Characteristic Attitudes of the Communicator (Oral)
The communicator or oral character is so named because it possesses many traits typical of the oral period of life, that is infancy, especially the period from 6-18 months. It should stated at the outset, that what psychodynamic psychology calls oral needs are so critical that all character structures have developed indirect ways of getting them met (seductions). Trying to satisfy oral needs indirectly does not by itself define an oral character. It is the energy structure, and the attitudes that protect the energy structure, that define character for this structure and others.
In 1959 Lowen stated that the communicator or oral character was not the most common character. However 50 years later in the United States it seems that the oral structure is the most common, and that the culture is largely 'comunicator-syntonic.' Possibly this is due to at least two reasons. One, despite some resurgence of breast feeding initially, the trend is to stop after a few months. While this briefer window may benefit the baby nutritionally, it is possibly almost as devastating emotionally to be weaned early. Second, in our complex achievement oriented culture, there is great interest in children being precocious and 'enriched.' This hurry may produce an informational sophistication in the children, but it limits emotional and physical security.
The Communicator operates with a inner feeling of needing to be held, supported, and taken care of, but these feelings are usually consciously denied and a reaction formation espousing independence and responsibility is strongly in place. This can lead to an exaggerated show of independence which does not hold up under stress. Internally there is a weak sense of independence and a denied tendency to cling to others. The underlying experience is being on the verge of deprivation and abandonment, and independence is feared as it will occasion complete abandonment. Deep crying and reaching out are suppressed, though a lot of superficial “bitter” crying and may be manifested. Emotion is usually easily provoked but cannot be sustained very long.
With the communicator character, the concept of compensated is very important. This character often lives according to the will, and when the will is active, the person may seem full of energy (but this is activity not energy) and may seem well adapted to the demands of work, family and intimacy. This presentation is called compensated. At other times, when the will is collapsed, the person may show depression, dependency, and lack of direction. For this reason, the Communicator character may seem to cover a broad spectrum, however, essential functioning is the same.
Environments that are unfavorable are not really accepted. The complaints of the communicator tend to be about the environment (the way the world is). What is unwanted is deemed wrong, inappropropriate, and illegitimate, or differently (even without evidence to this effect) it is deemed about to change or improve. As a result, the communicator does not realistically participate in many arenas of life (ie sex, business, sports, public safety, higher level public administration.) In the personal narrative, there is often the theme of an early 'lost paradise' with an unstated goal to re-attain it.
Communicators are deeply concerned with justice and fairness. He or she deeply resents the inequity of the social system. Communicators often enter the helping professions-- teaching, social work, psychology, and nursing. This allows the the desire for nurture to be acted out and at the same time denied. Anti-establishment views often stem from subconscious anger directed at parental figures that are deemed unfair and ungenerous. Large abstract global causes may be championed, with no real demands on the ego, but smaller specific injustices to specific known people closer to home may be unopposed because the ego strength is not present for an actual fight. They often champion the cause of under-dogs and minorities, idealizing those with little power. This comes from the feeling of having been deprived and cheated, which is repressed and projected onto others. It is sometimes said that Communicators dislike the people they know, and like the people they don't know
Communicators are usually spiritual in the partial sense that intentions, images, goals and sentiments are considered 'better' than results, physical sensation, pleasure, and actions. Like Plato, the communicator considers the immaterial superior to the material. This stems from a lack of feeling for and security in the body. Art, especially literature or poetry, are often pursued. This can be out of feeling, but also out of a sense of superiority. Also the arts, being entirely subjective, avoids comparison with the results of others.
The inclination of the communicator is to find out 'the right thing to do' and do it. Therefore the communicator is capable of greatly moral or pro-social acts. But implementing good ideas may be difficult. There is a tendency for communicators to focus intensely on their intentions and plans, past and present, and treat results as fairly inconsequential or the responsibility of others. Ideas are untested in the world, and while that idealism may sometimes bear fruit, often naive and unrealistic positions remain. The 'way things should be' is much more important than 'the way things almost always are.' This can lead the communicator to be at odds with instinctual tendencies in others and society that prevent 'things from being the way they should be'.
He or she may be deeply hurt if someone insists on talking about what actually happened or what is actually happening, if it does not fit the communicator's self-image. It is as though the communicator, having been made prematurely responsible for results, retains a strain of magical thinking about results. To have intended is believed to be the same as to have done, or even better. Because of this, there may be a great difference between how communicators see themselves and how others see them.
