From the book The Function of the Orgasm, by Wilhelm Reich, M.D., Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York 1975.
The Mobilization of the “Dead Pelvis”
The orgasm reflex does not suddenly emerge completely intact; rather it is a product of the gradual integration of separate parts involved in the total function. Initially, there is merely a wave of excitation which runs from the neck, over tbe chest and upper abdomen, to the lower abdomen. The pelvis is immobile during this action. Some patients describe it as follows: “It is as if the movement were stopped at a certain spot down below.” The pelvis does not participate in the wavelike course of the excitation. If an effort is made to locate the inhibition which causes this, it is usually found that the pelvis is held in a retracted position. An arching of the spine, causing the abdomen to protrude, sometimes goes together with this retraction of the pelvis. For instance, it is easy to push one’s hand between the patient’s back and the couch. The immobility of the pelvis creates the impression of deadness. In the majority of cases, this is combined with a feeling of “emptiness in the pelvis” or a feeling of “weakness in the genitals.” This phenomenon is especially pronounced in patients who suffer from chronic constipation. We shall have a better understanding of this connection when we bear in mind that chronic constipation corresponds to an overexcitation of the sympathetic. The same applies to the holding back in the pelvis. The patients are unable to move the pelvis. Instead, they move the abdomen, pelvis, and upper thighs as one unit. Accordingly, the first task of therapeutic work is to make the patients fully aware of the absence of pelvic excitation. As a rule, they offer considerable resistance to moving the pelvis by itself, particularly to moving it forward and upward. Comparison of patients suffering from genital anesthesia shows that the lack of sensation in the genitals, i.e., the feeling of emptiness, debility, etc., is that much more intense the more the pelvis has forfeited its motility. Such patients are always severely disturbed in the sexual act. The women lie motionless, or they try to overcome the inhibition of vegetative motility in the pelvis by means of forced movements of trunk and pelvis. In men, the disturbance is expressed in hurried, abrupt, and voluntary movements of the entire lower part of the body. The sensation of vegetative orgastic current cannot be demonstrated in any of these patients.
It is necessary to lay particular stress upon some details of this phenomenon. The genital musculature (bulbo- cavemosus and ischio-cavernosus) is tense, and this tenseness precludes the contractions brought on by friction. The musculature of the buttocks is also tense. Patients often attempt to overcome the flaccidity of these muscles by trying to produce voluntary contractions and relaxations in them.
The pelvic floor is pulled up. This contracted position of the pelvic floor below, together with the downward fixation of the diaphragm above and the tension of the abdominal wall in front, blocks the movement of vegetative current in the abdomen.
This attitude of the pelvis always appears in childhood as a result of two fundamental disturbances of development. Its groundwork is prepared by brutal toilet training in which the child is forced to control his bowel movements at a very early age. Severe punishment for bed wetting also causes a spasm of the pelvis. Far more important, however, is the spasm of the pelvis that is initiated as soon as the child begins to combat the intense genital excitations which urge toward masturbation.
Every sensation of genital pleasure can be deadened through the chronic contraction of the pelvic musculature.
This is proven by the fact that sensations of current in the genitals begin to appear when the pelvic spasm is relieved. To bring this about, it is first necessary to make the patient aware of the pelvic attitude, i.e., the patient must have the immediate sensation that he or she is “holding” the pelvis “still.” In addition, all voluntary movements which prevent the natural vegetative movements of the pelvis have to be exposed. The voluntary movement of the abdomen, pelvis, and upper thighs as a single unit is undoubtedly the most important and frequent means of preventing the pelvis from moving by itself. It is utterly useless to have the patient carry out pelvic exercises, as some gymnastics instructors attempt. As long as the concealing and defensive muscular attitudes and actions have not been eliminated, the natural movement of the pelvis cannot develop.
