Wilhelm Reich Psychotherapy – The Controller or Leader Personality (Psychopath)
The “Psychopath” term is the old Reichan and psychiatric derived term that Wilhelm Reich, Alexander Lowan, and John Pierrakos tended to use in Reichan therapy, Bioenergetics, and Core Energetics respectively. This character structure is also referred to as the “Controller/Leader” when working with clients in a more archetypal way that is less pathologising.
Wilhelm Reich introduced the notion and science of Characterology and its 5 basic character types. Each character type has a set of bodily postures, muscular skeletal structuring, touch, feeling, and contact presentations to the world, and also a cognitive and emotional set of equivalent issues, plus a mask or presenting appearance to the world.
The childhood dynamics that setup a person to have a Controller/Leader outcome are typically those that follow, but other dynamics can also lead to this same outcome. The basic need of every person is to be healthily esteemed. Self esteem issues are at the core of this personality type. Like the Perfectionistic character, this person creates a false self to cope with a rejection of their own nature and humanity. The difference is the rejection came explicitly from the parent who constantly puts down and “narcissistically injures” the child. The adult does not operate to the truth that we are born and designed to be human and live within that humanity which is the paradox of perfection within imperfection.
The parent judged and belittled the child’s authentic self expression as either “not enough” or “too much” for the parent, or the parent demanded the child provide more gratification, excitement or meaning for the parent than was possible, or a combination of all of these. There is a degree of chaos and instability operating here in the parents. The parent essentially rejects their child’s own nature and humanity, and seeks instead to force the child into an idealised version of themself, one in which grandiosity and a form of perfection is the only choice in all aspects and dimensions of life. The child normally fails to live up to the grandiose false idealised image that the parent compels them to be.
Often one parent is a Narcissistic personality themself in this dynamic. They effectively create the idealisation of the child via their own projection of a false idealised and narcissistic self. They ask the child to join them on their pedestal where they can worship each other and be worshipped by the other. This creates a “puffed up” self, including the body structure that we will touch on again. Often the other parent is frozen out of this relationship, and so a triangle develops. The frozen out parent starts to resent both the parent and the child, and the attention that is happening between them. This parent may then humiliate and shame the special child, and pull them off the narcissistic pedestal, and further and more directly narcissistically injuring the child.
Because the child needs and wants love it will give up its authentic self, and start to live from the false self created for it by the parent who is effectively using the child for its own narcissistic or unmet needs. The child learnt to restrict those parts of them self that were not reinforced, and to inflate those parts that were highly valued and demanded of them. They may have been able to “get love” by being beautiful, the winning athlete, the intellectual, or a combination of performing roles.
The false self is evident later in life both by others and internally by the now grown child, but as it is the only remaining source of self-esteem, it is guarded, reinforced, and lived from. As the real authentic self was squashed or disowned, the person has low self esteem, doubts them self, and is now sensitive to criticism, disapproval or failure. The false self is often typically constellated around the 20 defining characteristics of a Narcissistic personality, that I have summarised in my article Narcissism – Living Without Feelings.
Not all attributes will be present and not all Controller/Leaders are Narcissists, but some alignment exists, and all Narcissists have a base structure that includes the Controller/Leader characterology to some degree. The common ground is often that the self-esteem is fragile and is typically propped up by perfectionism and an extreme reliance on achievement. Internally there is always self-doubt, self-loathing present, and a degree of inner chaos that may or may not breakthrough into externalised behaviours and the acting out of self-soothing addictions.
This personality finds from this internal chaos and lack of self acceptance a need to be constantly moving, unable to relax or be still, unless self-medicating with an addiction, or on the go. There may be procrastination of starting and finishing projects, where just before the deadline they go into a chaotic frenzy to avoid failure and the missed deadline.
It is also true that another type of household exists that gives rise to this Controller/Leader personality.
In middle class and wealthy homes the parent who creates the idealised child is often a Narcissistic personality. In some of these same homes, and in many lower socio-economic homes, this parent is more psychopathic in nature. What is the difference?
Well there are similarities but one obvious difference is that the psychopathic personality is often more emotionally chaotic, and also emotionally reactive, and will lash out physically without proper boundaries and restraints. They often have underlying addictions to drugs, alcohol or some other substance, and financial issues and pressures may exist. In these dynamics the child may be both “raised up” and then “smashed down” by the same parent in terms of their personality and self-expression, creating direct narcissistic injury, but also safety issues for the child. The narcissistic injury is more severe and the torment more ongoing in these type of homes, and deepens the primary self-esteem wound.
