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Positive Disintegration
07-17-2013, 07:40 PM,
Positive Disintegration
Of all the theories I have come across regarding personality and its development, this one is probably the most complete theory in my opinion. This thread is for research and discussion of Kazimierz Dabrowski's theory of Positive Disintegaration. The theory gets very complex once you start to shed more light on it which is what I hope to do but all in all it encompasses themes of social conformity, individuation, giftedness, development potential, individuality vs collectivism, narcissism, introversion, self-reflection, self-improvement, existential thought, angst, the shadow and eventual rebirth.

I have studied those topics independently so it was great to see all of them in one theory. I'll give my take on things and bring forward previous research and view it in light of this theory which I hope others will find helpful.

It is not an egalitarian theory. It is very specific in that its levels are not attainable by most people but I would assume that the pessimism, cynicism and general states of depression displayed by those who are clearly thinkers on forums such as Concen can be viewed in light of this theory and how it is actually an indication of high potential within individuals.

Quote:Kazimierz Dabrowski developed the Theory of Positive Disintegration during his career as a Polish psychologist. The Theory of Positive Disintegration is very different from other theories of personality development because Dabrwoski emphasized the role of psychic discomfort in psychological development. Dabrowski observed that psychological hardship triggered self reflection, and this introspection fueled the process of psychological maturation (Dabrowski 1972). His model is hierarchical, and an individual will pass through each stage in a linear fashion, progressively becoming more accomplished, satisfied, and moral. He also theorized that many individuals are predisposed with psychic overexcitabilities which make them more susceptible to the process of positive disintegration.

Dabrowski was born in 1902 and passed away in 1980.

Dabrowski's Five Levels of Development

[T]he transition from lower, automatic, and rigidly organized mental structures and functions to higher, creative, self-controlled and authentic forms of mental life – developmental psychology is unable to give a satisfactory account of this process without the use of the concept of multilevelness. (Dabrowski 1973: ix)

Dabrowski distinguishes five levels of personality development (Mendaglio 2008). Passing through the levels requires overpowering introspection which may include sensations of self-hate, disappointment in one's behavior or choices, and guilt. Such turmoil is triggered by both internal and external (environmental) demands. For Dabrowski, the process of becoming more psychologically and morally developed requires that the individual faces down their weaknesses as to overcome them. Poor behavior is driven by low level instincts which are controlled by those in higher states. Therefore, psychoneurosis is a positive sign that a person is disintegrating their negative characteristics. In this move, Dabrowski reverses the common notions of mental health, going so far as to argue that psychoneurosis is a sign of mental health - not a disease (Dabrowski 1972). In fact, a person who experiences no inner turmoil is completely stagnant and hopeless absent an environmental conflict which leads to self-introspection.

Positive disintegration - the process of experiencing extreme self-doubt and guilt - is followed by reintegration into a higher state of consciousness. This process continues cyclically until the highest, fifth level of personality development is reached. Is important to note that this process is gradual, and a person will repeatedly slide back into poor behavior before solidifying their values and actions in the next level of awareness. Indeed, the vast majority of individuals will never progress past the third level of development.

1. Primary Integration
2. Unilevel Disintegration
3. Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegration
4. Organized Multilevel Disintegration
5. Secondary Integration

The levels will be discussed in more detail below. However, it is first necessary to elaborate on what Dabrowski theorized as the driving forces behind personality development.

Dabrowski's Three Categories of Development

Dabrowski termed three kinds of development - autonomous, one sided, and biological (Kawczak and Dabrowski 1970).

Factors arising from physical development are classified as biological. However, this category also includes adaptation to the needs of societal norms, as an individual cannot survive without a certain level of conformity to their environmental circumstances.

On the other hand, autonomous development transcends the need to conform to the social environment, and may also involve the rejection of primitive biological drives. Positive maladjustment allows the individual to align their morals with the highest universal values - and these values may not be supported by social demands. For Dabrowski, strong, moral individuals need not conform to the immediate needs of their social circumstances. This is due to the fact that the majority of people spend their entire lives in lower states of consciousness. However, there are deep-seated moral truths which all psychologically sophisticated individuals abide by, although each person will understand and experience them in different ways.

One sided development is the term Dabrowski uses to acknowledge the possibility for destructive individual behavior. Here, the individual pursues their own needs regardless of how their actions will affect other people. This negative maladjustment is distinguished from positive maladjustment because the individual will relate to their drives in different ways. One sided development is therefore characterized by the rejection of social values in favor of the satisfaction of low level desires.

