Reich’s Segmental Armouring Theory

Reich’s Segmental Armouring Theory

Wilhelm Reich was a major contributor to the bodymind sciences of the early 20th century, and is credited as being the key driver of this form of scientific enquiry in the West up until the 1940’s. Reich proposed a model of the human condition that postulated a theory of energy being a primary component of all matter and space, a concept he called the orgone energy.  This energy was important for living organisms as in effect it was a “life force”.  Reich who was trained as a scientist, devised ways in which quantified this orgone as being electro-magnetic in nature, and that it could be measured, sensed and worked with in therapy.

Reich had developed some key concepts about the human condition that fell under his theories of Orgonomy. Reich delineated armoring concepts during the Character Analysis and Orgasm Theory period of 1928-34. Reich defined Orgonomy as being the science of cosmic orgone energy (Reich:1934). Reich (1934) further defined orgone energy at that time as being “primordial cosmic energy; universally present & demonstrable visually, thermically, electroscopically, and by means of Geiger-Mueller counters, in the living organism”.

From this place, Reich was interested in how this orgone energy interacted with the human condition, and expressed itself in the body and the mind.  Reich established orgone therapy from this place as being the “Mobilisation of the orgone energy in the organism, ie, the liberation of the biophysical  emotions from muscular & character armorings with the goal of establishing, if possible, orgastic potency”(Reich:1934).  Reich stated that we develop muscular armouring to block this orgone energy.

He stated “Armoring is the condition that results when energy is bound by muscular contraction and does not flow through the body”(Reich:1936) . He saw that there existed character armouring which he defined as “the sum total of typical character attitudes, which an individual develops as a blocking against their emotional excitations, resulting in rigidity in the body, and lack of emotional contact ”.  He defined muscular armouring as “the sum total of muscular(chronic muscular spasms) which an individual develops as a block against the breakthrough of emotions and organ sensations, particularly anxiety, rage and sexual excitation” (Reich:1936).

The overall effect of muscular armouring with character armouring created the individual.  Alexander Lowen, who was an associate of Reich, best summed up this overall effect as “The character of the individual as it is manifested in his typical pattern of behaviour is also portrayed on the somatic level by the form and movement of the body.  The body expression is the somatic view of the typical emotional expression which is seen on the psychic level as character. Defences show up in both dimensions, in the body as muscular armoring. ” (Lowen:1976).

This theory was contained within Reichs overall theory of energy economy.  This theory stated that “Economically speaking the character in ordinary life and the character resistance in the analysis serve the same function, that of avoiding unpleasure, of establishing and maintaining a psychic equilibrium – neurotic as it may be – and finally, that of absorbing repressed energies. One of its cardinal functions is that of binding “free-floating” anxiety, or, in other words, that of absorbing dammed up energy in the body.(Reich:1934).

Reich then established a theory of segmental armouring to explain how the body establishes its psychic equilibrium. In this Segmental Armouring theory, seven segments of the body exist where armouring or muscular tensions develop or takes place, and where the segmental contractions are at right angles to the flow of “life force” or orgone energy in the body. In fact Reich’s concept of 7 segments also has a correlating overlay of the 7 chakra system of eastern Philosophy, and in many ways has a premise that is basically the same as proposed by eastern philosophy but in a western manner that attempts to be more quantitative and deductive.

This theory as re-interpreted and updated under Bioenergetics and Core Energetics sees the 5 primary Character Structures as the fixation of the energetic movement in the body of a person. The organized vertical energy flow is antagonistic.  The fixation of movement keeps the body in the sympathetic nervous system.  When flow stops or is constricted, form develops with muscle or fat or stress develops and affects bone, muscle and fascia development.

According to Core Energetics therapist Lisa Loustaunau (2004), when in childhood, a muscle contraction responds to a fearful situation, this is healthy, however, if the muscle stays contracted and gets stuck there, this becomes unhealthy (the body loses some of its natural, or core, wisdom).

These are the 7 segments that were delineated by Reich:

1.      Ocular or Eye
2.      Oral
3.      Cervical
4.      Thoracic
5.      Diaphragm
6.      Abdominal
7.      Pelvic

The characteristics of the 5 basic archetypal character structures are predictable outcomes based on Reich’s armouring theories, and tell us much about a person’s personal history which is written into the body.

Reich also delineated the concept of a physical block held in the body, which may show physical manifesting signs. Blocks often show one of the 7 segments as overcharged, an adjoining segment undercharged, and tension is in both the boundary of the 2 segments, and also the overcharged segment. The undercharged segment often shows atrophy of muscles and skin turgor. Reich also believed that the left side of the body revealed feminine self identity issues, and the right side of the body revealed masculine self identity issues.

This interaction of the 7 segments forms the etiology of the 5 Primary Character Structures. The 5 Character structures are not formed in isolation to one segment ,but relate to Energy economy and the regulation is between segments and also believed to be via chakras as proposed by Eastern philosophy.  Dr. Anodea Judith has written a very good book, called “Eastern Body, Western Mind”, which attempts to map chakra system concepts, to Reich’s Segmental Armouring and Character Structures. Further information can be found on this interaction on her Sacred Centers website.


1.     Character Analysis, Reich Wilhelm, 1975, 5th enlarged edition, New York, Farrar Publishing.

2.     Bioenergetics, Lowen Alexander, 1976, Penguin books, New York.

3.     Language of the Body, Lowen Alexander, 1971, MacMillan, New York.

4.     Wilhelm Reich : The Evolution of his Work, Boadella David, 1973, Vision Press, Chicago.

Psychotherapy & Counselling