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  • Writer's pictureDr. Peter N. Maduro

The Meanings of Privation

I have in mind all those people for whom one or another of their essential emotional needs meets with relentless privation. By “essential emotional needs” I mean, for example, the person’s needs that his or her painful feelings be seen, understood, and held as significant by important-others. By “privation” I mean a state of person’s relational environment --characterized by scarcity or lacking-- wherein there is little to no possibility that such essential needs can or will be met. In my perhaps idiosyncratic usage, deprivation is a state of scarce/negative possibility created by the withdrawal of possibility (possibility given is taken away), whereas privation is a state of scarce/negative possibility that was there from the beginning (possibility never given).

With respect to these people, I’m grieving for each one of them who interprets the privation of their lifeworld as proof that his or her needs --and the longings that they be met, the reactive pain of their unmetness, and the longing that this sequence of needing-and-unmetness matter to someone-- are flawed, invalid, or evidence of psycho-pathology: that the privation of his or her essential emotional needs does not really reflect impoverishments in his or her relational environment, but rather means, in Truth, that there is something wrong with him or her as a person.

I am familiar first hand with these sorts of convictions, and know their insidiousness derives not just from the soul-crushing meanings they ascribe to privation, but also from the often unconscious process whereby such convictions operate stealthily to determine the person’s sense of self, and his or her sense of the future, without anyone, including especially the person him or herself, detecting their devastating operation.

In short, such insidious, destructive meanings of privation render the already-painful unmetness of emotional needs unbearable by way of (unconsciously) negating, pathologizing, or otherwise lacing them with personal shame, humiliation, mortification, invalidity, and the like.

To be a friend to any person who suffers under the spell of such a conviction, help begins by differentiating for him or her between the privation into which s/he has been thrown (Heidegger, 1927), and the painful reactive emotions in which he or she naturally feels it, on the one hand, and the pathogenic conviction that such privation, and reactive pain, evidences a flaw in his or her personhood, on the other. This is an act of friendship because the suffering person typically cannot manage such differentiation alone when in the grip of such meanings of privation.

Of course, such differentiating friendship may, or may not, be welcome by the suffering person, since, for example, it can open the door to profound grief for a life lived in self-loathing and despair about one’s possibilities. But this is another matter.

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