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Perezhivanie is a Russian word which means (more or less) “an experience” or more particularly a “cathartic experience.”


Pere- means carrying something over something, letting something pass beneath and overleaping it; zhivat means to live. This word carries a huge cultural load of connotations and meaning in Russian; it carries associations of suffering, survival, excitement and personal growth. Vygotsky first used the term in Psychology of Art, while Constantin Stanislavskii (a friend of Vygotsky’s) claimed that a perezhivanie was a unit for actors, that each movement had to be associated with a specific perezhivanie.

Later, in The problem of the environment, Vygotsky used the example of three children of different ages who all suffered from having a drunken mother, but the experience, the perezhivanie, is different for each, because each was at a different stage of their development, and only the older child is able to transcend the experience and grow into being the senior man in the house; the middle child is traumatised and is unable to cope with it; the youngest child does not even know about it. Thus it is said that perezhivaniya are “lived experiences,” including the psychological significance the event has for a given subject, and how it felt for the subject, not just the event in itself. Further, people often emphasise that perezhivaniya are intensely emotional experiences.

In 1984, Fedor Vasilyuk wrote “The Psychology of Perezhivanie” in which this concept plays a central role in his approach to psychotherapy. The distinction between conflicts having an essentially internal source (such as value conflict) and those having an essentially objective source (such as grief) is key. Vasilyuk then outlines a therapeutic method by means of which a patient is helped to “process” the experience and overcome it. This overcoming of a crisis corresponds to what Freud (1914) called “Catharsis.” To Russian-speakers, a perezhivanie includes the catharsis.


Vygotsky claimed that perezhivaniya are units of (the development) of personality (or character). This is because he believed that it is through surviving specific, memorable, intensely emotional experiences, usually some kind of crisis which confront the subject, that people develop their character. Each such perezhivanie leaves its mark on a person’s character. Perezhivaniya may be very brief or may be protracted, but they have an essential unity and stand out from the general background of experience as “an experience.”

Because a perezhivanie corresponds not just to the nature of the environment in itself, nor to the subject in themself, but rather to the specific relation between the person and the environment, the “significance” of the event for the person, it is often said that perezhivaniya are a “unity of the person and the environment.” This phrase can be confusing; clearly only certain aspects of the environment are entailed in this relation.

Likewise, because perezhivaniya are emotionally intense experiences, life-changing events, that is, learning experiences, it is often said that a perezhivanie is a “unity of cognition and affect.” But this can be confusing. It is also a unity of will and attention. The point is that it is a whole, from which learning, emotion, development of will, etc. can be abstracted through analysis.

The nature of perezhivaniya differs between children and adults and between children at different stages of development. An adult is already an independent citizen of their community, but perezhivaniya - such as the death of a spouse, the loss of their job, an unexpected victory in a court struggle – very often lead to changes in a person’s life and their social standing, and consequently in their psyche and personality. Sometimes however a person is not able to cope with the experience and “live through” it; in this instance a therapist may be required.

However, a child is by definition generally not able to “process” such experiences on its own; it always requires the intervention of an adult to assist the child in overcoming the crisis, reflecting on its meaning and making a development out of it. In this sense, for children, perezhivaniya are similar to the crises children experience as an outcome of their Social Situation of Development.

See the collection of excerpts on Perezhivanie at


Freud, S. (1914) Remembering, Repeating and Working-Through (Further Recommendations on the Technique of Psycho-Analysis II).

Stanislavskii, C. (1936). An Actor Prepares. Chapter 7. Units an Objectives.

Vasilyuk, F. (1984). The Psychology of Experiencing.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1934). The Problem of the Environment.

-- AndyBlunden - 07 Oct 2014


Topic revision: r2 - 27 Apr 2016, AndyBlunden

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