A common dynamic that exists is an alcoholic, workaholic or drug abusing parent. For instance in the morning they are typically sober, rested and reasonable. The child approaches them and is welcomed, esteemed and possibly elevated and made special. The same child comes home that evening and the same parent when they arrive home is drunk, stressed or drugged. The parent lashes out at the child from this state and belittles, hurts, humiliates or crushes the child. Physical and sexual abuse may be present in this dynamic. It is the same dynamic as the Narcissistic parents home except the injuries in the psychopathic home are often more gross, direct, traumatising, and possibly physically injurious to the child.
In this home the child becomes hyper-vigilant and wary, and learns to watch and sense the verbal and non verbal cues of the either psychopathic, psychotic or somehow unstable and unsafe parent. The child adopts this stance to feel safe, and to prevent abuse. They learn techniques to calm the parent, to attend to the parent, to deceive the parent, to comply with the parent, and ultimately where possible, to control the parent. From this place over a number of years they learn about the power of being able to manipulate both parents and this sets them up to become manipulative, controlling, and liberal with lying and the truth. They identify with the association between power and feeling safe, and so are always primarily working to empower themselves at the expense of others to feel safe.
The child also becomes a performer, a fluid personality that moves with environments and events, and works with them to create their own safety and advantage. The child’s home environment was fluid and shifted within a chaotic framework that called upon the child to perceive and adjust quickly or be annihilated. The child constantly shifts inside themself between a sense of power and grandiosity, to the other pole of inferiority and worthlessness. They give up their values and authenticity to survive and become selfish and entitled within themself. They trust no one and kill their own painful feelings to cope with the pole of inferiority and worthlessness.
They are left with a hyper-vigilant, street-wise, aggressive and seductive personality that is unfeeling but feigns any feeling. They can perform for anyone, and can read another person’s verbal and non-verbal cues with amazing accuracy. They are often either seductive at first, then become controlling, especially when in leadership roles or in relationships, and over time may start to have trust issues with the people they are engaged with, and a form of paranoia creeps in, and they may become accusing, aggressive, and increasingly controlling.
Their currency is power and status, and they will compete with others for it, but often lack a moral fibre and so will resort to deception, lying, and manipulation to get what they want. They often saw violence and had it acted out upon them, and now as adults will resort to physical, emotional and mental violence against others when imposing control over them.
In both types of Controller/Leader personalities, the resulting outcome of the body mind of this personality can be summarised as the development of blocks in the body and musculature that restrain or render unconscious those impulses and reactions that are unacceptable or result in punishment or abuse. At the same time the bodily expressions of character also can reflect the ideal or false self presented to the world in compensation for the original narcissistic injury.
Basically what we see in the body is one of these two principles, or a combination of both. We firstly often see an upward displacement energetically and in the bodily composition of bulk and muscles. By this we see weak or thin legs, which come up into smaller and tighter thighs, with a small set of buttocks. The body then starts to flare out from the mid back into a wide set of shoulders where there is more bulk and compensating musculature. The head is often large, and may be jutting slightly or prominently forward on the neck, which is an ominous posture to the world.
In this person they often have a “puffed up” look, as energetically they breathed in and held their breath. In terror in childhood situations, they often held their breath in terror at being made wrong, criticised or punished. They have the classic “V” shaped build that is put up in society as a heroic archetype, and the most appealing shape, especially for a man.
The eyes are often magnetic and dazzling, as the eyes represent an orifice for energetic discharge, and this personality has an overcharge of energy in the upper body. They seduce, compel, threaten and engage through their eyes which always attract attention.
The overall “V” shape also energetically represents the personality built on narcissistic development, where the base or foundation(legs) are ungrounded and weak or unstable, This insecure base then supports a character or body of exaggerated power, wilfulness, and driven achievement.
In the second type of embodied narcissistic personality, which some writers refer to as the “closet narcissist”, one finds a more Rigid-Perfectionist style of body which shows few bodily disturbances. The uniform and ideal shape reflects the false idealised self that is presented to the world that hides the inner chaos. Their body presents an ideal look but hides blocks and chaos internal to the self.