The more intensely the inhibition of the pelvic movement is worked on, the more completely the pelvis participates in the wave of excitation. It begins to move forward and upward without any conscious effort on the part of the patient. It is as if it were drawn up toward the umbilicus by an external force. At the same time, the upper thighs remain motionless. It is extremely important to grasp the difference between the defensive movement of the pelvis and its natural vegetative movement. When the wave runs from the neck over the chest and abdomen to the pelvis, then the- character of the entire reflex is changed. If, until this point, the orgasm reflex was experienced in an essentially unpleasurable way, occasionally even as painful, it now begins to become pleasurable. If, until this point, defensive movements appeared, e.g., protruding abdomen and arched back, now the entire trunk presents the appearance of a fish in motion. The sensations of genital pleasure and the sensations of current in the total organism, which now grow increasingly strong, leave no doubt that we are dealing with the natural vegetative movement of coitus. The character of this movement differs completely from all earlier reflexes and reactions of the body. The feeling of emptiness in the genitals gives way gradually or rapidly to a sensation of fullness and urgency. This brings about the spontaneous establishment of the capacity for orgastic experience in the sexual act. The very movement which, carried out by individual muscle groups, represents pathological reactions to the body and serves to ward off sexual pleasure, is, in a wavelike movement of the total body, the basis of the capacity for spontaneous vegetative pleasure. The arc de cercle of the hysteric, in which the abdomen and the chest are arched forward while the shoulders and the pelvis are pulled back, now becomes comprehensible as the exact opposite of the attitude in the orgasm reflex.
As long as these facts were still unknown to me, I was forced to have the patient overcome the inhibition of the pelvic movement partly by means of “exercises.” The incompleteness of the results caused me to reject these artificial measures and to search for the inhibitions of natural motility. The warding off of the orgasm reflex causes a number of vegetative disturbances, e.g., chronic constipation, muscular rheumatism, sciatica, etc. In many patients, constipation disappears, even if it has existed for decades, with the development of the orgasm reflex. Its full development is often preceded by nausea and feelings of giddiness, in addition to spastic conditions of the throat, isolated twitchings of the abdominal musculature, the diaphragm, the pelvis, etc. But all these symptoms disappear as soon as the orgasm reflex has been fully developed.
The “stiff, dead, retracted pelvis” is one of man’s most frequent vegetative disturbances. It is responsible for lumbago as well as for hemorrhoidal disturbances. Elsewhere, we shall demonstrate an important connection between these disturbances and genital cancer in women, which is so common.
Thus, the “deadening of the pelvis” has the same function as the deadening of the abdomen, i.e., to avoid feelings, particularly those of pleasure and anxiety.
Now that the various manifestations and forms of the attitude and expression of the body, with respect to the orgasm reflex and the defense against it, can be understood, many phenomena in therapeutic work are made comprehensible. I am reminded of a diaphragmatic tic in a forty-five-year-old woman whom I treated at the Vienna Psychoanalytic Clinic some fourteen years before and partially cured by making it possible for her to masturbate. I described this case in the article “Der Tic als Onanieaquivalent,” published in the Zeitschrift filr Sex- ualwissenschaft, 1924. The patient had suffered from very disturbing diaphragmatic movements, accompanied by noises, since her adolescence, i.e., for more than thirty years. There was a remarkable abatement in the tic as it became possible for her to masturbate. It is clear to me today that the improvement was due to the partial loosening of the chronic inspiratory position of the diaphragm. At that time, I could merely say, in a very general way, that sexual gratification had eliminated a portion of the sexual stasis and thus weakened the tic. But I would not have been able to say anything about the form in which this stasis had been maintained, where it had discharged itself, and how the sexual gratification had reduced the stasis. The tic had represented an inadequate effort to overcome the diaphragmatic contraction.
My present experiences remind me of the cases of epilepsy with abdominal aura in which I could not comprehend what part of the body was involved, what was its function, and what was its relationship to the vegetative nervous system. It has become clear now that the epileptic seizures represent convulsions of the vegetative apparatus in which the dammed-up biopsychic energy is discharged solely through the musculature, with the exclusion of the genitals. The epileptic seizure is an extragenital, muscular orgasm. This also clarified those cases in which occasional involuntary fluttering of the abdominal musculature can be observed in the course of the treatment. These movements are attempts to bring about a relaxation of the tense abdominal wall.
Though never overtly expressed, there was in many patients a hidden maliciousness which, though I sensed it, I would not have been able to localize. Treatment of the vegetative behavior makes it possible to determine where the meanness is located somatically. There are patients who express friendliness with their eyes and cheeks, but whose chin and mouth express the exact opposite. The expression of the lower half of the face is completely different from that of the upper half. The dissolution of the attitude of the mouth and chin releases an unbelievable amount of anger.
