In my earlier article, on armoring, I had summarized how scoliosis develops as our protective armor against an oppressive, repressive, threatening and hostile environment. Armoring, according to Wilhelm Reich is the unconscious body contractions/coping patterns we adopt to fit in with our environment.
Further, Reich postulated that blockages begin in our eyes and he was spot on. Ocular armor is our first line of defense. We block out what we cannot bear to see.
Our eyes play a major role in accessing safety or danger in any situation. They are closely connected with our amygdala.
Eyes & Amygdala
The brain does not work in isolation it relies on information from our environment. Our eyes scan any situation and transmit it to our brain which then processes the information – whether, safe, dangerous, good, bad.
The visual cortex connects directly with the amygdala, and normally information is transmitted via the retina, thalamus, cortex, amygdala.
The amygdala sends this information to the rest of the brain which then sets off a chain reaction in our bodies. Do we react, not react, stay, run. – fight-flight-fawn-freeze response.
However, trauma during childhood changes how our brain works. Information is directly routed from the retina, thalamus direct to the amygdala bypassing the cortex (information processing center). This gradually changes the physical structure of our brain.
Trauma Memories & Armoring
The amygdala serves as our memory center – our experiences become encoded whether positive or negative.
When we witness a scary event, the thalamus relays sensory information to the amygdala, which stamps the memory as emotionally significant and stores it for future use, to help us avoid similar threats.
If we are in an ongoing situation of threat, where our safety is compromised, we emotionally begin blocking out the painful stimuli that threaten to overwhelm our daily living. How do we live with an abusive father or a neglectful mother? The shame and anger are too overwhelming. We develop survival strategies or adaptive behaviors. Denial is a core survival strategy
In this conflicting situation, our only defense is emotionally shutting our eyes from truly seeing the situation. We pretend that mom and dad are great and we are the bad ones. Putting on rose-tinted glasses and sugar-coating our perception. Thus, we effectively armor ourselves against seeing the real truth. And develop a false self to live in our new reality.
Reich’s Body Map
Reich mapped the human body into 7 segments, ocular, oral, cervical, thoracic, diaphragmatic, abdominal and pelvic segments. It is our defensive styles that manifest as blockages or armoring in the body. According to his theory blockages start with the eyes and head, and ended at the pelvis, correlating the segments with how energy circulates from the top down.
Scoliosis, Tilted eye-line, Ocular Armor,
One of the first signs of scoliosis ( if one looks closely) is a tilted eye line. Scientists are still debating whether scoliosis is due to a wonky eye line or was a wonky eye line the reason for scoliosis. Now that we know so much about childhood trauma I don’t think there should be any doubt what came first. How we see the world affects how we hold our body.
The Reichian theory clearly explains how the body establishes its psychic equilibrium by armoring itself starting with the eyes.
The first segment includes our eyes and head. Our eyes are our point of contact with others and our instrument of perception of the world. When we have ocular armor, our vision can be skewed and distorted, and we misinterpret, feel more fear and confusion, experience blurred vision, miss cues, and can create an entire world-view based on our unclear perception. Putting on emotional blinkers is the only way to survive.
Development Of My Armor / False Self
In The Drama of the Gifted Child, Alice Miller describes how ‘people survive the emotional abuse of childhood through the ‘gift’ of their bodies numbing that pain.’
To cope with the unrelenting deceit and abuse, I pretended not to see what I saw. Act as though my father’s violence was nothing to stew about. And my grandmother’s inconsistent and cold behavior was because of something I did. I pretended the sexual abuse of my cousin did not happen. Or my uncle’s lust was my imagination. That his wife, my aunt did not really hate me. Or my brother found me a nuisance and did not give a damn was because there was something wrong with me.
Oh, it was so damn painful to see my true reality. I emotionally blocked my eyes from truly seeing. I could not avoid them since they were family. So I built a false persona, one who was strong, happy, polite, helpful – someone who was acceptable and fit in with my family’s needs.
My true self remained hidden as my false-self fragments carried this pain and allowed my survival.
I know my brain was split into two parts, Apparently Normal Part (ANP), who carried on as normal and my Emotional Part (EP), which was that emotionally fucked up 13-year-old. Since then my left eye has been higher than my right eye.
In an attempt to keep myself safe and protected I developed scoliosis and blocked out my natural womanly development. It was the only way to not only curb the lecherous overtures but also avoid the hate and ire of my grandmother and aunt.
I armored myself so adeptly, that even as an adult I misread the signs of courtship and romance. I just did not know how to play the game. And I ended up with an Uncle-father figure as my lover.
Gradually, my emotional armor became my body armor which eventually became my character armor – Scoliosis.
This armored body or false self is the ‘I’ who we identify with and others relate to.
De-Armoring, Unveiling the Blockages
How does one de-armor? We can only shed our armor of self-protection is when we feel safe.
Where there is no fear inducing spikes that will trigger our amygdala to turn on our stress response. We need at least one person who will look at us with love, understanding, appreciation, kindness. An enlightened witness who will bear witness to my pain and will re-regulate our damaged limbic brain.
Depending on the duration and degree of trauma, it takes time to feel safe again. Only when we can truly trust can we let go of our armor.
Yes, having someone who truly loves me is the single most important factor in shedding my armor.
Man in the Trap by Elsworth Baker
The Language of the Body by Alexander Lowen