Aggressiveness is low. Fantasies of aggression don't count. Negativity and a critical attitude don't count. Aggression is movement toward a constructive goal in the face of some resistance. Mentally, there are strong intuitive and intellectual capacities, but creative ideas are not charged or put into action. A difficulty reaching, literally and figuratively, is seen. Since a spiritual attitude and aggression are antithetical to some extent, the low aggression may provide the opportunity for greater spirituality. Low aggression also seems related to low satisfaction. There is a reluctance to accept the necessity of struggle in life, and so present struggles are experienced as victimization.
Communicators usually eschew physical activity and sports, especially ones that require explosive or graceful movement. They may take up endurance sports such as marathoning, triathlons, or bicycling in which the the will drives the body and co-ordination is not essential. Likewise communicators often try to use will and intellect to 'overcome the body'. Self-depriving behaviors, like poverty or self-starvation, may be acted out, in part to punish the body, or prove its unimportance.
Communicators are often intellectuals, and they love words and talking. He or she generally reads a lot and can state their case well. Words are often loved for themselves apart from the function of expressing ideas. Talking is the way communicators try to connect to others, and 'long talks' with others are highly prized. Communicators often are bad listeners, however, because their 'ear' is tuned to hear how other people's statements fit into their point of view, or fit into 'the way things should be'.
Attention seeking behaviors are usually present. Often this is through voluble talking, , music making, helplessness, clowning or humor. Sometimes the attention seeking is partly disguised as social activism or helping others. The interest in the cause or task can be quickly lost if the attention wanes. Communicators do not want to be forgotten or overlooked.
For this character, getting his or her point of view across can take on survival significance and also become a substitute for action, perhaps because the communicator unknowingly expects other people (ie parental figures, more powerful people, etc) to take the action for them. Communicators often speak in terms of right and wrong, should's and shouldn't's. Rules are seen as very important. This is because this character doesn't believe that direct requests or expressing wants on their own behalf will be effective or well-received.
Work may pose a stressful situation. Communicators are very sensitive to any unfair treatment, and may feel misused in any authority structure. Also at work the coping mechanism of complaining may not be available or may lead to further trouble. The suppressed inner feeling of deprivation engenders an unconscious belief that the world owes them a living. This doesn't lead to laziness, since this character is never lazy, but over time it will evince a hard-to-pinpoint air of entitlement that others may come to resent. Communicators are often happier in non-profits, government, academia, and education where competition is not a factor, and where employee rights are well established.
In the communicator, emotional needs are frequently denied mentally but still strongly felt, creating an inner emotional climate of grief, despair and bitterness, which colors their interactions. Lowen employed the metaphor of the apple that is picked too early and cannot ripen. Communicators frequently single out the frustrating actions of others while overlooking or holding inconsequential the gratifying actions of the same people.
This character is prone to depression. Lowen considered depression pathognomic for this character. One explanation (psychodynamic) is that deep rage at unmet needs is turned against the self. Another explanation (bioenergetic) is that will based, essentially pleasureless living results in an energetic exhaustion. Alternate periods of elation are also often seen. During elation, a sense of purpose is provided by a 'salvific' idea or goal. Depression usually follows a period of increased activity and apparent well-being. Stated differently, illusion leads to an active phase, and the inevitable disillusionment leads to collapse and depression.
Communicators can be very influenced in a way by the dominant values of their environment, because they attempt to live from the surface, or learned layer. While ideas expressed are often idealizing the under-dog, a wide variety of ideologies, even character-dystonic, may be taken up. This is possible because there can be a discrepancy between the ideas that are communicated, and how the person actually carries on. What is most characteristically oral is the energy structure and the behavior in relationships.
Dependency conflicts may manifest in addictions (in an effort to substitute for genuine sustenance). Continuous smoking, eating, drinking, talking (often fast), may be present. The communicator may have trouble biting or swallowing easily, however. Digestive functions are often affected. There may be a preference for soft or bland or slightly sweet foods--'comfort foods'. Crohn's disease or irritable bowel syndrome are not uncommon.
Healing from injuries or illness is usually slow. Often chronic illnesses accumulate. The sick role may become an acceptable way to act out dependency and hostility, and the lifestyle may become structured around medical care.
At times it is difficult to distinguish a creator (schizoid) character from a communicator (oral) character. The two structures often have a tightly controlled appearance, a strong eye block, paleness, self-depriving habits, intellectualism, and low aggression. One distinguishing behavioral aspect can be the manner of complaining. Creators often complain "as if," that is, they can describe injustices, but there is a detachment. Communicators, on the other hand, are clearly bitter, even whiny, and seem strongly attached to their complaints. Creators tend to impersonate a role, and the most compatible role is that of oral critic. Creators often will spontaneously talk themselves out of complaints and almost seem relieved if their complaints are challenged. Communicators usually feel more deeply aggrieved if complaints are challenged without a strong relationship in place.