In other patients, one senses the falsity of conventional politeness; it conceals the opposite, a cunning malice, which might be expressed in chronic constipation. The bowels are immobile, and their function must be kept active through the constant use of purgatives. As children, such patients had to control their anger and “to lock their wickedness in the stomach.” The way in which patients describe their body sensations is almost always an exact repetition of often-heard sentences from their early toilet training, e.g., “the belly is naughty when it makes ‘poo- poo.’ ” A “well-brought-up” child is very prone to respond to these admonitions with a “poo.” But he must soon rid himself of this habit, and he can do this only by “hiding the ‘poo’ in the belly.” To accomplish this, the child has to suppress every excitation he senses in the abdomen, including genital excitation, by withdrawing into himself, “making the belly crawl into itself.” The abdomen becomes hard, tense; it has “locked in the wickedness.”
It would be worthwhile to describe, historically and functionally,’ the complicated development of the symptoms of body attitudes as they are manifested in various patients. For the moment, let it suffice to indicate a few typical facts.
It is extremely instructive to see that the body is just as capable of functioning as a unified organism as it is of
dividing itself, one part functioning parasympathetically, the other sympathetically. I once treated a female patient who, at a certain stage of the treatment, was already completely relaxed in the upper abdomen; she experienced the familiar sensations of current, and the abdominal wall could be pressed in easily. There were no longer any interruptions in the sensation between the upper abdomen, the chest, and the neck. But the lower abdomen behaved as if it were separated from these parts by a line. When the lower abdominal wall was pressed in, a hard lump about the size of an infant’s head could be felt. It would be impossible today to give an exact anatomical explanation of how such a lump is produced, i.e., which organs are involved in its formation, but it can be palpated unequivocally. During a later phase of the treatment, there were days when the lump alternately appeared and disappeared. It always appeared when the patient was afraid of, and therefore struggled against, emerging genital excitation. It disappeared when she felt capable of allowing genital excitation to become manifest.
The somatic manifestations of schizophrenia, particularly its catatonic form, will have to be discussed in a separate essay based on new material. The catatonic stereotypes, perseverations, automatisms of all kind, can be traced back to muscular armorings and breakthroughs of vegetative energy. This is especially true of the catatonic rage reaction. In the simple neurosis, there is only a surface restriction of vegetative motility, which allows room for inner excitations and discharges in “fantasy.” If the armoring reaches into the depth, if it blocks central areas of the biological organism and completely takes hold of the musculature, there are only two possibilities: forceful breakthrough (violent rage, which is experienced as release) or the gradual, complete deterioration of the vital apparatus.
A number of organic diseases, such as gastric ulcer, muscular rheumatism, and cancer, tie in with the problem at this point.
I have no doubt that, in their clinical practice, psychotherapists can observe any number of such symptoms.
However, these symptoms cannot be treated individually; they can be understood only in connection with the total biological functioning of the body, and in relation to the functions of pleasure and anxiety. It is impossible to master the vast complexity of body attitudes and expressions if anxiety is looked upon as a cause and not essentially as the result of sexual stasis. “Stasis” means nothing other than an inhibition of vegetative expansion and a blocking of the activity and motility of the central vegetative organs. The discharge of excitation is blocked; the biological energy is bound.
The orgasm reflex is a unitary response of the total body. In the orgasm, we are nothing but a pulsating mass of plasm. After fifteen years of research on the orgasm reflex, it was finally possible to penetrate to the biological core of psychic illnesses. The orgasm reflex is found in all creatures that copulate. Among more primitive biological organisms as, for example, protozoa, it is found in the form of plasmatic contractions. The most elementary stage at which it can be found is the division of single cells.
There are some difficulties in arriving at an answer to the question of what takes the place of contraction in more highly organized organisms, when the organism can no longer contract to a spherical form like a protozoon. From a certain stage of development, the metazoa have a skeletal frame. This obstructs the function, native to mollusks and protozoa, of becoming spherical in the act of contracting. Let us imagine a flexible tube, into which our biological bladder has developed. Let us further imagine that the impulse to contract is now introduced into this longitudinally stretched bladder. We can see that the bladder has but one possibility when, in spite of its inability to become spherical, it wants to contract. It has to bend, to the greatest possible extent, and rapidly.
Viewed biologically, the orgasm reflex is nothing else. The body attitude displayed in it is characteristic of many insects, and is particularly evident in the attitude of the embryo.
Hysterical persons have a special tendency to develop muscular spasms in parts of the organism that have an annular musculature, most notably the throat and the anus. Embryologically, these two places correspond to the two openings of the primal intestine.