Level I - Primary Integration

Starting with the most primitive level, we have primary integration. Here, individuals concern themselves only with fulfilling their most basic and immediate needs - biological needs such as food, sex, and shelter, but also social needs which involve unquestioned conformity. Relations with other people are driven strictly by these needs alone. Empathy and genuine concern for others is absent. Unhealthy and problematic behavior is not perceived as such, at least until stage two begins.

Level II - Unilevel Disintegration

This poor lifestyle is unsustainable for most. Conflict inevitably arises, and most people gain the capacity to see thematic problems arising repeatedly. This facility develops often along with biological maturity during puberty. However, adults may remain in level one for their entire lives, or may encounter an unbearable source of negative emotion and move into stage two even in their latest years of life. In such an instance, the feelings are overpowering and the individual's normal methods of coping with them are impotent. Anger, confusion, despair, frustration - these are all driving forces for Dabrowski, because they will force the person to move either back into level one or progress into level three. If the individual succeeds in questioning their personal and social values, the individual has successfully passed through level two. It is important to note that Dabrowski used the term "unilevel" to indicate that all of these changes are catalyzed by one root circumstance.

Level II - Spontaneous Multilevel Disintegraton

In this stage, positive disintegration continues. A sudden and shocking realization of personal inadequacy is experienced. Dabrowski's signature discrepancy between "the way things are" and "the way things ought to be" becomes apparent - both internally and across the social environment. This process is complicated by the fact that the individual is completely unprepared for this radical self evaluation. Negative emotions arise as they look back on the mistakes of the past. The entire identity is threatened - how does one relate to society, their friends, their family? Spirituality is often reviewed. A subject/object relationship to the self is developed: Individuals can now reflect on themselves as an object of development. Various contradictory value systems must be weighed and evaluated as to solidify a coherent moral structure for later development. Dabrowski believed that few people ever progress past stage three due to its challenging nature.

Dabrwoski emphasizes the role of the "personality ideal" which begins to form in this state. Subjects begin to project an ideal model of themselves they seek to achieve.

Level IV - Organized Multilevel Disintegration

As values become systematic and stable, behavior must become controlled and deliberate. Once individuals are able to follow their personal beliefs and act in accordance with the highest universal moral values, this fourth state is achieved. Sincere relations with other people are developed and sustained. Here, the person is genuinely concerned for others and the condition of society in its entirety. Independence is strongly valued and outside pressure to conform to problematic values is handled with ease. Learning and counseling are self guided. As the individual moves toward stage five, their actions are increasingly coordinated with their moral compass. The personality ideal continues to take form and actualize.

Level V - Secondary Integration

The final stage of personality is achieved alongside the personality ideal. All personal values are sustained and in alignment with the highest universal moral values. Such individuals are actively creating solutions and aim to improve society at large. It is only in this highest level of consciousness that Dabrowski theorized regression to be impossible.

Developmental Influences

Dabrowski outlines three outstanding factors which fuel personality development (Mendaglio 2008).

1. Social Environment
2. Developmental Potential
3. Third Factor Dynamism

All individuals have some developmental potential, but some people have more than others. Individuals with lesser intrinsic, genetic developmental potential need more support from the social environment to make progress. Individuals with higher developmental potential experience psychic overexcitabilities (see below) which make them more sensitive to the forces which drive personality development.
Obviously, one who is surrounded by people in higher states is more likely to progress, and even a person with a high developmental potential will be hindered by a poor social environment.

Third factor dynamism is tricky to define, but it is the factor that pushes individuals out of the clutches of social and biological predisposition. In fact, Dabrowski outlined several dynamisms as the

“biological or mental force[s] controlling behavior and its development - Instincts, drives, and intellectual processes combined with emotions are dynamisms.” (Dabrowski 1972: 294)

However, he considered the third factor dynamism to be the most important.

[I]t is described as the force by which individuals become more self-determined, controlling their behavior through their inner voices and values. Once the third factor is activated, individuals are no longer at the mercy of biological needs or the under the control of societal conventions. Individuals so characterized lead lives consciously and deliberately, selecting courses of action based on values that they have selected. Their approach to daily life is highly moral in nature. At this high level of development, individuals also increasingly engage in self-education and self-help (Mendaglio 2008: 26).