Predominant Negative Core Beliefs: “I must not need.” “If I need, I will be abandoned.” “I am alone.” “No one will ever be there for me.” “If I connect with another, I will lose myself.” “If I am independent, I must be alone.” “I cannot stand on my own two feet.” “I must give to others in order to get.” “The needs of others will devour or suffocate me.” “There is not enough.” “The world is a depriving place.”
Characteristic Illusion: "If I give up my independence, I'll survive and be loved."
Primary “falling” fear: falling behind
Primary holding pattern: holding on
Primary longing: for independence
Primary Struggle: the right to need.
Illusion of Contraction: I am not needy. I am giving and needed
Illusion of Release: I will be abandoned and helpless
The Oral Character in Relationships
Trying to get love and support is the predominant motivation in relationships. The intense fear of abandonment and loss of love, combined with an equal fear of losing oneself in love, creates an ambivalent attitude towards surrendering to feelings. Separation anxiety can be very strong, and communicators can hold on strongly to unsatisfying situations, albeit with a great deal of complaining.
Often security in a relationship is attempted through insistent care-giving that is experienced by the recipient as intrusive, controlling and demanding. Frequently, communicators project their own needs and desires onto the recipient, and overlook the wishes the recipient is actually expressing. What the communicator believes is the giving of love is often experienced by others as a demand for love. For instance, the communicator will promise a lot and believe they are delivering it (intention) but recipients will experience that the communicator seems, for one plausible reason or another not to follow through (results ). The communicator goes on to place many requests which they feel entitled to as reciprocation..
Another way of obtaining support is through a helpless, deprived presentation of the self. The need for rescue is acted out, if rescue is not directly requested. Since ineffectiveness is the key to avoiding abandonment, the collapsed communicator is never able to make it without help. Would be rescuers grow resentful.
Still another way of gaining support is by direct, self-righteous demanding. The communicator may recite many injustices and demand someone does something about it. The alienating effects on others of these behaviors will seem to reinforce the experience of early abandonment, causing the person to “give up” on relationships at times.
There is a genuine capacity to express love, but relationships often very romanticized by the mind to an unattainable height, or easily given up. Relationships will go back and forth between intense, totally “lost-in-love” involvement to sudden and absolute endings as the symbiotic struggle is acted out (wanting to merge with the all-powerful, giving parent versus wanting to separate from her and individuate). Relationships are frequently sought out with people who are extremely needy (“I’ll take care of you as the needy me that I’m not.”)
Love is related to as both a long-awaited reward and as potentially suffocating or devouring. Surrendering to the love feelings for another brings up intense fears of abandonment and falling behind, losing oneself, and being left alone. It is very difficult to establish a stable relationship, despite conscious efforts to do just that, because the communicator is either denying needs or presenting needs that are so great they are unmeetable. In either case, it is not possible to establish easy, reciprocal, 'good enough' caregiving.
Sexual interactions may be used to avoid abandonment and loneliness and for some sense of belongingness. Slow tender movements are preferred to more strong passionate ones. Sexual activities may be used for oral gratification (downward displacement) Orgasms may be frequent and easy but not particularly charged or strong in women, and men may not have full erections or they may ejaculate easily and prematurely without much charge. Being held or cuddled (oral need) is often more desired than actual sex (genital need). There often is a desire to extend sexual activities because oral gratification is fulfilled linearly over time, unlike more genital activities in which a more explosive charge-discharge pattern is relevant.
The body is generally child-like or 'young' in appearance. There may be very little body hair. Often, linear growth is accentuated, resulting in a long lean body. Sometimes, however, especially with women, there may be a very small body. A lack of energy and strength is noticeable throughout the body but especially in the legs. Posture is often one of tiredness and collapse. The neck is often long and reaching forward (looking for nourishment and nurture). Overall movement appears awkward.
Lips are often thin (holding against reaching out), jaw is clenched (against rage) and there are frequent dental problems or other physical problems around the mouth and throat. The chin may be pulled in (against swallowing) or jutting out (determined not to need). Eyes are often myopic and/or have a longing, pleading look. Hair on the head is usually very fine. There is often little body hair. Women will tend to cut hair short, especially once in an established relationship. Occasionally it may be grown to the waist. Men may grow hair long.
