Psychoanalytically, deprivation is the reduced fulfillment of a desire or need that is felt to be essential. Sigmund Freud (1927c) considered deprivation the result of the frustration of a drive that could not be satisfied because of a prohibition, and he was particularly interested in sexual deprivation. Later, psychoanalysis focused on the maternal deprivation caused either by the final or temporary absence of the mother or by her difficulty in providing primary care for the infant—a deprivation likely to have irreversible effects on the child's development.
For the infant, deprivation, as the result of an intrapsychic process related to needs or desires, assumes various forms. It is modulated by the reaction of the primary object, the mother, as well as the moment when the deprivation is produced, its duration, or even the attitude of mother substitutes.
The importance given to reality and its traumas compared to the reality of the representational world forms the basis of the differences among psychoanalytic theories. For example, psychoanalysts have studied the effects of "quantitative deprivation," when the infant must confront the physical absence of the primary maternal object from birth, a condition known as hospitalism (Spitz, 1945), or after the establishment of a bond, a condition known as anaclitic depression (Spitz, 1946), which includes the phases of fright, despair, and separation. During these three phases, the infant is primarily searching for the lost anaclitic object, then, overcome with despair, enters into a situation of more or less pronounced denial, depending on the level of structuration of the internal object and the duration of separation. This process involves directing diffuse but unbearable aggressive impulses against the self, hatred of the incorporated internal object, and deprivation of the maternal breast accompanied by deprivation of the (oral) apparatus that would enable the infant to use it. Sometimes there is also a deprivation of all creative ability and the dissolution of the integrative process together with the inhibition or dissociation of impulses (Winnicott, 1984).
"Qualitative deprivation" has also been described, and occurs when the infant is presented with an object that prevents him from experiencing his impulses in an acceptable form because they are uncontrolled. This object does not assume the contradictory role of ensuring the satisfaction of the infant's needs and pushing him toward autonomy and does not understand his signals or his thoughts. Operating behaviors and idealizing systems dominate this form of mother-child relationship (Kreisler., 1992) to prevent transient personal difficulties, struggles, and traumas from becoming mental pathologies, especially depressive and schizophrenic.
Forms of "mixed deprivation" are also known, where the interruption of maternal care and inadequate support are the basis of narcissistic collapse and weakness during the process of separation-individuation.
The effects of affective deprivation (Bowlby, 1951) have been studied among infants placed in institutions, hospitals, or foster homes (Winnicott, 1984), and in the context of family life. This has led to observation of depression and borderline and antisocial pathologies such as psychosis. Françoise Dolto has described the sudden and long-lasting dissociation found to exist following early hospitalization or repeated changes of care providers—without any possible reparation of the image of the body or the subject. The infant can regress to a state in which his vital needs are satisfied in a context where subtle, verbal, mimetic, or motor exchanges no longer take place. Having become autistic, the child's impulses no longer have an outlet and result in teratological symbolization through hallucination.
Léon Kreisler has studied depression (blank and empty) during periods of qualitative deprivation, especially their development on the psychosomatic level. Other authors have ascribed important narcissistic pathologies (feelings of emptiness, captive self-image, lack of confidence), along with the intolerance to frustration that provokes the transition to action, which is manifested during adolescence. Donald Winnicott has studied the dynamics of the antisocial act and the accompanying feeling of hopeful suffering. "In fact," he writes, "deprivation does not deform the organization of the ego as in psychosis but pushes the infant to force the context to recognize the deprivation and . . . the antisocial act manifests itself when the infant begins to create an object relationship and invest a person."