In addition, annular musculature is found at the entrance to and exit from the stomach. Spasms develop at these two openings which often have severe consequences for one’s general condition. Those places of the body that are especially disposed to continual contractions and biologically correspond to very primitive stages of development are the most frequent locations of spastic disorders. If the throat and the anus are blocked, the orgastic contractions becomes impossible. The somatic “holding back’ is expressed in an attitude that is the exact opposite of the orgasm reflex: the back is arched, the neck stiff, the anus blocked, the chest forward, the shoulders tensed. The hysterical arc de cercle is the exact opposite of the orgasm reflex and is the prototype of the defense against sexuality.
Every psychic impulse is functionally identical with a definite somatic excitation. The view that the psychic apparatus functions solely by itself and influences the somatic apparatus, which likewise functions by itself, cannot be in keeping with the actual facts. A leap from the psychic to the somatic is not conceivable, for the presupposition of two separate realms does not apply here. Nor can the content of a psychic function, such as the idea of hitting somebody, induce somatic expression, unless it is itself already the expression of a vegetative impulse to move. How an idea originates from a vegetative impulse is one of the most difficult questions of psychology. On the basis of clinical experiences, it is clear that the somatic symptom, as well as the unconscious psychic idea, is a sequel of a contradictory vegetative innervation. This is not at variance with the fact that the somatic symptom can be eliminated by making its psychic meaning conscious, for any change in the sphere of psychic ideas must of necessity be functionally identical with changes of vegetative excitation. Thus, it is not solely the making conscious of an unconscious idea that cures, but the modification brought about by the excitation.
Hence, we have the following sequence of functions when an idea in the psychic realm exerts an influence on the soma:
1, The psychic excitation is functionally identical with the somatic excitation.
- The fixation of a psychic excitation is produced by the establishment of a specific state of vegetative innervation.
- The altered vegetative state changes the functioning of the organ.
- The “psychic meaning of the organic symptom” is nothing other than the somatic attitude in which the “psychic meaning” is expressed. Psychic reserve expresses itself in vegetative rigidity. Psychic hatred expresses itself in a definite vegetative attitude of hate. They are inseparable and identical.
- The fixed vegetative state has a repercussive effect on the psychic state. The perception of a real danger functions identically with a sympatheticotonic innervation. This, in turn, intensifies the anxiety. The intensified anxir ety requires an armoring, which is synonymous with a binding of vegetative energy in the muscular armor. This armoring, in turn, disturbs the possibility of discharge and increases the tension, etc.
Bioenergetically, the psyche and the soma function as a mutually conditioning as well as a unitary system.
Let us use a specific clinical case to make this clearer.
A female patient who was exceptionally pretty and sexually attractive complained about feelings of being ugly, because she did not feel her body as a unified whole. She described her condition as follows: “Every part of my body goes its own way. My legs are here and my head is there, and I never quite know where my hands are. I don’t have my body together.” In short, she suffered from the well-known disturbance of self-perception, which is especially pronounced in schizoid depersonalization. During the vegetotherapeutic work, the various functions of the muscular attitudes of her face demonstrated a very peculiar relationship. Right at the beginning of the treatment, the “indifference” of her facial expression was conspicuous. Gradually, the expression of indifference became so strong that the patient began to suffer from it quite noticeably. When spoken to, even about serious matters, she always stared into a comer of the room or out of the window, with an expression of indifference on her face. At those times, her eyes had an empty, “lost” look. After this expression of indifference had been thoroughly analyzed and eliminated, another trait appeared in her face, only intimations of which had been visible before. The region of her mouth and chin were “vicious,” while her eyes and forehead were “dead.” These words reflected the patient’s inner feelings. To begin with, I separated the attitude expressed in her mouth and chin. In the course of this work, increasingly strong reactions of a previously suppressed fierce desire to bite became manifest. She had developed these impulses toward her husband and her father, but had not allowed them to be expressed. The impulses of anger expressed in the attitude
of her chin and mouth had been previously camouflaged by an attitude of indifference in her face as a whole; and it was the elimination of this indifference that brought to light the angry expression of her mouth. The indifference had the function of keeping the patient from being continually at the mercy of the tormenting sensation of hate around her mouth. After treating the region of her mouth for about two weeks, the malicious expression disappeared completely in connection with the working out of the patient’s very strong reaction of disappointment. One of her character traits was the compulsion to continually demand love. She would become angry when her impossible demands were not gratified. After the attitude of her mouth and chin had been dissolved, preorgastic contractions appeared in her whole body, at first in the form of serpentine, wavelike movements which also included the pelvis. However, genital excitation was inhibited at a definite place. In the search for the inhibiting mechanism, the expression of her forehead and eyes gradually became very pronounced. It became an expression of vicious, observant, critical, and attentive staring. With that, the patient realized she had constantly “to be on guard” and she had never been capable of “losing her head.”
