The theory of armoring was introduced by Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich which was further developed by Alexander Lowen. According to Reich, psycho-emotional conflicts which are suppressed end up being locked up in the muscular tissue of the body, forming what he called body armor.
This body armor becomes a protective muscular shell. It not only keeps out painful stimuli but also effectively blocks out the free flow of our emotions
Despite, the armoring theory being posited in the 30s, conventional treatment for scoliosis still focuses primarily on the physical aspects. Instead of tackling the underlying emotional reasons for this condition.
Survival Response Freeze/Fawn
As children, the freeze and fawn survival responses are usually the only available options. We are helpless, dependent for our survival, we cannot fight or escape. In an abusive situation, a child tightens (armors) the musculature of his body in an effort to hold feelings in and to banish them from awareness.
According to trauma therapist, Bessel van der Kolk, we go into a “collapsed” state if we are physically unable to escape the danger. The muscles in our body contract in response to a fearful situation. However, when this is an ongoing drama in our childhood, without any respite, our muscles remain contracted The continual walking on egg-shells situation, keeps our body primed for the next attack. Mentally we get stuck in a fear loop and our body musculature gets stuck in that tight, tense state.
Development of The Scoliotic Armor
The armored body stance is not consciously created but is the reflexive outcome to a stressful situation. Gradually, as time goes by one forgets the original reason for the body position. The memory may get repressed or overwritten by other more critical or recent events.
More so, when one is a child, the brain is developing rapidly. Particularly during critical stages of development like adolescence, brain development is extensive. Hence, it is not surprising that Adolescent Idiopathic Scoliosis is one of the most common types of scoliosis.
Crouching In Fear
In my case, I totally forgot the main reason for my armoring – sexual abuse. Rather it was fear of potential sexual abuse. My budding sexuality being preyed upon by an Uncle and worse being accused of being the seductress. I did my best to hide my growing breasts and I was successful. My body twisted into a grossly deformed caricature of the womanly form. Scoliosis is one of the most unattractive physical conditions. But I was safe. However, the memory was so traumatic it got buried and lost to my conscious mind.
Concurrently, there was the fear of my father’s violence, I now recollect literally crouching with fear awaiting his next attack. Then there was the fear of being judged, another Uncle was always making fun of my clothes and my appearance. And to top it all there was the fear of my grandmother who was one moody fish – I was afraid of antagonizing and offending her.
Added to this was the exploitation of being parentified, and treated like I was garbage. After age 11, my life was plagued by ongoing and overlapping traumas The effect was layer upon layer of armoring.
However, feelings buried alive never die. Psychological armoring becomes physical armoring. Physical armoring alters posture, and altered posture can permanently alter the development of one’s spinal column causing scoliosis.
I spent my growing up years after my mother’s death suppressing and pretending. Blocked my mind from feeling my hurts. I effectively armored my psyche and created another persona in order to avoid being totally annihilated.
Reich concluded that physical armor and psychological armor were two manifestations of the same pattern
Character Armor & Personality
According to Reich, character structures are based upon blocks—chronic, unconsciously held muscular contractions—against awareness of feelings. Fitting in and molding ourselves to our environment is the only way to survive our abusive environment. We learn to block our awareness of strong feelings when our needs are thwarted by parental violence, shaming, and neglect.
These mental and emotional protective blocks or defenses show in our body in the form of ‘muscular armoring’.
He defined muscular armoring 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”
According to his theory of Characterology – Emotional armoring creates muscular armoring which then creates our character armor. The mind affects the body, the body reflects our character.
The overall effect of muscular armoring with character armoring creates the individual personality.
The Scoliosis Character – ‘Non-Person’
Reich’s theory has five basic character structures. The body type developed as a result of particular blocks which are due to deprivation or frustration of the child’s stage-specific needs.
Unfortunately, he did not study the character of a person with scoliosis. However, in my opinion, a scoliosis character totally shuts down her feelings and shows a fake sunny side to the world. Her feelings/needs don’t matter, to survive she has to become non-existent – a ‘non-person’.
Total annihilation of the self to fit in. Blocking out every need, feeling because there is no one to validate, care or give damn. The pain of unrequited needs – for love, kindness, and caring. Being strong and being in control is all that matters. Being vulnerable and emotional means destruction, contempt and derision. You’d rather die than show any sign of weakness. You hate them and you detest yourself but you just cannot show it. Even though the hostility is mutual you grin and bear. You see but you cannot bear to look.
After some time you no longer feel anything – your protection is in place.
The unfortunate aspect of constant armoring is practice makes one perfect. As time goes by and the negative environmental conditions persist one gets more and more ‘stuck’ in a mood or posture. So, the next time, one has to deal with the fearful situation one is quickly able to slip on the armor and reign in our emotions. Finally, we get permanently armored up.
The body gets set in a mold. Even though we may consciously forget the body remembers.
Uncovering Memories – Dissolving The Armor
Armoring is an attempt at self-preservation. It is as an adaptive response to stress. For me armoring was the only way to protect myself from an ongoing toxic situation. As a helpless child that was the only available option. I couldn’t defend myself when the predators and enablers were out to destroy me. Scoliosis was my protective armor. My body did not attract attention and I no longer felt anything or I’d have gone mad.
When armor is fully in play, it said that a person is exhibiting a ‘character defense‘ and anxiety is fairly low. When armor has been weakened, either through therapy or chance experience, a person is said to be in an ‘anxiety defense’. That’s why in the initial stages of healing we feel we are getting worse. But, we need to feel the blocked emotions and release them in order to heal.
Healing requires us to uncover the subconscious trauma and de-armor the protective shield held in our body. However, de-armoring the body requires us to de-armor our psyche first. It means remembering why and from what we had to protect ourselves from but that may not be easy. One of the reasons why healing scoliosis naturally is not easy is the number of psychological blocks to acknowledging and accepting the truth.
Breaking Through The Veil Of Deception
Though I was aware of my deformity, I lacked conscious reasons for my physical block/armor. Why did contort my body? The daily pain and physical distortion were a continuous reminder of my condition. However, I forgot the emotional pain I had suppressed. I forgot the grief, rage, rejection, violence, neglect or indifference of my childhood.
Then I fell in love with a man who began treating just like I was treated in my childhood. It is true that we tend to attract what we need to face. Our subconscious manifests what we hide. I soldiered on with the abuse armoring my psyche till I reached a breaking point and emotionally collapsed.
It was like the floodgates had opened, all the memories came flooding out. I regressed to age 13 years. However, there was no safe place for me to process the pain. My partner further traumatized me. Then I had a child and soon I became a single mother. It was tough raising a child while being an emotional child myself. I had to further suppress my needs.
It is only in the last 3 years since taking a break was I able to process and de-armor my psyche. As the emotional pain releases, my body armor relaxes and my spine gets straighter.
The Five Healing Modalities I Have Used
It is never too late to heal your mind and body. First, you need to believe you will get better, and second is having a safe place to heal. I have no doubt that scoliosis is caused by blocking our emotions and our true selves. And yes, in most cases, ACEs do cause scoliosis.
The Language of the Body by Alexander Lowen
Character Analysis by Wilhelm Reich