves from future Attack: Armouring.
The response to us not getting our needs met as children or Traumatic or Adverse Events naturally results in us wanting to defend ourselves from further hurt (both emotional and physical). The Body/Mind scientist Wilhelm Reich in the early 20th Century of put forward the concept of Armouring as such a protective mechanism and having two components:
Character armouring- which is a habitual defense pattern and which has formed from automatic and chronically active ego defenses.
Body Armouring- Physical patterns of chronic muscle tension that stem from the person’s character armouring.
This Armouring begins to occur from Birth and sometimes in-utero and develops throughout our lives. Reich said:
“Armouring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body”
The net result of which is an inhibition of free expression of emotion and restriction in the flow of energy resulting in a major obstacle to growth as not only is our emotional response limited, so is our intuition and creativity; Our body becomes numbed to the full experience of life as it prevents or protects us from feelings and restricts range of motion as well as altering our perception.
The physical armouring develops from the character armouring and in essence it forms who we are.
This can best be described by viewing our personality as a series of concentric circles (Diagram ). The Core or heart is where our natural feelings of love reside, the next three layers represent the layers of our defences going from inner to outer: The Emotional layer, The Muscular Layer and the Ego layer being outermost. This first or outermost layer contains all our psychic and mental defences: our distrust, blaming, our projections and rationalisations. The second layer, the muscular layer is where our chronic muscular tensions exist and these both support the first layer and defend us from reaching the third layer, the emotional layer, where all our unexpressed feelings such fear, anger, panic and pain accumulate.
The defences we create to protect against Anxiety Create the conditions for Anxiety.
“This seems to be a contradictory position: defending against anxiety while creating the space for it to occur”. (Lowen, Bioenergetics)
Our defences originally developed to protect us from rejection, hurt or attack. The more we experience the hurts, rejections or attacks the more defences we raise against the future possibility of them occurring with the net result that we come trapped behind our own walls, relatively free from anxiety, but totally restricted in the experience of our lives. However, as humans we have a natural need to reach out and open and that requires us to be vulnerable, to open our heart and allow that flow outwards to occur. That brings us into contact with our defences, where we have this outward flow from our heart to the outer layers constricted within well prescribed limits so that anxiety does not happen. When we move into opening further, our feelings get stronger, the defences activate and we feel anxious. In a way this is not all bad, from a therapeutic perspective these uncovered defences can be explored and as they are reduced this ultimately creates more pleasure in our lives.
Energetic aspects of our Defences:
If you look at what Peter Levine says when he talks about energy charge and discharge in relation to trauma, then similar principles are acting here.
When we have more energy and we build up the level of charge, there is also a discharge which is in balance. With inadequate charge we feel depleted, too much and are not able to release this via emotional expression for example, then we become overcharged and the product of this is anxiety. Eventually, for most, stasis is obtained and the anxiety decreases and indeed with support the level of charge we can hold in balance is increased leading to greater pleasure in our lives. But for some the level of energy they can manage is low and can result in prolonged periods of anxiety which cause a retreat behind walls to reduce the anxiety, but with the simultaneous loss of feeling, pleasure and joy or complete dissociation.
Maintaining our defences also uses a lot of our available energy, by dissolving the blocks that prevent energy from flowing, we create the conditions for the energy we release to flow naturally and be used creatively and healthily in our lives.