The emergence and coming into focus of somatic vegetative impulses is no doubt the strangest phenomenon we encounter in vegetotherapy. It is very difficult to describe; it has to be clinically experienced. Thus, the “dead” forehead had concealed the “critical forehead.” The next thing was to find out what function the “critical,” malicious forehead had. The analysis of the details of the function of her genital excitation revealed that her forehead paid strict “attention to what her genital was doing.” Historically, the severe expression of her eyes and forehead was derived from an identification with her very moralistic and ascetically oriented father. Already at a very early age, her father had continually impressed upon her that it was dangerous to give in to sexual desires; more than anything else, he had depicted the ravages of the body produced by syphilis. Thus, her forehead stood guard in place of her father when she wanted to give in to a sexual
impulse. The interpretation that she identified with her father was in no way sufficient. The most important question was why she had carried out this identification precisely on the forehead and what maintained the function. We have to make a clear distinction between the historical explanation of a function and its contemporary dynamic explanation. These are two entirely different things. We do not eliminate a somatic symptom merely by making it historically comprehensible. We cannot get along without the knowledge of the contemporary function of the symptom. (Not to be confused with the “contemporary conflict”!) The derivation of the attentiveness of her forehead from her infantile identification with her critical father would not have had the slightest effect upon the orgastic disturbance. The subsequent course of this patient’s treatment proved the correctness of this view; to the same extent to which the observant and critical expression replaced the dead expression, the total defense in the genital region became intensified. Gradually, the severe expression alternated with a cheerful, somewhat childlike expression of her forehead and eyes. Thus, one time she was in accord with her genital desire; another time she was critical and adverse toward it. With the replacement of the critical attitude of her forehead by the cheerful attitude, the inhibition of genital excitation also disappeared.
I have presented this case in such detail because it is characteristic of a number of disturbances of the tension- charge process in the genital apparatus. “Keep your wits about you” is a widespread attitude.
Our patient suffered from the sensation of having a divided, non-integrated, non-unified body. Hence, she also lacked the consciousness and sensation of her sexual and vegetative gracefulness. How is it possible that an organism which constitutes a unified whole can “fall to pieces” in its perception? The term “depersonalization” indicates nothing, for it itself requires explanation. What we must ask ourselves is how it is possible for parts of the organism to function by themselves, independent of the total organism. Psychological explanations do not help us here,
for in its emotional function the psyche is completely dependent upon the functions of expansion and contraction of the autonomic nervous system. Its structure is non-homogeneous. Experimentation and clinical evidence show that the tension-charge process can comprise the entire body, as well as individual groups of organs. It is possible for the vegetative apparatus to be parasympathetic in the upper abdomen and sympathetic, hypertonic in the lower abdomen. It is also possible for it to create tension in the muscles of the shoulders, while causing a relaxation or even flaccidity in the legs. And the vegetative apparatus is capable of doing this simply because it is not a homogeneous apparatus. In sexual activity, the zone of the mouth can be excited, while the genitals are completely unexcited or even adverse to the sexual activity. Or the reverse of this could be the case. On the basis of these clinical facts, we have sound criteria for determining whether a function is “healthy” or “sick” in terms of sex-economy. The capacity of the vegetative organism to participate in the tension-charge function in a unified and total way is undoubtedly the basic characteristic of psychic and vegetative health. On the other hand, we have to describe as pathological the exclusion of individual organs or even groups of organs from the totality and unity of the vegetative tension-charge function, when it is chronic and continually disturbs the total function.
Clinical observation further teaches us that disturbances of self-perception do not really disappear until the orgasm reflex has been fully developed into a unified whole. Then it is as if all organs and organ systems of the body are integrated by a single function, with respect to contraction as well as expansion.
Thus, depersonalization becomes understandable as a lack of charge, i.e., as a disturbance of the vegetative innervation of individual organs or organ systems (e.g., the fingertips, the arms, the head, the legs, the genitals, etc.). The lack of unity in self-perception is also caused by the fact that the current of excitation in the body is interrupted in one place or another. This is especially true of two regions of the body. One is the neck which, when
it is spastic, blocks the excitation wave in its path from the chest to the head; the other is the musculature of the pelvis which, when it is contracted, disturbs the course of the excitation from the abdomen to the genitals and the legs.
