This book is a Get Out of Jail Free card and a passport back into the playground.

The aim of this book is to set you free. But free from what? Free from neurosis. Free from the feeling that you have to obey authority. Free from emotional intimidation. Free from addiction. Free from inhibition.

The key to happiness, mental health and being the most that we can be is absolute and unconditional self-acceptance. The paradox is that many of our problems are caused by trying to improve ourselves, censor our thinking, make up for past misdeeds and struggling with our negative feelings whether of depression or aggression.

But if we consider ourselves in our entirety in this very moment, we know these things :

1. Anything we have done is in the past and cannot be changed, thus it is pointless to do anything else but accept it. No regrets or guilt.

2. While our actions can harm others, our thoughts and emotions, in and of themselves, never can. So we should accept them and allow them to be and go where they will. While emotions sometimes drive actions, those who completely accept their emotions and allow themselves to feel them fully, have more choice over how they act in the light of them.

Self-criticism never made anyone a better person. Anyone who does a “good deed” under pressure from their conscience or to gain the approval of others takes out the frustration involved in some other way. The basis for loving behaviour towards others is the ability to love ourselves. And loving ourselves unconditionally, means loving ourselves exactly as we are at this moment.

This might seem to be complacency, but in fact the natural activity of the individual is healthy growth, and what holds us back from it is fighting with those things we can’t change and the free thought and emotional experience which is the very substance of that growth.

How to Be Free is available as a free ebook from Smashwords, iBooks in some countries, Kobo and Barnes & Noble

It is also available in paperback from Lulu or Amazon for $10 US, plus postage.

The ebook version currently has received 611 ***** out of ***** ratings on U.S. iBooks.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

BOOK REVIEW : Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich

Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century though his ideas have yet to receive the broad recognition they deserve. Why? A combination of two complimentary factors :  his accurate diagnosis of a species-wide form of psychological disorder he called “the emotional plague” was extremely confronting, and his claim to have discovered a cosmic energy called “orgone”, which could heal people if they sat in “orgone boxes” and could make it rain if you pointed a “cloud buster” at a cloud, made it easy to dismiss him as a crackpot.

The challenge of reviewing one of his books is how to deal with the whole “orgone energy” issue. Reich was not a biologist or physicist. He came from the Freudian school of psychoanalysis, which was never based on the strict discipline characteristic of the hard sciences. He arrived at the concept of this cosmic energy from the basis of the physical experiences of himself and his patients. Some may be tempted to interpret what he says in the light of other, more recent, discoveries. A friend of mine suggested that what Reich describes as the flow of orgone through the body corresponds with the pathways by which we now know that the chemical oxytocin travels through the bloodstream. Reich believed that the orgone flowed most strongly at orgasm and orgasm produces oxytocin. Did sitting in orgone boxes help to heal people of their psychological or physical ailments? It seems likely that there would have been a placebo effect. Beyond that I’m happy with my ignorance. There are Reich supporters who claim the accumulators and cloudbusters work, but orgone energy never gained any currency amongst biologists or physicists.

Those who dismiss Reich on the basis of the grander claims make a big mistake. He arrived there by studying human behaviour, and it is in that field that his importance lies. Character Analysis was originally published in 1933 and then greatly expanded in 1948. It’s a book with a split personality which illustrates how much it’s author’s therapeutic ideas had changed over that time. In the main body of the work he introduces two of his most important ideas - character armour and body armour. The basic frame of reference here is still Freudian psychoanalysis, though Reich is already a heretic. He makes the case that Freud’s “death instinct” represents a denial of the responsibility of the psychiatrist to address those aspects of our culture which make us sick. Why does a mentally ill person hurt themselves? Because they have a self-destructive instinct? Today we might blame it on something else internal to the individual - a chemical imbalance. Reich argues that we need to be aware that religious institutions, schools and parents who teach children to fear the natural erotic processes of their own bodies can be the source of the neurotic impulse for them to hurt themselves. We shouldn’t make personal what may be political. The sections that were added later bring in discussion of orgone energy, but also widen the discussion of what constitutes psychological health and introduce the concept of “the emotional plague.”

The validity of Reich’s discussion of character armour is something which each of us can test through our observations of our own behaviour and that of others. Our personality consists of a more or less rigid character structure - a way of looking at ourselves and a mode of operating in the social world. The purpose of this structure is to protect us from threats internal and external. If we are criticised, it is to our character armour that we cling. This explains why even the most well-argued criticism of someone’s political views, for instance, far from leading them to change them, is liable to lead to them asserting them all the more strongly. Existential anxiety, sexual desires or repositories of repressed anger are examples of internal threats which may make us feel the need for our armour. This concept is a very important one because it focuses our awareness on the role of perceived threat on unhelpful intransigence. If we want to help someone to improve their behaviour we may have more luck if we first do what we can to make them feel safe, e.g. from judgement or criticism, and only then appeal to them through reason.

Body armour is the physical manifestation of character armour. The archetypal example is “the stiff upper-lip”. Our anxiety about certain physical sensations can cause us to chronically stiffen parts of our musculature. This may be a response to fear of erotic feelings, “orgasm anxiety”, but it may also be a way of repressing feelings of grief or the anxiety of trauma. Reich developed his own massage methods to deal with this. His discussion of blocks in the flow of “orgone energy” through different parts of the body is very similar to the Eastern concept of chakras.

It is with the concept of the “emotional plague” that Reich links the neurotic frustrations of the individual to the politics of society as a whole. In 1933, when the first part of this book was published, Reich was forced to flee Nazi Germany. What leads to such collective madness? According to Reich, there are three modes of psychological being. We may be healthy, in which case our body’s natural desires to love and be loved and engage in productive activity are being met. Or we may be neurotic, in which case the failure to satisfy our primary biological drives gives rise to secondary drives of a destructive nature which make repression necessary. In this case we may be a resigned, self-destructive, neurotic. But the other possibility is what he calls “the emotional plague” - a form of destructive social behaviour in which the sadistic secondary drives express themselves in behaviour which may range from gossiping about people to supporting an authoritarian political order to murder. Essentially all manifestations of the dark side of human behaviour can be understood as expressions of this form of disorder in which a natural drive is distorted through having to make its way through the character armour and is expressed as some form of hostility. Reich has given us a holistic framework for the process by which the human animal, whose primary biological orientation is toward love - not excluding its bodily erotic expression - comes to be capable of war, torture, rape, etc. From such a viewpoint we can see that we will make little progress in solving our problems by political means unless we also learn how to free up our character armour and reconnect with our original loving nature.

This is not a book to accept or reject as a whole. Some ideas may be well-founded, others may not. Reich, like Freud and Jung, had conservative attitudes to homosexuality, for instance. But if you are looking for answers to the big questions of human behaviour, you’ll find at least some of them here.

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