What do we mean by character of the person?

Usually, with the term person or personality we refer to the whole mental organization of the human being at every stage of his/her development [ from now on he will intend also she]. The term character underlies the objective aspect of the personality, its actual manife-station through a typical behavior, a constant way of reacting to the environment, so that the affective and/or volitive aspect of the personality acquires a major relevance.

Enrico Cattonaro. Enciclopedia filosofica vol.3. Milano, Bompiani, 2006, pag. 1636

In the history of psychology the term "character" [from the Greek charaktèr 'distinctive sign, print'] has been preceded by the terms temperament and constitution, because the hypothesis of a physiologic dependence of the disposition from the somotological/constitutional traits was implied (our ancestors were right!).

Today, Galimberti still states that there is a "relatively permanent configuration of an individual to which we can trace back the usual and peculiar aspects of his behavior which appear integrated both in an intra-psychic and inter-personal sense".

Umberto Galimberti. Carattere, in Psicologia. Milano, Garzanti, 1999, pag. 170.

These definitions consider the character according to a psychological perspective but they don't give an explanation why it forms. I'm going to present a possible genesis following a psychosomatic vision based on the theory of non-satisfied needs.

A baby is born with some basic needs but they are not always adequately satisfied, so a primeval wound starts a sort of painful, blocking nucleus too intense for an immature physical and psychical body that is not able to manage intense stimula. This determines a separation (a split as a survival mechanism) inside the baby between the negative external reality and his basic needs, the two parts are not connected in the psyche any longer:




To defend from these repeated painful episodes of unsatisfied needs the baby chooses to adapt to reality creating a character structure which protects him.









For example, the main need of a just born baby is to feel safe but this expectation cannot be always satisfied so he feels terror. In order not to feel such a strong emotion he defends himself by mentally fragmenting and adapts asking for total acceptance (false need), thus showing in time the character structure of the schizoid type.

Another example: the childhood experience that ensues from a distant and emotionally cold mother [a baby born after an abuse], makes the terror freeze in the body which at an adult stage results in a retreating inside one's mind and in considering himself special. Therefore such an individual will show the false need of total acceptance.

In the following stage of development, a child's fundamental need is to be nourished but, as he experiences moments of deprivation, he reacts with a lot of sadness which is compen-sated with a request of total gratification, and becoming over demanding, (false need) from which the character structure of the oral type shows itself.

For example, when a child has been separated from his mother because of her illness or sudden emergencies, he has a strong feeling of abandon. Consequently, as an adult, he faces the world completely denying his needs, exaggerating his independence while his look implores cares in the form of total gratification.

According to the theory of the psychological development of a child, after a first stage of attachment, there is one of separation from his mother which is determined by the desire to achieve more autonomy, by a wish for adventure, discovery of the world and meeting the others.

In this search for independence, a link develops with the need for recognizing him and the other people as autonomous beings, the child experiments either moments of excessive parental control or of poor recognition of his essence. In fact, in this stage of development, at about 2-3 years of age, when the child's physical boundaries are exceedingly invaded, he experience a tremendous anger because he is not able to defend from the adults invasions and he collapses. For the rest of his life, he will be looking for total freedom as a system of defence (false need for the masochist type).

In the following stage of maturation the emotional boundaries are implied: the child looks for his emotional independence but if he is not recognized for what he feels, he experiences a sensation of restlessness/mistrust which leads him, as an adult, to look for total control manipulation over the people with who he interacts (a false need for the psychopathic type).

A consequence of the pain suffered in these experiences, is that the boundaries of the child are structured in an improper way, physically in the case of the masochist type, emotionally in the case of the psychopathic character.

The masochist for example experiments a dominant mother who invades his/her body, excessively controls his/her physical functions, makes him feel guilty if he tries to leave her, prevents him from showing his anger. Consequently the only way out is to repress the emotions while showing the world the false desire of total freedom.

At the physical level the body shows a large accumulation of fat for protection from feeling his own strong emotions.


The psychopathic character originates from the presence of a seductive parent who does not recognize the child's needs but tends to satisfy his needs through the child's.

All this determines insecurity in the child because he cannot understand, does not know what may happen and learns to deny his need completely. At the end he can survive only by controlling others, exercising total power over them as the only solution in order not to feel his inner emptiness.

At the physical level the body presents an excessive development of the shoulders due to the intense control over others.


