With Dominance for All

Though it is little remembered, Abraham Maslow’s early work dealt with the construct of dominance in humans, and how it influenced work,  social matters, and especially sex. As one reads Maslow’s early papers (anyone who would like copies for educational purposes please contact me) one is struck by the fact that the traits that Maslow attributes to dominant individuals (confidence, contact, ease, lack of self-consciousness or embarrassment, directness, feeling comfortable in one’s own skin, freedom of action, assertiveness, poise, etc..) are in the Reich and Lowen tradition held as evidence of emotional health.

What Maslow implies, and what I whole-heartedly concur with, is that interactional dominance is an artifact of heterogeneous levels of emotional health meeting one another, rather than a social imperative. The emotionally less healthy (more armored or dissociated) person naturally defers to the more healthy  (less armored) person. The coercive effort by the heavily armored to achieve influence  is termed “domineering” by Maslow and distinguished from dominance. To be clear, emotional health and healing is not a zero-sum proposition as is implied by the term dominance. To gain emotional health one does not have to take it away from others.

So, dominance, in  Maslovian terms, is really about grace and self-possession. While Maslow attributed this to some mysterious psychological property, readers of this blog know, it arises from the state of the body.

The present day “dating skills” community is also interested in dominance because of its connection to sexual attraction (as Maslow had well spelled out). That makes sense since dominance (as a social artifact) and attraction (as an experience) both arise from being in the presence of emotional (which implies physical) health.

The social psychologist Amy Cuddy has done some interesting work around body language and dominance. Basically, more collapsed postures represent submission, and more reaching or wider postures imply dominance. It seems that reaching out with the arms or assuming a spread out position is associated with confidence and a feeling of well-being. It is a fundamental tenet in the Reich and Lowen tradition that expansion is associated with joy and pleasure and contraction is associated with pain and fear. Expansion is seem easily in body language but is also probably present in joint spaces and rib excursion as well.

‘Dominant’ individuals are expanded most of the time. There is an interplay among people, wherein someone inclined to contraction may contract more if in proximity to someone who is expanded. Shame and ‘basic fault’ has a role here as well.

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

Real Change Destabilizes Relationships

Most couples who come to me for therapy are quite miserable but quite stable in the sense that they cannot separate. If one partner changes, the relationship is less miserable (for both) but also less stable. It is usually at that point that the couple stops coming. The same phenomenon is seen in individual clients. Of course relationships can and do stabilize on a better basis. But actually what is most desirable is less stability and more balance, just as it is with posture and movement. Stability is achieved (in furniture say) by having a wide base and low center of gravity. Humans have a narrow base (feet more narrow than shoulders) and a high center of gravity. That is why balance is so important, but it also why graceful quick agile movement is possible, leveraging rather than fighting gravity. But many of us have a fear of falling. The metaphor of a relationship being a dance is better understood in this way.

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

Another Value to Character Focus

David Shapiro has pointed out that ‘historical’ (psycho-dynamic) explanations of mal-adaptive behavior tend to be exculpatory, and so the client never really ‘owns’ the problem. He prefers ‘contemporary’ (cognitive) explanations which keep the client ‘on-the hook’ However, contemporary/cognitive explanations draw on the will for solutions, which will fail when the will inevitably tires and exhausts. Alexander Lowen’s solution was ‘character-focus’ which provides a combined historical and contemporary explanation–historical in the sense of character formation, and contemporary in the sense of character functioning. The indicated solution, of course, since character resides in the body, is bodywork.

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

Transference Cure Revisited

In the realm of emotional suffering, there has always been an illusory type of improvement. If someone in the role of ‘healer’ is convincing enough, the recipient will tend to feel better, and even in limited ways function better, if they remain in contact with the ‘healer, at least for a while. This is an extended or expanded placebo effect. The healer can be convincing because they are a charlatan or more often, simply convinced themselves.

In psychoanalysis this situation came to be called a transference cure. It was recognized that the effect inevitably decayed, but also the state of the relationship’s transference affected it. The ‘healer’ always had to be an idealized healer. This becomes ‘addicting.’ This is how therapy cults start, but it also happens inadvertently to naive therapists, who may, and usually do, attribute the initial seeming improvement to their methods, and then continue to apply the method superstitiously

If a type of therapy has a manualized or set procedure, the risk of a transference cure is all the greater. There are currently some popular therapy approaches under various acronyms that seem to fit this profile. I sometimes get a request for a set ‘bio-energetics’ procedure. AlexanderLowen never set one out perhaps understanding this very problem. Reich does seemed to have effected quite a few transference cures in the sense that his personality was essential, and the relationships had some cult like aspects.

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

The Misuse of Reassurance and Release

Most clients arrive in therapy eager to talk about problems.  This is informative briefly. for the therapist, but also a release of tension and anxiety for the client. The ‘expected response’ is reassurance from the therapist. I would say that the majority of masters-level therapy in the US is based on reassurance and problem talk. Some better-trained or more deeply understanding therapists do withhold reassurance so that the client must seek a different avenue of relief for anxiety.

However, it can be very difficult to move away from problem-talk format. Anxiety can be released temporarily by conversations about dangers and fear. However, this also just strengthens anxiety circuits in the limbic system and brainstem much like repetitive resistance training of the same muscle. Imbalance increases in the long run. It can be likened to an addictive process.

Now I am not advocating any type of ‘positive thinking’ model. Such an approach is dissociative at most and usually just an act of pretending.

The real core of change is developing new motor-recruitment patterns, which together with sensory development leads to new experience, perhaps even new experience-recruitment patterns. Where new experience comes about, new behavior patterns, if desireable, are practically self-installing.

