On January 26, 2011, we published an article in this journal entitled “Our Teenage Suicide Bombers.” In that article, we contended that teenagers in other parts of the world who commit suicide bombings were raised in traumatic environments that damaged the teens’ normal psychological growth. We contended that these young suicide bombers were already exploding from within and the actual explosive merely enabled them to fulfill their desperate emotional need to explode. We equated such suicide bombings to the mass killings in the United States.
A year later, we are now facing another heartbreaking mass killing that has shocked the nation. Words are simply inadequate to express the sadness and agony over the loss of young children and their teachers who were massacred on Friday, December 14, 2012 in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.
After the massacre of 26 people-mostly 6- or 7-year-old children-the gunman, a 20 year old male, killed himself. After this devastating incident, President Barak Obama stated:
“The majority of those who died today were children–beautiful little kids between the ages of 5 and 10 years old. They had their entire lives ahead of them–birthdays, graduations, weddings, kids of their own. Among them were also teachers, men and women who devoted their lives to helping our children fulfill their dreams. So our hearts are broken today–for the parents and grandparents, sisters and brothers of these little children and for the families of the adults who were lost. Our hearts are broken for the parents of the survivors as well, for as blessed as they are to have their children at home tonight, they know that their children’s innocence has been torn away from them too early, and there are no words that will ease their pain.
As a country, we have been through this too many times. Whether it is an elementary school in Newtown or a shopping mall in Oregon, or a temple in Wisconsin, or a movie theatre in Aurora, or a street corner in Chicago, these neighborhoods are our neighborhoods and these children are our children and we are going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of price. ”
Immediately following this tragedy, newspapers and media were flooded with facts, opinions and speculation about the massacre. Many expressed outrage over the accessibility of semi-automatic weapons, an availability that would enable a disturbed person to execute such massacres. Some psychologists attempted to analyze the sickness behind such an atrocity. These analyses, however, lacked insight.
Television commentators, newspaper reporters and law enforcement officials were baffled and instead of answers, they themselves wondered why such a senseless incident occurred. Why would someone kill innocent, young children who had done no harm to him? Many people repeated the same question: Why?
In the wake of this confusion and these unanswered questions, we feel the need, as students of Orgonomy and Reich, to explore the psychological, sociological, cultural, and physiological roots of such a crime which, though shocking to many, is nevertheless not surprising to those who are familiar with Reich’s “orgonomic” theories.
In the book Reich speaks of Freud, Reich says:
“I assure you that there is no solution to this world’s problems unless this point is cleared up sociologically, politically, economically, psychologically, structurally, characterologically, in every single respect. I do not believe that there will be any solution of any social problem as long as children and adolescent grew up with the stasis of biological energy- haywire, irrational with neurotic symptoms and so on and so on. That is why I offered my help. Do you understand?”
Prior to the posting of this article, the information available on the Sandy Hook perpetrator indicated that he was a very bright, but socially awkward 20 year-old male, who avoided eye contact and social interactions in general.. One report indicated that he didn’t feel physical pain and that teachers were worried that he could cut himself without realizing it: “If Adam Lanza cut or hurt himself, he wouldn’t know it or feel it.”
Like many perpetrators of these types of crime, Lanza was seen as eccentric but showed no evidence of major psychiatric symptoms according to mental health professionals, and he certainly was not seen as a danger to society. In fact, most adolescents with psychological disorders are not a threat to society: the neurotic boy who takes numerous showers a day, the anorexic girl who believes she is fat and refuses food to the detriment of her life, the boy who is tortured by panic attacks, or the autistic child, preoccupied with dinosaurs or train station schedules. None of these children constitute a threat to society any more than the average person. They are already suffering the breakdown of their emotional structure and are living the consequences through their impoverished lives. As baffling as it may seem; calculated, planned, and heinous criminal acts occur before the human psyche breaks into a full-blown neurotic or psychotic state. Although in full blown psychotic state in response to delusions and hallucinations, destructive and violent acting out behavior may happen, but these are rarely planned or calculated acts and there are ample warning signs before such actions. In the following pages, we will try to explain this matter based on orgonomic principles.