In the final stage of maturation and individualization of a person's character, which occurs around 4-5 years of age, the primary need of the child is to be recognized in his essence, appreciated and esteemed in his right value. When this does not happen the child experiences anxiety and becomes rigid. The child then compensates for the pain in an excessive way looking for total admiration from others but refusing to accept any criticism. For example, a child, who after getting through the initial stages of development and having obtained support, nutrition and autonomy, looks for physical contact with his parents.   When the child does not receives that, he feels not only rejected in his body, but even more, betrayed in his spontaneous love expression/manifestation. This pain is congealed in the heart, his muscles become rigid, he learns to be the perfect child as requested by the therefore, the child shows the world the false need of total admiration, denying his true essence thus becoming inauthentic.

During our childhood we go from one stage to another living each experience more or less intensively, so that our character eventually reveals itself as the sum of each stage in variable percentages. At the end of development an aspect predominates over the others but each of us experiences a complex wound made of these different aspects.

All these particular forms of defense, at an adult age, conglomerate, congeal in a more or less insecure character which represents an obstacle to sound inter-personal relationships as the false needs presented prevent the person from evaluating reality in a proper way.

This attitude only sharpen the desire that the others satisfy their own false needs but this produces no fulfillment. Under this entire process of trying to get satisfied by others old unmet needs, is present a strong (negative) belief that inner pain can be eliminated only if we could obtain what we did not receive in childhood, but this can never happen, of course!!!

What is most important to understand is that needs are changing from one period to another in our life, so if at an adult age we are reaching to receive a perfect nourish-ment from another human being, we will be realizing that this act is not bringing real fulfillment! What we need to comprehend is that the pain of unfulfilled needs can be healed only by our selves, taking full responsibility for our inner growth.

Therefore it is necessary to find a right balance between:

the need for being accepted and the possibility of being rejected



the search for fulfillment connected with the will to recognize the needs of the other



the need for contact and freedom without going into excessive dependence on others



the need for approval and disapproval without undervaluing one's own initiative



the need for appreciation of one's own uniqueness with the ability to receive some criticism from the others



The inner work for the awareness of one's own real needs, at an adult age, is very important because it allows one to be able to satisfy them by personally taking care of what eventually gives security and happiness, thus enabling one to get rid of false dependencies.

When we become adults and responsible for our own necessities, we can run into the mistake of believing that the goal in life is to satisfy the false need while the search for the real needs is not undertaken. And, what more, we blame our parents for what we are, but it is useless to blame our parents as they have been as wounded as we have.

No human being is perfect and the task of bringing up a baby is really hard and it is still under study. On the contrary, if we follow the concept of self-responsibility for our own behaviors we learn to understand what is hidden inside us, which is a fundamental step to healing the psychological pain present in our bodies.

The quest of distinguishing real needs from false needs will free us!

The origin of this psychosomatic vision of the evolution of the character is owed to W. Reich 1897-1957, one of Freud's disciples. After a first period of strict adherence to the principles of psychoanalysis, he developed the technique of the analysis of the character through the study of the human body structure, a method which became his main instrument of therapeutic intervention on the psyche.

Practically he declared that the aspects of the character are a direct defense against the impulses removed by consciousness ( as they are painful ) which produces a manifestation of a shell , both physical and mental. According to Reich, the discovery and removal of the mental blocks could be made easier by eliminating the physical blocks, as the somatic shell corresponds to the mental shell, hence the introduction of specific physical exercises to get rid of them during a psycho-therapeutical session was introduced.

With such studies, Reich placed himself as a forerunner of  psychosomatic medicine as he started to give us an explanation of the origin of the character structure  as a defense barrier against pain. When a painful experience is removed from the mental level, this pain congealed in the muscles, thus forming a shell and shaping the whole body.

After Reich, the Core Energetics approach by J. Pierrakos, his disciple, was an outstanding step forward in the psychological field because he focused on the central nucleus of a person, the Core, rather than on the shell.

According to this therapeutic vision, “a child is born complete" in his Essence and ready to show his innate qualities of goodness, creativity and intelligence; however the repeated painful episodes he experiences compromise his ability to express freely in life. Therefore the primary task is to go back to focus on the Essence, if we want to be able to express the best we have inside us.

Also it is very important to notice how, as years go by, this psycho-physical shell establishes some repetitive behaviors (PATTERNS), which become evident through self-observation. These signals show how the wound would like to be healed and  warn consciousness about their existence and the necessity to act in order to eliminate/heal the pattern.

Centering the person on his Essence again through Core Energetics therapy, letting him understand  how he defends from pain without solving any problem (while it is possible to heal it from the roots), we send a great hope and trustful message about the possibility to change one's own character and, eventually, obtain the much desired happiness.

If we become curious about our ways of reacting to others and notice repetitive behaviours, it means that we are on the right way to discover which real underlying need we hide from our consciousness. Thus we can free the body from the weight it holds and start to live freer, happier and younger!