Reich finished the manuscript in January 1933. He submitted it to the Psychoanalytic Press in Vienna, presided over by Sigmund Freud, who initially accepted it for publication. However, Freud cancelled the contract, wanting to distance himself from Reich's politics. Reich borrowed money and published the book privately in Vienna.
Reich argues that character structures were organizations of resistance with which individuals avoided facing their neuroses: different character structures — whether schizoid, oral, psychopathic, masochistic, hysterical, compulsive, narcissistic, or rigid — were sustained biologically as body types by unconscious muscular contraction.