In Orgonomy, in contrast to Freudian psychoanalysis, Reich depicts the human psychological structure with a core and a middle and outer layer.
Schematic depiction of psychological structure based on orgonomic theories (core, middle layer, and outer layer). From: Selected writings by Wilhelm Reich: An Introduction to Orgonomy
Human structure, with all its complexities, basically functions like a protozoa, expanding when the environmental conditions are favorable and contracting when conditions are hostile. In a prolonged hostile environment, the psyche begins to armor itself, becoming rigid and limited in its mobility. As a result, the natural bioenergetic impulses that normally flow from the organism’s core, outward, then become inhibited and after lengthy inhibition of these impulses, the process of armoring sets in. The armored organism then becomes a distorted organism. A distorted human being develops secondary and unnatural impulses and motivations—secondary motives—in orgonomic terms. These secondary motives, although stemming from natural, primary and rational motives, change and become irrational. The organism develops irrational hatred, murderous and sadistic impulses specific to the human race. In the preface of The Mass Psychology of Fascism, Reich states:
Extensive and pain staking therapeutic work on the human character has led me to the conclusion that as a rule we are dealing with three different layers of biopsychic structure in the evaluation of human reactions. On the surface layer of his personality the average man is polite, compassionate, responsible, and conscientious. There would be no social tragedy of human animal if the surface layer were in direct contact with the deep natural core. This unfortunately is not the case. The surface layer of the social cooperation is not in contact with the deep biological core of one’s self. It is born by a second and intermediate character layer, which consists exclusively of cruel, sadistic, lascivious, rapacious, and envious impulses. It represents the Freudian “unconscious or what is the repressed”; to put it in the language of sex economy it represents the sum total of all so called “secondary drives”.
Diagram depicting basic functions in an armored organism.
The inhabitation of primary impulses produces a secondary impulses and anxiety.
From the book Function of Orgasm by Dr. Wilhelm Reich.
The surface layer is the façade—the layer of a person that she or he presents to the world. To the psychiatrist and psychologist who is familiar with Reich’s orgonomic theories, a vast majority of people present with physical and emotional armoring evident in the rigidity or flaccidity of their muscles, their tone of voice, their glazed or piercing eyes their mask-like facial expressions, their rigid neck or their resigned, apathetic attitude. In his lecture in Germany, Dr. Herskowitz explained how armoring manifests itself:
“Armoring converts free laughter into a chuckle or twitter, it may cause a woman to speak in a little girl’s voice. It does not merely change a function by degree but by a kind. It renders behavior more predictable, more stereotype. Armoring puts life in constraint. Armoring is most often revealed in muscular tension but it also reveals in eyes that are glazed in excessive body fat, etc. it is a dynamic event and it entails consumption of energy. It constrains us physically emotionally and ideationally. It is a cocoon to which we gradually become accustomed.”
Armoring develops while the child interacts with his or her environment which inhibits sexual and aggressive impulses. Schematically, the process of armoring is as follows:
III. Antithesis of the dissociated strivings.
From the book, “Character Analysis” by Dr. Wilhelm Reich.
The primary and natural drives are prohibited by the outer world. Under prolonged prohibition of these natural drives, the primary drive force dissociates and part of it turns against itself; consequently, psychological and physical armoring sets in. Schematically, it is depicted below.
Id = Defense and change of function
C = Armoring
Once the organism becomes armored, the primary impulses that are natural—rational love, natural sexuality, rational anger and rational hate—become distorted.
The structure of the armor, however, is not a simple one consisting of two opposing forces, but a complex consequence of the interplay between many dynamic forces and consists of many layers. The structure of the armor does not consist of one warded off and one warding off impulse but of countless number of strivings. Which are disassociated and partially set off against one another. Schematically the structure of armor is as follows:
From the book “Character Analysis”
By Dr. Wilhelm Reich
Structure of armor resulting from interplay of dynamic forces.