Dabrowski and Giftedness - Psychic Overexcitabilities

Dabrowski is most well known in high ability studies and gifted education because of his unique insight into the struggles these individuals face. Such a person is hypothesized to experience one or more unusual nervous sensitivities which drives them to push into higher levels of performance. Although research is contradictory about whether these traits are scientifically measureable, counselors find the knowledge to be practical. Briefly, Dabrowskis' overexcitabilities (OE) are (Miller, Falk, Huang 2009):

1. A person with emotional OE has deep-felt and complex emotions and can identify with the feelings of others.
2. A person with intellectual OE has an inquiring mind and is introspective, analytical, and not easily distracted.
3. A person with imaginational OE is creative and has elaborate daydreams and fantasies.
4. A person with sensual OE has heightened sensory awareness and reactions.
5. A person with psychomotor OE has a surplus of energy, is highly active and enthusiastic, and may be impulsive and competitive.


Gifted and high-ability studies has much to gain from integration of Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration. Individuals coping with psychoneurosis may be interested in how negative emotions can be used to harness personal development.

More to follow.....
07-19-2013, 05:07 PM,
RE: Positive Disintegration
Read through the whole thing and did some background reading just sounds like a psychological theory to accompany Eugenics...not least the underpinning basis of "genetic development potentials".

The idea of positive transformation resulting from acute crisis/turmoil of the spirit/disintegration of the persona, is not new and cannot be solely attributed to Dabrowski eg. The biblical story of saint Paul, for starters...and God knows how old and from what source that one originally comes.

To me, it just reads as Eugenics and another manifesto for "The Great Society" and all are equal bu some more than others.

If someone finds succour in all that, then good luck to them but for me it is just more mind blather. Why 5 levels? Why not 6.5 levels?

I, as so often is the case, would rather listen to count Tolstoy:

"The human mind cannot grasp the causes of phenomena in the aggregate. But the need to find these causes is inherent in man’s soul. And the human intellect, without investigating the multiplicity and complexity of the conditions of phenomena, any one of which taken separately may seem to be the cause, snatches at the first, the most intelligible approximation to a cause, and says: “This is the cause!""
--Leo Tolstoy
War and Peace
“The truth, of course, is that a billion falsehoods told a billion times by a billion people are still false.” Travis Walton
07-23-2013, 06:48 PM,
RE: Positive Disintegration
Quote:it just sounds like a psychological theory to accompany Eugenics

Eugenics is simply to do with breeding. In this context I think you have eugenics confused with the way it is promoted by Alex Jones and the like as being part of a larger government scheme which hides a clear aspect of further increasing the servitude of the general population. Thus government inspired eugenics is actually dysgenics as it is not necessarily in your own best interests and is rather for the benefit of wider society as defined and dictated by elite institutions. That is a mask for collectivism.

This theory is one of profound individual significance for as nice as you want to be about it, we all have needs and as we are not equal, peoples' needs are different. Some people will remain happy amongst the ignorant; some people will however need more than that. Collectivist thinking is generally anti-elitist and as a consequence anti-intellectual hence the appeal of the dumbed down society.

The rulers of this world wouldn't get far unless their tactics worked and they work based on a massive understanding of the differences in human beings. A large majority of them will never have the ability to comprehend what is going on around them for various reasons and will unfortuantely always remain good slaves. They were, afterall, bred for that purpose.

Bertrand Russell had mentioned how any brighter members of the herd would get so frustrated with the rest of the herd that they would eventually join or attempt to join the establishment. Some people do not want to join that particular gang however and are exploring ways to transcend the old ruler and ruled dichotomy.

Dabrowski's name and theory are also very little known inspite of him being dead and his theory around for decades. He was also a close friend of Abraham Maslow and anyone who's done a little bit of psychological research knows about him and his ideas.

Dabrowski's ideas are not known for a few reasons in my view; 1. they are not egalitarian and with the mass appeal of socialist thinking and leftist politics in ordinary life, anti-egalitarian ideologies are viewed as being similar to racism, sexism, classism etc. 2. the theory heavily promotes a clear sense of individualism which goes against the obvious collective theories of the left and also criticises the dog-eat-dog mentality of the right. 3. this type of individualism has, pardon the hyperbole, been what almost every conspiracy against humanity has been about throughout history - rulers have always sought to create slaves and good workers, this theory isn't conducive to the creation of good workers. 4. It contains a lot of uncomfortable truths based on Dabrowski's observations of communism within Poland and the surrounding regions (Dabrowski also knew Andrew Lobaczewski, author of Political Ponerology). 5. The sheer complexity of the theory and the numerous associations pretty much expose that it is not a theory for everyone.