The female version of the Controller/Leader personality may also show an inverted “V” shape, or a body where the enlargement is downwards oriented in the thighs, hips, buttocks and upper leg muscles. A large set of breasts may also be present. The reasons for this formation and representation relate to the expression of female creativity and sexuality of the feminine as power centres within their female body, versus the masculine power centres of aggression of power and status via the intellect which constellate in the head and upper body of a man.
A woman who disowns their feminine and adopts a masculine false self that is driven into achieving often demonstrates the classic “V” shape of a man, as they identify with their masculine principles, and disown their feminine except as weak, and only useful as a power or seduction object in objectified or sexualised dynamics.
In all these cases there are muscular blocks in the body which prohibit full feeling awareness from operating. This suppresses their real self and their suffering or chaotic inner life. The body is our real self and in a sense these people try to live from their heads, and not in their body. They objectify and use their body to achieve their ends, just as they use others and any other resource to their own end without compassion or empathy.
Uniformly there is rigidity and constriction in those areas of the body that block natural flow of feelings and emotions, and hence energy since the word emotion means (Energy in MOTION). This personality type was often also either objectified, used or punished/shamed for their sexuality. Their pelvis shows a posture that is rigidly held, the tension blocking awareness and release of the sexual charge.
There is often present a constricting band around the waistline that further inhibits the awareness of sexual impulse, and dams energy in the upper half of the body, whilst also constricting and so undercharges them in the lower half of the body. This constriction which is often visible on the body, also inhibits the awareness of the ungroundedness in the person and leaves them “in their heads”.
There are normally constricted and atrophic muscles in the diaphragm area of the chest, and the intercostals muscles between the ribs hold tension to keep the breathing shallow. This makes the person “ticklish” but this can quickly turn to rage if tickling persists and threatens the bodily blocks. Shallow breathing is a key bodily method used to suppress feelings and is a major block in this personality.
The shoulders are often broad but also raised, with tight muscles in the Rhomboids, Trapezius complex, Terres muscles and neck attachments and rotators such as Scalenes. The Sterno-Cloido-Mastoid on the side of the neck may be thick and flared to lock or bind in rage which this personality tries to suppress within themself. All these constrictions block feelings from the body reaching the head, and leave the person “living in their heads”.
There is a block in the rear ocular segment just behind the neck, where the base of the skull meets the spine and neck. This block is the last major line of defence from feelings making it from the body into the head. Likewise at the front of the face the Masceter and facial muscles are often tight to prevent facial emotional expression from giving them away, leaving them with an angular or chiselled look to the face. The jaw line may be thick and broad showing deep blocks in the muscles which bind in the suppressed rage which wants to erupt through the mouth and eyes.
The eye block also allows them to dissociate from others, and block empathy and compassion arising, and instead assist in the objectification of the other person, or denial of the other person’s humanity. However they can flood this block with energy and “use” their eyes with feigned emotion to seduce, threaten and compel others, as this was a survival technique needed from time to time that has precedence over the eye block’s primary objective.
The “closet narcissist” may not show so much embodied defence as they will have compensated in their personality via a smooth but slippery way of navigating through life and with people, using others for their gain. Their body is a form of camouflage portrays innocence but this deception hides a chameleon of a personality who is predatory and cunning in their approach to life.
In their healed form this personality is a natural leader who is normally charismatic, fearless, can think on the run, is able to sum up people and situations with accuracy within seconds, and who can protect others, and be their advocate. They are visionary, very intelligent, can start and finish projects, and inspire others to do the same. They are very gifted individuals in this healed form.
Eastern Body, Western Mind, Anodea Judith, 2004, Celestial Arts, USA.
Character Analysis, Wilhelm Reich, 1975, 5th enlarged edition, New York, Farrar Publishing.
Bioenergetics, Alexander Lowen, 1976, Penguin books, New York.
Language of the Body, Alexander Lowen, 1971, MacMillan, New York.
Character Styles, Stephen Johnson, 1994, W.WW Norton & Co New York.
Characterological Transformation – The Hard Work Miracle, Stephen Johnson, 1985, W.W. Norton & Co New York.
Free Yourself 1 – Releasing Your Unconscious Defence Patterns, Annie Marquier, 2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
Free Yourself 2 – The Power of the Soul, Annie Marquier, 2005, Findhorn Press, Scotland.
Biology of Belief, Bruce Lipton, 2005, Mountain of Love/Elite Books, USA.
Core Energetics, John Pierrakos, 1990, LifeRhythm Publication.