Once the organism becomes armored, the natural flow of biophysical energy in the body becomes distorted, causing many physical and psychological symptoms and pathologies. In Reich speaks of Freud Reich says: “I would like to summarize it in few words: if you have a stream, a natural stream, you must let it stream. If you dammed it up somewhere, it goes over the banks. That’s all. Now when the natural streaming of bioenergy is dammed up it also spills over resulting in irrationality, nervousness, neurosis and so on.”
Manifestations of armoring are both physical and emotional. Armor manifests itself both in physical and emotional realms. In his book Function of Orgasm, Reich states: “The concept of ‘Functional Identity’ which I had to introduce, means nothing more than that muscular attitude and character attitude have same function in the psychic mechanism: they can replace one another and can be influenced by one another, basically they cannot be separated. They are identical in their function.”
As described earlier, the structure of armor consists of the interplay of numerous forces and includes various layers. During character analysis or psychiatric orgon therapy, different layers are exposed systematically and the armor is resolved, allowing the restoration of the natural flow of bioenergy which in turn restores the patient’s psychological and physical health.
Based on its structure, the armor’s shape, appearance and characteristics differ. The armor can present as hard as a rock with muscular stiffness or as flaccidity and flabbiness of the musculature. It can be hypersensitive and tender or can be insensitive, cold and pale. It can appear lifeless and dead. In Orgonomy, such death is considered to be a consequence of a contracted bioenergetic field and blocked, plasmatic bioenergetic motility.
Once I was treating a man who came to me because his wife was complaining of his indifferent, aloof behavior. He was not interested in social activities and his wife stated that if things did not change she would leave him. He was a middle aged man with a solid work history. His face, however, was cold, pale, and unexpressive. His speech was monotonous; his affect and facial expressions rarely changed. During one of the sessions while he was on the couch, he closed his eyes for short period of time. As I watched him, I suddenly felt as if I was looking at a dead man at his wake. His face was pale, motionless and cold. In psychiatric orgon therapy, psychiatrist helps patients to recognize their physical demeanor and attitude. This recognition helps them understand what has caused such attitudes and responses. When a patient recognizes a defensive structure, he can begin to recognize what this defense is protecting him from. To achieve this end, I held a mirror in front of his face. I asked him to describe his own impression of himself and shared nothing of my own impressions. He later stated, “Doctor, while I looked into the mirror I was shocked: I felt as if I had died and was looking at myself as a dead man.”
We often see psychiatric patients who, among many other symptoms, have begun cutting themselves. I have asked them the purpose of this cutting. How does it help them? Some state that they do it to attract attention; some want their physical pain to distract them from their emotional pain; some say it gives them a sense of relief and some explain that they feel numb and that cutting and its subsequent blood gushing from their skin reassures them that they are alive. According to orgonomic principles, this numbness is a consequence of armoring and withdrawal or —blocking of the flow of bioenergy. However, conventional psychology, psychoanalysis, psychiatry and medicine have no explanation for it. We are still ignorant about the factors that determine which type of biopathy will develop as a consequence of armoring and we are ignorant about the factors that determine the shape of certain types of armor.
In addition to physical and emotional illnesses that result because of armoring, the distortion of primary motives may manifest themselves in irrational, sadistic, and destructive ways that act in social scenes. Dr. Reich called it “emotional plague”. In this process, the brutal and murderous rage and destructive tendencies that are suppressed, break through the armor manifesting themselves in social scenes in irrational, destructive, murderous, and sadistic ways. These destructive impulses are mostly directed toward the objects that represent life, love, and happiness. Such sadistic actions manifest itself either with some political, religious or social pretext of which history of human kind is full of examples: genocides of any type, annihilation of one race by another with the pretext of racial or religious supremacy etc. or without pretext, sporadically by acting out of an individual by killing or destruction. These destructive and sadistic impulses, however, are directed toward those who are lively, happy, and represent life. Reich in the book “Murder of Christ” says: “Christ became a victim of this human character structure because he had developed the qualities and manner of conduct that act upon the armored character structure like red color upon the emotional system of a wild bull. Thus, we may say that Christ represents the principle of life per se.”
