Body Primacy

Emotions arise first in the body and are perceived by the mind. The mind's role is to 'make sense' of emotion and determine a path of conduct that is both realistic and honors the feeling. True, good thoughts and good feelings usually occur together, as do bad thoughts and bad feelings. What is cause and what is effect is not easy to determine. This has lead some to declare that thoughts and feeling influence each other equally. The thinly veiled implication of this is, since thoughts are subject to ego control, is that a well-regulated person will use thoughts to bring inconvenient feelings 'into line.'


However, many decades of practical efforts attempting to change feelings by changing thoughts with cognitive therapy has shown only a very brief effectiveness which is more akin a dissociation from bad feelings than a change in feeling. Also, an attempt to change feelings by changing thoughts about feelings with psychodynamic therapy has shown longer lasting but still rather meager results. However, Wilhelm Reich demonstrated that by changing body feeling directly, psychological outlook changed concurrently, even without much analysis.


Cognitive distortions can be challenged logically and seemingly effectively, but in the absence of a change in body feeling, they re-emerge persistently with an 'irrational' compellingness. Lowen attributed some of the effectiveness of early psychoanalysis to the shocking nature of Freudian ideas. Shock works completely apart from logic because it is a strong activation of the autonomic nervous system.


The phrase 'body primacy' describes the concept that cognitions tend to be distorted or unrealistic if body processes or feelings are ignored or overruled. The phrase 'feeling primacy' describes the concept that even realistic cognitions should serve the direction set by feelings. That is, body primacy asserts that the body will have its say eventually, and feeling primacy asserts that there is a fitness to this.

Body Values versus Ego Values

Humans have two parts to their nature--they are conscious actors and they are unconscious responders. Another way to say this is that humans are voluntary actors and also involuntary responders. A philosophical view that emphasizes only the involuntary is 'determinism'. An opposite view is 'free will' which dismisses the involuntary.


What the psychodynamic point of view established by Freud asserted, was that if the involuntary and voluntary are not in harmony, a distorted involuntary ruled the person, with ill effect. The basic approach of Freud was to increase the voluntary and make the involuntary negligible. ( As in his dictum " Where the Id was, the Ego shall be.") Modern cognitive therapy has the same agenda. True, cognitive therapy does not use the concept of the id or the unconscious, but it has an analogous role of the 'bad' involuntary in the concepts 'behavioral dysregulation', 'cognitive distortions', and 'irrational thought'.


The Reich and Lowen tradition, on the other hand seeks, to harmonize the voluntary with the involuntary. Since the involuntary can be seen most clearly in the body, and the voluntary is seen most clearly in the ego, this can be restated that the tradition seeks to harmonize the body and the go. Because in our time, the role of the ego in one's life has grown enormously, work in the Reich and Lowen tradition emphasizes the life of the body strongly. This is not in the cause of bringing about an instinctual anarchy as some fear, but rather in the cause of bringing about balance and harmony.


However, as the body and ego are very split in our culture, so are our values. Ego values are those motives that bring about action in the world, or self-definition. Body values are those motives which bring about self-posession and satisfaction. In general, the ego wants to 'get somewhere' or 'do something', while the body wants to be somewhere or feel something. Of course it is very possible to think in terms of 'person' or personal values that combine the propensities of ego and body--this is a creative response to life..


Below in tabular form is some ideas about the possible opposition of complementariness of body and ego values. In looking it over, I perceive an overall bias on my part toward 'body values': some of the values listed in that column might in fact result only when body and ego are working together well. It is clear though, that our present culture focuses on 'feeding' the ego values, and to achieve balance, an individual usually needs to concentrate on feeding the body. Sincere work in the Reich and Lowen tradition will often nudge one toward body values.


Ego Values

Body Values

Thinking Feeling
Individuality Community
Culture Nature
Adult Child



Immortality Fullness of Life
















Formation Nurture



Purity Cleanliness
Specialness Belonging
Tool Object