Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957) was an Austrian psychoanalyst who was a student of Sigmund Freud in the 1920s and 1930s. He made significant contributions to psychoanalytic theory, especially regarding the role of sexuality and the concept of character structure.

In his 1933 book Character Analysis, Reich outlined his theory that people develop distinct character structures, or patterns of behavior, as a result of fixations at different psychosexual development stages. He identified three main character structures:

The Phallic-Narcissistic Character: This character is dominated by narcissism and inflated self-confidence. They exert power over others and seek to be the center of attention. Fixations occur at the phallic stage of psychosexual development around ages 3-6 years old.

The Masochistic Character: This character is passive, self-effacing, and accepts suffering. They are submissive towards authority figures and seek relationships where they can feel victimized. Fixations occur at the oral stage of psychosexual development in infancy.

The Rigid Character: This character is orderly, obsessive, and emotionally constricted. They strictly adhere to rules, norms, and morality. Fixations occur at the anal stage of psychosexual development around ages 1-3 years old.

Reich believed these character structures reflect unconscious conflicts rooted in disturbances in gratifying infantile sexual urges. For example, the phallic-narcissistic character overcompensates for feelings of vulnerability and powerlessness in childhood by seeking control over others when grown.

Reich's therapy involved loosening the patient's character armor to reconnect them with suppressed emotions and impulses. This was done through psychotherapeutic analysis and working with the patient's body through breathing, muscle relaxation, and allowing the expression of repressed sexual energy. Reich focused on releasing pent-up emotions rather than intellectual insight alone.

Reich's theory emphasized how socioeconomic and cultural forces can shape character development. Oppressive child-rearing practices and sexual repression in society could lead to widespread neurotic character structures. Reich advocated sexual freedom and anti-authoritarian education to prevent mass neurosis.

Though controversial, Reich's theory influenced later thinkers like Erich Fromm, who also saw character as rooted in social conditions. The idea of muscular and character armor became important in body-oriented psychotherapy. Reich's work represents an important bridge between Freud's psychoanalysis and later humanistic psychology. While the specifics of his theory are dated, he pioneered a holistic view of mental health encompassing mind, emotions, and body.