In revisiting some of the facts leading up to the Sandy Hook Elementary School murders, we can see a pattern from a seemingly disparate set of circumstances: A perpetrator who was socially withdrawn and aloof; numb to physical pain; killing young children who were happy and delightful and had done no harm to him; his own suicide; and social and environmental factors that may have caused such distortion in his structure to make him capable of such a heinous crime. A distorted structure which could have been quite different under other circumstances.
In one of his passages in the Journal of Orgonomic Functionalism, volume 1, Reich describes healthy children and their attitudes toward guns. We think it is relevant to our topic and we would like to bring it to the reader’s attention here:
“Healthy children are rational. …… if they grew up in an environment in which pistols are admired, they also want to have pistols. The parents of such a child once found themselves in a dilemma. Their child, who was four years old, had gotten the idea from kindergarten that is wanted to be a cowboy with a pistol. At first the parents tried to convince the child that pistols are bad things and that only bad people shoot other people and animals without a reason. The absolute pacifist would have stuck to this point of view. The child would have had to yield to the ‘standpoint of pacifism.’ The child would have been understood from the narrow viewpoint of an ideology and not from the standpoint of its own development. Therefore the parents gave in, despite their convictions. Once their attempts to limit the child’s interest to the cowboy uniform had failed, they bought him a toy pistol. They told the child that it now had to be careful to prevent any other child from using its pistol against a human being or an animal. The child was enthusiastic. For a few days it played the game ‘police protection for children’ with the pistol, then the interest waned until it completely disappeared. Thereafter the child showed no interest in shooting.
Let us consider this example, taken from real life, from different points of view. If the parents had adhered absolutely to the pacifist standpoint the child would have been refused the pistol. As a result, unfulfilled yearning would have taken root in him. If our biopsychiatric knowledge is correct, this unrequited wish would have become linked with other experiences of a similar kind and been intensified. Over a period of time this wish would have formed the core of a fantasy, namely, that of being a robber or a bad person. In short, the child’s self-regulation would have come to an end.
From the military-marital standpoint one would have given the child the pistol without any second thoughts; indeed, many fathers who had just been through the horrors of war would have taught the child to shoot Japanese and Germans. Such an attitude is possible only within the framework of an error of thought which requires the armoring of an organism in the father as well as in the son. The pistol would very soon have concentrated all the destructive and sadistic impulses on itself. The path to ‘juvenile delinquent’ or to mass murderer would have been opened if other conditions favorable to it had existed.
This is what it comes down to” Armored children do not hesitate to pick up and hold on to instruments of death. If the environment forces them to do so, unarmored children also reach out for such instruments, but they have no elements in their structure which can become anchored in murderous weapons. The murderous toy finds no response in the child. Therefore the child soon loses interest in the pistol.
It is thus not correct that the healthy child is not afraid or that it has no destructive impulses, or that it never becomes defiant or that it never deliberately annoys adults. Like all other children, it has all the potential for ‘good’ or ‘bad’ attitudes. The difference between it and other children who grow up within these erroneous systems of thought is that it does not remain fixed in these reactions or attitudes. It may happen that a healthy child is afraid of wolves during the night. However, a simple discussion is enough to eliminate this fear. It does not develop a phobia lasting all its life. It sometimes happens that a healthy child accidentally or intentionally breaks a glass, but the destruction of things does not develop into a chronic character trait. The child’s structure does not contain any character related destructive rage, of which the child cannot rid itself. A healthy child knows fear, cries, hates, is defiant, ‘misbehaves,’ but none of these things are anchored structurally.”
Emotional plague manifests itself in different forms, in this case by the killing of young, innocent children and their teachers. This plague has resulted in war and genocide, has reached epidemic proportions and must be seen as an illness of the human race. It must be dealt with sociologically, educationally, culturally, medically, psychologically. Otherwise, we must combat it with police force, an approach that will never be adequate for the enormity of this problem.
We would like to devote this work to the memory of the children and teachers of Sandy Hook who were killed in this tragic incident. If our contribution has been helpful in any way in eliminating emotional illness and plague, our purpose as Dr. Reich’s students has been fulfilled.