BIOENERGETIC ANALYSIS - ALEXANDER LOWEN
If psychoanalysis can be seen as having made a fundamental contribution to psychiatry and our knowledge of the human psyche, Bioenergetic Analysis is a milestone in the study of how the psyche and the body interact.
The mind and body as a single unit
The psyche and the body had already been referred to by psychoanalysts as coexistent. Through Lowen’s work, this coexistence began to be addressed and verified in a clear and fascinating manner.
In order to grasp in a simple manner the portent of the relationship between the mind and the body we might for a moment consider and reflect on the internal experiences of our day-to-day existence. We all know – but this is something we do not pay much attention to – that our emotions cannot be separated from the bodily and muscular level. If we experience the feeling of joy our eyes will express the fact, our face will assume a more ‘open’ expression, and we smile. That is, without being aware of it, we activate a series of muscular movements by means of which our emotions are outwardly expressed. The same will naturally occur also in the cases of sadness, anger every other emotion. The effect of emotion at the physical level can be immediately and clearly comprehended and interpreted, or it may be less visible but in any case always present. If we have a feeling of anger which we cannot express and nevertheless outwardly demonstrate acceptance, the very same situation will also be reflected at the physical level. A more superficial muscular ‘expression’ will obey the circumstances that have come into being and a less visible muscular part of our body will however become contracted as an expression of our hostility and thwarted opposition. This mind-body duality is naturally present since the very beginning of our existence.
Thus, emotion has a spontaneous physical correspondence: in the same way a plant has roots and would be inconceivable without them, or in the same way the force of gravity is a phenomenon that comes into play when we weigh an object on a balance.
The above can be considered as the basic premise for those who would like to gain a full comprehension of the theoretical content and psychotherapeutic model of Bioenergetic Analysis.
We know that, in the expression of its potential, but also in the engendering of inhibitions and in the development of defence mechanisms (see glossary), the structuring of the personality is fundamentally completed in the first years of life. It would not be possible here to examine and discuss this broad and very important topic but it has to be mentioned because, as already mentioned, the mind-body duality begins to function at the very beginning of life. Defence mechanisms adopted by a child for long periods of time will be subsequently still present in the adult in the form of chronic muscular tension.
We impede the emergence of unpleasant sensations and emotions in two very basic ways:
1) contracting the muscles involved in the process (which thus ‘shut off’ the emotion rather than let it freely flow outwards);
2) the reduction of breathing (which is involved in the contraction itself and guarantees its control).
As pointed out, this situation becomes a chronic condition if allowed to continue for long periods of time and during the developmental stages of life. In all of this, we do not become aware of the physical rigidity and it would appear to be a normal and integrated part of our existence. This kind of ‘blockage’ remains - together with its content and the dynamic of its formation - outside of our consciousness. It is all perceived as ‘being a part of oneself’, as a personal ‘characteristic’.
However we have signs of our predicament: signs that cause us distress, and this is where we encounter anxiety with all of its various manifestations.
When a body is not rigid and the quality of our breathing is good, there will be no anxiety. In other words, in the absence of chronic defence mechanisms, there will be no anxiety, but only pleasure.
Anxiety is a kind of alarm. It is a signal indicating the dysfunction of the attempted defence. In order to protect itself against anxiety, our system of psychological defences is continuously ‘updated’ at the subconscious level. The subconscious attempt to stabilize and render as solid as possible all of the pre-existing defensive structures of the mind, is constantly present.