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Re: [xmca] varying definitions of perezhivanie

Michael, Haydi, Christine and others, thank you for drawing my attention to Fyodor Vasilyuk. Just read his book and loved it. It's one of those books that even though you can follow it as you read, it is not easy to recall afterwards. Anyway, here is my synopsis.

*The Psychology of Experiencing*. The Resolution of Life’s Critical Situations. by Fyodor Vasiluk Progress Publishers 1984.

This is a book about living through critical situations in life. “Experiencing” is a translation of “/perezhivanie/” and Vasilyuk uses it to mean “any process which brings about resolution of a critical life-situation, irrespective of how that process is directly felt by the individual.” Vasilyuk is an Activity Theorist, and sees experiencing as an activity, not just something to which happens to a person, but that hitherto Activity Theory had no term for it. So he has appropriated Vygotsky’s use of the term as a unit for the development of character. But I notice that for Vasilyuk, /perezhivanie /is the whole “working through” of the crisis situation, which is elsewhere called “catharsis,” whereas what others call the /perezhivanie /he calls the crisis-situation. The situation is of course equally subjective and objective, arising in the world, as it is experienced by the subject according to the subject’s commitments in the world as well as uncontrolled events arising from the objective world. Vasilyuk is a superb dialectician. Experiencing is the process in which character is formed, but also, it is the process of character itself: both process and product.

The main part of the book hinges on the idea that the inner world of the subject, the active side which cognizes, feels, perceives and acts may be either /simple/ or /complex/; the outer world of the subject, the subject’s life-world is either /easy/ or /difficult/. It is not so much that there are two kinds of inner and outer world, but that any specific crisis is derived from one of the four possible conjunctions: simple-easy, complex-easy, simple-difficult or complex-difficult. Each possible conjunction also contains the others, but one conjunction is dominant in the specific case.

Vasilyuk calls an activity a “life relation” but so far as I can see the word “project” perfectly describes what he has in mind. A simple inner world means that the crisis arises from the pursuit of just one activity and has no implication for any other project. A complex inner world means that the subject is motivated by multiple projects so that changes in the progress of one project has implications for other projects (eg they may be conflicting, or dependent on one another) and resolving a crisis becomes something complex in that sense. An easy outer world means that the crisis arises from inner causes, not existential threats to the project or blockages having their origin independently of the subject. A difficult outer world means that a project in which the subject is committed faces a blockage or disaster.

Vasilyuk goes through all the possible combinations of strategies that subjects resort to to resolve a crisis arising in each of these four worlds, and there are all sorts of sub-types, etc. These categories are ahistorical so Vasilyuk is able to explore the possibilities by logical means rather than abstracting them from empirical data. Of course the circumstances which give rise to crises and the strategies available to subjects are culturally and historically determined. But analysis of a crisis and therapeutical assistance depends first of all in diagnosing the kind of crisis the subject is undergoing. So the elaboration of the theory is very logical, but one gets the feeling that Vasilyuk has had the benefit of the experience of offering assistance to thousands of people going through severe crises and that his theory is robust as a diagnostic tool.

The four kinds of crisis are (simple-easy) stress, (simple-difficult) frustration, (complex-easy) conflict and (complex-difficult) crisis. He says that /stress /is a “hedonistic” crisis – the subject is concerned only with the here and now and getting more; /frustration /is a “realistic” crisis – the subject has to accept the unattainability of the object and determine what it is they /really/ need, not just the specific thing which has the meaning for them of their object; /conflict /is a "crisis of values" – the subject is obliged to revisit the bases for their past actions and question their values which have led them into a tragic situation; crisis as such is a creative crisis, which obliges the subject to transform the meaning of the absent object so as to make the psychologically impossible situation possible; this means a life-crisis resolved by creating a new life-world, a new self. This is all very complex and I can’t do it justice. It will take a lot of study. I like the way he deals with the concept of "values" as deep structures, underlying commitments which can be brought to light only by a subject's /perezihivanie/.

The section on psychotherapy relied on a different categorisation of four “levels of awareness.” These are the Unconscious, Experiencing (here in the ordinary meaning of the word, more like Undergoing), Reflection, and Apprehension. This structure of consciousness or awareness is defined by the activity of the Observer and the Observed (a bit like Mead's I and Me). Crises may be felt in one (mainly at the given moment) “level” and Vasilyuk says that a different therapeutic strategy is required in each case. In the case of the Unconscious, it is a /monologue by the therapist /who tells the patient what the break in consciousness reveals; in the case of Undergoing it is a /monologue by the patient /who gives voice to their experience so as to become aware of it, with the empathy of the therapist, can move it into Reflection; in Apprehension therapy requires a /dialogue /between the therapist and the patience to bring out the nature of the crisis; in Reflection the therapy is an /internal dialogue/ of the patient themself through which the crisis can be transformed and resolved successfully.


Michael Levykh wrote:
I hope the following paragraph from my 2008 PhD Theses might shed a bit more
light on your discussion:

Vasilyuk (1984) writes in his annotation to Psikhologia Perezhivaniya
(Psychology of Perezhivaniye), that in order to manage (perezhits)
"situations of stress, frustration, inner conflict, and life crisis, quite
often a painful inner work has to be done in re-establishing inner
equilibrium and reconstructing a new meaningful life" (para. 1, my
translation). For him, even a painful experience in the past can be
recreated as a positive, pleasurable, meaningful future-oriented experience
of personality. Hence, perezhivaniye is a future-oriented, conscious, and
individual emotional experience of past events achieved in the
"here-and-now" through reflection on the individual's struggle within
himself/herself (e.g., as if struggling between the dual consciousness of
self and the character he/she portrays) and with the social environment
(e.g., his/her audience). Although perezhivaniye connotes mostly negative
(painful) experience of the past, its future-orientedness provides
possibilities for positive outcomes. Such positive possibilities are also
reflected in Vygotsky's optimistic views on cultural development in general.

 Michael Levykh

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