Quote:The idea of positive transformation resulting from acute crisis/turmoil of the spirit/disintegration of the persona, is not new and cannot be solely attributed to Dabrowski

Nobody made that claim.

Quote:Why 5 levels? Why not 6.5 levels?

Reading Dabrowski deeper, it seems he wasn't happy with using such a scale but it helps for understanding his points. There are no levels per se but it helps quantify the theory.

I find nothing about 'eugenics' within it as the theory seems to promote dissociating away from both the stupidity of the ruled and away from the coercion of the rulers. The genetic component is a simple acknowledgment that there is a genetic component to every human, which can be modified and even used as a tool of political oppression if need be but in any case that is not reason enough to dismiss the ideas and learn from them.

So re-read your Tolstoy quote and ask yourself if your response of 'Eugenics' was your equivalent of 'this is the cause!'
07-23-2013, 08:58 PM,
RE: Positive Disintegration
The Tolstoly quote was more than equivalent! The old count was tantamount to a Dobri Dobrev almost!

Yes, I am aware of Maslow's theories of hierarchical need etc - but that is a different thread.

I am choosing to take a different path - human life is short, even in it's examples of "extreme" longevity.

I reject the "great society" and "progress" for the sham they are and no longer wish to be a fraught fuel cell within them trying to desperately determine my purpose or place within them.

Just as the Eritreans dragged downed Russian MiG flighter jets from the desert into their labyrinthine underground complexes, to smelt them into various tools, be it a gun or a stethoscope etc; humans are resourceful.

"genetic development potential" - is as about a eugenics sympathetic sentiment as one could hope to scribe!°

Be a supremacist! If that is what you think and feel works for you---go for it! I don't judge it, I can understand it implicitly, however it is not for me.
“The truth, of course, is that a billion falsehoods told a billion times by a billion people are still false.” Travis Walton
08-10-2013, 10:24 PM, (This post was last modified: 08-10-2013, 10:24 PM by R.R.)
RE: Positive Disintegration
Quote:Existential Depression in Gifted Individuals

by James T. Webb, Ph.D.

It has been my experience that gifted and talented persons are more likely to experience a type of depression referred to as existential depression. Although an episode of existential depression may be precipitated in anyone by a major loss or the threat of a loss that highlights the transient nature of life, persons of higher intellectual ability are more prone to experience existential depression spontaneously. Sometimes this existential depression is tied into the positive disintegration experience referred to by Dabrowski (1996).

Existential depression is a depression that arises when an individual confronts certain basic issues of existence. Yalom (1980) describes four such issues (or “ultimate concerns”)—death, freedom, isolation, and meaninglessness. Death is an inevitable occurrence. Freedom, in an existential sense, refers to the absence of external structure. That is, humans do not enter a world which is inherently structured. We must give the world a structure which we ourselves create. Isolation recognizes that no matter how close we become to another person, a gap always remains, and we are nonetheless alone. Meaninglessness stems from the first three. If we must die, if we construct our own world, and if each of us is ultimately alone, then what meaning does life have?

Why should such existential concerns occur disproportionately among gifted persons? Partially, it is because substantial thought and reflection must occur to even consider such notions, rather than simply focusing on superficial, day-to-day aspects of life. Other more specific characteristics of gifted children are important predisposers as well.

Because gifted children are able to consider the possibilities of how things might be, they tend to be idealists. However, they are simultaneously able to see that the world is falling short of how it might be. Because they are intense, gifted children feel keenly the disappointment and frustration which occurs when ideals are not reached. Similarly, these youngsters quickly spot the inconsistencies, arbitrariness, and absurdities in society and in the behaviors of those around them. Traditions are questioned or challenged.
For example, why do we put such tight sex-role or age-role restrictions on people? Why do people engage in hypocritical behaviors in which they say one thing and then do another? Why do people say things they really do not mean at all? Why are so many people so unthinking and uncaring in their dealings with others? How much difference in the world can one person’s life make?

