This article provides and understanding of the Sensitive/Withdrawn Character Strategy of Body-Centered psychotherapy.
Traditional Name: Schizoid
Stage of Development: Tactile (sensory) stage (in the womb and the first few months of life).
Function Truncated: Belonging and fitting in
- intrauterine events
- difficult or traumatic birth
- trauma or illness shortly after birth
- rejection from caregiver (while in the womb or after birth)
- caregiver who is hateful, abusive, or just out of touch with the infants needs
Experience: The world is unwelcoming and maybe hostile.
- withdraws and disorients (initially from the harshness of the environment, but throughout life withdraws from people, work, feelings, and body sensations
- may go into the mind or into fantasy as an escape route
- “I don’t belong here.”
- “I am not wanted.”
- “The world is not a safe place.”
- “If I allow my life force to come through I will be destroyed.”
Relationships and Emotions:
- inappropriate behaviour or behaviour that does not fit the situation
- learns to behave by watching others
- avoids closeness/contact
- minimizes self-expression
- may seem cold, unfriendly, or without emotions
- suspicious of attention
- will say what they think rather than what they feel
- are controlled when angry, but have a cold rage inside
- takes refuge in thinking, analyzing, or fantasizing
- communicates in absolutes
- uses depersonalized language
- fragmented (split between top/bottom or right/left or made up of spare parts or pieces)
- may have an awkward/chiseled look, body parts at angles to each other
- scoliosis is common
- the head may be tilted to one side
- usually tall and thin, but can be heavy
- legs are often thin
- thin wrists, ankles, and calves
- toes may be contracted (claw-like)
- joints are weak
- lack of coordination
- cold hands and feet
- eyes are pulled back/withdrawn
- breath is shallow and mostly in the chest
- airy and ungrounded, gives an impression of lifting out of the world
- energy is in the head, not the face, genitals, or legs
- frozen at the core
- creative and highly imaginative (make excellent artists)
- innovative thinkers
- highly sensitive
- may have psychic abilities or spiritual qualities
What They Need:
- to feel safe
- to feel welcome
- grounding and contact with the senses
- connection with their core
- to strengthen their boundaries and define themselves in the world
Synthesis of the Sensitive/Withdrawn Strategy
In other words, a Sensitive/Withdrawn is a “failure to thrive baby”. For this type, the nourishment they needed was cut off at a very sensitive and vulnerable time, before birth or shortly after. They may have had a traumatic birth or experienced hostility, anger, or not being wanted by a caregiver. As a result, they do not feel safe in the world and their strategy is to withdraw when they are triggered. Their predominant emotions are rage and terror which come from a feeling of not being wanted or of being treated harshly. They are uncertain whether they are welcome in the world, which feels cold and hostile to them, and they do not feel that they belong.
Sensitive/Withdrawn types breathe only into their chest to stop feeling things deep down, this allows them to be up in the mind with their thoughts. Due to their energy residing primarily in the head, they are not very grounded. The body shows this split through a fragmented appearance as if the parts of the body do not quite fit together.
The Sensitive/Withdrawn does not give off much sense of aliveness because their impulses are frozen. Their right to exist has been denied in a way, and the expression of their life energy was rejected, so they tend to hold things in. They minimize their expression and emotional contact with others. Their circulation may be poor due to this pulling back of energy. They may not be very sexually oriented or be seductive in terms of pulling people in. Their gaze is not engaging, it is not that they avoid eye contact, but their expression is withdrawn and may show a background of fear or give an impression of distance.
Sensitive/Withdrawn types speak in a depersonalized language or use absolutes when speaking. This makes them more separate like they don’t truly exist. They feel that to survive they must be split, but this hinders them because to feel they exist, they need to feel unity.
What a Sensitive/Withdrawn Needs to Thrive
Feeling safe is very important for the Sensitive/Withdrawn. They will not want to do activities which force them be outward. They prefer working one on one rather than in a group setting. When dealing with a Sensitive/Withdrawn, let them know they are welcome; they may need to be invited. Loving kindness can really help a Sensitive/Withdrawn to thrive. Authenticity is important for a Sensitive/Withdrawn. Don’t do something just to please them. Because they are so tuned into the environment they can register dishonesty immediately.
Since a Sensitive/Withdrawn has withdrawn, reintegrating a connection between mind and body is important. Working with the senses can be extremely rewarding for them. They tend to be in the mind so working with imagination can be a good starting point for them, then bringing energy into their core to get them into the body is necessary. Incorporating movement or building a vibration through sound, drumming, or song writing can be helpful with this.
Sensitive/Withdrawn types are very creative, but this creativity gets blocked from their inner rage and terror. Under their rage is the pain of knowing that they need loving, warm connection and nourishment from others. A Sensitive/Withdrawn needs to allow rage to surface while staying grounded. This will release the inner pain and allow a space for love and connection to come in. They will go from a place of acting like they and others around them do not exist to acknowledging that they are real. When they feel safe to exist and bring themselves into the world, they will thrive in their creative power.
When a Sensitive/Withdrawn can find a place in life where they belong, the missing experience from early life can be healed to an extent. If this does not happen in life, it is possible to happen in therapy if they feel someone loves and accepts them. Once they feel this, they may be able to take risks. If a seed is watered, it knows water exists and will be able to find water; if a Sensitive/Withdrawn finds a place where they zing, they know they are alive and that is all that matters.
To learn more about how we form character strategies and read about other character types please read the article Character Strategies of Body-Centered Psychotherapy.
Photo: Dimitry Sladkov