A Brief Outline of the Characterology of Alexander Lowen

An Aide Memoire compiled by Alan A. Mooney

In the book ”The Language of the Body”, Lowen indicates there are seven different character types. However, in his later work, “Bioenergetics”, he reduces this number to five. He says: “We have used these terms because they are known and accepted definitions of personality disorders in the psychiatric profession. Our classification does not violate established criteria”. (Bioenergetics, p. 151)

The five types are:

• Schizoid   • Oral   • Psychopathic   • Masochistic   • Rigid

Schizoid Character:

The term is derived from schizophrenia. It refers to an individual who is “out of touch” with reality. The tendency, in psychological terms, is for thinking to be dissociated from feeling and to break or lose contact with the world, i.e. external reality. The underlying feature is rejection.

Bioenergetic Indicators:

Energy is withheld from those organs and parts of the body that are in contact with the external world. Muscular tension blocks energy flow at the base of the head, shoulders, pelvis and hip joints.

There is often a marked difference between the two halves of the body. Body weight is carried on the outside of the feet. The body will often be narrow and contracted. Where there are paranoid aspects to the personality the body may appear fuller and more athletic.

Behaviour seems to be split. There is an “as if” quality about it. As if it were based on feeling, but the action is not expressive of feeling.

Oral Character:

This is a reference to infancy. There is a tendency to cling to others, aggressiveness is muted and there are inner feelings of needing to be held. The person has difficulty in maintaining independence.

Underlying the Oral character are feelings of deprivation.

Bioenergetic Indicators:

The person is in an under-charged state. Energy, while not frozen at the core, flows weakly to the peripheral regions. Physical growth often results in a long thin body.

Lack of development is most noticed in the arms and legs. Legs can seem not to be able to support the body. There is a tendency to slump. The pelvis may be small in both men and women and body hair is reduced. Breathing is usually shallow.

Psychopathic Character:

The lower part of the body is under-charged and there is a marked displace­ment of energy to the head end of the body. There is often a definite constric­tion about the diaphragm and waist.

This blocks the flow of energy downward. Eyes appear to be watchful and distrustful. They are not open to see interrelationships. They are closed to seeing and understanding.

There is another structure in this characterology: In the second, the pelvis is over-charged but disconnected from the body. In the first type the pelvis is under-charged but rigidly held. Both can lead to sexual difficulties.

Masochistic Character:

This does not refer to masochism as it is generally understood but rather to an individual who whines and complains while remaining submissive. Inwardly, there will be feelings of spite, hostility, superiority. Feelings are strongly blocked for fear of a violent explosion.

Bioenergetic Indicators:

Energy is tightly held but not frozen. Because of the tight hold, peripheral organs are weakly charged. Expressive action is limited.

The holding can be so severe it can result in the collapse of the organism. This occurs at the waist and the body bends under the tension. Since energy is blocked at the throat and waist there is a strong tendency to experience anxiety.

The body is often short and stocky, there is often an increased growth of body hair. The pelvis is pulled forward and the neck tends to be short. The waist tends to be short and thick. The skin of the masochistic character tends to have a brown tinge due to the stagnation of energy.

Rigid Character:

The name implies that such individuals hold themselves stiffly, with pride. The head is held high, the backbone is straight. While the posture may appear confident the truth is that pride is defensive.

The rigid character is afraid to give in, equating this with submission and collapse. There is a fear of being trapped and a high degree of control that comes from a strong ego position. There is good contact with reality since the body is well anchored. The defence is in not letting go and so there is conflict with the external world.

Bioenergetic Indicators:

There is a fairly strong charge at all peripheral points of contact with the environment. Therefore, reality can be tested before acting. The main areas of tension are the long muscles of the body. This limits the expression of feel­ing.

There are different degrees of rigidity and where the holding is mild the personality is alive and vibrant.

This exploration is not exhaustive and a fuller description can be found in Bioenergetics by Alexander Lowen and in The Language of the Body, Lowen, Macmillan 1969.