On the basis of psychoanalytic research, we understand the individual history of a neurosis, the external conditions of its genesis, the inner motive of the psychic conflict, and, finally, the consequences of sexual repression, e.g., neurotic symptoms and character traits. However, psychoanalytic research does not enable us to comprehend the mechanism by which a child’s fate, an external trauma or an internal psychic conflict, chronically retains a pathological reaction.
We see women living under the best external sexual and economic conditions and nonetheless holding on to their neuroses. We see children of all economic strata, occasionally living under favorable sex-economic conditions, who not only become neurotic but remain neurotic. Moreover, we witness the hitherto mystically conceived and represented “repetition compulsion,” i.e., the compulsion of so many people to continually put themselves in detrimental situations. None of these phenomena can be explained on the basis of previous views.
The most impressive evidence of the tendency to hold on to a neurosis is seen at the end of treatment, when the attempt is made to establish the capacity for orgastic surrender. Precisely at that point, when the patient should be on the verge of health, the worst possible reactions set in against it. The patients are dominated by a fear of pleasure, which is diametrically opposed to the pleasure principle of life.
The fear of punishment for sexual activities, which the patient experiences as a child, becomes chronically anchored in the form of pleasure anxiety. We recall that, when its course is inhibited, pleasure has the characteristic of turning into unpleasure. When, in spite of continual very high sexual excitation, a person is not capable of experiencing final gratification, a fear eventually develops not only of the final gratification, but also of the excitation which precedes it. The pleasurable excitation process itself becomes a source of unpleasure. The normal sensation of pleasure is inhibited by a muscular spasm which can become extremely painful, quite apart from the fact that it increases the stasis. It is the fixation of a condition of physiological spasm in the genitals that causes children and adolescents to reject sexual activity. This fixation causes every pleasurable excitation to be converted into its opposite, no matter how correct one’s intellectual and emotional attitude might be. Also connected with this spastic state is the inability to endure even mild excitations. It is in the function of the muscular spasm during the intensification of pleasure that we must look for the structural and physiological basis of characterological resignation and modesty. •
Thus, psychopathological conditions and symptoms are the results of a disturbance of the vegetative (sex- economic) regulation of energy. Every impairment of total somatic sensation simultaneously affects self-confidence and the unity of body feeling. At the same time, these impairments urge the body to make compbnsations. The feeling of vegetative integrity, which becomes the natural and optimal basis of strong self-confidence, is disturbed in all neurotics. This is expressed in the most varied forms, including a complete splitting of the personality. Between the simplest sensations of being cold or stiff on one hand, and schizophrenic splitting, contactlessness, and depersonalization on the other, there are no principle but merely quantitative differences, which are also expressed qualitatively. The sensation of integrity is connected with the sensation of having an immediate contact with the world. The unification of the orgasm reflex also restores the sensations of depth and seriousness. The patients remember the time in their early childhood when the unity of their body sensation was not disturbed. Seized with emotion, they tell of the time as children when they felt at one with nature, with everything that surrounded them, of the time they felt “alive,” and how finally all this had been shattered and crushed by their education. In the disruption of the unity of body feeling by sexual suppression, and in the continual longing to re-establish contact with oneself and with the world, lies the root of all sex-negating religions. “God” is the mysticized idea of the vegetative harmony between self and nature. From this viewpoint, religion can be reconciled with natural science only if God personifies the natural laws and man is included in the natural process.
I must leave it to others more versed in Indian and Chinese culture to trace the connections in detail. The clinical findings I have attempted to describe here open a wide perspective for the understanding of those human cultures in which strict familial patriarchy, the most severe sexual suppression of small children and adolescents, and the ideology of reserve and “self-control” are part and parcel of all cultural circles. This is especially true of the cultures of India, China, and Japan. When a strict, sex- negating patriarchy wants to reproduce itself, it must severely suppress the sexual impulses of children. This results in acute anxiety and anger, both of which are detrimental to the culture of the patriarchal family and necessitate the ideology of self-control, the power not to move a muscle no matter how great the pain; indeed, they necessitate the overcoming of emotionality altogether, pleasure as well as suffering. This is the essence of the Buddhist ideology of Nirvana. This ideology also provides an insight into the breathing exercises of the Yogas. The breathing technique taught by Yogas is the exact opposite of the breathing technique we use to reactivate the vegetative emotional excitations in our patients. The aim of the Yoga breathing exercise is to combat affective impulses; its aim is to obtain peace. The rite is reminiscent of the ambiguity of compulsive actions. The counterpart of the longing for Nirvana is, as I have been told, the act of putting oneself into a state of tranquility, indeed ecstasy, by means of a definite breathing technique. The masklike, rigid facial expression of the typical Indian, Chinese, and Japanese finds its extreme antipode in the capacity for intoxicated ecstasy. That the Yoga technique was able to spread to Europe and America is ascribable to the fact that the people of these cultures seek a means of gaining
control over their natural vegetative impulses and at the same time of eliminating conditions of anxiety. They are not that far from an inkling of the orgastic function of life.
