“What is so wrong with me? Everything I do seems to be wrong. There is something wrong with what I say, what I am, what I do….there is even something wrong with my love. I seem to love people on a wrong way” said the woman in front of me while tightening her throat and chin trying to control the emerging emotions.
O boy, didn’t I understand her, hear her, didn’t I resonate with her? When we have this type of wounding, it seems that every time we try to express ourselves, be it through words or deeds, we get the message from the outside environment that we are making a mistake, we are doing it wrong way. It is so persistent in our lives that we just assume in one moment that there is something wrong with us just by being ourselves. We start to feel awkward and think: “There is an irreversible error in my being. So let me try and be what these people want from me to be…and that way I won’t be wrong.” This is the beginning of an end of the authentic self, or better said the beginning of our disconnection with it. Around this authentic self, which seems to be hurt and corrected every time it wants to get out, we start to build something Reich called the rigid character structure.
This character is the last of five basic styles because it is formed later in life (anywhere from 5 years of age and on). It is actually very hard to stay in a straight time line while trying to pin point when defenses started to develop. Some of us where corrected physically, through words or silent treatments, but for some of us the rules were never verbalized – it was simply in the air, an unspoken law that we should not even attempt to do it differently than it already is. It was imposed on a very subtle level from the early days.
The home of a rigid child, or over corrected child, is in order…or in chaos. What do I mean by that? Everything has to be, externally, in perfect order, in its place: the books are neatly lined on the shelf according to their size, the clothing organized according seasons, colors or length in the closet, our desks are organized and things put away on its proper place when not needed anymore. We have a long list of “to do’s” for the following day and it just gives us pleasure to cross over the task fulfilled. Actually we never arrive to the end, to accomplishment; we take pleasure in writing down new and getting done old tasks. This is a good way to cover up the internal chaos. That is why external chaos is not at all tolerated. And that exactly was happening in the childhood home: we either had all tightened up around us, so the inner chaos, especially emotional, wouldn’t have a crack to sneak out, OR we had chaotic homes even externally and we had to hold ourselves to survive the storms. And some of us had it both.
Here is an example: my grandmother that we lived with, was an alcoholic. She was also concentration camp survivor and learned throughout her life to keep things to herself. I hardly ever saw her crying, maybe once or twice in this first ten years of my life we lived together. When sober, she had it all in straight line: you could not sit on the bed dressed in the clothing you went outside, only on a little blanket on the corner of the bed. After all, it was a place to sleep! Every crumb or hair that fell on the floor was meticulously picked up.
Well, when she was not sober, the picture was quite different: things thrown all over the house, clothing pulled out of closet, LP’s broken, cassettes smashed.
See? How order is so close to chaos, actually.
In this kind of situation, chaos or too accentuated order, we, as children, are afraid to do anything. Because anything we do can land us in trouble. It will be mistake, however you turn it. So we leave ourselves and move forward to what environment dictates. We adjust to it and then feel safe. We think: Just give me the rules, give me ‘how to-s’ and I will be fine. Those rules liberate us, or at least it seems so, from great deal of anxiety…anxiety to be wrong and corrected again. That is why, even as adults, we do not like feedbacks, we don’t like anybody telling us that things can be done differently (even with the well wishing attitude!). We want to be organized, well prepared and busy. Yes, very busy all the time, with occupied mind, because slowing down and god forbid, not knowing what is next, makes us nervous racks. Moving on is our motto.
This way, we move from inner core, authentic self, to periphery and mask. Very often rigid character will have kind of ‘plastic’ face, like the polite cashier in a supermarket who smiles only when he looks at you and then goes back immediately to his serious face. Can’t blame him, he was just trying to be nice during the “transaction”. Yes, I use this word on purpose, since we rigid people do not interact. We usually, as my teacher said it once, transact. This is what I need to do, this is what you need to do – so let’s do it and move on to the next customer, task, etc.
So what is the way out of this hard shell rigid character lives in?
Doubt is the very first thing that will arise when we look inside…we are not actually sure what we need to do or what we need to feel. We will have doubt about everything. Every decision we try to make will be hell – you better tell me what to do, it will be easier and the anxiety won’t be here. We will doubt any option, any resolution, and any decision; trying to make it ALL RIGHT way makes a tremendous strain on the body. It is like walking on the line, high up in the air, and one wrong move, you can fall and die. This is how it often feels in the rigid body and mind.
We are trying to make everything right and perfect, but honestly, we just need to figure out what is right for us. During that process we might experience chaos and hysteria (this is actually the old way of calling this character type: hysterical). Remember, there is a lot of life force, lot of Eros in each one of us. And if that force was controlled and buried underground for a long time (together with sexuality and sensuality), it will come up and most probably we will feel overwhelmed and won’t know what to do with it. It will cause terror (there is a lot of schizoid issues under the rigid armor), chaos and hysteria.
The good news is – and this shall pass too. It is very healing to have a trusted therapist whose kind eyes can heal that profound sense of inadequacy we are struggling with. There is a beautiful core that emerges and shines from a rigid character, true and alive, spontaneous and playful.
I hope to meet you there,