Will Davis recently shared a paper he’d written on the role of connective tissue in character and armour development. After re-evaluating Reich’s concept of muscular armour, Will offered a different perspective: he felt that the holdings in the myofascial system were primarily present in connective tissue (CT), not the muscles per se as Reich assumed. Will emphasized the connective tissues’ protective response to stress, and its plastic ability, during certain conditions, to return to the prestressed, healthy state. A matrix, he says, that acts as a non-neural, instantaneous communication system throughout the body, is formed because of the semi-conductive quality of connective tissue.
When I received his paper, I noted that it was 20 pages long. My initial instinct was, What? Magazine articles average 1500 words in length, not tens of thousands. And still, to honor my colleague, I read his paper. Thank goodness I did. I was fascinated by the content and pleased with the writing style—figurative language, first person, logical comparisons, concrete examples shedding light on conceptual renderings. I learned new content and enjoyed the experience.
As such, I am sharing his paper with you. I offer some excerpts from his text (not in linear sequence as presented in the paper) and a link to download the PDF to print and read at your leisure.
Will opens his paper:
A unique understanding in body psychotherapy is Reich’s concept of muscular armour whereby resistances and blockages are not just in the mind but also in the body. Chronic muscular contractions hold the history of the patient. Tissue manipulation and exercises are intended to loosen these contractions and free the blocked emotions, memories, and expressive movements. However, it is impossible to contract a muscle and hold it tight even for 15 minutes; the nerves desensitize and the muscle releases. So how does the contraction continue? In addition, if our muscular condition represents our “frozen history”, then an injection of muscle relaxants should not only relax the muscle but also free any repressed historical material held in that muscle tissue. But that does not happen. Yet, it is known that during a massage, a Rolfing session, or other physical manipulation techniques it is possible for emotions and memories and spontaneous movements to arise. This is because of the structure and functioning of the other, lesser known, aspect of the myofascial system—connective tissue (CT). The answers to these two questions— how does the contraction continue and how does touch release contraction—are grounded in CT structure and function. I will elaborate these two themes as well as CT’s role in character development and character defense . . . . .
He later writes about connective tissue and its functions:
In addition to the variety of forms into which CT metamorphose, it also has myriad functions in the body. CT is involved in growth, healing of wounds, immune system activation and disease prevention. For example, invasive agents in bodily tissues such as viruses and bacteria are “surrounded” and encapsulated by CT fibres preventing them from spreading. As well, the closing of wounds is done by creating collagen fibres that lie down over the wound transverse to the direction of the injury, closing it, stopping the bleeding and preventing infectious agents from entering. “A scab is collagen deposited by fibroblasts during repair” (Stecco, p. 7, 2015). The resulting scar is also CT.
Fascia is the most prominent form of CT and is involved in protecting the body against intrusions, injuries and insults; both physical and emotional. It also functions as a major support system for the body by creating bands, belts and cables as well as hydrostatic pressure that aids erectness and creates the three-dimensional quality of the body by creating volume. Recent re- search has shown the importance of fascial nerve endings in proprioception (perception of the body in the external environment) and nocioception (pain). But, what is surprising is that the fascial nerve endings are also involved in visceral interoception (an internal perception system) (Schleip, 2012).
CT also creates shape and form. The importance of this function cannot be exaggerated. The word plasma comes from ancient Greek (platho or plasso) to fashion or form (from Latin, to mould). It implies kneading, as when one works dough in order to make bread. In a private conversation a teacher of Greek defined plasma (GS) as “…the living creation of a vital force”. CT creates space for every organ and tissue in the body. For example, in the embryo, before organs begin to form, CT creates spaces for each of the organs to inhabit. An empty cavity or capsule is formed called a septa, where the heart will be. Then the cells that will eventually create the heart itself migrate into that capsule and begin to grow the heart. The same is true for the lungs, the stomach, brain, etc. CT function creates a place for every organ and tissue to function within. It does the same on the cellular level. By creating hydrostatic pressure between tissue cells, the cells stay separate and can go about their individual business of metabolism. Without this space created by CT, the cells would collapse onto each other and be unable to take in nutrients or expel wastes. CT is also responsible for the hydrostatic pressure within each cell allowing the cell to stay alive in three-dimensional space.
After creating a solid theoretical foundation, Will offers how his thoughts translate into body psychotherapy terms:
Form follows function. “The manner in which a structure shapes itself and holds its subcomponents together in 3D space; this characteristic is what defines the way the structure will behave” (Ingber, p 57, 1998). Imagine a cow and a cat both out in a field. We can easily picture the typical behavior of each animal. The cat crouching and alert while the cow is placidly munching grass while moving laboriously through the field. Now imagine these same two animals but switch the consciousness of the cat with the cow and vice versa. It is difficult to imagine a “cow” acting like a “cat” and the other way around. Why a cat is “cat-like” has to do with the shape of its body. The same is true for humans. A patient’s behavior —her beliefs, her experience of her emotions, her movements— are greatly influenced by her form and shape. And form and shape are directly a result of CT functioning. Improve the condition of the CT, and its functioning will become more efficient resulting in changes in both physical and psychic behaviors: function = form = behavior = character structure. (See patient photos in the appendix for a visual representation of form changing due to functioning changing whereby shape appears in the contours of the body. These physical alterations are simultaneously reflected in the psychic realm.)
Another way to represent the relation of form and shape to behavior is to imagine two garden hoses lying on the ground. One has a large diameter, while the other is narrow. When the large hose is attached to the faucet and the water is turned on, the hose continues to lie on the ground with the water flowing out. When the narrow hose is attached, and the faucet is opened, even though the same amount of water and pressure is applied, the response is totally different—the hose moves rapidly in an excited snake-like fashion. The only thing that is different is the shape. The same emotion passing through a body —and this involves the energetic qualities of CT which will be discussed later— will be experienced differently in different character structures due to their shape. Anger in the peripheral flaccidity of a hysteric’s body has no similarity on the experiential level with anger experienced in the contracted, tube-like schizoid’s body. It is a matter of quality not quantity. It is the context, the character structure’s experience, not the con- tent, the emotion/memory, that is important to focus on in therapy. And this experience is largely determined by the structure and conditions of CT.
As would be expected, connective tissue’s main function is that it connects all parts of the body to all other parts. This results in a unity; a wholeness throughout when the CT functions are not interfered with. In the physical realm this connectedness allows for coordinated, graceful movements, both internal and external. Psychically, this unity is represented as integrated, reality-based thoughts and well-functioning borders and emotions. The segmentalizations, splittings and disembodiment that patients report, and that are visible in the body, are often grounded in this lack of unity due to CT dysfunction. A unified state creates a network system or “matrix” throughout the entire body that acts as an instantaneous communication system without involving any of the nervous systems. I will elaborate this theme later.
To read Will’s entire paper, Will Davis Role of Connective Tissue Final
Thanks to the following for our graphics:
Connective tissue retrieved from https://www.kenhub.com/en/start/c/connective-tissue
Cow and cat retrieved from https://yogainmyschool.com/cat-cow-pose/