I’ve spent the whole of my life looking like the child in this evocative photograph from Jordan Whitt—feeling unprotected. Until recently, I never knew why.
In The mother wound – “The dreadful has already happened” I describe the crisis of nurturing that enveloped humanity after long-term drought, desertification and famine from around 4000 BC onwards gave rise to the first patriarchies.
Over several millennia, these violent societies spread around the world, genetically transmitting the mother wound like a virus. Beneath our modern—and supposedly rational—character structure lurks an age-old fear of being unprotected.
Beneath our modern—and supposedly rational—character structure lurks an age-old fear of being unprotected.
The mother wound
At its core, the mother wound is a six-way fragmentation of being:
This fragmentation is the result of the physical, mental and emotional impact of long-term famine. Geographer James DeMeo documents the causes and effects of the desertification that began around 4000 BC in Saharasia.
I describe this fragmentation in more detail in What is the mother wound?
One effect of all this separation is a fundamental sense of being unprotected—that we are not safe from the cosmos, from nature, from other societies.
In order to feel safe, we cast our lot in with our community, agreeing to abide by dog-eat-dog, masculine-dominant social rules that are profoundly disempowering. Yet we feel we cannot live without this safety net. We don’t have the right to question this paradigm, let alone challenge it.
The extent to which we feel unprotected is determined by our emotional sensitivity. The more sensitive we are, the more we’re aware of the mother wound at the core of our being, and the more it exerts a paralysing effect on our lives.
Austrian psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) noted that the more sensitive his patients were, the more they displayed the symptoms of what he termed ‘character armouring’: a physical, emotional and sexual rigidity that prevented people from fully participating in life.
In The Function of the Orgasm, Reich wrote:
The character structure of modern man, who reproduces a six-thousand-year-old patriarchal authoritarian culture, is typified by… armouring against his inner nature and against the social misery which surrounds him. This… armouring is the basis of isolation… fear of responsibility, mystic longing, sexual misery, and neurotically impotent rebelliousness… It is not found in the stages of human history prior to the development of patriarchy.
This armouring is a reaction to feeling unprotected. It’s important to note that, regardless of how sensitive we are, we all have it. People who are less sensitive are just as armoured as those who are more sensitive.
Donald Trump is an example of high armouring and low sensitivity. His childhood reveals a total lack of protection in a toxic family environment. Success was how the young Donald protected himself. The drive for protection impelled him to great heights in competitive society; the emotional cost is slowly being revealed.
Feeling unprotected is a great source of anxiety. The character armouring locks the anxiety into place, binding it in anxious thinking, anxious feelings, and physical and sexual rigidity.
Reich describes this rigidity in Character Analysis: “Pulled-back shoulders, thrust-out chest, rigid chin, superficial, suppressed breathing, hollowed-out loins, retracted, immobile pelvis, ‘expressionless’ or rigidly stretched-out legs…”
This is the physical and emotional posture of the soldier, ready to kill to defend its patch. This is not protection. True protection lies in undoing the mother wound and reconnecting to healthy nurturing, and healthy connection to our entire environment.