Majid Ali, MD, who I cited in the last post, has a blog post of his own that makes a similar point: http://majidalimd.me/2014/05/27/four-important-videos-on-anxiety/

Posted in Society | Leave a comment

The Work of Majid Ali, MD

I am very interested in Dr Ali’s work. He is outspoken about the both the limits and the contributions of allopathy. In his blog post below he gives his insights on what I have called sympathetic shift, and also endorses energy aspects of human functioning, but from the point of view of a practicing internal medicine MD. This is not just sprinkling a light vocabulary of ‘holism’ on standard approaches, he is very direct in working with the body in a Reich-and-Lowen-compatible way


Posted in Society | Leave a comment

A Two-Way Street

I have noticed something changing slowly as over the years as I have pursued bodywork aggressively. People’s responses to me are warmer and more attentive.

In the mainstream cognitive and behavioral tradition, a basic premise is that if we do something different, the responses of others will change. A story that  epitomes this is by Albert Ellis of REBT fame. He relates a time as a young man feeling bad about not having a date. So he resolved simply to ask every young woman he met at the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. He did get a date, but it seems unlikely peoples responses really changed–he was simply working the numbers. One cannot imagine that his real enjoyment increased.

I am a naturally reserved person and have always struggled with doing the ‘out-going’ thing. In fact, I have not yet taken it up. The different response I am getting is not because I am doing anything different but rather I am being something different. And by being different I certainly don’t mean thinking something different!. My hunch is it involves vibration. The appearance of the face could also contribute. Now the combination of this warmer attention and stronger desire and energy is starting to lead to different responses from me, but not from trying or conscious planning. For things to change it is necessary not just to do something different but to experience something different, and to change experience the body has to change.

Michael Samsel

Posted in Society | 1 Comment

Working Transference in Therapy

I have Stephen M Johnson to thank for the idea. As far as the attitude toward change in therapy, clients seem to have three types:

  • Magic Transference This is where the client expects the therapist to do something that will bring about the change. It is felt that just making it to the office should be sufficient. In this age of narcissism, this transference is not only common, but is also present with some very sophisticated individuals. Quick fixes are expected. Suggestions from the therapist may be complimented and discussed, but they are not implemented. There is very little holding the client once the novelty wears off.
  • Dependent Transference This is where the client comes to the therapist expecting to relate as a young child to a parent. It is felt that just ‘following’ the therapist around should be enough. Support and sympathy is expected. Suggestions are followed weakly, without conviction. The client may stay for a long time without reference to change. In many therapy ‘movements’ dependent transference is seen in ‘groupies’ who are devoted to the movement without any conviction or even clarity about the groups fundamental positions.
  • Working Transference This is ideal. it is felt and believed that application of practices and principles should be enough. Guidance is expected. A psycho-dynamic transference may be operating in the background but it doesn’t dominate the client’s approach to the work. The client is held to the therapy by experience of learning, change, and productive exchange.
Posted in Society | Leave a comment

A Great Diagram Contrasting Masculine and Feminine

Though this is a controversial area of discussion, the following diagram is well worth reviewing:


Posted in Society | Leave a comment

A Second Great Divide

In my last post I discussed the persistent divide between disciplines that work with the body and those that work with the mind.

This got me thinking about another divides that make modern life easier to tolerate. Alexander Lowen frequently made reference to a strong difference between the Victorian period, in the tail end of which he was born, and the modern post-sexual revolution era in which his later therapy practice took place.

In Victorian times, behavior was strictly controlled while strong feeling was not only permitted but actually idealized. This at times led to hysteria in the Freudian sense in which feeling forced a different outlet than direct action. But in modern times, Lowen asserted, behavior is much freer but feeling is often removed from it. Coolness, and capacity to act advantageously is idealized. This leads to narcissism. In the present day, hysterical disorders are rare, but narcissistic disorders are commonplace. Perhaps civilization has, via families, a hard time permitting both high feeling and free behavior. But also there is great difficulty for individuals to tolerate both strong feeling and extensive freedom of choice. Achieving that capacity is the goal of Reich and Lowen therapy.

Michael Samsel

Posted in Society | 1 Comment

Bridging the Great Divide

I have been struck by how persistent is the great divide between body workers who try to change the human condition by disciplines such as Pilates, Yoga, Qi Gong, martial arts, deep tissue massage, Rolfing, Kit Lauglin’s Stretch Therapy, or the people working directly with primitive reflex retention, and mind workers (psychotherapist) who try to change the human condition with ideas, validation, and inspiration. (Allopathic western medicine by the way treats the mind)

There is a minority of therapists advertising ‘bodymind therapy’ but largely the approach seems limited to working with the mind’s conceptualization of the body rather than any actual kinesiological work.

For a time I have attributed this to a  limitation of the practitioners (with, I admit it, a mild sense of culpability) Now I think this is too inhuman a view. A split between body and mind is driven by the need to keep from being overwhelmed. This is true for an individual, or a business, or a licensed discipline.

An individual may well undertake to bridge the divide–he or she could do well to employ both mind-and body workers. While specialization of this sort is in some fundamental way evidence of the problem, it seems to be the way excellence is packaged at our current time and place. My general recommendation is to anchor one’s program in an excellent kinesiological discipline, and stay with it, knowing from Reich and Lowen principles that bumpiness is ahead in one’s life. A non-judgmental sincere support group of some sort is the next lower hanging fruit, and this does not have to have any specialized knowledge. Last of all, a mind-worker may be of great assistance, but of course the choice needs to be carefully made. Some psychotherapy is inimical to the life of the body, but much of it is compatible with body work even if not synergistic.  Really character analysis is the only mind work that is synergistic with body work

Michael Samsel

Posted in Psychotherapy, Society, Therapy Efficacy | Leave a comment