Very briefly, I want to allude to another phenomenon here which plays a destructive role in our present-day social life: namely, the “military attitude,” especially as it is prescribed and carried out by the fascists. The “rigid military attitude” is the exact opposite of the natural, loose, agile attitude. The neck has to be rigid, the head stretched forward; the eyes have to stare rigidly straight ahead; the chin and mouth have to have a “manly” expression; the chest has to be thrust out; the arms have to be held closely and rigidly against the body; the hands have to be stretched along the crease of the pants. Doubtlessly, the most important indication of the sexually suppressive intent of this military technique is the proverbial command: stomach in, chest out. The legs are stiff and rigid. Picture, if you will, the position of patients who are struggling with and are making every effort to control affective impulses. Their shoulders are hard, their necks tense, their abdomens sucked in, their pelvises retracted, arms held rigidly against their bodies, their legs rigidly stretched. Indeed, the identity goes further: the stretching of the ankles is a typical clinical indication of the artificial control of affects. It is also a strict requirement of the Prussian goose step. People who are brought up in such a way, and are forced to retain this physical attitude, are incapable of natural vegetative impulses. They become machines, blindly carrying out mechanized manual exercises; obediently snapping out, “Yes, sir, Captain”; mechanically shooting their own brothers, fathers, mothers, sisters. Bringing people up to assume a rigid, unnatural attitude is one of the most essential means used by a dictatorial social system to produce will-less, automatically functioning organisms. This kind of upbringing is not confined to individuals; it is a problem which pertains to the core of the structure and formation of modem man’s character. It affects large cultural circles, and destroys the joy of life and capacity for happiness in millions upon millions of men and women. Thus, we see a single thread
stretching from the childhood practice of holding the breath in order not to have to masturbate, to the muscular block of our patients, to the stiff posturing of militarists, and to the destructive artificial techniques of self-control of entire cultural circles.
I have to content myself with this sketch. There can be no doubt that the importance of the attitude of the body for the structural reproduction of the social order will one day be understood and practically mastered on a large scale.
As intensely as they long for vegetative liveliness and freedom, children shrink from it and voluntarily suppress their impulses when they do not find a congenial environment in which to live out their fresh vitality relatively free of conflicts. It is one of the great secrets of mass psychology that the average adult, the average child, and the average adolescent are far more prone to resign themselves to the absence of happiness than to continue to struggle for the joy of life, when the latter entails too much pain. Thus, until the psychic and social preconditions necessary for vital life have been understood and established, the ideology of happiness must remain mere verbalization.
No purpose is served when “rebellious characters” rail against education. What we need is:
- The most precise understanding of the mechanisms by which emotions are pathologically controlled.
- The gathering of the widest possible experience in practical work with children to discover what attitude the children themselves take toward their natural impulses under the existing conditions.
- The working out of the educational conditions necessary to establish a harmony between vegetative motility and sociality.
- The creation of the general socio-economic foundation for the above.
Man has made enormous progress in the construction and control of machines. It is hardly forty years since he began to comprehend himself. Unless he can develop the capacity to regulate his own biological energy, it will not
be possible to master the psychic plague that is laying waste our century. The path of scientific research and mastery of life’s problems is long and arduous; it is the exact opposite of the ignorance and impertinence of politicians. We have reason to hope that science will one day succeed in utilizing biological energy as it now does electricity. Not until then will the human psychic plague meet its master.
 Cf. Reich, “Ubcr den cpileptischcn Anfall,” Internationale Zeitschrift filr Psychoanalyse, 17, 1931.
 Cf. Reich, Die Bione. Sexpol Verlag, 1938.