The chest is collapsed, the sternum is depressed and the diaphragm is tight, all of which contributes to shallow breathing. Breasts in women tend to be either very large (pillowy) or very small (collapsed). The shoulders are rolled forward, with tension between the shoulder blades. Holding arms out does not happen spontaneously and when cued, cannot be sustained. The lumbar lordosis is exaggerated and chronic lower back problems are common
Hands, feet and pelvis (points of contact with the world) are immature-looking, undercharged and often very small. The bottom of the pelvis is cocked backwards, which exaggerates the lordosis in the lumbar spine. The arches in feet may be fallen. The knees usually are locked (hyperextended) predisposing them to injury. The feet and legs are not experienced as offering good support.
Body overall is often in pain, with frequent injuries or illnesses (lower back, knees, respiratory) that take a long time to heal
The communicator may appear energetic because he or she is driven by the belief that they must do something to be acceptable or lovable. This can lead to starting many things, but it will be difficult to sustain effort, or sustain effort against resistance. Communicators have many ideas and a lot to communicate verbally, and this too may give the appearance of energy. However, energy is more a matter of readiness and ease than of frenetic activity. The communicator's lower energy is often seen when a substantial physical task is undertaken-- a communicator will often stop fairly quickly for some ostensible reason, or characterize the task as unreasonable. It is not that the communicator could not physically complete it, but rather he or she perceives the task as too much. This contrasts with the creator character who is also a low energy character, but one in which sensitivity to the body is so blocked that he or she may persist mechanically a in a task until exhaustion sets in.
The Origins of the Oral Character
(Developmental Period –Three to Eighteen Months )
Development procedes in an infant from the head to the feet. Developing strongly into the feet requires a feeling of security. The communicator character arises when the parents are unable to provide the child with that feeling of security. It is sometimes said that a communicator was not supported enough, but that statement alone may unfairly color the parenting as neglectful. With this character, it is the case that the child received some warmth and acceptance. A child that is really unwanted, either consciously or unconsciously, is likelier to develop as a creator.
Sometimes the parenting of a communicator may be neglectful or inconsistently. For instance the child may be left alone for long periods, and or cries are not heard or answered. This could arise from a mother that is battling illness, has an abusive partner, has many children or responsibilities, is prematurely taken away, needing to go to work, another pregnancy, depression, illness or death, or mother’s own oral issues, for instance lack of energy, substance abuse, or emotional dependency.
However, sometimes the parenting is very ample in quantity, including a lot of attention, a lot of toys and lessons and opportunities. Children are more affected by how parents feel than what parents do. If parents feel insecure, they may try very hard to provide the things to their children that they did not get. Unfortunately, the feeling of insecurity seems to get transmitted directly from the parent's vegetative system to the child's vegetative system.
Also, a very subtle unconscious desire to be done with the burdens of children can manifest itself in a parents interest in the child's precocity and premature independence (walking or talking early, or knowing where things are, etc). Ostensibly this is for the child's benefit, but subconsciously it is due to the parents' resentment at giving up their own chance at fulfilling oral needs. The parent may also project her or his oral needs onto the child and give what the parent wants rather than what the child wants.
Pushing children to be precocious can also come from a parent attempting to fulfill her or his own narcissistic needs through the child. Precocity almost never leads to ultimate giftedness, but it is one thing that a parent believes they can do to bring love and attention to themselves and the child.
Childhood history may include: very early accomplishment of developmental tasks (walking, talking, toilet training, getting dressed and other self-care tasks, reading, writing, etc.), disturbances around eating, intense separation anxiety (i.e. - refusal to go to school, unable to sleep over someone else’s house or be with a babysitter), frequent illnesses or injuries, collecting, clinging and holding onto objects excessively, thumb-sucking well into later childhood, romanticized relationships with teachers or others adults, wishing to be adopted by them.
Possible Difficulties for the Communicator Character
- Inability to sustain relationships, projects, jobs or interests, often after a brief period of intense involvement;
- Lack of motivation and energy, chronic fatigue
- Addictions, eating disorders, chronic money problems (under-earning/compulsive spending);
- Depression and/or chronic mood swings, manic-depressive disorder;
- Inability to let go of relationships, or recover from loss
- Intense fears of being alone or abandoned
- Difficulty delaying gratification, impatience, chronic irritability
- Frequent physical injuries with slow, drawn out recovery periods
- Dependency on institutions, parents or others for basic survival needs well into adulthood