When gifted children try to share these concerns with others, they are usually met with reactions ranging from puzzlement to hostility. They discover that others, particularly of their age, clearly do not share these concerns but instead are focused on more concrete issues and on fitting in with others’ expectations. Often by even first grade, these youngsters, particularly the more highly gifted ones, feel isolated from their peers and perhaps from their families as they find that others are not prepared to discuss such weighty concerns.

When their intensity is combined with multi-potentiality, these youngsters become particularly frustrated with the existential limitations of space and time.
There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to develop all of the talents that many of these children have. Making choices among the possibilities is indeed arbitrary; there is no “ultimately right” choice. Even choosing a vocation can be difficult if one is trying to make a career decision between essentially equal passions, talents, and potential in violin, neurology, theoretical mathematics, and international relations.

The reaction of gifted youngsters (again with intensity) to these frustrations is often one of anger. But they quickly discover that their anger is futile, for it is really directed at “fate” or at other matters which they are not able to control. Anger that is powerless evolves quickly into depression.

In such depression, gifted children typically try to find some sense of meaning, some anchor point which they can grasp to pull themselves out of the mire of “unfairness.” Often, though, the more they try to pull themselves out, the more they become acutely aware that their life is finite and brief, that they are alone and are only one very small organism in a quite large world, and that there is a frightening freedom regarding how one chooses to live one’s life. It is at this point that they question life’s meaning and ask, “Is this all there is to life? Is there not ultimate meaning? Does life only have meaning if I give it meaning? I am a small, insignificant organism who is alone in an absurd, arbitrary, and capricious world where my life can have little impact, and then I die. Is this all there is?”

Such concerns are not too surprising in thoughtful adults who are going through mid-life crises. However, it is a matter of great concern when these existential questions are foremost in the mind of a 12- or 15-year-old. Such existential depressions deserve careful attention since they can be precursors to suicide.

How can we help our bright youngsters cope with these questions? We cannot do much about the finiteness of our existence. However, we can help youngsters learn to feel that they are understood and not so alone and that there are ways to manage their freedom and their sense of isolation.

The isolation is helped to a degree by simply communicating to the youngster that someone else understands the issues that he/she is grappling with. Even though your experience is not exactly the same as mine, I feel far less alone if I know that you have had experiences that are reasonably similar. This is why relationships are so extremely important in the long-term adjustment of gifted children (Webb, Meckstroth, & Tolan, 1982).

A particular way of breaking through the sense of isolation is through touch. In the same way that infants need to be held and touched, so do persons who are experiencing existential aloneness. Touch seems to be a fundamental and instinctual aspect of existence, as evidenced by mother-infant bonding or “failure to thrive” syndrome. Often, I have “prescribed” daily hugs for a youngster suffering existential depression and have advised parents of reluctant teenagers to say, “I know that you may not want a hug, but I need a hug.” A hug, a touch on the arm, playful jostling, or even a “high five” can be very important to such a youngster because it establishes at least some physical connection.

The issues and choices involved in managing one’s freedom are more intellectual, as opposed to the reassuring aspects of touch as a sensory solution to an emotional crisis. Gifted children who feel overwhelmed by the myriad choices of an unstructured world can find a great deal of comfort in studying and exploring alternate ways in which other people have structured their lives. Through reading about people who have chosen specific paths to greatness and fulfillment, these youngsters can begin to use bibliotherapy as a method of understanding that choices are merely forks in the road of life, each of which can lead them to their own sense of fulfillment and accomplishment (Halsted, 1994). We all need to build our own personal philosophy of beliefs and values which will form meaningful frameworks for our lives.

It is such existential issues that lead many of our gifted individuals to bury themselves so intensively in “causes” (whether these causes are academics, political or social causes, or cults). Unfortunately, these existential issues can also prompt periods of depression, often mixed with desperate, thrashing attempts to “belong.” Helping these individuals to recognize the basic existential issues may help, but only if done in a kind and accepting way. In addition, these youngsters will need to understand that existential issues are not ones that can be dealt with only once, but rather ones that will need frequent revisiting and reconsideration.

In essence, then, we can help many persons with existential depressions if we can get them to realize that they are not so alone and if we can encourage them to adopt the message of hope written by the African-American poet Langston Hughes:


Hold fast to dreams,
For if dreams die,
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.

Hold fast to dreams.
For if dreams go,
Life is a barren field
Covered with snow.

~ Langston Hughes

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